I'll put it straight out there: I'm vegan. I know that will turn some people off straight away, but hear me out. No I'm not a hippy, no it's not a fad, and no I'm not trying to convert you. I'm just sharing with you my story of how I found a plant-based lifestyle.
Why vegan? It's a common question with a long answer. I didn't grow up in a vegan or vegetarian household. In fact, there were three generations of butchers on my mum's side, so meat was always the centrepiece of our meals. I enjoyed eating meat and dairy, as much as anyone else. Seafood and fish was a different story - I couldn't get far enough away from the stuff. But every day there would generally be some sort of animal product on my plate at each meal.
When I moved out of home I didn't buy or cook a lot of meat, due to the price. I didn't eat healthily either. A lot of two minute noodles, packets of pasta and sauce, take away or frozen meals were my staples. So while the meat decreased, so did my eating habits.
I met my husband, Danny, back in 2006, while both working in a hotel restaurant. Danny was (and still is) a chef, specialising in Western/European-style dishes. These are generally meat-centric. I had never appreciated good food before I met him. We went out to restaurants often, looking for succulent cuts of beef or lamb, and happily trying more unusual meats (pigeon, partridge, alligator and snake have all crossed my lips). The thought of not eating meat never entered my mind.
At the end of 2007 a report popped up on my browser, detailing the link between eating processed meats and cancer (among other diseases). Apparently many scientists were now coming out and saying that consuming these foods was just as likely to cause cancer as smoking. Smoking! I liked eating ham and bacon, especially as a breakfast treat, but I didn't want to get sick. From that day on I have only tasted these foods a handful of times. I never thought I would say this at the time, but now I don't miss them at all.
In 2011 we took a year-long trip through Asia and Europe. At nights when we didn't have much else to do, we often watched movies or TV shows that we had downloaded. One of Danny's friends recommended we see Food, Inc. Not knowing anything about it, we sat and watched it one night in its entirety. It completely transformed my thinking. How could I be so ignorant of the way the food world works? Why had I never considered these things before? After this, the thought of eating meat at times actually repulsed me. But it didn't cause me to go vegetarian. Not yet.
My actions did change though. I almost never bought meat to cook at home (I rarely did this anyway). I started ordering vegetarian meals at restaurants. Any time I did buy meat and eggs I ensured they were free range. I wanted to reduce my impact on the suffering of animals in factory farms, and I thought what I was doing would make a big enough difference.
Over the next couple of years I gradually ate less and less meat, until I was only eating it once or twice per month. I didn't request vegetarian meals when we were at a friend's house or at functions, but the less meat I ate the happier I felt. At some stage during 2014 I completely gave up meat. I still don't know when this happened, but I know I went into my first marathon on a vegetarian diet. My running and health didn't suffer, and I knew I had made the right choice.
2015 saw us traveling again, this time through Central America. There were many long days spent on buses, with not much to do but listen to podcasts. I stumbled upon one called No Meat Athlete, about running on a meat-free diet. It sounded perfect for me! I soon discovered that the hosts were vegan and had run ultramarathons, neither of which I had seriously considered before. Veganism seemed too extreme, too restrictive. Where would I get my protein and calcium? Surely we have to at least consume dairy to get enough of these nutrients? While these questions are cliched in the vegan world, I had exactly the same concerns myself.
The more episodes I listened to, the more I discovered that being vegan and an athlete was a common combination. There were many professional sportspeople out there competing at the top of their field, completely on a plant-based diet. These people often identified their food choices as the reason they performed so well. Could this be something I could try? I needed to learn more.
After going through numerous running-related podcasts, I moved on to the vegetarian and vegan podcasts. What I learned shocked and astounded me. I thought being vegetarian was enough; I was doing my part for the animals. Then I discovered just how sickening the egg and dairy industry is. While I may not be killing these animals directly for their food, I am often killing their offspring, I am letting them live in inhumane conditions, and their slaughter isn't any better than the animals that give us meat. The more I learned, the more guilty I felt. And it wasn't only the animal abuse that played on my mind - the impact on our health and the environment was truly staggering. I made a commitment to myself: as soon as I arrived home, I would become vegan.
I have not looked back.
I started with a few replacement products, such as almond or rice milk, soy cheese and I tried some faux meats. But over time I realised I didn't need these products in my diet, that vegan food could taste great without the processed substitutes. Don't get me wrong, I love coconut ice cream as well as the occasional serving of cashew cheese, but they don't define my diet.
Eating vegan has been much easier than I thought it would be. There are thousands of vegan recipes online, for every meal you could possibly imagine. I have made a few simple swaps in my eating habits, such as avocado instead of cheese in a sandwich, or chia pudding instead of yoghurt for dessert. I never feel like I'm missing out. I cook most of my meals at home (which I did before turning vegan too) and it's been fun exploring new ingredients and dishes. More and more restaurants are providing vegan options on the menu, with new vegan eateries popping up all of the time.
It has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.