FROM THE WILDSMITH FILES

I tried a vegan diet and this is what happened

As a passionate animal-rights advocate who enjoyed eating the occasional roast chicken and fish dish, Kate Morris was conflicted. Would three weeks of solid veganism be enough to break the carnivorous habits of a lifetime?

INI’ve dabbled with vegetarianism since I was a teenager. There have been periods, for example during my first pregnancy, when I couldn’t get enough of steak, but in recent years I have settled with the rather weak flexitarian option, occasionally eating fish and chicken. Like an erstwhile lover who won’t commit, I am a flake.

When I decided to trial a vegan diet, I was already conscious of the horrific conditions that animals live in on factory and dairy farms. I don’t drink cow’s milk because I find the dairy industry extremely sad, but I was still eating cheese. Cows are bred to produce up to 10 times more milk than they would naturally produce to feed a calf, so their udders are distended and extremely painful. Their babies are taken away at birth and the males either slaughtered or confined in crates and sold for veal meat. Don’t get me started on foie gras or battery-farmed chickens or mass pig farming.

According to The Vegan Society, ‘Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

’I was a mass of contradictions: I wanted to stand up for animals, but was still guzzling animal products. I knew that chickens were the most abused animals on earth, but I continued to eat them, telling myself that ‘organic’ was OK. I really wanted to discover how hard it would be to convert to veganism, but at the same time dreaded the restrictive diet. I admired vegans but thought them a little crazy and slightly annoying. Vegan food rules include not eating honey, which seemed militant to the point of madness.

Since reading up on veganism for my trial, I have discovered that just as cow’s milk is meant for calves, honey is meant for bees and is their winter food store. The bees work hard throughout spring and summer to gather nectar from flowers before regurgitating it, cooling it (by fanning it with their wings) and storing it as honey within the hive.

Being a vegan is also kinder to the planet and is the single biggest way we can reduce our environmental impact, according to Oxford University researchers. Eating a plant-based diet can cut our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce pollution and water usage, prevent deforestation and save wild animals from extinction.

I had every reason to be evangelical about my new way of life, but my first vegan day was a disaster: I accidentally poured dairy milk in my tea and drank it, even though I had oat milk in the fridge. I was in a hurry and bought pasta that contained egg, and a vegetable lasagne that contained cream and egg. Forward planning was needed. Day two was better. I bought a delicious vegan pizza for lunch with replacement cheese, and in the evening made myself edamame noodle stir fry with tofu and vegetables, but no one wanted to share my dinner and my husband hated the way we were all eating different food.

I made oven-roasted aubergine, chickpeas and tomatoes for dinner one night and a risotto with no cheese – which was not very satisfying – on another. On day three, I went back to the edamame noodles and felt a bit disheartened. On day four, I found some ‘burger replacements’, which tasted of rubber and were truly disgusting.

The challenge was as hard as I’d contemplated, but luckily I had signed up to the website Veganuary (yes, it exists even outside January), which alerted me to the film, What The Health, about the horror of factory farming, the corruption within the dairy and beef industry, and how animal products are appalling for our health. This reinvigorated me and spurred me on. I ate a lot of rye toast and avocado, and snacked on oatcakes and Hellmann’s Vegan Mayonnaise.

The vegan journey became easier as I got used to the rhythm; it even felt challenging in a good way. I love eggs, but at the heart of my journey into veganism, I found the idea of eating eggs that are meant to grow into chicks revolting. I was truly touched on my birthday when my son gave me vegan supplements as one of my presents and my husband organised a chocolate vegan birthday cake.

I am entering week three of my vegan experiment and my hips and knees are no longer aching as they have been for the last year. This could be a weird coincidence, but it is too good a result to risk going back to dairy and Sunday chicken lunches. So, although I won’t be strictly vegan going forward (I am going to find it extremely hard to cut fish out altogether), I have decided that the dairy-free, meat-free diet is better for me, the planet and animals. This feels like a win-win situation and one I will embrace. 

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