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Can I really eat plants for the rest of my life? (Guest blog)

I recently decided to remove all animal products from my diet. I did my research; took time to find out about nutritional requirements; experimented with the vast array of milk alternatives on the market; found a good plant- based spread for my toast.

The result? I feel less bloated, my tummy has gone down a little,I feel somehow ‘lighter’ and I may be imagining it but I think I look good! Better still, my conscience is clean. It feels so darn good to enjoy food that is not associated with any harm or suffering of animals.

I have a growing collection of vegan cook books and eagerly await the new edition of Vegan Food & Living magazine. So is that it? Have I transitioned with success? Can I really be happy eating plants for the rest of my life?

My name is Zoe. I am 43 years of age. I was brought up by 2 wonderful meat- eating parents, who truly believed that providing a balanced meal consisted of meat and 2 veg. Meat and fish were the basis of every meal. Back in the 80s, there wasn’t a great influence of international cuisine. Dinners consisted of chicken, fish or pork with seasonal veg. I looked forward to a traditional Sunday roast every week, something that I adopted as a tradition in my own adult household. I don’t remember eating rice or pasta until I was in my teens and I certainly didn’t know anything about lentils, cous cous or quinoa! But I was happy. My mum was a great cook & I always ate whatever I was given. I never had to be reminded to finish everything on my plate!

So what changed? Looking back, I remember several moments when I questioned what I was eating. Looking into my soft boiled egg, wondering what the white slimy stuff really was and was I really supposed to be eating it? Finding a gristly bit of mince in my shepherds pie and wondering what part of the animal it was. And that chewy bit you’d find in sausages, well I won’t even go there!! I naturally felt some doubt about what I was eating but easily put it to the back of my mind as it seemed ‘normal’. Until my big sister declared herself Vegetarian. How dare she shake the belief system of our parents and cause such a fuss? Well she did. And despite being told it was a fad or a phase, she has continued her veggie lifestyle until this day. To her I am very grateful, as she allowed me to begin to question my beliefs. Following a roast pork dinner one day in my late teens, where all I could think was “this tastes too much like pig.” I decided to ‘try’ being veggie. It lasted a week. Until my mum made my favourite Sunday dinner of roast-lamb. I caved. Life got busy and I continued my carnivorous lifestyle for another 25 years.

By this time, I had 2 grown up daughters of my own. The youngest, Ebony, who at age 9 began to leave the meat on the side of her plate each dinner time. We would get into a painful battle of “Finish your dinner or you’re not leaving the table” She would cry and ask me “Mummy, what animal is this on my plate?” I didn’t know what to say. Something in me felt I couldn’t force her to eat an animal if she didn’t want to, so after several gruelling dinner times, I eventually decided to swap her meat for Quorn to see if it made any difference. She ate the whole lot from that day forward with very little argument. To my strong-willed little 9 year old, I am very grateful, as she was the second person to make me question my beliefs.

A decade later, my eldest daughter, Jasmine, began an animal welfare course at college. Within her first year, she too decided to remove meat from her diet. Now things were getting a little tricky in our house; cooking meat and fish for my husband and I, whilst trying to keeping the girls happy with meat-free alternatives. It was a challenge to think of things to make for vegetarians when I was still eating meat myself.
Jasmine liked to research the animal agriculture industry and began to share information with me. She did so in such a non-pushy way that I found myself unable to turn away. I felt an obligation to at least humour her and take a look. At first I found it almost impossible to allow myself to see the truth. In short, it was so horrendous that I sobbed, my heart breaking. How could I have shielded myself from the truth of what really happens to animals for so long? Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? Then denial. Surely, this must be exaggerated or just in remote cases? Sadly not. I carried on as ‘normal’ for a while longer but I knew that I had already started to question myself.

And then it happened. I woke up one morning and knew that I wouldn’t be able to eat the farm shop free range chicken that was in the fridge for dinner. I had bought 2 portions the day before and didn’t have an inkling at the time, or the night before when I had enjoyed the other portion for dinner. I wasn’t prepared for this! I had no clue what I was going to eat instead but I just knew that I definitely couldn’t eat that! Over the next few days I felt a bit confused and sorry for myself. I wasn’t looking forward to meal times as much as normal and didn’t know what to cook for myself.

I continued to eat fish for a while and this became my safety net (pardon the pun) whilst I found new meat-free alternatives I liked. It became incredibly easy to be pescatarian. Restaurants and cafes generally offered Vegetarian options and friends and family were happy to make vegetarian food for me. I felt lighter and happier. My husband, Derrick, was happy to eat less meat and more fish. For the first time in years, I was making one meal for the whole family!

The information kept coming from Jasmine. Listening to Earthling Ed made me question my beliefs further. I was curious. Why do people go Vegan? Why make life harder for yourself? Isn’t it enough to ditch the meat? Why go the whole hog (sorry again) and ditch dairy too? I registered with PETA and educated myself about the dairy and egg industry and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t bear the thought of drinking cow’s ‘breast’ milk. I found a new love for almond milk on my cereal and in coffee/shakes. I was still looking for a replacement to go in my tea. And then Jasmine rocked my world again by announcing she was going Vegan. Wow. I felt in awe. She asked me to help her do her weekly shop. So there we were in Aldi, reading all the labels, checking for dairy and other non-Vegan food ingredients. It took ages! It was fun though and I was surprised at just how many foods were naturally plant- based. Her trolley looked amazing, so colourful and healthy with all the different vegetables and fruits. 3 weeks later, I decided I was going to follow suit.

The process has been a very natural one for me, taking every step at my own pace and in my own time. Dropping eggs wasn’t so hard, I always thought it was a bit odd eating eggs anyway. Then someone recommended oat milk in my tea and I haven’t looked back since. I stocked my fridge and cupboards with healthy plant-based foods and got to work. Transitioning to a vegan diet was a little more complex than that of simply dropping meat. I quickly realised I needed to re-think my meal plans.

Effectively, I needed to re-learn how to cook! I found that if I tried to replace components, it didn’t really work, so instead I thought about the meal as a whole. I experimented with ingredients I had never used before and created dishes I had never heard of. I began to find a rebirth in my passion for cooking. I would get out a variety of ingredients onto the worktop and just get creative! Vegetables cook quickly so many dishes can be created in 30-45 mins. I now have a number of dishes I regularly enjoy at home and would never be without my beloved humous and avocados.

I truly believe that transitioning to Veganism is more of a psychological change. Humans get so much pleasure from eating good tasting foods. The size of the food and restaurant industry is a demonstration of that. We love to eat. Correction. We love to eat good food. We pay to eat good food. So, if we can change our perspective of what good food is, from the dated idea that it has to come from animal derivatives and be more open to a new perspective of dishes and ingredients, then we can learn to love vegan food just as much, if not more.

So can I really be happy eating plants for the rest of my life? Hell yes! You bet. Thank you to my daughters for leading the way for me. I love you so much.

Read more about Zoe and her vegan lifestyle Zoe’s Insta