Tuesday 26 September 2017

10 Things That Have Changed In My 10 Years Of Being Vegan

This month marks ten years of me being vegan which makes me feel painfully old but also pretty proud. It feels like a milestone, a whole decade of veganism. And the vegan scene was so different back in 2007, I’ve seen huge changes happen during that time. I don’t have an official date I went vegan, I cut things out of my diet slowly over a month and while that might be lame by today’s standards, it worked and I was vegan by the end of the month so stop your judgement. Laurie went vegan in a day, but he pays no attention to dates so we have no idea when that was (though he always tells Ebony how he went vegan first), so all we know is that by the end of September, we were vegan. So, ten Septembers later, I thought I would write a little bit about the changes I’ve seen during my first decade of being vegan:

1. People know what ‘vegan’ means now
Ten years ago, nobody knew what vegan was. Every time I went to a restaurant or cafe I would have to explain exactly what I did and didn’t eat to the waiting staff who would then have to go and explain it to the chef. Not anymore. Nowadays, vegan has made it into society’s vocabulary. I never have to explain veganism anymore. This is probably saving me, on average, two hours a year, time which I treasure.

2. There’s more of us
This vegan thing is contagious, I think. According to one study, the number of vegans increased by 360% between the years 2006 and 2016. Now, obviously, I can’t claim all of that as my personal success, but, you know, maybe a bit of it, right? There used to be hardly any vegans so nobody knew what veganism was and most people you met said “Vegan? What’s what?” in a way that implied it might be a deadly disease. Now, it’s only my grandma who still does that, everyone else is more likely to say ‘Oh, you’re vegan? Yeah, my friend/sister/boss is vegan.’

3. Everything is labelled
Ok, not everything, but way more products say they’re suitable for vegans these days. Most of the major supermarkets have started labelling products as vegan now which saves lots of time. When I first went vegan, I used to spend a long time scouring the ingredients of everything in the supermarket, but now a quick glance will suffice. I find this really useful and I’ve been vegan for ages, so I can’t imagine how much easier it makes things for brand new vegans who need to check pretty much everything they eat. I have the Safe For Vegans app on my phone which means it’s easy to find out if products are vegan even if they’re not clearly labelled, all I have to do is scan the barcode.

4. The media coverage has improved
Veganism has gone mainstream. Ten years ago, veganism was rarely mentioned in the press and, when it was, it was presented as extremism (one newspaper accused the charity I worked for of being a load of ‘anarchists in an attic’). Now, there are constant news stories talking about the benefits of being vegan. Sure, there’s still the odd article making out that all vegans are extremist nut jobs committing child abuse, but on the whole, the media is a lot more vegan-friendly.

5. It’s easier to eat out
Ten years ago, if I wanted to eat out, my safest bet was to head to a vegetarian or vegan eatery. I used to hate going out to ‘normal’ places and enduring the pitiful looks of my friends while I tucked into a portion of chips and side salad. In 2017, loads of places offer vegan options. And not just stuffed aubergines, actual tasty vegan options that make it worthwhile eating out. Manchester is great for vegan food, but even Romiley (the little place I live) can cater pretty well for vegans now. Ten years ago, I had to ring a week in advance to warn restaurants that I was vegan, but now most places have vegan options or are used to catering for vegans.

6. There is so much vegan junk food
I can’t tell if this is a good thing or a bad thing. In terms of vegans being healthier, it’s probably not good that there is now an abundance of junk food conveniently available. In terms of me liking junk food, it’s definitely an improvement on 2007. Back then, I had to trek to a vegan shop to get my fill of chocolate, burgers and ice-cream. And those things were expensive. Now, the supermarket shelves are filled with vegan fudge, sweets, cheese, burgers - it’s the stuff my vegan dreams were made of circa 2007.

7. There is such a thing as vegan hospital food now
Back in 2008 or maybe 9, I forget, Laurie ended up with an overnight stay at Bristol Royal Infirmary. Bristol was a bit of a vegan paradise back then (in that there were some other vegans and a Holland & Barrett) so you could be forgiven for thinking the hospital might be able to cater for vegans. They gave Laurie… a plate of broccoli. Not even a big plate and not even piled high with broccoli. Just a side plate with a few florets of broccoli on. Skip forward to 2016 and I was in hospital for the worst part of a week and I expected the food options to be similarly dire. After all, if they couldn’t manage vegan options in Bristol (the city of vegans), how the hell was Stepping Hill Hospital going to do any better? But they did. They had soya milk and vegan butter and they fed me three meals a day the whole time I was in there. My first (of many) foods I ever dropped on my baby’s head were from an amazing creamy pasta thing they made me.

8. There is a lovely online vegan community
There has always been a lovely vegan community, but it’s easier to be part of now. I was lucky because I knew a lot of vegans when I went vegan so I had plenty of people around me to ask about vegan foods. Now, I see these conversations happening online in groups of strangers. People will post that they’re in M&S and wondering what they can eat and in a matter of minutes, they’ll have a comment thread filled with suggestions. People share new vegan products they find in Facebook groups and there are groups providing support to vegan parents like myself. My Instagram feed is filled with amazing looking home-cooked vegan meals and people sharing photos of vegan restaurants they have visited. It’s easy to find inspiration when I’m wondering what to have for lunch.

9. Vegan is seen as healthy now
I think one of the biggest change to veganism over the past ten years is how it is portrayed. People used to think of vegans as being skinny, pale and miserable. It’s probably down to the vegan celebrities that this is no longer the case. The general public is more aware now that animal products perhaps aren’t as healthy as they were once thought to be. And, when you realise that and see the number of vegan products available, it’s pretty obvious that a vegan diet is healthy. Ten years ago, vegans were animal rights activists. Nowadays, there’s a mix of people eating plant-based for the animals, people doing it for the planet and people taking that step because they want to improve their health.

10. Vegan meringues exist
I love meringue. My dad used to make these meringue pavlovas with strawberries and cream and they were so much a part of my childhood that I can still remember exactly what they tasted like (the same is true of his butterscotch sauce and his chocolate sauce and, yeah, my childhood mostly revolved around pudding). And, for the first seven years of being vegan, meringue was the thing I missed. I used to eat loads of cheese, but I don’t miss it. I used to love dippy eggs as a kid, but I don’t miss them. But meringue, oh man, yeah, I missed it. But then, something amazing happened. Somebody discovered a way of making meringue out of chickpea water (I know it sounds gross but I swear it’s not) and my life changed forever. Now I have nothing to miss.

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