Jacqui Crook, a 46 year old Senior Care Assistant from Norfolk took part in Veganuary this year and decided to continue with her vegan lifestyle after Veganuary was over. After being a meat-eater all her life, I thought this must have been a drastic change, especially without the more usual vegetarian transition period, so I asked her a few questions.
Cathy at Planet Veggie: Hi Jacqui, I’m in awe you went straight from being a meat-eater to vegan after taking part in Veganuary in January this year. What prompted you to take part in Veganuary in the first place?
Jacqui: The catalyst was probably seeing posts about Veganuary from one of my old school friends on Facebook. I’ve always considered myself an animal lover, but like many other omnivores I used the whole “but bacon” excuse for my reason to continue to eat them. I read some information about how Veganuary is not only a way to ‘dip your toes’ into veganism, but it can also make you lose weight. Selfishly on my part it was more for the latter reason that I actually signed up.
I joined the Veganuary Facebook group, and signed up to various other vegan groups for inspiration and tips on what I could actually eat. However, in addition to recipe tips I also got an eye-opening education into the horrific truths of the farming and meat industry, animal testing and vivisection, hunting, fishing and other equally terrifying environmental issues. I quickly developed an understanding of what we as a species are doing to our planet and to the other beings that we share it with. I suppose in my case you could liken it to a ‘red pill’ versus ‘blue pill’ dilemma in as much as once you ‘know’, you can’t ‘unknow,’ so continuing as a vegan was no longer just a personal choice to me, but also a moral obligation.
C: After Veganuary had finished, did you jump straight into being a full-on vegan (studying labels for any egg or dairy, checking clothing for any wool/leather, lip balm for beeswax, etc.) or are you taking it as it comes and easing yourself into it, e.g. doing your best to check things are vegan as far as you can tell, but not getting that worked up about it?
J: Due to becoming aware about mass deforestation I had been label checking for non RSPO palm products for over a year, so the whole label checking thing, although sometimes frustrating is second nature to me now. I still scream inwardly when I go looking for some amazing vegan foodstuff that everyone is raving on about online, only to check the label to find out it has palm in it! Although my diet was now strictly plant based I made the decision to use up the products that I had already bought for toiletries, cleaning, wearing etc., as I hate the idea of waste. Why use up other finite resources just to replace something I already had at my disposal? I have, however, made a point of replacing used items with vegan and environmentally friendly products since February. I still have a pair of leather work shoes from Clarks that I can’t see being worn out anytime in the next few years, as they seem to have been made to last forever. I sometimes feel bad about wearing them, but then I would feel worse just to chuck them away as it won’t bring the animal back. Giving them away would be almost like encouraging others to wear leather, which is the opposite of what I am trying to do.
C: I know your husband, Dean, was fine about Veganuary and even took part in it too, but how does he feel now it’s no longer a month-long ‘challenge’ but a whole lifestyle change? And what about your friends and other family members? Do they openly mock you on Facebook?
J: Dean quit at the halfway stage as he found label checking annoying (even though we already had been doing it!) He gets disappointed sometimes because the steak nights at Wetherspoons have stopped, and KFC and McDonalds are no longer viable eating out places if I am in tow, but on the whole he is very supportive. My daughter has been vegetarian since she was twelve, but like many vegetarians came out with the whole ‘but cheese’ argument. One of my sons decided to become vegetarian about two months ago, so I feel that at least that is a step in the right direction. He is also far more politically and socially aware than most 17 year olds, and we are both heavily into human rights, so for him to start considering the animals wasn’t too much of a leap. My other son simply couldn’t give a toss. As far as he is concerned he is never going to meet an orangutan or have a pet cow, so he doesn’t care what happens to them. My work colleagues generally mock my food choices. I think it helps cement in their minds that they shouldn’t feel guilty for what they eat or how inactive they are in saving the environment. On the plus side, two of my friends have since decided to try vegetarianism after talking to me and finding out more. I know that to a ‘level ten’ vegan supporting vegetarianism is as bad as tucking into a baby piglet, but I personally disagree. We all have our own motivation and issues, and if someone is willing to cut out meat and fish to reduce the number of animals slaughtered, then that is at least going in the right direction. If some jumped up holier than thou vegan had told me that my efforts at Veganuary were pointless and self-serving they would have probably driven me back to a bacon sandwich, so I always offer encouragement to others for their part in changing how we treat animals.
C: Have you had any cravings for meat/dairy/eggs? A nice cheesy pizza perhaps, or a bag of cheese and onion crisps? Steak and chips? What about a clichéd-ridden bacon sandwich (because, after all, all vegetarians need is a bacon sandwich to sort them out)? Maybe you’ve been hankering over just one Cornetto? Or maybe you’ve found alternatives to meet any cravings?
J: I won’t lie and say that there haven’t been times when I have thought about cheese, because I have. I know there are plenty of dairy free alternatives, but as yet I am still too close to have the memory of the real thing in my head, so I have yet to tempt fate and try them. In addition to running a palm-free household, Dean has now given up soya products (who’s the fussy one now, eh!) due to the alleged health scares regarding decreasing testosterone levels, and both of us eat ninety percent ‘clean’, avoiding artificial preservatives, sweeteners and other crap like glucose fructose syrup and MSG. Luckily for me, Dean likes cooking, so the vast majority of our food is now made from scratch at home, and his wholemeal, vegan, margarine free bread is amazing!
My two vices are wine and Pizza Hut, but as the local co-op stocks Fairtrade vegan wine and my local Pizza Hut have perfected my own personal cheese-free, diet (yes, under 500 calories!) spicy roquito and bbq sauce Virtuous Veg Pizzetta, I am fine in that department too 🙂
Oh, and those Tesco Free From Cones. Argh, why use palm?!
C: Personally, I love the ‘fake’ meat alternatives, but I know some people don’t like them, either because they don’t want to eat something that replicates meat or they didn’t like the taste or texture of meat in the first place or because it’s processed. What are your views on it?
J: I can see both sides. I don’t really do mock meats myself, because I tend to stick with tried and tested favourites just in case I discover I hate something. I actually enjoyed the taste and texture of meat, but I don’t particularly want to replicate it as I think my brain would communicate with my tongue and make me feel bad for wanting to experience it again. I sometimes envy other vegans though when they rustle up fake pulled pork from jackfuit, although some of the ‘lifelike’ mock meats make me feel queasy!
C: How do the meals you cook now compare to those you used to cook? i.e. more imaginative/interesting, easier, healthier, etc.? Do you still cook meat for your husband and children?
J: For myself I can say that I eat healthier for sure. As I said most of our food is now prepared from scratch and we avoid so many bad things, that I don’t feel so guilty about the odd bottle of vegan red. My omni son however survives on microwave pizza, sausage rolls, crispy chicken and coke. Sadly he is so far removed from real food that if I didn’t buy them for him he would actually starve as he refuses to eat vegetables or anything unprocessed. If it isn’t microwaveable, full of sugar, or designed to last for at least six months he won’t touch it. Dean has now decided to stop eating meat at home, although he does occasionally eat fish still. He prepares this himself I must add!
C: And while we’re on the subject of cooking, what are your new favourite dishes and where do you get them from? Any favourite cookbooks/websites/Facebook groups/blogs?
J: I have discovered risotto! I love the stuff. I used to think it was just mushy rice, but I was so wrong. Pasta in homemade roasted vegetable and garlic sauce is a speciality of mine, while calabrian pasta with olive oil, nuts and raisins is also is delicious. Stuffed peppers or flat mushrooms, vegan shepherd’s pie, or homemade vegan hummus. The list goes on and on. If there is something you fancy you can pretty much find a recipe online and veganise it to suit you. I must recommend a blog called Planet Veggie. She comes up with some amazing looking grub! 😉
C: It’s been over eight months since you became vegan. Was it harder or easier than you expected? What’s been the easiest and hardest bit about it?
J: Easier by far when it comes to my diet, but harder when it comes to how much it has affected me in my views. I am now far more angry at people for not caring, not just about animals, but also about each other. I have lost a few acquaintances along the way as I refuse to stay silent or dumb down now, but it doesn’t worry me as I really don’t want to associate with those kind of people anyway. I have however made a mountain of new vegan virtual friends on Facebook, and so my newsfeed is filled with positivity and action and cries for change. Oh, and food porn!
C: And, finally, any words of wisdom or advice for anyone thinking about becoming vegan?
J: If you are borderline about whether to try it out I recommend watching the movie Earthlings. Unless you are incredibly hardened you won’t remain borderline for long.
For those of you willing to try out veganism for yourself my experience has taught me to ignore the people who want to ‘outvegan’ you. We all have our own reasons for starting this journey, so don’t be so hard on yourself for any mistakes you make along the way. The point is change won’t happen unless we are willing to make it happen, so by giving it a shot you are already halfway there.
C: Thank you very much, Jacqui, for answering my questions. You are an inspiration!