At the end of January when my housemate told me about the Great University Vegan Challenge, I was intrigued. The challenge, proposed by Animal Aid, is to give up all animal products in your diet for the whole month of February. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I am an animal lover, so eating meat has always left me quite conflicted. This, along with the growing blame on agriculture for climate change, animal suffering, and our own poor health, is detailed by popular documentary Cowspiracy, which had left me sceptical about whether we should be eating animal products at all. With all this in mind, I agreed to the challenge.
The difficulties immediately became clear: animal products are in a deceptively large amount of food. Trying to cope with this, I struggled with expensive and hard to find vegan substitutes. And when it comes to eating out as a vegan, despite the fact that most restaurants provide a variety of vegetarian options, there is little scope for a vegan choice away from a specifically vegan eatery.
However, Animal Aid provided a welcome pack with ways to get around these problems, and I soon found myself getting into the swing of veganism. There are an abundance of recipes online that can be made with cheap ingredients – perfect for my student budget. I also spoke to my friend, a bona-fide vegan, who gave me tips and tricks to beat any cravings, and motivated me by talking about the good this change was making. Every time I caught myself standing with glazed eyes in front of the supermarket cheese section, I would snap myself out of it by thinking about the benefits to animals and the environment, and my own body.
Admittedly, towards the end of the month I did lose enthusiasm. I was tired of replying “I can’t have that” when offered anything, and eating the same vegetable-based dishes for a month became monotonous. Although I was determined to see it through, the 1st of March could not come quickly enough. However I feel my attitude towards veganism was largely the problem. I had accepted the change as ‘a challenge’, something difficult to overcome. Although my reasons were largely moral, I think I would have had a very different approach if I had come to the decision to go vegan entirely by myself, as a conscious decision, rather than hesitantly sampling it as a lifestyle.
I have huge respect for people who have decided to go vegan full-time. Personally, I found the lifestyle too restrictive, and I missed literally all of my favourite foods. I also found it problematic that there simply are not that many options for vegans. If supermarkets and restaurants increased the quality and availability of vegan food, this would be a much more simple and pleasant change. However, I would recommend eating vegan even for a couple of days a week, as that alone makes a huge difference to animals, the environment, and our health, without the scary restrictions. It is certainly something I will try to do.
Image courtesy www.dreamatico.com.