At one of the meetings at last year's Vegan Summer Gathering in Exmouth, some of those who attended spoke about what had motivated them... and an edited version is printed here. If you'd like to write about your own experience for the next issue, please send contributions to VV at the usual address.
VIVIEN DEAN I was a vegetarian from the age of about 25, so I'm late to the movement. I did it because I found that I needed to do something in my life that was more than just to do with me. I've always been a real lover of animals and I decided it was hypocritical saying that you loved animals but eating them, it just didn't make sense. That's why I became a vegetarian.
It's quite radical for me being a vegetarian, or indeed now a vegan, because I'm from a rather large working class family of big meat-eaters. Anyway I became vegan probably a couple of years ago. I love going round charity shops and I saw The Vegan in Oxfam in Cumbria, where I used to live. After reading The Vegan I decided that being vegetarian simply wasn't enough. Yes, it's a step in the right direction but still not enough really, so that's what made me become vegan. And it was something that I decided straight away - it didn't take me a long time, I didn't phase anything out, I just completely abandoned all the dairy produce, and I've never looked back.
I feel so much fitter - but to me becoming a vegan isn't enough. I try to develop myself more and more. I'm now an organic vegan and I think you should really just be thinking about it all the time - the environment, that is, and what we're doing. And those are the main reasons why I became vegan.
HARRY MATHER I sort of drifted into vegetarianism and veganism, and yet I certainly did it for very firm reasons. There were two aspects to the way I changed my life in 1965. Ruth Harrison wrote a book called Animal Machines, which exposed the battery hens and the calves in boxes. We'd known before that hens weren't all free range round the farmyard, but it was Ruth Harrison who really exposed the whole reality of intensive farming. And it seemed to me, on the one hand it's quite logical if you're going to produce as many eggs and as much veal as possible, that this was the way to go - but on the other hand it seemed a ridiculous way to treat animals, that this was somehow morally wrong. So it seemed to me obvious to avoid these things.
At the same sort of time I met a certain young lady who had been suffering from rheumatism from when she was about 18. She went to the doctor and he gave her pills, but she didn't like the idea of swallowing pills, so her father suggested she go to the Nature Cure Clinic in London - and there they gave her basically a raw food diet, meant to be a sort of cleansing diet I suppose. But this was so alien to her way of eating, and she didn't know what to make of it. Then she met me, and the other aspect is that I was brought up in France, and although people go on about the French being big meat eaters, they're certainly big vegetable and fruit eaters too, and we ate a lot of fruit and vegetables at home in France - salad was a normal thing with any meal.
So to me this diet she had was something sensible, and we started going to vegetarian restaurants and we sort of drifted into vegetarianism that way. It was actually when we got married that we said "let's be vegetarian now". Did it cure her rheumatism? Yes, she's never had any problems with rheumatism since, and I've known a lot of people who have had a similar experience. A vegetarian diet, a good healthy diet, seems to be quite a good counter-action against rheumatism.
So we turned vegetarian, it was 1965 and at that same time Arthur Ling came out with Plamil soya milk, and although there were other soya milks available, mainly in the dried form from Granogen, he really pioneered this soya milk in this country. And as she was allergic to milk anyway, we changed to that.
We moved down to Bournemouth two years later, and there seemed to be such a great supply of free range eggs in the health food stores that we started making enquiries. Eggs labelled as 'free range' were from hens who lived in deep litter sheds with no real freedom, and it wasn't quite acceptable. So we were already off milk, and then we got off eggs. As for cheese, I'd started eating cheese when I became vegetarian, and there was a lot of variety in cheeses, and I was really enjoying that, so I thought oh well I've got to sacrifice something here, but I've found since that I don't miss any cheese at all, I don't even have substitute cheeses or anything like that.
So of course being in the Vegetarian Society we were sort of got at by the vegans as well, we were getting a lot of information from the Vegan Society, so we joined the Vegan Society and became vegans - and been happy ever since.
STELLA COLLIER I lived in Australia for two years and during that time I indulged in the Australian way of life - so lots of meat-eating, and one could be overindulged.
About three times a week I'd go out in the evenings and I would see the cattle trucks, because they'd move the cattle at night to slaughterhouses, so when you're at the traffic lights and you look into the eyes of a cow in the vehicle next to you, it can be very heart-wrenching.
So when I left Australia I became vegetarian, and after four years I became vegan when I met a vegan family. They opened my eyes to the realities of food production and showed me the alternatives. I'm greatly indebted to them, and I've been vegan about 25 years now.
CERYS BRANGWYN I've been vegan now for over eight years, and I was vegetarian for a few years before that. I suppose the first time I even thought about animal products started as long ago as secondary school, when a teacher told us about the concentration camps, that fat from the Jews and other victims was boiled up and soap made out of it, which I found quite grotesque. Well, that obviously lodged in my memory.
When I went to Sunderland polytechnic as a mature student it suddenly came back to me, perhaps because we did a book by Primo Levi, who had been in a labour camp. Anyway I started to use vegetable soap because I don't see a sharp differentiation between human animals and other higher animals. Then I was hearing a lot about all sorts of antibiotics, and all sorts of dubious practices with animals, and I thought I don't think I want to eat meat if it's so contaminated - so I eliminated meat, and I didn't really eat much fish either.
Then the next stage was that there were a series of food crises, and I remember Edwina Currie, she may have overstated the case, but she was saying that there was salmonella in most eggs. I thought, well, are eggs really that healthy, so I eliminated eggs. There was also a crisis about listeria in cheese, so I think that was beginning to fall off, although I did start to eat vegetarian cheese so that was a slight improvement. Then I heard that a company in the United States wanted to use a drug called bovine somatotrophin, which is a naturally occurring chemical, to produce milk in the cow, but they wanted an artificial synthesised compound of it to inject into the cows. But there's already a sort of milk lake in the EEC and it's quite unpredictable adding this thing, most European governments said no, the British government typically said they were going to secretly use it, and it seemed to me it might be going into the milk supply, so I thought no I don't want this, there could be all sorts of dubious things happening - so cow milk went off.
So I did then start to go on to cheese and milk from sheep and goats, which I was able to digest better because I'd had stomach cramps and other things sometimes in reaction to cow milk. Then I heard that at the coalite plants in Bolsover the production of coalite is quite toxic, and it spews out dioxins onto the pastures, well I thought if cows are eating this how do I know that sheep and goats don't eat equally contaminated pasture somewhere, so I thought no I think that'll have to go - so I became vegan.
It's evolved a bit. I discovered last autumn that soya products might not be quite as beneficial as I assumed them to be, and I subsequently found out that it's the processing of them - in TVP, for example, high temperature, high pressure extrusion is known to chemically alter the food, thus leading to damage in vital body organs. And the fatty acids in soya beans are very susceptible to rancidity under high pressure and heat; also soya bean oil cannot be extracted without dangerous solvents, some of which remain in the final product. But fermentation avoids this risk to well-being, and I found that miso, a fermented soya product, is OK, and I do like miso, and I've also found out there's another substitute protein which is quinoa, a grain from Ecuador. In fact I recently stayed at a place which didn't cater for vegans, and I took some of those flakes and mixed them in, to make sure I got enough protein.
My health is much better, I get fewer skin problems. Mucus was a terrible problem, I used to get through about 10 or 12 handkerchiefs a day. Even in a bad cold now I don't get much mucus. Generally I feel a lot better, health's not perfect but...
Oh, there was one side effect of becoming vegan, my then partner, and also a friend I used to go and stay with, said they weren't going to cook for me - so I learned to do it myself. In fact now I actually cook for my friends sometimes, I'm not a confident cook, but ...I remember the first comments I got from my then partner, rabbit food she said. Rabbits seem quite happy on it though!
And then things like going to the doctor, I started to realise that some things are in gelatine capsules, so I'd say I don't want the ones in capsules I want tablets, and in fact I tend to go to a medical herbalist more now because most of the things are in tinctures and in bottles.
So there's a lot of things to learn, but I've certainly benefited from becoming vegan. Currently my area of concern is osteoporosis as I know one or two people who have this - and I think a vegan diet, or as near to a vegan diet as possible, can be recommended as a good idea here.
VV readers are welcome to write in with their own accounts of how and why they became vegan - for
publication next time.
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