I’ve adapted this post from a few others I’ve seen floating around the net, so I don’t claim total credit for all of it* – however, I’ve tried to gear this towards anyone in the UK who's thinking of making the change.
No endorsement is implied for any of the opinions in any of the individual videos and links (or any personalities) - watch, read, decide for yourself...
The vegan lifestyle can be easy, but it also takes adjustment, willingness and a degree of tenacity - some people find certain aspects of the lifestyle harder than others, but ultimately it's rewarding, fun and potentially the most beneficial thing you will ever do for the animals and the environment.
WHAT IS VEGANISM?
While veganism has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, the actual word "vegan" is credited to Donald Watson, the founder of the Vegan Society in the UK in 1944 - when creating the word he wanted veganism to represent the "beginning and end of vegetarianism".
In 1979 The Vegan Society decided the definition should be thus:
"A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
Considering they created the word, I would say that this philosophy of abolitionism is probably the purest and clearest of all definitions and one that we should strive towards more than any other.
It's not just about being nice to animals; that's important, but it's also about our rights as human beings to treat animals as property or exploit them for our own desires.
Basically, if it comes from an animal (mammal, fish, bird, reptile, amphibian or invertebrate) then we should do our best to avoid it.
STEP ONE - MOTIVATION
Inspiration is better than motivation but the first time we first take off those blinkers may be a painful experience - most of us need this to see the way animals are treated by humans. Once we open our eyes we may never look at it quite the same way again.
I urge you to watch all the following, in order…
www.earthlings.com/?page_id=32 or http://www.nationearth.com/films/
This documentary is graphic and you will want to turn away. It shows us the reality of what animals go through for fashion, food, entertainment and experimentation. Yes it’s tough to watch, but imagine what it must feel like for the creatures in these positions.
The official link is above, but if it hasn't been taken down, you can watch the full movie below:
GARY YOUROFSKY'S “BEST SPEECH EVER”
Gary Yourofsky seems to cause controversy wherever he goes, but whatever you think of him as a person, his speech has changed lives all over the world. Listen and watch and make an educated decision - is this violence, cruelty and suffering still something you're happy to be a part of?
Unfortunately this isn't usually available for free, but it is one of the best videos to explain the environmental aspects of animal agriculture. It's now available on Netflix, but alternatively beg, borrow or find a copy using whatever means you can and watch...
The trailer is below, and occasionally it appears on Youtube in full
*Update 17th Sept 2015 - this has just been made available on Netflix
FORKS OVER KNIVES
This video explores some of the health benefits you can gain from cutting animal products from your diet. The trailer is below, but the full movie can be seen by following the link underneath.
STEP TWO - CHANGE YOUR FOOD
You've watched those videos and you're tentatively considering going vegan. You want to try it, but not sure whether you’re capable … you’re scared of fucking up, not getting it right. Well here are some pointers to start you off and encourage you on your journey.
Right, let's crack those knuckles and get ready ... this will seem awkward at first, it will get easier with time, it's not without some learning involved, but you can definitely do it.
30 DAY VEGAN CHALLENGE
There are a few of these around, these are my favourites.
The concept of doing something "one day at a time" is often used in 12 step addiction groups such as AA and NA. So, it may be worth considering the day ahead without thinking of tomorrow or forever ... if you just focus on today you'll be less likely to be overwhelmed with the changes you are making. Before you know it all those other days will eventually turn into weeks, months and years.
Finding the right foods is a matter of visiting a shop and seeing at what’s available – nearly everything we eat now has a vegan alternative, most are available in mainstream supermarkets – treat this part as an adventure in discovering all the new and amazing tastes you’ve never experienced before.
A growing number of UK stores are marking their food as suitable for vegans, but not everywhere – so learn to read ingredients and make your choices based on that. At the time of writing this Sainsbury's were the best, but others are gradually following suit.
All the main animal ingredients get listed in bold, as these are also allergens – but honey and E numbers don’t get this same distinction so you will need to learn what some of these are.
If the product has The Vegan Society sunflower logo you can guarantee this is about as vegan as it gets.
E NUMBERS AND ADDITIVES
Some foods contain animal parts that you may not be aware of. These can often be found lurking in hidden E numbers such as E120 (cochineal beetle) or E904 (Shellac beetle). The following website lists all the E numbers you need to be aware of.
Please note that there's an increasing trend of actually listing the additive name rather than the E number. For example, whilst bread is mostly vegan, you may want to look out for an innocent sounding additive called L-cysteine (E910/920). It is often derived from feathers or animal hair (and sometimes human hair!).
BASIC REPLACEMENTS LIST
These are merely suggestions rather than endorsing any one brand over another, and there truly are plenty of others - this is a list of EASILY AVAILABLE products for people to transition with minimum of fuss. Always read the ingredients until you're more familiar with your new favourite items.
Most stores have a "free from" section, sometimes refrigerated. These places can be a goldmine of vegan alternatives.
MILK - Rice/almond/soya/oat/hazelnut (NB Asda and some other "own brand" soya milk contains vitamin D3 made from lanolin found in sheep's wool - you may need to research this more carefully)
BURGERS - Veggie/lentil patties from almost everywhere
SAUSAGES – Linda McCartney or Fry's veggie sausages
MINCE – Asda/Tesco veggie mince
ICE CREAM – Swedish Glace
YOGHURT – Alpro Soy Yoghurt
DIPS - Hummus/Salsa or any dairy-free alternative
CHEESE – Violife, Tesco Free-from, various others from health stores
STOCK/GRAVY – Bisto
BUTTER – Vitalite/Pure/Tesco free-from
MAYONNAISE – Various Eggless Mayonnaise
EGGS (in baking) - Applesauce, pureed soft tofu, Ogran egg replacer
HONEY - Agave, maple syrup, rice syrup, golden syrup
CHOCOLATE - Almost all dark chocolate - again check the ingredients
BISCUITS – Bourbons, Some Oreos, Some Hobnobs, Ritz Crackers etc.
Or you can avoid all the processed food and stick to a whole foods, plant based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains
Please note that Quorn is not vegan, because it contains egg and was initially tested on animals before being allowed on the UK market.
Some less-than-ethical companies still produce foods that are suitable for vegans - a potential ethical dilemma here, but I PERSONALLY believe using these products lets the corporations know there is a market for them. Other people take a different stance, so maybe there is no correct answer.
Also, do not be put off by labels stating "may contain eggs, milk etc.", this cross-contamination disclaimer is mostly to protect the company against lawsuits from allergy sufferers. Again a personal choice, but most vegans do not worry about these labels.
SOMETHING TO BE AWARE OF:
Contrary to popular opinion, B12 is not an animal only product - it is produced by bacteria and found in soil, water, etc. It's a good idea for vegans to supplement their diet since most vegetables are cleaned which removes the B12.
Get B12 by eating fortified foods such as plant milk, yeast extract and fortified cereal, or by simply taking a supplement.
It is interesting to note that many animals are given B12 supplements too because their diets are so unnatural - B12 deficiency is now a bigger issue for meat eaters than it ever was for vegans!
The Happy Cow is probably the most comprehensive veg-food finder on the planet
It's available as a website or a smartphone app and can pinpoint vegan, vegetarian and even veg-friendly places in just about every location you'll ever need.
The most challenging this gets is when we eat out with others in non-veg environments - and maybe get questioned about our choices - this is where we really start to push ourselves and so it's often wise to keep a low profile for the first few weeks and resist the urge to become militant.
Asking a waiter if food is vegan is often far worse than the reality - it may make us feel awkward asking questions, and none of us want that conversation - for many of us "stepping up" is the most difficult part of getting out of our comfort zone and far easier once we've done it a few times.
STEP THREE - CHANGE EVERYTHING
It takes a while to learn about all the animal products in our lives, from clothes and shoes to medication and toiletries - this can feel quite overwhelming at times, but with perseverance , support and adjustment it won't be long before it stops being an effort and becomes part of everyday life. As time goes on we may become shocked at how many of our everyday items contain the parts of dead or abused animals.
CLOTHING AND SHOES
DO NOT BUY:
Leather, nubuck or Suede
Cotton (organic is better)
Any other plant based/synthetic material
Please note. Although we may have valid concerns about the petro-chemical industry, the amount of greenhouse gas produced by animal agriculture far outweighs the pollution caused by creating synthetic materials.
Also, leather production is very chemical intensive; there is every chance the curing process causes just as much pollution and environmental damage as any plastic production.
Also, many vegans will still wear the animal products they had before they transitioned - there's no need to create more landfill. However, for many others they need to dispose of their older clothing immediately. There is no correct answer for the best way to do this ... but it may be worth considering how we treat the remains of dead humans.
Although animal testing is banned in the EU for cosmetics, many companies STILL test on animals in other countries (and also for medicines, chemicals and household products). Although it’s difficult to just use vegan-only companies, we can still reduce our contribution to cruelty by doing our best to avoid companies who test on animals or use them in their products.
Read the labels, research the companies and check for products that use animal ingredients or test on animals. BUAV and PETA both have their own cruelty free labelling systems (which unfortunately may still contain animal ingredients) but many other companies will specifically state if they avoid animal testing or ingredients.
Please note that, if you see a disclaimer about not testing unless "required by law", this may be a get-out clause for them testing in other countries.
Again, without endorsing any particular company, none of the mainstream supermarkets test their own products on animals and the Superdrug range of toiletries are definitely suitable for vegans.
For cleaning products, Astonish are vegan, as are many Coop cleaning products - there are also some more expensive brands out there. Method and Ecover products are not vegan because their products are tested on daphnia (water fleas) even though their packaging says cruelty free.
Remember, veganism is about ending the exploitation and use of all animals as products for our benefit - this is different to the welfarist way of thinking that just wants to reduce suffering and treat animals more kindly whilst still condoning their use.
Circuses that use animals
Water based amusement parks such as Sea World
Horse or dog racing
Zoos, aquariums and aviaries
Dog and cat shows
Horse riding, horse shows
It may be acceptable to visit animal sanctuaries in order to help fund them, or even volunteer to help out – check the organisation’s policies before attending, but don’t be fooled by claims of “welfare” if the animals were only brought in to entertain.
There is nothing natural about seeing an animal in a prison. Learn to enjoy the presence of animals as they appear in nature.
A NOTE ON MEDICATION
At the time of writing all medicines in the EU need to be tested on animals by law - therefore there is no such thing as vegan medicine. We can do our best to avoid certain ingredients such as gelatin and lactose, but not many vegans lose sleep over receiving a treatment if they can't avoid it.
Remember the definition of veganism uses the word "practicable" (that is, doable), so we should never suffer as a result of the law, and a healthy vegan is far more useful than a dead one.
STEP FOUR - GET CONNECTED
Youtube is probably the best place to go for education - far better than any other social networking site.
This list is not an endorsement of any particular page as every youtube blogger has their own style of getting the message out - some of the individual approaches may not be your cup of tea whilst others may be right up your street.
It's not about the messenger; it's about the message:
Bite Size Vegan (my personal favourite)
The friendly activist
Freelee The Banana Girl
The Vegan Activist
Happy Healthy Vegan
The Vegan Atheist
Gary L. Francione
James Aspey - Voiceless 365
One Green Planet
Veganism is The Future
Voiceless for the Voiceless (*my inspiration for this post)
Also, search for Groups on Facebook, these are a great way of connecting with other vegans and asking questions about how to find vegan products.
www.meetup.com is a great website for connecting with people - it's more than social networking, it takes your life back into the real world! Search for vegan groups on there to see if you can find some real local connections.
There is a vast wealth of information out there, on Facebook, on Youtube and also on Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter ... the lists above are just an introduction to the thousands of resources available today.
Veganism has never been easier, but even if you find it difficult, is this really a valid excuse?
STEP FIVE - OBJECTIONS, QUESTIONS AND ARGUMENTS
So, maybe you understand all the arguments, but you will still encounter resistance from other people - they'll offer the most infeasible, illogical arguments and suggest the most unlikely of scenarios.
Learning the information you need to counter the various ethical arguments will take time, and as such it's often better not to get involved in debating too much until you're clear on every issue - by watching the initial videos and following the links you're already armed with many of the facts!
Questions such as the sentience of plants, the behaviour of lions, the issues of canine teeth, honey*, wool*, bivalves*, eggs from backyard hens*, tyres, roadkill, squishing insects, plant sentience, desert island scenarios and more will inevitably surface ... but don't give up. Most of these common objections and issues have been addressed time and time again and the comebacks are all out there for other people to answer. If you don't know, simply say "I'll answer this later" and then go off and research.
*Definitely not vegan products; so if you still consume these you are more accurately a vegetarian, but they are often used as part of a "what about ... ?" argument
Remember, it's impossible to never do harm - we live in a non-vegan world, but there is no greater way to reduce harm than by going vegan - there isn't a single question or objection that hasn't been addressed at some point.
Ask yourself, "Am I deliberately using a living creature as a product for my own selfish purposes?". This is the basis of all vegan philosophy - that the commodification and exploitation of other creatures can never be justified, and is only excusable when there is no other choice.
STEP SIX - YOU ARE NOW VEGAN!
You are vegan as soon as you apply the above into your life; when you eliminated animal products you had already transitioned - even though you may still feel tentative, it won't take long before you start to reap the benefits and become more confident in your decision.
So congratulations, you have improved your chances of living a healthier and longer life while reducing the likelihood of many lifestyle diseases and conditions.
You have also massively dropped your carbon footprint and negative effect on the environment, and are helping to save huge amounts of food and water that were previously being wasted producing meat and dairy.
Most importantly however, you have drastically cut your contribution to the abuse, suffering and slaughter that animals endure at the hands of man.
Welcome to a fantastic adventure