Vegan at 50(ish): becoming a mid-life vegan requires a tricky u-turn – people remember things

It’s undeniably fashionable to be a vegan right now. I always imagine this new flush of plant-eating proselytes must irritate the hell out of the old guard; the vegans who’ve weathered decades of distrust and even derision while the rest of us banged on about ‘nose-to-tail’ eating and how happy hens lay happy eggs.

becoming a midlife vegan requires a tricky u-turn. People remember things

But before you get your bum on the bandwagon, becoming a midlife vegan requires a tricky u-turn. People remember things. They are quietly suspicious. How often did you ever serve up a meat-free meal at a dinner party? Didn’t you just send me that link for those cosy sheepskin rugs all over your gaff? Isn’t your favourite lippy from Chanel?

And then there’s living in Yorkshire. It’s practically the law to be on first-name terms with your butcher and to lie awake worrying about his rapid demise from the high street. Meat eating and milk drinking somehow connect us with this cow-centric county. So why, at 51, even consider going vegan?

Like Alice down the rabbit hole I did something that changed me for ever – only my ‘drink me’ moment was more of a ‘watch this’

Like Alice down the rabbit hole I did something that changed me for ever – only my ‘drink me’ moment was more of a ‘watch this’. Dairy is scary! to be precise. Actually, Erin Janus, the vegan, activist and social media mastermind behind the video is just a teeny bit scary herself, what with her 500-mile-a-minute narrative hairdryering out of a dazzling north American grin.
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But I hand it to you Erin. And to my lovely young work colleague and vegan mentor who sent me your link. It’s unignorable, unforgettable and a dose of salts to anyone, like me, who still believed if you bought organic milk from Prince Charles you were part of a bucolic nirvana that could bring only good things to all the kingdom.

Of course, at 51 you can’t be caught changing your life on the back of a 5-minte youtube offering, however good. But I think of Ms Janus as a sort of starter gun. After her vid, I began to read and read some more and am still reading, and learning, and wondering how it has taken me so long to realise the horrible truth about what Guardian journalist Chas Newley-Burden calls ‘the darkest part of all farming’.

I’m not one for reading books more than once, but I am making an exception with Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2010 dogged expose of factory farming, Eating animals.

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 13.44.33Granted, it’s a bit old now and its focus is the US. But even his meat-eating critics say he paints a ‘devastating portrait of the systematic cruelty and sinister secrecy of US agro-industry’ and that his case against factory farming is ‘unanswerable’ (Matthew Fort, Guardian Book Reviews, 2010).

Meat is in fact easy to give up. Dairy less so. And I suspect, if I did a lot of homework, I could find many dairy farmers in the UK and in Yorkshire that are providing significantly better welfare conditions for their herds than than the 20 or so American-style ‘mega-dairies’ (source: Ethical consumer) which have already established themselves on these isles. But it’s all just so relative. In an industry where animals live on average less of a quarter of their natural lifespans and live those miserable years with the dual burden of pregnancy and lactation, the question has to be: how badly do you really want a cheese sarnie?

So, while I’m still getting my head straight with some facts and figures to proffer in any ‘discussion’ about my decision to kick a half-century-old meat and milk habit, I’m already headlong into an unstoppable plant-based food adventure.

It’s in my kitchen and at my table that I envisage doing my little bit to make people feel they could close the door on meat and dairy because the plant-based options we all have in 2018 are dizzyingly exciting.

Let’s just take it one tofu banh mi at a time.


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