About a week ago one of my friends offered to make us all dinner and, since we are now all at least 21 and aiming for classier evenings than those resulting in six pablos and a Dervish, we happily accepted. Being a vegetarian but increasingly trying to lower my intake of animal products in general, she warned me that whilst she could guarantee it would be vegetarian, it most definitely would not be vegan. For me, this wasn’t an issue, because I haven’t yet adopted the label of ‘vegan’, one which is much more complex than just replacing cows milk with almond milk, and extends to a whole host of lifestyle changes, from beauty products to clothes. However, during our meal, I realised that in actual fact, the potato curry that we were eating actually was vegan, and furthermore – none of us had even realised.
This really got me thinking about labels, and the power that they can hold. In a society where consuming animal products is the norm, a label like ‘vegan’ can seem overwhelming, restrictive and somewhat unattainable. As a label that effectively bans cheese, one could argue that it could even induce a state of panic. This notion of veganism consisting of a radical, life-altering change is further reinforced by the special shelves dedicated to it in the supermarket, and by prominent online vegans (google Freelee the Banana Girl) who seem to blend approximately 83 bananas just for breakfast. Exaggerations aside, this popular concept of veganism as something unattainable by the everyday person is one that won’t be easy to dispel.
For whatever reason, the label can be intimidating. What if, after a few gins (we’re working on the classiness one step at a time) the option of chips and cheese irresistibly presents itself? Or, in the library, one of your friends unveils an entire packet of chocolate digestives? The strong, unimaginably emotive ethical and environmental arguments for such a lifestyle change aside, for a weak human (just calling myself out) the idea of foregoing such things indefinitely is troublesome.
But – and there is a but – just because you don’t adopt the label, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Saving the planet (and all of the lovely animals that live on it) doesn’t require you to never eat cheese again, or put a lifelong ban on fudge doughnuts. It’s the small changes that, if made by everyone, would make the biggest difference. It’s cutting down on the amount of meat and fish that you buy (which will also help your bank account, trust me), or choosing soy or oat milk for your morning latte (equally delicious). It’s giving Quorn a try, it’s testing the famous vegan sausage roll from Greggs. It’s the little choices, these small decisions, that add up. They don’t require much thought, they don’t require restriction, and they DON’T require a label.
So, there’s a challenge to end this, I suppose. Try adapting your favourite meals with a host of inexpensive, easy animal-product substitutes – there are a plethora out there. For a curry, choose chickpeas instead of chicken. Choose tofu over turkey. Choose Quorn over quail. And that’s as far as my alliteration will stretch. But challenge yourself! Don’t ‘be a vegan’ – you don’t have to be. But make the occasional conscious change, without the label. Be an accidental vegan.