Published February 2020
Our consumer habits are changing – for the better. According to a 2019 report by Waitrose and partners entitled ‘The Mindful Consumer’, 1 in every 3 Brits have begun to stop or reduce their average meat consumption . In addition, around 56% of the British population have started to adopt ‘vegan buying behaviours’, such as consciously opting for vegan products and checking if the product is cruelty-free (not tested on animals) . This is encouraging to say the least. As we become increasingly more mindful of our own health, our changing planet, and the wellbeing of the animals that share it with us, we begin to re-model how we buy, cook and eat our food. Welcome to a more sustainable future.
Something that isn’t widely discussed is the way that veganism has also changed and adapted over time. In years gone by, those who adopted a cruelty-free lifestyle were often ostracised and ridiculed for their choices, driving a deep and distinctive wedge between meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. For many, this segregation still exists but for others the lines are beginning to blur.
People are now beginning to accept a ‘flexitarian’ approach without fear of persecution from meat-eaters or vegans. Around half of self-proclaimed vegetarians admit to eating meat or dairy products ‘on special occasions’, or ‘only on the weekend’.
In Britain, around 21% of people now identify as flexitarian. Many flexitarians hope that by reducing their average meat intake they are contributing to a more sustainable and compassionate society, by individually reducing the demand for intensively reared meat.
Regular meat eaters have also begun to move into this flexi-grey zone by trying out ‘meat free Mondays’ and even dabbling in the increasingly popular Veganuary.
But not everyone is so convinced. Just over two thirds of the UK population still strongly believe in and enjoy consuming meat on a regular basis (at least two out of three meals a day). So what is holding us back? Why aren’t we all making the jump to a fully plant-based lifestyle? We spoke to Zoe and Alex, regular volunteers at Goodheart Farm Animal Sanctuary, to see what their experiences of transitioning to a vegan lifestyle were like.
Alex and Zoe both have their own local businesses. Alex works as a personal trainer and nutritionist at The Fitness Lane , and Zoe is managing director of Cuts4Scruffs , a professional pet grooming salon. Their role at the sanctuary is to interact with our residents on an individual basis – giving them that extra bit of personal love and attention.
We begin by discussing the differences between the terms ‘vegan’ and the newly popular ‘plant-based’. Not to be confused, it is generally thought that someone who follows a plant-based diet is primarily invested in their own health and wouldn’t necessarily opt for animal-free cleaning products or cruelty-free practices. Someone who is vegan on the other hand is much more driven by animal welfare, and as well as not consuming animal products would not wear leather or purchase products that have been tested on animals.
How would you describe your diet and lifestyle choices?
“Now we would describe our diet and lifestyle as vegan, but when we first started, we would have described it as eating a plant-based diet.”
How long have you been vegan?
“We were both meat eaters since children. Alex ate a lot of meat due to his bodybuilding lifestyle and I [Zoe] ate a lot of dairy due to a love of cheese, cake, and cream! We both went vegan overnight on 19th June 2019 after watching ‘What The Health’.”
At this point we begin discussing the positives and negatives of a wholefood vegan diet as opposed to eating a lot of the new and exciting vegan ready meals and mock meats that are now available. For some, the idea of cooking foods such as tempeh or tofu may seem a little daunting when first exploring a vegan diet. Zoe suggests that mock meat products, such as the Beyond Burger sold at Tesco for £5 for two plant-based patties, are a great place to start.
“It’s easy to buy nearly every type of meat replacement now. Our favourite mock meats are Plant Pioneers Meat Free Mince, which is £2.90 cheaper than beef mince in Sainsburys! Also Tofurky Hickory Smoked ‘Turkey’ Slices are great for sandwiches for a work lunch. I think mock meats appeal to people transitioning to a vegan diet as they can replicate all of the foods they are already eating so the transition is easier for them.”
“Say you used to enjoy cooking chicken curries? Just swap out the chicken for some Vivera plant-based chicken pieces and you’re good to go. Love bangers and mash? There are so many vegan sausages to choose from. You start by making one swap here or there and your confidence in cooking begins to grow, and that’s when you start exploring and experimenting with other foods like lentils, tempeh and seitan.“
Can you recommend any quick, easy meals to prep for a busy week ahead?
“Meal planning and prepping is quite important to us. We tend to bulk-cook meals at the start of the week and store in the fridge, so you don’t even have to think about your mid-week lunch. We tend to have wholemeal pasta, wholegrain rice, or buckwheat with raw or cooked veggies with a tasty sauce over the top.”
Do you think eating a vegan diet is expensive?
“It is what you make of it. If you eat a lot of vegan ready meals or eat out a lot that’s obviously going to be more expensive, and potentially less healthy. We shop at local wholefoods stores and bulk buy things like lentils, rice and pasta to keep costs down. We also buy local, seasonal fruit and veg to reduce cost and support local businesses. A good tip is to season all of your food at home – often shops will charge you a lot more for ready seasoned foods, like tofu.”
What would you say to those people who are considering adopting a fully plant-based lifestyle, but aren’t quite there yet?
“We found that watching documentaries were a good introduction for us, but it’s also important to do your own proper research from trusted sources. Start by only doing as much as you can and don’t think that you have to be 100% vegan straight away!”
“Connect with other likeminded people and get tips for cooking if you’re lacking ideas. Trying Veganuary or the Vegan Challenge 22 can be useful because there’s lots of support available. It’s also good to re-train your taste buds. If you used to be addicted to cheese, it’s best to cut it out of your diet altogether rather than immediately finding vegan alternatives. Soon, you’ll notice you aren’t craving dairy anymore at all, and vegan cheese alternatives become a treat.”
What other personal benefits have you experienced?
“Personally, I [Zoe] feel more energised and have noticed less inflammation in my joints. My blood pressure has also dropped and I’m feeling happier in my mental wellbeing.”
“I [Alex] am able to train longer in the gym with a faster recovery time after working out.”
We end our discussion with a walk around the sanctuary, scratching and stroking our ten growing piglets and saying hello to some of our elderly sheep.
 Research carried out by Opinion Matters for The Vegan Society between 14 and 16 July 2017 involving a sample of 2,011 UK adults.