How and why I make a vegan diet work

01 Nov 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students
Are you thinking of moving to a vegan diet? Today is World Vegan Day, and Hazel’s back to share her experience of dropping dairy.

I’ve always loved animals – in fact, I’ve been vegetarian my whole life. Coming from a family of vegetarians and vegans, my journey to veganism has probably been a little easier than most and I’ve been supported the whole way.

But there were still struggles and it actually took two years of trying on and off before I could fully commit to changing my diet. So, why did I bother?

For the animals

I always thought that being vegetarian meant that the animal products I was consuming were completely cruelty-free. I mean, they weren’t dying because of me, so that was fine.

However, after doing some research (and seeing some horror stories in the news), I began to realise that those ‘rare’ incidents of chickens living in cages no bigger than their bodies, or cows spending their whole lives artificially pregnant before being unceremoniously slaughtered, were actually… not that rare at all.

Then, when some friends adopted some ex-battery hens, they arrived featherless, covered in wounds and barely able to stand on their own legs. Honestly? I haven’t eaten an egg since.

But it’s not just factory farms, either; the companies claiming they have ‘free range’ hens are failing to hit the mark, too.

Now, I know not every farm treats their animals like this, but when RSPCA approved sites started being investigated (and were found to be completely below standards), I realised I was supporting an industry I just couldn’t ethically agree with.

However, saving the animals was just one part of it and I started to think about my diet as part of the wider picture.

For the planet

Ever since the BBC’s Blue Planet II came out, we have thought long and hard in my house about how to become more sustainable and stop using so much plastic. We’ve moved to ocean-friendly cleaning products, bought reusable bottles and we never leave home without a fabric shopping bag.

But I couldn’t help feeling like I needed to do more. Then, I watched Cowspiracy; a documentary about the impact of farming animals on our climate. It started me on the road to looking at how my diet was affecting the planet and what I could do about it.

In fact, did you know that around 23% of our greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, livestock and the land and forests needed to raise them? From global warming to deforestation, animal agriculture plays a huge role in climate change.

It’s been almost a year now as a fully-committed vegan, and, after recently watching Sir David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet on Netflix, I know I’ve made the right decision.

But how hard was the transition?

I can’t lie; before going vegan, I was a huge fan of cheese and chocolate. Christmas just wasn’t festive without a cheeseboard and my addiction to Cadbury’s Twirls was ever-so-slightly concerning.

It’s for this reason that it took me a couple of years to really get to grips with my vegan diet. I would try for a few months, then someone would bring over a pizza and I’d fall off the wagon again.

However, about a year ago, I realised I’d had enough of doing research and things were perfectly clear; I needed to commit. This absolute conviction made it so much easier to stay focused and I found that, after a few weeks, I didn’t miss dairy at all.

Changing my diet even led me to meeting new like-minded people through advice groups on social media, and I was thrilled when my partner (who ate meat on a daily basis) decided to take the plunge with me. We haven’t looked back since.

Sure, there are still times when it feels a bit awkward to tell people we can’t eat the snacks they’ve laid on, or we’ve had to ask for special menus at a restaurant. But then I look at all the amazing food options now out there (Galaxy’s Vegan Cookie Crumble has quite happily replaced the former Twirl) and I think that there’s no better time to go vegan.

All we need now is the vegan cheese to catch-up and things will be perfect.

More than anything, though, I feel happier and healthier than ever, and my bank account isn’t dying because of it – I spend the same amount of money on my shopping now as I did before. The key? Cooking meals from scratch and avoiding the free-from brands, where possible.

If you’re on a student budget, you can check out some super easy ways to keep costs down right here – or click here for some tasty vegan meal inspiration that doesn’t cost the Earth.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.