Have you ever had a cup of tea made with a milk substitute? I did when I was in uni, and I didn’t manage to get the fucking taste out of my mouth for the better part of a decade. The problem was that the milk substitute was soya milk, and that soya has less right to be a milk than an almond.
Now, coconuts; that’s a different thing: It doesn’t matter what you do to a coconut, it will basically result in something wet and milky. As far as a substitute for milk goes, it does the job for you with very little effort, and it doesn’t leave your drink tasting like sausages at the end of it. Although, if putting soya in my tea resulted in me being given a plate of sausages, I’d do it. More on that later.
I have recently found myself thoroughly enjoying drinking coffee made with coconut milk. It was my birthday recently. As a treat I went and ate a kilo of barbecued meat, and I was over the moon to be able to top it off with a coconut latte from a local vendor on my way home. It was truly delicious.
This is not the first time I have had such a beverage, and it was not the first time the idea that non-animal-based diets had come up in our house. I may have mentioned this several times before.
There are two ways in which decisions are made: consciously and unconsciously. Imagine walking along a street, which bends gradually around to the right. Before long you are walking at a ninety-degree angle to the path you were on when you started. That is an unconscious decision at work.
So many of the most negative things which happen in this world are the product of an unconscious decision-making process: I mean, no one sets out to kill a few hundred babies; it’s simply the result of a thought process no one had studiously thought through. Ask some baby milk manufacturers.
A conscious decision, on the other hand, is one for which you have no excuses. You chose to do that, and you chose to take that sharp right turn. This was no being-taken-with-the-general-direction-of-travel situation. You did it on purpose. You may not have planned every step of the sometimes tortuous route it took to get there, but you had a destination in mind and your feet listened to you.
We’re doing the latter now; we had been doing the former. We were unconsciously eating more and more meat, because that is my taste; we are now consciously eating less of any animal based stuff.
The problem is that I do so love meat. So I have exempted myself from this drive to veganism, at least officially. The issue is twofold: on one hand I have always loved eating some foods which have no meat in it – I am a lover of pulses of all kinds, regardless of what they do to my bowels; I eat lots of vegetables, and can handle eating much more – so I’m happy to cook vegan food for the family.
That means that my diet is becoming resolutely more vegan, regardless of the fact that I have no interest at all in becoming vegan. My partner does, and our eldest isn’t a fan of meat, so it’s done.
Issue number two is that we now eat as a family. It is helping our larger daughter to eat her meals properly, and to keep her eating what her parents eat, which was always our intention as we drew up to her impending birth all those years ago. Then reality – and supermarket pizzas – took hold, and we moved away from our ideals. We’re back now, and I am only cooking one meal a night. Full stop.
No one ever expected me to be vegan. If I want a slab of meat when I am not having the same meal as my partner, no one will batter so much as a butterfly’s eyelid. I just happen to be joining in. Ish.
I write the menus for our family meals, and I cook the bulk of the meals that we eat together as a family. Consequently, once we had made the conscious decision to set our course towards veganism it was me that was most likely to be doing the turning of the ship. And I have chosen to take it slow.
I have started by cutting the meat-based dishes down to two a week. That sounds considerably more than a vegan diet should contain – because it is – but this is a path, not a teleportation. We’re taking our time to get where we want to be. And I will have some sneaky ham when I am out of the house.
I started by adding in ingredients which both get me excited and which are not the product of dead animals. Lentils, beans and brassicas all make me happy, so they were some good low hanging fruit. In future I may consider some more outré non-meats, but I am happy with the beans for now.
We knew that we wanted to keep fish in our diet, at least for now. Ethically we have far less of an issue with fish. Likewise the eggs from the family farm. Care and provenance are important factors here, and they would help shape our decision making in the years to come. The marine remains.
Agreeing how many meals of meat we wanted to start with – understanding that we would be ending with zero – was a great first step. I respond to limits on my actions better than I do to a limitless landscape. It’s why I write these blogs to a format every week for instance. Knowing what I am permitted to do allows me the freedom to riff in amongst that perfectly happily. It works for me.
Once that change is bedded in and become normalised we can see where we want to go next with it. Should we cut all of the meat out now? Should be keep the fish dishes we currently plan? Should we replace the milk we buy with coconut milk now? Where do avocados really fit in with all of this?
Working together is the key, it would seem. While this hasn’t been my idea, it does make sense for us as a family. Buying meat doesn’t make us happier, doesn’t make us healthier, but it does make us poorer. Imposing rules on ourselves in the first instance, so as to make a sudden and sharp family decision on the consumption of dead things, would make me fall off the wagon immediately. We have more money to spend on whiskey, and I can have a burger whenever I want. I like that path.