I’m apprehensive to open up this topic of conversation as I’ve found both sides of the debate to, on occasion, be accusing and allow little to no room for compromise. These subjects are polarising, with innocent discussions turning into a battle ground of right and wrong, pure and impure, healthy and unhealthy. There are those who believe that animal based produce is the worst possible decision for our wellbeing and those who cling to meat eating as if it were a fundamental right.
But what about the stuff in the middle?
What about the delicate, hazy part that lies somewhere between the two ‘sides’, allowing us to create room for everyone.
I was a vegetarian throughout my childhood and teenage years, it did work for me as it does for my parents now. We lived a happy and balanced lifestyle without meat and I’m sure veganism provides this for a lot of people as well. I fully believe that vegetarianism and veganism are just as capable at providing a healthy and nourishing way of life as much as a meat based diet. But I also think that there’s just as much room for neglect, imbalance and malnourishment in ANY diet if we’re not careful.
What worries me is the shift that has appeared within veganism. With roughly half a million people in the U.K. Now describing themselves as vegan, this way of life has picked up speed, shops and stores are catering more and more towards the vegan way of life and the ethical roots have become estranged, twisted and tied into something that it isn’t. It has become blurred with ‘clean eating’, detoxes and dieting. The ethos begins veganism is becoming secondary to its ‘wellness credentials’.
I can fully agree and support that this ethos is commendable. We can’t argue that it is better for the environment and better for animal welfare, but I’m not vegan and I’m no longer a vegetarian. Put simply, I needed options, I needed to feel like I wasn’t restricting or cutting out food groups, disguising it as a ‘new way of life’ when really it was just fuelling my eating disorder and I think that this is where a few people need to open up their minds; dietary rules, no matter how pure in value or motive, can easily morph into obsession, control and possible problems surrounding food. Veganism and vegetarianism won’t always be a realistic option for everyone. So I think it takes finding a balance between personal morals and living a healthy, happy lifestyle both physically and mentally.
We should be able to recognise that being able to cut out whole food groups and live sustainably is, in itself, a privilege. In no way am I suggesting this is negative, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone has that option. What’s ‘right’ for one person, might not be attainable for someone else.
We could look at convenience. Veganism may be fantastic for a student who’s still living at home or a city dweller surrounded by vast amounts of stores, but for someone who is living in a more rural area with limited access to larger shops, cutting out animal produce completely may be near impossible and vegetarianism might be a better alternative.
There’s also budget to take in to account. Some individuals may be able to comfortably afford this way of life, but for others who live on a more limited income, they might have to rely on a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread to see them through the week.
A factor that pops up a lot in my household is time. My husband and I work long days and awkward hours. So yes, sometimes we have to make do with a frozen pizza and precious stolen time instead of taking the time to prepare a certain type of meal, just to ensure we actually get to speak to each other before dashing off to work again.
Another point to take into consideration is that people do struggle with eating disorders. So grabbing a smoothie for breakfast or a health packed shake isn’t going to do the trick for someone who’s trying to regain their positive relationship with food. They will need substance and familiarity. Whether that’s a slice of toast with butter or a full English isn’t up for discussion. It’s just what’s needed at that moment in time for that individual.
We need to be more lenient and open to people’s personal stories and realise that while veganism or vegetarianism may work for a large chunk of people, it’s not feasible for everyone. Of course, you can be proud of what you do, but take time to check in and remind yourself of that everyone’s story will look different, the issues and morals will always depend on the individual.
There are gaps and light between the black and white arguments of ‘right and wrong’ in regards to veganism. Look for them and remember, there’s no such thing and a single right way of eating.