As I start this blog, I’ve been what I call a “home vegan” a couple months short of two years. I eat vegan at home, but generally go with the flow when I’m out. I know a lot of people would say this makes me not vegan at all. I also know a lot of people get around the language issues of what actually constitutes “vegan” by saying instead that they eat a plant-based diet. But, for whatever reason, vegan – as label, identity, and community – feels like food culture home to me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever become a strict vegan. That said, I’ve gone much further down the vegan rabbit hole than I ever imagined I would. It’s not just that I’ve stepped things up from my initial 80% home veganism, but also that so many of my feelings about food and how I eat have changed.
Unlike many of the accounts I’ve read where people made a very conscious decision to become vegan, whether for health or ideological reason, I ended up vegan by accident. I was staying with vegan friends (a.k.a. http://forkoffheartdisease.wordpress.com/) and it turned out all of my favorite dishes were the genius of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I went home and ordered Veganomicon and Appetite for Reduction pretty much as soon as I got in the door. I figured it would be a nice shake up to integrate 2-3 vegan recipes a week. The food turned out to be so good and so in alignment with how I like to cook and eat (lots of flavor and variety, but simple and affordable ingredients) that it was all I craved.
At first, I still put milk in my tea and coffee, didn’t pay much attention to whether there were eggs or dairy in the baked goods I bought, and cooked meat-centered meals on special occasions. Gradually, these things fell away. I’m still working my way through my old bottle of Worchester Sauce (though I did finally throw away the chicken and beef stock cubes from the back of my cupboard a few weeks ago) and I very occasionally still bring in baking without worrying about its contents (there are four bakeries on my street!), but that’s it – at home.
The progression from 80% to 99% home vegan, though, didn’t really involve any kind of mental shift. It happened mostly as a result of learning more about how to prepare vegan alternatives – and developing a serious taste for black coffee. The real change has been in how I feel about eating outside my home. When I first started cooking vegan regularly, I thought of it as a treat to eat animal products when I was out. Quite quickly, this shifted to being less a treat and more a sense of better value for money. Funds have been tight, and if I wasn’t at a specifically veggie restaurant, it felt less financially wasteful to shell out for sophisticated meat or fish dishes than for veggie pasta or risotto that I could top with ease at home.
With time, there was a third shift. Without really thinking about it, I found myself making ever-greater efforts to keep vegan (or at least veggie) form when I’m out as well. Partly, this is because I feel noticeably better when I stick to plant foods. But also, feeling as good as I do without animal products, I find it increasingly difficult to take pleasure in consuming them, however rarely (even my old favorite restaurant treat, crab cakes). Still, while I believe whole-heartedly in the value of eating vegan – for health, for animals, and for the environment – there are social and cultural factors that keep me “just” a home vegan. This is where I will pick up with my next post: Why being a home vegan works for me.