Kelly Ryan lives in Oxford, UK, with pieces of her heart scattered across the South Coast of England and India. As well as being an all-round awesome vegan, she knits, crochets, cooks, bakes, makes up songs about her cat, Tony Stark, and dabbles in running, yoga, meditation and self-improvement.
In this section, Kelly shares her vegan story, and provides insight and advice on going vegan.
How I Went Vegan
1. What made you decide to go vegan?
My decision to go vegan was actually based on a personal diet challenge. I had a friend who was vegan and I was intrigued, so I thought I’d give it a go. It was only after I’d changed to a plant based diet that I came upon animal rights information online, especially the Abolitionist Approach website, which opened my eyes. I’m now vegan because it’s the right thing to do.
2. Was there anything that you were nervous about at first?
Food. I think everyone is nervous about food because it’s such a social thing. I was worried about eating out in particular, but I realised with time that a little planning goes a long way!
3. Did you go vegan gradually, or in stages? How did you learn to eat out, read labels, etc?
It was a gradual process. I focused on food first, and when I was comfortable with that I got rid of all my animal-based clothing. Toiletries and cosmetics came last.
As I mentioned before, eating out was a concern at first but I learned to call ahead and, if I hadn’t called ahead, I learned to graciously accept a salad! In time, I figured out the best and most accommodating places to go, and discovered how delicious cheese-less pizza is!
Label reading can be quite daunting when it comes to making the food changes. Even now I still occasionally get caught out! My iPhone is extremely helpful; I often search for an e-number or an unknown ingredient and get immediate answers. If it’s not clear whether the ingredient is animal based or not, I avoid it anyway. In the UK, the Vegan Society have a pocket sized book called the Animal Free Shopper which was very handy for me in my early days of veganism, when I didn’t have a smart phone.
4. How did you learn to cook? Are there any substitutes or comfort foods that have been helpful?
I’d always been interested in cooking, but looking back to my omnivore days, my meals were quite uninspired. Since becoming vegan, I have become a pretty good cook (if say so myself!) and have become very experimental in the kitchen.
For anybody interested in vegan cooking I was recommend good basic recipe website such as http://vegweb.com/ as well as a book or two. Vegan with a Vengeance or Veganomicon are staples in my house but may be quite complicated for the novice vegan cook. This cupcake recipe has been with me since the beginning of my vegan journey and has definitely helped me eat my way to vegan happiness!
As for substitutes, in the beginning I was into substituting cheese (Bute Island’s Sheese is the best I’ve tried in the UK) but now I’m not as interested. I was a cheese fiend as an omnivore, but now my palette has definitely changed to prefer more fresh unprocessed foods.
I use soy milk regularly, but it took so long to find a type that I like! The first soy milk I used was hideous and grainy but I stuck it out (what a hero!). Now I go for the long life own brand supermarket versions.
5. What was your transition like socially? Have friends and family been supportive? Do you have a support network of vegan friends of acquaintances (in person or online) that makes things easier for you?
Friends and family have been very supportive, and I know just how lucky I am. At first, I think they may have been slightly bewildered, and perhaps didn’t understand my reasons but as time has gone on they have opened up. They have learned to cook vegan meals, have listened to my reasons and recently a group of people, including my parents, had a plant-based day to celebrate my 3rd year vegan anniversary.
As a vegan, you will meet people who want to challenge you. Some will be respectful, some less so. My advice would be to learn as much as you can, familiarize yourself with the many (often ridiculous) reasons people fabricate for not being vegan and ready yourself with calm, informed responses. This self education does take time, but after 3 years I am beginning to feel more comfortable in face to face situations.
Getting to a point where I can communicate more effectively has been helped by online groups. Facebook has a good network of abolitionist vegan groups, and the Abolitionist Approach website also has useful forums where you can connect with like minded vegans.
6. What advice would you give to someone who is considering going vegan?
I have some of snippets of advice for budding vegans.
Do it at your pace. If you have the ultimate goal of veganism in mind you’re on the right path. It took me at least a year to phase out toiletries and cosmetics, but the staggered approach I took made it seem much less daunting: food followed by clothes, followed by toiletries etc (and in fact household cleaning products took a little longer).
The second snippet is be prepared. Yeah, I know it’s the Scout motto but I’m keen to pilfer it for veganism instead. A little forward planning is going to make your vegan life so much easier. Don’t expect shops or restaurants to have food for you to eat; carry snacks, call ahead; take small steps in advance in advance to ensure you’re not disappointed. I’ve always taken this approach and everybody who I’ve badgered in restaurants and the like have always been very accommodating.
Veganism isn’t hard. It might seem hard when you consider it, but gradual changes and planning will make it much more accessible. And finally, veganism isn’t about perfection, it’s about doing the best you can whilst holding the values true in your heart. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we have to make exceptions (i.e. medications) but as long as you’re not deliberately scoffing chicken burgers whilst claiming to be vegan, you’re doing it right.