The stopping drinking thing after the best part of a thirty five year, near on daily habit had instilled in my subconscious that voluntary change of the extreme kind was not just something other people did. After all, I was now in possession of my new found powers of positive habit-harnessing. (Forthcoming blog) This helped me understand that major change need not be accompanied by fear, pain and the false belief that life would never be quite as pleasurable again. In short my mind and body were ripe for some drastic stuff. But in spite of all this, I never saw the Vegan train coming until it hit me blind side with a force that changed the entire course of my life and has made everything better in ways I wouldn’t possibly have imagined..
Maybe it had been sitting there latently just waiting for the right time to whop me over the head. Certainly I harboured a life-long love of animals, but then again, who doesn’t? I had – like all foodies – gone to great lengths to purchase those products that suggested the best living environment for the animals. As a chef and food lover, I have always scratched beneath the marketing spiel and actively sought out local, free range produce wherever possible. Certainly, I had had in recent months regular moments of questioning my contradictory values towards animals, but somehow the power of carnism kept it all at bay. And even though my conversion happened like a blinding epiphany on a scheduled flight from London to Malaga, it still required a chance sequence of events to lead to that leaping aboard the plant-based train.
My help came in the form of my wife – doesn’t it always. One of our dogs had lymphoma and was undergoing chemotherapy. In addition, we were putting heart and soul into ensuring our beloved Jampa had the best possible diet and the right natural supplements to maximise the chances of a successful chemo course and the longest possible remission. My wife had started to mention the ‘V’ word casually in conversation as she struggled to deal with the pain of Jampa’s fragile mortality in contrast with our causal attitude to the other faceless creatures we consume and indirectly abuse on a daily basis as a direct result of animal agriculture. In my ignorance I suggested that surely a vegetarian diet would suffice – surely nothing as extreme as Veganism? But she had also stumbled on Netflix films such as Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, and What the Health – which at the time I had no knowledge of whatsoever. These led her in turn to endless Dr Michael Gregor videos – whose non-profit web site, www.nuttritionfacts.org is now our go-to for just about any science-based dietary information. All of this while I was away in the UK cooking meat for my Barbecue cooking demonstrations at food festivals. She just didn’t know how to express the full extent of what she was going through in the light of the way I made my living, let alone how I was exploring a meat-based street food business home in Spain in order to reduce my excessive UK work/travel life. Even if I did want to embrace Veganism, my career was rooted in the world of mainstream carnism. I had cooked like this for a living in one form or another for the last twenty years. No wonder her head was spinning. Finally, she simply forwarded me a link to Food Choices on Netflix while I was away and just asked me to watch it.
I finally downloaded and watched it on my flight back home. And in an hour and a half my life changed for good. From the outset, I was more gripped than with any documentary I had ever seen before. For the rest of the film I went through an emotional roller coaster: anger at the wanton cruelty, bewilderment at my own lack of true awareness, regret that I hadn’t thought about this before and the euphoria of knowing I was about to change completely. This wasn’t just about the suffering of sentient beings, it was about our meat consumption reeking havoc on the planet to a far greater degree then all transport emissions combined; it was a health conspiracy that verged on deliberately concealing how to avoid and even cure cancer and reverse heart disease simply through diet. The whole giant pack of cards that I had built a belief system around for decades; had made my living from and gorged on its fruits came crashing down with such force that it’s a miracle the plane kept its forward trajectory. As I watched the programme I knew that my days of cooking and eating meat, fish and dairy were gone for good. There would be enormous practical hurdles to get over. My life long mantra: ‘there are no problems, just solutions,’ would be tested to the limit.
I burst through the arrivals gate towards my startled, waiting wife and dogs like a crazed dervish. I’ve been told that my opening words were “we’re: f======in doing this”. I really don’t recall. The forty minute drive home is a blur while we euphorically claimed our new existence – we would address the practicalities of how we were actually going to earn a living later. It was the most liberating moment of my life – and that feeling still comes regularly in waves today.
The next few days and weeks were wild swings from the excitement of cooking new and exciting meals to the OMG moments of suddenly realising the true magnitude and ramifications of our decision. What about the planned business? What on earth would my friends say? Many of them fellow chefs and food and drink presenters. They were also still trying to get their heads around the fact that their old hedonistic party buddy Foxy, had stopped drinking. Would this be one step too far for them and they would desert me in droves? Would they think I would suddenly start judging, preaching and condemning their choices? Of course not, these were my choices too a week previously. And they still would be now were it not for that random sequence of events. All these factors would be dealt with in due course. Just one step at a time.
I am writing this nearly six months into our plant-based life and I can say that every single day is filled with a lightness of being that I have never previously experienced. As someone who couldn’t have conceived life without a regular pork pie, seared steak, fresh fried squid or a cheesecake from San Sebastián, I can say that the rainbow of produce we cook and consume in abundance on a daily basis – with all it’s varieties of textures, flavours and health-giving properties – excites my palette in a way that truly surpasses everything those old favourites used to deliver. Oh yes, If I’d heard myself say those words four months ago, I wouldn’t have believed myself either – in a million years. But it’s true. The power of habit is a formidable force and so are the abilities of your palate to change in a way you couldn’t imagine was possible. If nothing else, just try it for a week and see what happens, or embrace the true spirit of Veganuary and see how you feel come February. Let’s face it, it can’t do any harm.