Transitioning into a vegan lifestyle
Sean O'Callaghan shares his vegan journey and advices those just starting theirs
You are reading this magazine, so I think it is safe for me to go ahead and assume you have heard about Veganuary. Veganuary is an organised effort by a UK non-profit to encourage people to adopt a vegan lifestyle in the month of January, usually by starting with a plant-based approach to eating.
The programme is responsible for giving thousands of people the nudge towards veganism at the start of each year and participation has more than doubled each year since it was launched in 2014.
Participants in the Veganuary programme get a carefully created experience, designed to support them through an introduction to veganism. As a vegan of more than two decades, I wanted to use this column during Veganuary 2021 to give an overview on what it was like for me to transition into a fully vegan lifestyle all those years ago.
Veganuary wasn't there for me back then, but I imagine new vegans won't be having an experience too dissimilar to mine. The vegan journey often plays out the same for a lot of people.
The first vegan step for me, was of course, the most obvious. Having already cut meat from my diet a few years earlier, I stopped consuming cheese, milk, and eggs on the day I decided to become vegan. I didn't buy it for myself, nor did I eat it when it was offered to me.
This abrupt approach worked well for me and from that day I never touched the stuff again. That sounds pretty straightforward, so what problems did I encounter? Animal by-products were almost everywhere!
I knew how to stop eating milk and eggs, however, these ingredients turned up in bread, biscuits, cereals, potato crisps and chips, and countless common foods found in my pantry.
This was the beginning of my decades long career as an expert label reader! Once I knew how to dodge milk and eggs, I schooled myself on why I would want to avoid honey as a vegan and how the use of animal-sourced ingredients such as lanolin were prevalent in toiletries, make up, and personal care products.
Avoiding animal products in the nonfood items I purchased also took me down the path of caring about animal testing. The next step of my vegan transition? Ceasing to buy any products that had been tested on animals.
My shampoo, hairspray, laundry detergent, toothpaste, and even dish washing liquid all had to have labels that stated they were not tested on animals before they could end up in my shopping basket.
Clothing was the next thing to change, as my leather shoes were replaced with vegan versions when it was time and I stopped buying wool, silk, fur and feathers. One of my final steps in becoming a consummate vegan consumer involved altering my alcohol intake.
It took a few months after my decision to switch to a vegan lifestyle to strengthen my understanding of how beer and wine can often not be suitable for vegans.
This was not long after the birth of the Internet meaning information was not so widespread as it is today. It is now common to find a supermarket wine labelled as suitable for vegans.
And here I am now, 20 years later, still a fully-fledged vegan proud of my decision to lessen my contribution to animal suffering.
I always look for ways to be more compassionate with my consumerism (did you know toilet paper can sometimes use gelatine in the manufacturing process?!) and I have learned to enjoy my veganism as a never ending journey that allows me to grow and educate myself.
With every passing year, I become more comfortable with my veganism, which in turn, gives me more confidence to speak up as an advocate for animals.
If your vegan journey is just commencing, know that you'll never run out of opportunities to learn to be kinder… and don't forget to have fun as you do your part to spread compassion!
Follow Sean's vegan adventures on Instagram @fatgayvegan