It’s 6.33am and I’m watching the dawn break hesitantly outside my bedroom window, a cup of green tea steaming on the desk beside me.
It’s the morning of October 3rd, two days into my trial month of veganism. Usually it’s rare for me to see sunrise from the right side, but today I’m up early so I have time to take a run and prepare a vegan lunch before I leave for work.
So why the new routine all of a sudden? What’s with the vegan month?
In a way, I guess it started in Thailand.
As background, I’ve been a vegetarian for about 8 years now, starting from the first time I went to India at 18 years old. It wasn’t even a conscious choice: when I first landed in Mumbai I ate meat; when I flew home a few months later, I didn’t. The transition in between was organic, helped along by the deeply ingrained culture of vegetarianism that’s a big part of Indian society, at least among certain castes. My family out there (who all eat meat) would joke about it: ‘Look at Corin, he only wants to eat Brahmin food.’
I’ve never been the strictest vegetarian anyway, but last year I took a ‘sabbatical’ for a couple of months when I was in South East Asia, simply because I felt that to miss out on so much incredible food (and anyone who’s been knows the food IS incredible) by ruling out all meat dishes would have genuinely taken away part of the cultural experience. As it happened, it turned out that even when I gave myself free rein to eat meat, I was still a vegetarian at heart. A few pieces of chicken I could just about manage, but anything with red meat was just too much—and after the first half-finished pork curry I steered clear.
This year was a little different. When I went to San Francisco a few months back, for the first time in about 8 years, I found myself hungering for red meat—bacon…burgers…steaks…chorizo—and seeing as I was in the Land of the Free, well, I used my God-given freedom to eat up a few of His creatures.
And I saw that it was good.
Sure, I could tell myself it was a ‘cultural experience’ again, but I wasn’t just indulging my curiosity like before. My body was craving meat, and I gave in to it. But I wasn’t about to beat myself up about it.
Last time though, when I left Thailand, I had stopped eating meat immediately. Gone cold turkey, if you will. But this time I found it a lot harder, and even back in the UK I had to step it down gradually over a few months. I’d fallen off the wagon (the meat wagon?), and it took me a little while to get back on.
During that time I had trouble reconciling the belief that I was, at heart, a vegetarian, with the fact that in reality I was eating flesh. It was what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling of trying to hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time. Eventually I phased out the meat, but I felt like I needed something to give me a boost, and restore my faith in the choices that I make.
Then, a few weeks back, I had a conversation with a Jewish friend about keeping kosher. His sister, who observes the rules strictly, had said that the central importance for her was to be forced to reflect on her religion and identity each time she ate a meal. Which got me to thinking about my own principles: that I have strong beliefs about environmental sustainability, about the cruelty to animals inherent in the industrial agricultural process, about my own health and the right relationship between my body and the food I eat. And that ultimately, though veganism will impose a lot of extra considerations on my diet, maybe it’s a good thing for me to be reminded about what I believe in in the same way, each time I eat a meal.
So here goes. Just a trial run, for now. No meat, no cheese, no milk, no eggs, no animal products, just the fruits of the earth for 31 days.
It’s Vegan Month.
Yeah, I’m still working on the name.