JANUARY VEGANUARY – Going green

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[Ed. If you’re anything like me, the thought of giving up a perfectly seasoned slab of steak, my 4am Gilbert’s or – heaven forbid – the annually anticipated pata negra that graces the family countertop at Christmastime, seems torturous. But I’m beginning to think this a bit rich when the source of my food-related joy is coming from a place of… well, torture actually.

There is certainly a big shift taking place which is only going to get greater in 2018. Local convert, Patrizia Imossi, is a lot further ahead in her vegan journey than I am, and her little meat-free nuggets of wisdom have been invaluable during my own. In this article, she imparts some crucial information, a lot of which most us know, but choose to ignore like an ostrich with its head firmly in the sand. With the way things are going, it’s becoming apparent that the only way we can maintain this level of meat consumption is to ignore the facts – or to not care.

And with that, I prepare myself for my first toddler-like steps into the world of healthy, conscious eating. If only for a month. After all, every little helps (said the old lady, as she contributed to the sea).]

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I remember the afternoon when the ‘Eureka!’ moment happened, the realisation that the freshly caught fish swimming and flopping around in my uncle’s bucket were in fact not my friends and they were never going to be my friends. My fishy pals were to become a tasty side addition to our family barbeque that evening. This was one of the formative experiences that eventually turned me towards vegetarianism; being served the flesh of fish that I had known personally made it difficult to avoid the connection that animals were food. Since then my idea of what a balanced, normal diet evolved and changed.

Vegetarianism was a moral decision made on my own grounds as a child. I became uncomfortable with the idea of eating meat. There was always a bone, a vein, or an unidentifiable something in my food. I began to question where my food came from. As we learn and as we grow it is healthy that we challenge ourselves with new mindsets and new ways of perceiving the world. As an adult I started looking at the issues around animal welfare, modern farming and the impact of animal industries on our environment. Much to my horror I began to understand more about these issues and the way I thought about food evolved once again. I am now deep into my veganism journey and yes, it has been challenging, it’s a work in progress, I still eat eggs sometimes and it has been a huge learning curve.

We are in the midst of terrible ecological devastation. It sounds dramatic – because it is. Raising animals for food is the single greatest human-caused source of destruction to our environment. It is one of the major causes of rainforest deforestation and water pollution. It is the largest source of greenhouse gases and it is also a major contributor to ocean dead zones, habitat loss, and species extinction. And when we include all the resources that go into raising animals for food; the land, fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels and freshwater, the animal industry is shockingly inefficient and a highly wasteful use of our limited natural resources. How long can we realistically go on ignoring these facts?

According to vegansociety.com: “Veganism represents a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude —as far as is possible and practicable — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, other animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, other animals and the environment” – and how can that possibly be a bad thing?

When we think about farming and where the animal products we consume come from, we tend to think about Old MacDonald and his farm. A universe in which grassy farmlands with cows grazing leisurely in the open air exists, where happy pigs are rolling around in the mud, and where chickens rest in cosy, warm coops laying their eggs. It is unfortunate that this is not the case – farms like these hardly exist anymore. Instead, cows are kept pregnant and pumped full of hormones to produce an abnormal amount of milk; pigs are raised in concrete cages inside windowless metal buildings, and two hundred and fifty thousand laying hens are piled in one, single building, before the produce is neatly packaged with labels such as ‘Organic!’, ‘Free Range!’ and ‘Farm Fresh!’. I’m sorry to tell you they are about as free as a convict on death row. On average, each caged laying hen is afforded only 67 square inches of cage space – less space than a single sheet of letter-sized paper. And the male chicks? Shredded alive like unwanted junk mail. Photographs of industrial rows of cramped pens imprisoning solitary animals would be enough to shock those of you who would still like to believe in the fairytale view of animal farming, where blushing plump maidens milk smiling cows.

So your desire to go vegan may be strong, but perhaps, like me, you hold back. You’re too worried about what family, friends, and co-workers have to say and you feel the main obstacle is not so much dietary, but a social issue, you don’t want to inconvenience people in anyway and eating out is often an issue. Parents are difficult to convince. Of all the people we interact with, undoubtedly they have the strongest desire for one’s well being. To many people, especially to us in the Mediterranean, a diet without meat is considered to be unsustaining and unhealthy. I have found, however, that the majority of people are interested in improving their health, losing weight or avoiding diabetes, cancer and other illnesses. I am a firm believer that it’s the small, daily choices we make time and time again that either support or undermine our ability to make positive changes.

I understand that going completely vegan overnight isn’t realistic. Going vegan is a process. It can take years to fully transition because it requires a complete overhaul of the way you think about food. Some people find part-time veganism controversial and don’t approve, but it’s a great first step. Cutting down your animal product consumption in any way possible helps animals, the environment, and your health. You can do things like only eat animal products when you dine out, or perhaps try and include more veggies and less meat portions to meals. Every little helps. Whether you care about eating ‘food with faces’ or not, I think we can all agree that involuntarily ingesting all the hormones and other things farmers pump their animals full of is less than desirable. After all, would you let someone come up in to you in the street and inject you with some unknown substance?

For those of you interested in making a change, taking part in the ‘Veganuary’ campaign (veganuary.com) might be the kick-start for you. Veganuary, as the name suggests, is a month long pledge to go to the green side. The start of a new year is a great symbolic opportunity to start again. Before doing so, prepare yourself for this culinary adventure; read as much as you can on the subject. If you’re going to give up cheese for an entire month, you might as well learn a little in the process.

I know, you’re worried you’ll have trouble living in a small Gibraltar where specialty vegan products aren’t widely available. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a vegan soy patty or soy burrito – which they do sell in Eroski by the way – but it’s neither healthy, affordable, nor practical to sustain yourself on those types of foods. Instead, familiarize yourself with new kinds of ingredients. You of course won’t love or even like everything you try, but the name of the game is to try as many new foods as possible, and to have fun doing so!

Going vegan will inspire your supermarket shopping in a different way. Both Morrisons and Eroski sell basic vegan staples like grains, beans, hummus, tofu and nut milks. Both have good produce sections, although you can also find produce elsewhere in town such as our small local vegetable and fruit shops and our Gibraltar Public Food Market just outside of Casemates. The Health Store on Cornwall’s Lane also has an organic produce section along with an array of meat substitutes and cheeses.

The best ways to ease your transition to a vegan diet is to challenge yourself and develop your cooking abilities. All it takes is a recipe and some time to acquire basic cooking skills that benefit you for the rest of your life. Roasted vegetables are so easy to prepare, for instance, there’s really no way to mess it up. Interesting salad dressing are scarcely any harder, and you won’t believe how good vegan tacos and lasagne tastes. Relax and learn to love to cook, explore new cuisines, and be adventurous with food. Most importantly, be easy on yourself. Don’t view a vegan lifestyle as the finish line, but as an evolving process of conscious eating.

Putting veganism into practice will require a little patience, some knowledge of nutrition (which is easily learned and is a most rewarding study) and perhaps a bit of help from other vegans who have acquired local knowledge. Once you begin, you’ll need someone to rant to about how many times a day you get asked where you get your protein. Whether your support lives next door at vegan restaurant The Kasbar on Calle Comedia, or is through a Facebook page (‘Seeds Of Change’ being a great local vegan group), you’ll widen your world of vegan-friendly products, recipes, and local restaurant options.

This isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress, so don’t worry if you slip up and consume animal products, whether accidentally or deliberately. To live as a vegan in a non-vegan world takes both courage and curiosity.

BY PATRIZIA IMOSSI