Day 8 of 31 Vegans’ First 31 Days sees us stop off at Black Sheep cafe in Berlin to talk to one of the owners, Lucy. Tomorrow, we’ll check in with Audie, the other owner, to round things off and hear her story. For now, Lucy chats about the book that changed her life, missing Guinness and making a fuss about the availability of vegan options.
How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for 6 or 7 years.
What was your diet like before?
I was lazy, not particularly ethical or educated. I was vegetarian for a couple of years, before that I ate A LOT of meat.
What was the tipping point that made you go vegan?
The change for me happened as soon as I really found out what was happening. I was staying at a friends house in the ski hills in Australia (yes they have snow!). We had no TV or internet and my friend had picked up a box of free books from the library. In amongst this random selection of books was ‘The Ethics of What We Eat’ by Peter Singer.
I started reading it with no agenda, and really no thought about what I was embarking on. After every chapter I was truly shocked by what I was learning about industrial agriculture and how farming affects animals. I was completely turned off the food I had learned about.
Dairy was first I think, I just couldn’t look at a glass of milk in the same way. By the time I finished the book I was totally vegan and I had convinced the people around me to think more about what they ate too, by constantly boring them with summaries of what i had just learned!
After every chapter I was truly shocked by what I was learning about industrial agriculture and how farming affects animals.
Did you do much research beforehand?
I have never had a problem staying vegan, and now there is a lot more information in popular culture. Since my first experience I have also read ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer and watched Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy and another documentary about the petrochemical-agriculture complex in the States. I wouldn’t watch Earthlings if you paid me. Even PeTA videos are too much for me. I would recommend books over documentaries though. I think there is a certain shock factor in pro-vegan films, but books seep into your consciousness more and have a longer-lasting effect, I think.
I would recommend books over documentaries though. I think there is a certain shock factor in pro-vegan films, but books seep into your consciousness more and have a longer-lasting effect, I think.
Did you have a supportive network of friends and family around you?
When I went vegan I didn’t know anyone who else who was 100% vegan. Over the years more and more of my friends have become vegan, or at least are vegan sympathisers walking a shaky path towards veganism. Almost all of my friends and family support my lifestyle and are really really accommodating. Some are even apologetic if they eat meat.
Although we are lucky enough to be deep in the vegan scene in the vegan capital of the world, so maybe this because we live in an echo chamber. Having said that, my family in the UK are also very supportive and so maybe it’s part of a wider cultural change. I like to compare it to the 7 degrees of separation theory. The more vegans there are, the fewer degrees of separation there are between vegans and non-vegans.
For example, my older brother is not vegan and previously didn’t know any, but now veganism is not some obscure, extreme concept. Now he defends it to other older guys in the pub because I’m his sister. That is the power that every vegan has, every vegan brings non-vegans a closer experience of our lifestyle and that helps it to spread.
The more vegans there are, the fewer degrees of separation there are between vegans and non-vegans.
What did you think you’d miss most, if anything?
Ummmmm Guinness. I love Guinness, and I didn’t realise for ages that it wasn’t vegan. When my friend broke the news I was so upset, truthfully I wish that I hadn’t be told. Recently I saw that a vegan version is in the works, when that comes out I will be so happy!
Any slip ups in your first month?
In terms of knowing food contained animal products and eating it anyway, no, I never really felt the urge. Sometimes whilst travelling I haven’t been as strict as I would normally be. For example, in India I would eat around lumps of melting Paneer, and I guess you know deep down that lots of the food is cooked in Ghee. Even now we all make mistakes.
Then there’s occasions when restaurants give you the wrong cheese, or products change their ingredients and you don’t check. Or when you think ‘why do they put milk powder in salt and vinegar crisps?’ Things like that are always an issue. Luckily I mostly eat veggies and as part of the general vegan trend all the vegan food is very clearly labeled here. Clothes, beauty products and things like always pose many ethical dilemmas which we usually discuss as a group of vegan friends.
Why do they put milk powder in salt and vinegar crisps?
How did you find the first month?
The first month was spent justifying myself to everyone I met, and also reading a lot of labels! Physically, I didn’t notice any changes, I was actually in California by then so there was a really good range of excellent vegan options everywhere I went.
Was there anything you learned was vegan that you didn’t think it would be?
Yes! There are so many products out there that are vegan by accident. I sometimes think that food goes full circle – from whole and healthy (vegan) through normal (non-vegan) and out the other side into totally chemical and therefore vegan again (oreos are a classic example). Reading food labels is also a hobby of mine, I love discovering new yummy foods. I can’t wait to try some of the vegan mince pies that are in UK supermarkets this Christmas!
What do you wish you’d know then that you know now?
There isn’t really anything I can think of, but on a slightly different note I wish that I had woken up to veganism sooner. We have vegans coming into our café from all walks of life. Obviously there are babies and young children who are raised vegan because it’s their parents belief, but I think it’s so great that we also have young teenagers coming in. They have educated themselves totally independently, and that’s really cool because they are the next generation.
What’s your advice to someone doing Veganuary?
My advice to anyone trying out veganism is to take it easy. Often people blow it out of proportion in their minds, especially non-vegans. Even when they are trying to be helpful, it gets grating to have someone constantly on guard for you. Obviously it is an important lifestyle change, but really it’s very easy now. You take milk in your tea? Buy plant milk. Easy. Family having a roast dinner? Buy a tofu cutlet.
I really think that the way we spend our money as consumers is the biggest factor. Make a fuss if a cafe doesn’t have soy milk. Complain. A while ago I was in a UK airport and I complained to the guy working in the little Pret. I told him it was ridiculous that they had all these options and only the crisps and popcorn were vegan. He told me it wasn’t up to him, he just worked as a cashier. I replied that he should tell his boss, and that he should tell his boss every single time someone said the same thing as me.
Now, just two years later, Pret is cashing in on Veganism big time, so obviously I wasn’t alone in voicing my opinion. It’s defiantly just about money, capitalism, green washing, etc. to a company like Pret, but if it helps save our planet and all those animals then it’s worth it.
So yeah, I would say arm yourself with lots of reading and vegan blogs and exciting recipes. Stay relaxed about it, don’t worry about the small things, but just get used to calling yourself vegan. I promise that it feels really good.
Also, don’t forget to read the rest of our 31 Vegans’ First 31 Days stories.
Feature photo: Berlin Belly Podcast