Today’s 31 Vegans’ First 31 Days feature is one of my favourite. Ron, of Unless Hardcore Vegan Catering fame, shares his vegan story. I promise his love of the lifestyle will have you nodding your head and laughing out loud. He talks about how his musical heroes influenced him, and how the UK vegan scene has some catching up to do.
When did you start Unless Hardcore Vegan Catering?
So, Unless Hardcore Vegan Catering started just over a year ago after I’d been travelling around Europe for a few months in my van, and enjoying the amazing vegan food that most of European cities have to offer. I’d been vegan for quite a few years and always looked forward to holidaying in Germany, Spain, Austria, etc. If for nothing else, then just to eat good food!
It genuinely excites me when I find amazing vegan food, or even just see the word in a window or on a wall. So anyway, I’m in Dresden (East Germany) one day stuffing my face with a kebab (the likes of which you have never seen, outside what is essentially a vegan butchers shop) when I think ‘as much as I don’t want to go back I probably should because the U.K. Needs this!’
We are so far behind the rest of Europe, probably in most aspects, but in veganism especially! And it’s not the quantity so much as the quality. I mean, there is stuff out there, the big chains are putting vegan food on their menus, which is great, but you know what, I wouldn’t get out of bed to eat most of it.
Vegans in the U.K. are so happy just to find vegan offerings, that the standard they are happy to receive is just way too low and that’s where we fall down. I also never really liked the attitude of the vegan scene in the UK, so despite being a vegan myself I never became actively involved with other vegans.
I love the vegan punk and hardcore scene that prevails over in Germany, along with its antifascist and LGBT movement – it’s a tight, active community and it’s cool. Forget hippies, thats what’s been putting people off going vegan for the last 30 years! We need to be more dynamic and forward-thinking. And that goes with food too. You don’t win friends with salad right?! So anyway, long story short, I drove back, sold my beautiful old van and set up Unless.
We are so far behind the rest of Europe, probably in most aspects, but in veganism especially.
How long have you been vegan?
You know, I couldn’t actually put a date on it. I was veggie properly since the age of 14, at a guess. I was a long-term veggie – one of those dickheads that couldn’t give up cheese! But I was also overweight, unfit, unwell and miserable, much of which I put down to that diet. I dabbled with going vegan throughout my teens and then did it for real in my early 20’s, I’m in my 30’s now. So a while.
What was the tipping point that made you go vegan?
I went veggie because of the bands I listened to growing up. Initially it was the likes of Goldfinger and Propagandhi, both of whom had a strong vegan message, but I didn’t actually realise what that was. So I went veggie. I thought I was doing the right thing, I got the whole ‘meat is murder’ idea, but milk and cheese?! That’s all good right? No ones dying… so I was young and naive and frankly even 10 years ago the information was no where near as readily available as it is today.
We didn’t have the internet even, or maybe dial up or some shit that I didn’t use. So anyway, I never strayed from the punk and hardcore scene. As I got older, I started listening to the likes of Good Riddance and Gorilla Biscuits, Bigwig, Pulley… so many bands, so many amazing vegans. I looked up to these guys, they were my heroes and they were vegans! I distinctly remember my favourite band, Good Riddance doing a song called ‘Waste‘ and there was a video for it showing farms and laboratories… that was it. I hated myself for not doing it years ago.
Did you do much research beforehand? If so, can you remember where?
None whatsoever. Like I said, I was fat and unfit, I still am I guess. I’m not in it for health. If you told me it would kill me tomorrow if I didn’t eat meat and dairy, I still wouldn’t do it. It’s for the animals, the planet and everyone else I share the planet with. The fact that I feel 110% better following a plant-based diet is a bonus. I lost weight, gained muscle (not that I have much of that) and felt mentally and physically well for the first time in years. I was a terrible vegan for a long time, I lived on chips and bread. I never liked veg or fruit, but slowly I learned to. Now I’m all over that healthy shit!
If you told me it would kill me tomorrow if I didn’t eat meat and dairy, I still wouldn’t do it. It’s for the animals, the planet and everyone else I share the planet with.
Did you have a supportive network of family and friends around you? Are any of them vegan?
I actually never knew a vegan until people around me became vegan because I showed them videos and spoke to them about it. Now I’m surrounded by them! And that, for the most part, is amazing!
What did you think you’d miss the most, if anything?
Just cheese, like so many people say. But the vegan cheeses that are available now are amazing. I mean, I first tried some of the common offerings, not mentioning any names, and they were vile so I just did without. Same with meat. As a veggie I only knew Quorn as a substitute, and I hated the stuff so I just didn’t look for alternatives.
I don’t think I touched a vegan meat or cheese until I was in Germany about 4 years ago and gave into temptation. I was blown away! But seriously, walk into most European supermarkets and they have more vegan cheese and meat varieties than actual vegan shops in the U.K. have. It’s mad! I was actually in Amsterdam last week and came back with a bag full of new products to try!
How did you find the first month? Did you notice any changes at all?
I noticed despite my shitty diet I started to lose weight. The effect of cutting out cheese is ridiculous. And I do recall feeling generally better within myself too.
What were the vegan options like eating out then? Did you find it difficult? And how did you cope?
Shit to be honest! And I still think they mostly are. I mean there are some awesome vegan places in the UK, but they’re in small pockets and are few and far between. It amazes me how bad London is even, considering it’s size! What is there is really good on the whole, but I still think there’s an attitude of ‘it’s vegan so vegans will eat it regardless of quality.’ Fuck that. I just didn’t eat out for years and years!
Was there anything that you learned was vegan that you didn’t think would be?
No, there were lots of thing that I learnt weren’t vegan which really should be! Like the ‘free from’ ranges in most supermarkets, which they should rename the ‘there’s fucking egg in everything’ range!
What did you wish you’d known then that you know now?
I wish I’d taken the time to cook. I love cooking, but it’s something I’ve only learned over the last few years. Cooking vegan food can be so easy and so cheap and that’s what I wish I’d known. We were like a ready meal and supernoodle household. I didn’t have time for veg and shit. Now the kitchen is my happy place. Put some offensive vegan straight edge hardcore on and make some tasty food.
Now the kitchen is my happy place.
What would be your advice to anyone thinking of going vegan?
Well if you’re thinking about it then that’s an excellent first step, but it’s important to know why you’re thinking about it. If it’s for purely selfish reasons like losing a bit of weight, then you ain’t going vegan right. You’re on a diet. Educate yourself on animal agriculture, greenhouse gasses, how much soy gets fed to cattle rather starving humans… what run off from farms is doing to waterways, overfishing and its effects, global mean surface temperatures… it’s fucking mad when you start looking into how easy it would be to stop a lot of the world’s problems with a simple change in consumerism. But people are too selfish.
If you’re thinking about it, sincerely, then the help is there. Hell, I’ll help you anyway I can. And so will thousands of others. But probably don’t ask for help on Facebook, because there are a lot of dicks out there! Get to some events and have a chat with people and see if there’s any local groups – just not the ones where ponchos and linen trousers are compulsory.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Oh I could rant all day, but I’m sure most people have stopped reading by now so I won’t. So just thank you for all the support I’ve had this last year. It’s been a funny one at times, but it’s been an experience and I’ve met some of the best people ever through it.
Oh and remember; ‘unless’ someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.
And read the rest of our 31 Vegans’ First 31 Days stories here.