Published: 06:00, 06 January 2021
Twelve months ago I decided to give Veganuary a go - the annual campaign which last year attracted 400,000 people worldwide to try the diet for the month of January. One year on, and I haven't got off the wagon.
And while I'm pleased with my efforts (and it is a challenge at times), I'm more impressed with my ability of not falling into the normal vegan trap of incessantly telling everyone about my dietary choice.
Now, granted, writing an article about this rather flies in the face of that last sentence (indeed, it's akin to taking a large trumpet to fanfare my efforts from the rooftops), but in day-to-day life, I've kept it between me and my pulse-dominated food cupboard for the most part.
So, dear, lucky, reader, you are the first I've bored on the topic for many a month.
Not because I was embarrassed about it, but more because I didn't want to have to justify my choices to the sort of people for whom saying 'I'm a vegan' is like waving the proverbial red rag to the ravenous bull.
As an example, about 14 months ago I wrote a piece for KentOnline about the growing popularity of veganism. It wasn't a call to arms - and I wasn't planning to jump on board at the time - merely a reflection on the growing demand for plant-based products.
The comments section, however, was eye-opening.
It was packed with plenty of "no-one is going to tell me what to eat", ample comments that all vegans were "narcissists", remarks about how tasty dog and, for that matter, cats were to eat and even someone, in full caps-lock on mode who simply bellowed 'VEGANISM IS DISGUSTING'. I'll assume they were being ironic, but, frankly, it was hard to tell.
So let's get something straight. I'm not some 'holier-than-thou' type. I'm not suggesting anyone makes a radical change in their diet if they don't want to, and, nor have I become some sort of vegan zealot.
I've also stumbled at times. I've had cow's milk in my coffee a couple of times when I've been out and simply forgot and I gave into a lockdown craving for cockles by buying a pint of the shellfish when restrictions were lifted during the summer and enjoyed every single vinegar-drenched one of them. And, if I'm honest, the mere thought of the Colonel's special blend of herbs and spices still makes my mouth water on occasion (although resisted, I might add).
Oh, and I can absolutely guarantee that not once have I considered whether the glass of wine I was about to drink was vegan (well, I did, but then immediately dismissed it as going too far - there's got to be somewhere you draw the line, after all). Nor have I felt particularly bad about any of the above.
All of which probably ensures I am despised by both the die-hard lifestyle-vegan who would baulk at my wearing of a woolly jumper and for those carnivores who take someone's opposing dietary preference as a personal affront.
Call me a part-time vegan if you will.
However, something strange has happened since I opted to give Veganuary a go.
My initial motivation was merely selfish. I wanted to see what it was like. I wanted to have my theory that food would be drab and uninspiring put to the test.
Oh, and I thought it would be an environmentally friendlier approach in these days of impending climate chaos.
Yet over the months, fuelled by the knowledge that I am not contributing to the ordeal of any animal bred for human consumption, the sole reason I persevere with the diet now rests almost purely on ethical grounds.
However finger-lickin' good a KFC bucket sometimes appeals to me, the thought of eating the flesh of a dead animal (cockles excluded) - no longer carries the appeal it once did. In fact, quite the opposite.
Before all this, I was quite happy to not think too hard about the way animals are farmed, or milk produced. And I've certainly not scoured the internet for any upsetting footage which disturbs society's carefully constructed vision of happy cows, lambs and pigs living the life of Riley in our green fields.
But I am well aware it is a front which disguises a moral dilemma most shy away from or willingly ignore.
To be blunt, I've felt a lot better knowing I'm not contributing anything to the economy of these industries or the environmental harm they cause. A thimble-full of cow's milk and one pint of cockles not withstanding.
Which may explain why vegans have that smug look on their faces.
As for the food? I've honestly - hand on my heart - never tasted so many delicious meals. You're forced to explore flavours and combinations not to mention upping your vegetable intake.
So much for my expectations.
I'd even go as far as saying I prefer to have oat milk in my coffee now. Once you've got over the fact it tastes a little different it really grows on you. During the first lockdown, as securing a supermarket delivery slot proved a near-impossibility, I even developed a penchant for pea milk bought in bulk from Amazon. Clever little peas, eh? Who knew?
Have I felt healthier? No, not really. Have I lost weight. Yes, but probably more as part of health kick I put myself on during the first lockdown. But sticking to the vegan diet did act as a rather splendid barrier to stuffing my face with chocolate and plenty of other snacks.
However (and I know how intensely irritating this statement is going to be), I feel spiritually better. And I never thought that would be a sentence I'd ever write.
Can I swear I will remain vegan? No (and as the cockle-scoffing and non-vegan wine-gulping proves, I've not been that good at it anyway). But from a life where I rarely checked what was in my food, now I make a point of it. So that's 99.9% of a diet where animals don't suffer or die due to me. And that, honestly, warms the cockles (ahem) of my soul.
Give Veganuary a go if you fancy it - some 400,000 people tried it worldwide last year - you never know, it might surprise you.