This is the first feature in my new Other Folk project. Every week I will post tid-bits (or long bits) about people who are doing things differently and are okay with that.
Q: Being vegan – it seems hard, almost impossible. Is it?
Elsie: I was brought up in a vegetarian household, so becoming vegan wasn’t a huge change for me. For years, I had this notion that it would be impossible to be vegan. But it’s made me appreciate food more. There are so many vegetables, legumes, grains and fruits that you can do so much with.
Ebonie: It is a challenge in the beginning but it’s amazing how quickly your taste buds change, and how your habits redevelop. Once you know what to buy in the supermarket and how to order in cafes etc, it all becomes automatic and super easy! Google helps. Use Google! I’ve been vegan for about 4 years now – trust me, it’s not as daunting as it looks!
Q: What are the reactions you generally get from meat-eaters?
Ebonie: Usually a mixture of the following in varying attitudes:
- “I couldn’t live without [insert animal product/s here]!”
- “But where do you get your protein?”
- “Nah that’d be way too hard.”
- “Then what do you eat?”
Then the meat-eater will either:
- Be open to discussion and genuinely curious
- Be antagonistic or defensive about their lifestyle choices, or
- Shrug, say it’s not for them and change the topic
Elsie: ‘But what do you eat?’
I think a lot of people are more aware now and generally more accepting, but sadly there is a huge stigma attached to veganism that has resulted from a minority that feels the need to promote what they do quite aggressively. I like to think of myself as the ‘silent vegan’. I don’t discuss what I eat, and I don’t discuss what other people eat. I guess I hope for the same respect.
Q: What’s the best thing about not eating animal derived products?
Elsie: It’s different for everyone, but for me, it’s knowing that nothing I consume has come from mistreatment or cruelty.
Ebonie: Knowing that I don’t contribute to the suffering of any animals, and that I don’t need to use animal products to be healthy.
Q: What are some surprising foods that have animal bits in them that most people wouldn’t know?
Elsie: When I was vegetarian, many people were surprised by the fact I couldn’t eat 90% of cheeses. Most cheeses contain animal rennet – which is an enzyme found in an animals stomach. Many yogurts and confectionery contain gelatin, which is collagen from animal by-products.
As a vegan, I’m continually surprised by products that you wouldn’t think would contain dairy. Bread, cereals, biscuits, crackers. Salt and vinegar chips! But the longer you’re vegan, the easier it gets, and you start to remember certain brands or just eat less packaged foods altogether.
Ebonie: Honey in cereals and muesli bars, and gelatin in lollies.
Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for folk looking to cut back on meat intake or perhaps even become a vegan?
Ebonie: I suggest beginning by replacing a few meals a week with vegan or vegetarian meals. Look online for fantastic, easy recipes! Try snacking only on vegan goods. Get semi-regular blood tests to ease your mind and ensure you’re getting everything you need.
Elsie: I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to not be too hard on yourself. I tell people that I am vegan 97% of the time. But sometimes I’m offered a piece of chocolate and I take it. Or I’m out at dinner and a meal comes with a side of aioli. I’ll eat it. If you slip up occasionally, you haven’t destroyed your vegan quest. You should be proud of what you’re doing.
Q: Vegan speed-dating is a thing in Melbourne. Would you prefer to stay within the tribe – and date a vegan?
Elsie: This is something I’m asked a lot. Ideally, yes …
I’ve always been quite adamant about being with someone that doesn’t eat meat. I have a vision close to that of my parents. I think the way my brother and I were brought up was wonderful. It was a meat-free household, but we were always given the option to try/eat meat outside of the home. I want my own family to be the same. I think it’s important to not force your beliefs onto your partner or your children, just to expose them to what goes on and let them make their own choices.
It all comes down to situation and circumstance. I don’t quiz guys on their stance on animal welfare and how much meat they eat a week before I hand out my number. As long as they respect my beliefs and suss out how many vegan options are on the menu before a dinner date I’m willing to reconsider my perspective.
Ebonie: I’ve never dated a vegan before, and I think in many ways it would be fantastic. But I think it’s more important that anyone I date is kind and considerate, and supports my decision to be vegan. They would have to love vegan food if they want me to cook for them!
My family has a history in farming, and obviously I understand that currently we live in a non-vegan world, so I’m quite used to people around me using and consuming animal products. So I guess it doesn’t bother me too much, as much as I’d love everyone to be vegan!
Q: Could veganism save the world?
Ebonie: That’s one hell of a question! Perhaps it could! Perhaps veganism will be the natural progression for the human race. It’s certainly enviable to continue as we are, with the vast majority of the world’s crops solely feeding cattle, for instance. There are many articles online that explain more eloquently than I can how veganism is possibly a solution. I suggest Googling it. I really love Google.
Elsie: Loaded question. And I don’t want to make any sweeping statements. But in my opinion, aside from animal cruelty, there are major environmental impacts that the meat and dairy industry have created. To be honest, I think the Earth is beyond repair, but if it were a meat-free world, I do believe that there would be less starvation, less illness, less pollution and – it may sound silly – but less war. Veganism can’t save our planet, but I do think it would make for a much more harmonious and healthy world.
Q: Do you have secret hand symbols?
Ebonie: We should! We really have to make that happen. Could come in handy for ordering food or drinks, or meeting other vegans!
Elsie: You know when you try to make rabbit and dog silhouettes with your hands on a wall? I’m thinking of starting a club.
But I think the head in hands after a silly vegan-related question is a universal symbol for ‘this is now the 26th time I’ve answered this question.’
Ebonie Hyland is singer/songwriter from Melbourne.
Elsie Mellor is a writer, piano teacher and publishing student from Melbourne.