If my being vegan comes up in conversation, I will usually add that I’m still very much a newcomer to this way of life. I’m well aware that I’ve come to it in a time of relative abundance in terms of products, technology, and access to countless online recipes. I didn’t have to spend the 1980s walking barefoot through the snow for miles just to find a can of TVP.
Nevertheless, eighteen months in I am feeling comfortably settled in my decision, and have even occasionally noticed moments of what I call “leveling up.” If you are also a recent vegan, you might know what I mean. It’s those times where I’m suddenly aware of my being vegan in ways I hadn’t been previously — where it felt like a metaphorical box had been ticked, or like I was a plucky Sonic the Hedgehog gathering a new Chaos Emerald.
To illustrate, here are some examples.
Level One: Baby’s first mock chicken
You know what? It’s more delicious than any memory of the real thing! Siri, play Level Up by Ciara, please!
Level Two: No longer haunted by the thought of cheese
Anecdotally, going without cheese seems to be bigger than meat as far as roadblocks to adopting a plant-based diet. I freely admit that I missed it initially. You know when you think about food so much you can almost feel its texture in your mouth? I had that. But with surprising haste, I simply stopped thinking about it. Didn’t even consider it. And when I did think about it, I no longer felt that pull of anticipation, and the feeling in my mouth was one of oily distaste. Leveled up!
Level Three: A nightmare about eating meat
I have always had vivid and intense dreams that stay with me long after I wake up. I recently dreamed that I went out drinking with friends and woke up the next morning — yes, waking up Inception-style within my dream — with a half-eaten roast chicken on the pillow beside me, evidently purchased in a moment of drunken hunger. I could have gone for a falafel kebab, I could have got fries, but no, a whole roast chicken! What had I become? I then had to guiltily explain myself to all my friends, and everyone was extremely disappointed in me.
When I awoke for real I was flooded with relief that I hadn’t actually transgressed. I also realised that this was the first time I’d had a bad dream about eating meat. Truly a new achievement unlocked — thank you subconscious!
Level Four: Enraged by “good” meat industry social media
Back when I ate meat, I prided myself on choosing free range chicken, organic beef, and what is often euphemistically known as “happy pig” pork. I really thought I was doing the right thing and would make room in my budget for it. I also believed that the companies themselves were a positive change for the industry.
Recently an image from one such “happy pig” pork company was retweeted into my Twitter feed. It portrayed a beautiful, fully grown pig, lying happily in the sun, and the caption described his gentle personality. I was suddenly enraged. How utterly galling. Using the image of this innocent pig enjoying his life for social media popularity when the pig’s sole purpose for this company is to be killed for its meat. Another image from this same company showed a mother pig with her baby pigs nuzzling her, and it made me feel queasy. Yes they’re adorable and bonding as a family — and in six months they’ll probably all be slaughtered. Why is this company showing us these beautiful images if they’re just going to kill them? Why are they acting as though what they’re doing is actually good? How can they not see this appalling disconnect?
Days later I’m still mad about it, but honestly, I’m disappointed at myself for also having had that disconnect for so long. Nevertheless, a definite moment of leveling up.
The Final Boss, still undefeated: White chocolate
This is the one I always fall down at — I haven’t actually consumed any white chocolate since becoming a vegan, but I miss it and think about it a lot. Any vegan options I’ve found have been prohibitively expensive. I have faith in myself — look how far I’ve come already! But also, look how far the world has come — surely an affordable white chocolate is as much within my reach as my not thinking about white chocolate at all.
Till then, I guess there’s always Level Five to aspire to: