For a while, I had a certainty that all vegans cheat. Two things led me to this generalising conclusion – my experience meeting and knowing vegans (who often cheated) and the times in my life when I have been vegan and found it to be a nearly impossible dietary choice if you're not ridiculously rich.
When you start to delve into different cults of healthy eating, it's not hard to see why people say dietary choices like veganism are lifestyles – there are whole communities, shared aspects of culture and the camaraderie and self-righteousness that comes with being a zealous part of any church. I watched my fair share of documentaries, read a number of dubious blogs, wrote articles about vegan products and even kept a short-lived vegan Instagram account.
That is not meant to denounce veganism. I felt great on the diet, energised and somehow cleaner – this could very well be entirely psychosomatic, but it still worked. And it isn't like healthy eating is some silent topic, it's everywhere. Billboards and TV ads, make sure you eat your five-a-day – or go vegan and it's all-day-every-day.
The end to my veganism came from two things: I didn't have the time to prepare meals every day and I was too poor to do anything else.
Now the blogs go up in arms over this fact, they say it's totally possible to be a vegan on a tight budget and, well, they're right and they're wrong. They're right that it is possible – it just takes a lot of time.
"You can always soak dried beans instead of buying them in cans," is often given as an example of vegan thrift. You certainly can, but soaking beans means measuring out water to leave them overnight and then spending time boiling them the next day – it also means being quite so prepared. When my veganism really lapsed I was working a part-time magazine job, freelancing on the side, in the final few months of an undergraduate degree and was trying to keep together a long distance relationship – I didn't have time for bean preparation.
Even if you are prepared with a meal plan, keeping in regular stock of fresh vegetables is not a once-a-week journey. Added to that, if your local supermarket is a choice between Tesco Express or the Co-op attached to a petrol station, you quickly learn that your variety of meals has become thin.
But the stereotype that veganism is full of bland, samey meals is not true – there's a banquet of interesting and delicious meals that I got the chance to eat as a vegan; spices I never would have tried and substitutes that taste better than their originals. Have you ever put coconut milk in your morning coffee? You won't turn back after.
But to get this variety of culinary expression you need money. Not only are the substitutes more expensive – Tesco brand soy milk is 85p per litre whereas cows' milk is 66p per litre – but to get the exciting and interesting food types you have to either live in Kensington or be ready to get a few buses.
Shops like WholeFoods are my havens. They have all the exciting things I've seen on foodie Instagram accounts; they have the ingredients that make all those cool vegan recipes possible and new things I want to buy and find recipes for. They are also unbelievably expensive.
The Daily News reported in June that the company was being investigated by the Department of Consumer Affairs in New York over allegations WholeFoods was deliberately overcharging customers. Out of the eight London boroughs with the highest house prices, seven have a WholeFoods – those are the only seven WholeFoods in London. They seem to know where their market is.
The story often goes that there's no reason to rely on substitute meats and dairy products – just make recipes that don't include them or make your own (mainly in the case of non-dairy milks) but, once again, the issue of time comes up – most of us don't have enough to plan and make our own almond milk.
No, these things are not entirely an issue with veganism. In large parts of the country, these kinds of diets are simply not catered for (going to a restaurant as a vegan is almost universally a depressing experience) or not at all affordable. In the larger picture, it's part of a society where the poorest don't have access to healthier options – according to the Faculty for Public Health, that can be because healthier food is less affordable or simply that local shops don't sell healthier choices.
By no means is the cost a reason for people to start giving up a vegan diet. The environmental, health and even culinary benefits that come with veganism are manifest when you are careful – and you do need to be careful.
Vegans need to make sure they are getting all of the nutrition they need. If you're not smart about it, like me, you could end up with a lack of B12 and a mouth full of painful ulcers. B12 is the big name for vegans, though you can get it from animal-free sources, it's much harder. A bottle of B12 supplements containing 100 tablets, taken daily, costs £6.99. Yet another extra cost.
Veganism as a choice is one I wholeheartedly support – do your reading and live by your principles, you can feel great for it – it's just not one I'm going to be able to partake in for the time being. If plant-based diets were more catered for outside of wealthy neighbourhoods I might get to change my mind. If substitutes weren't so much more expensive and if eating quickly and cheaply didn't simply mean having to eat animal products, I'd be happy to go back.
Until then, I'm a poor guilty meat-eater, without much choice.