Doncaster born now Nottingham resident Scarlett Lee shares her journey into veganism. 

Words: Scarlett Lee

Food love. South Yorkshire Pride. Vegans. 

‘Peckish’ was how a friend’s mum described me as a child and I’m still getting over it. I think she meant ‘greedy’. I was always into food. I still love food. Eating out or in. Being creative. Showing love. Exploring a place when I visit for the first time. I always remember what I ate.

Doncaster Market, 1990. The fishmongers bit. I’m there with my brother and my dad. Cute little plates on the counter. Cockles with vinegar. Happiness. I’m standing up like you do to eat there. Mind the gritty bits.

Conisbrough, 1997. School dinners. Margarita pizza every day (in) or chips and curry (out). Mr Lau’s polystyrene cones of goodness. Always exactly one ladle of curry. Never more. I always hoped. Lots of vinegar. Sometimes ham, finely sliced by the machine, on white from the bread shop. One time I got the end of the ham and it reminded me of a little hamster carcass and I couldn’t eat it. Slowly things changed.

Doncaster town centre, c. 1998. A wallpaper table set up in the high street with that awful poster of the cat with the bolt through its skull. The animal rights people have interesting hair. I’m there in my army surplus camo combats my dad bought me from the shop near the market. Felt super cool. Spice Girls and All Saints.

2009. Commuting in the car. There’s a news item on the radio about dairy calves. This is the reason many of us vegans are vegan. To get milk you have to have a recently pregnant cow. Enter the baby. Useful? Not really, so off to the slaughter he goes. Sitting in the car,I know this and I’ve known it for ages. I am a hypocrite. I’ve been a vegetarian for years by now yet I know I’m contributing to misery and death. I stop. I do research. I watch films online but stop short of Earthlings. It feels exciting and right eating new types of foods. My diet expands. I can still eat cake. I’m glad.

I’m not the first vegan in the village. We have a star of the vegan hall of fame to call our own – Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society, no less. Donald was born in Mexborough in 1910. He was the son of the headmaster of Denaby Main School. He had an epiphany at 14 and stopped eating meat. He didn’t do badly on his innings, living to old bones of 95.

Back when Donald was young, things were different. In fact, Donald and his gang were so radical they had to decide how they were going to describe this new, compassionate lifestyle. According to the Vegan Society,I could well be calling myself a ‘benevore’ or a ‘vitan’ had  they opted for one of the other suggestions. The latter sounds to me like a person from the planet Health. To be fair, ‘vegan’ is a funny word and has always made me think of Spock and Vulcans. Live long and prosper, and eat cruelty free.

Aged 92, Donald was interviewed in 2002, still going strong and with a lot to say (the transcript is 34 pages long) – remembering childhood, sowing seeds in the yard of his South Yorkshire “row house”. He became a carpenter by trade and wrote the Vegan News, a hand – printed early ‘zine predating the Vegan Society (est. 1944). He gave his thoughts on everything from political activism (direct action: “I’ve respect for all the people who do it, but my own personal feeling is that I wouldn’t do it…”)to being a conscientious objector in World War 2 (“Suppose they sent me to a slaughterhouse? Or anywhere elsewhere I’m expected to conform to orders from above?”).I wonder what he would make of Donny and all the good stuff that’s happening there now.

Back to 2015. I live in Nottingham now. Not far, but I’m proud to be from South Yorkshire.I miss our green hills and woods sometimes. Tyrion Lannister, aka the actor Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson and Russell Brand are famous vegans. It’s not really ‘outsider’ any more.It’s accessible.Food bloggerJack Monroe is posting vegan recipes. She’s not vegan but she likes them. My friends (not vegan) have me over for dinner. No, it’s ok ,I don’t need to bring my own food, they tell me. They are good friends, kind and inclusive, but mainly they are just familiar by now with what I don’t eat. They don’t have to think about it so it’s no bother, and their food is often vegan anyway. It’s cheap–see Jack Monroe’s recipes–healthy and local. My mum, unsolicited, recently produced a surprise Pyrex filled with a favourite childhood stew and dumplings. She used vegetable suet in the dumplings. It’s a winter cuddle straight from the 80s.

So thanks Donald Watson. We have a proud food heritage in South Yorkshire. We also have a proud activism heritage. We stand up for what we believe in and it feels good-the miners, the unions, the women, the workers and the vegans.I’m proud.

Recipes. Information. Campaigning. Shop.

Resources, free talks and cookery demos to schools.

Enter your location–anywhere in the world–and you’re given veg friendly cafes, restaurants and hotels. The first thing I look at when travelling anywhere.

Post Punk Kitchen. For the attitude and food porn. Isa is American.There are plenty of UK blogs,but this is worth a look.

Leeds – based mother and daughter. More on the health angle.

Not vegan, but anti-poverty and feminist campaigner, and Best Blog winner. Lots here for anyone wanting to leave out the animal products.

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