During my childhood in London, I found that human animals often disappointed me, but Cliff, one of five cats that shared our house, was reliable, affectionate and a calming presence. I became generally aware of animal cruelty as a child and was horrified by it. On a horse-riding holiday that I went on as a young teenager, I remember feeling shocked at how tightly the saddle was strapped on and seeing the bit forced into the horses’ mouths. But despite my early connection to animals this connection didn’t extend to the animals that are farmed for consumption.

Harriet Macintosh

Harriet Macintosh

Eventually, aged 18, I stopped eating joints of meat and burgers in horror after seeing scenes from an abattoir in a film. However, the extent of my social conditioning meant that I continued to scoff deli meats and occasional sausages or bacon for the next 20 years although I remember feeling an underlying unease that consuming animals did not align with my love for them.

It wasn’t until the age of 40 that I took the next step on my vegan journey when I gave up eating pigs. At this time, I was living just a street away from a route where trucks carrying sheep to the slaughterhouse passed by regularly, and I remember a visceral horror as I connected with the suffering of the individuals tightly confined within the vehicles. And yet still I continued to eat chicken and fish.

My son, Louis, was at this point on a similar diet to me. When I was 42, we had eaten roast chicken at a friend’s house, and as we saw them picking at the remains of the carcass we looked at one another, as if in that instant, in an unspoken way, we had come to the same realisation. Later we spoke about the feelings this had stirred up within us and both decided it was time to go vegetarian.

It took 3 more years before we both became vegan in 2017. Louis had been watching videos and documentaries on YouTube in his own time about vegan ethics; they discussed subjects including the dairy industry and the extremely harmful effects of animal agriculture on the wider environment. He shared some of these films with me and after a short discussion we both decided to move to a complete vegan diet and lifestyle with immediate effect.

Since then, I have become an animal rights activist and speak up for animals whenever I have the opportunity. I have gained a whole new social network through doing this as well as enjoying many visits to sanctuaries to see formerly farmed animals now living in peace.

I have watched with excitement as the variety of vegan products that have become available has continued to expand at an exponential rate, reflecting the explosion in awareness and popularity of plant-based and cruelty-free options.

Another surprising aspect of my transition has been enjoying cooking far more than I ever did before. Maybe the enjoyment that can be found in creating a meal was previously tainted by failing to address my troubled conscience when it came to using animals as ingredients.

The most recent part of my vegan journey has been becoming Supporter Services Coordinator at The Vegan Society. My new role allows me to work for an organisation that is aligned with my moral compass and gives me the opportunity to support and educate others in the many benefits that are gained from switching to a vegan lifestyle. Becoming vegan has enriched my life in many ways!

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I even remember the day I went vegetarian. It was my twelve birthday, and a group of friends and I had gone to laser tag (like you do). We’d gone to a famous fast-food place after, and I’d automatically ordered my usual sandwich. While biting into it, I proudly proclaimed that I was going vegetarian, “for the animals,” I bellowed to my friends…who looked back at me, holding a chicken sandwich, bewildered. When they pointed out to me that I had made this grave error, I simply shrugged and said, “okay, after this”. So officially, I went vegetarian the day after my twelve birthday. With my mum’s help, who had also become vegetarian because she didn’t like the taste anymore (she was in her 50s at this point), I managed to make the transition quite easily. Of course, it was the early 2000’s at this point, and the restaurants barely had one vegetarian dish on their menus, and the TV was adorned with adverts of happy cows in fields. I hadn’t even heard the word vegan until I got to university...