When I started living a vegan lifestyle around about this time last year, one of the first people to offer me support was Wilma Tarr. After I joined a few vegan groups on Facebook, Wilma added me as a friend, and I’m so glad she did! Being connected to someone so cool and so knowledgable about living vegan was, and still is, really comforting. She is so lovely that sunbeams literally beam from her face! (Roald Dahl must have had you in mind when he wrote that, Wilma). Wilma is part of the SA Vegan Society and has her own Vegan Facebook page where she shares her fabulous recipes and is always on hand to answer any of your vegan-related questions. Like her, add her, follow her on Instgram, read the interview below and be prepared to be inspired by this beautiful mom of two (!) teenage boys.
Tell us about your vegan journey – how and why did you become vegan?
Ever since I can remember I have been in love with animals. Growing up with siblings much older than me, these creatures, big and small, became my friends and companions. I have always felt that they are the ones who need our protection, not because they have ‘rights’ or ‘power’, but because (sadly) they don’t.
I was also very fortunate to be raised by a vegetarian mother, who not only created awareness with her diet and healthy lifestyle, but also her kindness and compassion towards not only people, but also animals. She took in countless stray animals, cared for the injured and, of course, this spilled over into all aspects of our lives. She instilled a deep love and respect for nature, and life, in me. The idea of nonviolence – of causing no harm (ahimsa) – is not a new idea. Veganism is simply an extension of this principle.
I had been vegetarian in my twenties, but started eating fish and chicken after my second pregnancy. This was based on advice from my gynecologist in order to put on more weight whilst breastfeeding. Looking back, this was, of course, not necessary, as I could have adjusted my diet accordingly, but at the time I did what I thought was best for my little one and myself. Fortunately, this didn’t last long and I went back to my vegetarian lifestyle a couple of years later.
In 2011, I saw very graphic images of the way animals are treated before they end up on our plates. These images haunted me and led to my decision to go vegan. My youngest son and I, together with my sister and niece, often discussed the issues and horrific cruelty involved in the slaughtering of animals – as well as the cruelty of the egg and dairy industries – and as a result, we all went vegan. I honestly think that there is so much more awareness around the way animals are treated because of social media! Documentaries such as ‘Earthlings’, ‘Cowspiracy’, ‘Forks over Knives’ and ‘Vegucated’ provide all the information and facts as well.
I have always believed that our day-to-day lives should reflect our passions and skills. I wake up in the morning and all I want to do is create more awareness, more compassion. It is on my to-do list every day! For this reason I accepted an invitation to contribute to the The South African Vegan Society’s Facebook page, as well as Vegan Parenting in South Africa’s Facebook page. As a self-taught cook, keen photographer and mother of two boys, I have always loved expressing myself in a creative way, not just through cooking but also through styling, writing and photography. I recently created a Facebook page dedicated to our vegan meals and our lifestyle where I share these ideas with people – not only for them to enjoy but also for them to share and cultivate their own plant-based culinary repertoire.
How have you learnt to cope with some of the negativity associated with being vegan?
If you’re vegan, chances are you have strong ethical beliefs. This can expose other people’s insecurities and their ugly sides. I avoid preaching this lifestyle to those not living it. I have found that if someone is interested, she/he will ask me questions. It all comes back to leading by example. Also, you need to accept that some people might not fit into your life anymore. Wish them well and let them out of your life. Know that if you are vegan, life is bound to lead you to other likeminded people – I have formed the most beautiful friendships with other vegans through social media and vegan meet-ups.
Honestly, being a vegan today is easier than it was being a vegetarian twenty years ago. For instance, it has become so much easier to find vegan products because of a greater awareness of food allergies and the selection of non-dairy, plant-based and egg-free alternatives are on the rise. Veganism has also become very trendy as more and more people are experiencing the benefits of a plant-based diet. Many of the strongest athletes swear by their plant-based diets and vegan celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Ellie Goulding, Joaquin Phoenix and Natalie Portman have made veganism more mainstream. As a result, many vegan-friendly restaurants and eateries are opening up. It has also become so much easier to veganise dishes on a menu and even though I’ve had a few dreary meals, most fine dining restaurants are more than happy to accommodate my dietary requirements especially if you inform them well in advance.
Most importantly though –
Never, EVER feel embarrassed or left out because you’ve chosen this lifestyle. Remember that you are part of a fast-growing group of people who are dedicated to making this a better world. Compassion, kindness and conscious living are nothing to be shy about. Own your lifestyle and be proud!
Walk us through your day – what do you eat on a normal working day?
Every meal in my home is a creative expression of my love for food! I don’t plan meals but I make sure I have the basics in the pantry and fridge. This includes mostly legumes, grains, fresh fruit and veggies and a few mock-meats or meat substitutes (generally soy or seitan based).
This is partly why I created my vegan page on Facebook – it is a photographic record of vegan dishes and meal ideas. You only have to transform the basics by adding some delicious and healthy components to your everyday meals.
You’re a vegan family. Have you had any criticism or objections by others to raising your children without animal products? How do you deal with these comments (if they are received)?
Even though our household is completely vegan (which means there are no animal products or products that have been tested on animals used or eaten in our home) not everyone in my family is vegan – my husband is pescatarian and my eldest son is vegan at home.
I personally have never been critisised about our vegan lifestyle, but I know many people experience negativity around this. I think ultimately people become aggressive when they feel threatened by someone else’s convictions. I find that approaching this subject with a sense of humor helps. If you keep it light, they relax and sometimes ask questions, they tend to really listen and aren’t so defensive. Taking a vegan dish or two along to a social outing also helps; this way you and your family avoid missing out on a good meal, and at the same time you can prove that your diet doesn’t consist of lettuce and carrots only.
What is your favourite thing about being vegan?
I would like to emphasise the positiveness that flows from the decision to eat a plant-based diet – yes, positives for your health but more importantly for your mind and spirit. Positives in terms of feeding the world and keeping the earth from deeper peril, saving precious natural resources and deepening our sense of kinship with life.
There is no downside to a vegan diet. It can help you lose weight, heal you body from disease and make the world a more peaceful place. Veganism is a soft, gentle approach to life, our bodies and to our Earth. It’s a step in the direction of the kind of person that you would like to be, taking action on what you’ve learnt. It is simply the act of not participating in something that feels wrong. All too often eating a plant-based diet can seem synonymous with self-deprivation, but veganism is evolving and in constant flux – vegan food is getting better and we are better people for it. There is something so special about sitting down to a meal where no animals were harmed for the sake of our pleasure. It feels so good to know that by following this diet we are bigger than our habits and that these habits will ripple out in their effects, just like mine has. My only regret is that I didn’t go vegan sooner.
All images property of Wilma Tarr.