At the start of 2021, I was diagnosed with long Covid. It was a huge relief to finally know why I had been struggling so much with my health – extreme fatigue, continuous coughing and, most distressing of all, brain fog and panic attacks. The diagnosis was also the beginning of a journey that would take me – of all places – to a life-changing decision about what I eat.
After further tests, I was told it was very likely that I had caught Covid a while ago, possibly at the start of the pandemic, before tests were available. I’m very fortunate to have a brilliant and caring GP who listens to me and provides me with support. He signed me off work for two months and helped me understand that I needed real rest to assist my recovery.
Once I received my diagnosis I spoke to two friends who had also been instrumental in helping me with my recovery and health. One of them had become a vegan a few years ago in order to manage her own health issues. She gently suggested I should think about trying a plant-based diet to help reduce the inflammation in my body, which was causing me pain, contributing to the deep fatigue, and harming my mental health. And that’s how I became a vegan.
I’ve always been curious about veganism but never really thought it was something I would embrace. I also don’t know any women of colour or Muslims who are vegan. This was part of the reason why I had never really explored it . You cannot be what you cannot see.
In the west, veganism is seen as an indulgence for the white middle classes; and in this country at least, it’s expensive and difficult to envisage for anyone who doesn’t fit into these categories. There’s a kind of elitism linked to veganism, which I think puts people off from exploring it.
Part of this is based in economic reality: it’s often more expensive to buy fresh vegetables and fruit – and spend time cooking them – than it is to rely on fast food or processed food, especially for people and families on budgets or struggling with the cost of living. There’s so much judgment heaped on people over the food they consume in the UK; it’s inherently linked to class – as most things are here. I’m understanding and seeing this more clearly.
Shaista Aziz at the Happy Friday vegan kitchen in Oxford. Photograph: Neetu Singh
This is just one of the reasons why vegans are also frequently portrayed as people without humour or joy; whose entire personalities are reducible to what they eat. We’re portrayed as smug people who spend time making our own yoghurt, trying out new ways to make a Sunday roast from mung beans. Oh and, of course, winding up the likes of Piers …….