Read The VEC Winning Entries 2011!

Nalin Arileo from Reservoir, Victoria - 1st Prize.

This challenge has changed my life. It is as simple as that and as huge as that!

For a long time, as an omnivore, I had pangs while shopping for, cooking and eating meat. A small, quivery voice from deep inside me would try to be heard, would try to tug at my skirt and say "What are you DOING?? You are eating PEOPLE! Really really nice and cute people!" But I would drown out the small voice. I'd tighten up my stomach, purse my lips, and push on with my meat eating ways. I'd cut into that flesh, I'd stuff it in my mouth, I'd focus on the flavour, the texture, and try really really hard not to listen to the voice trying to remind me where it came from, and therefore what I was a part of. For a long long time, I won out over that little voice. Or at least I thought I had.

Every now and then, the voice would pop up in a quiet moment, a reflective moment, and I would give it a chance, I would hear it out for a while. The voice told me, and I knew it was right, that ethically, veganism was the only way to go. But I couldn't bear it. As soon as the thought about veganism was completed, I squashed it away once again, pushed it down down down deep inside. I didn't want to be so aware! I didn't want to acknowledge! I didn't want to give up my food. I love my food! Food is one of the most important parts of my life. I couldn't bear the thought of having to change the way I ate, the way I cooked, I struggled for a long long time.

But then, out of the blue, I saw a link on Facebook, shared by my friend, about a vegan challenge. And without really having a moment to stop and think about what I was doing, my hand seemed to take over and I found myself clicking on the link, and I saw the cursor move over to the 'Like' button. I clicked it, and then I found myself responding to my friend's link; I wrote that that I, too, was going to take the challenge! It all happened in about 30 seconds. And then I sat back, and read what I had posted for all the world to see (or at least all our friends and family), and I realized what I had done. An awesome, awesome thing! I was going to go vegan! I was daunted and excited and horrified all at the same time. I kept getting little mini panic-attacks, and thoughts of 'Am I CRAZY??' interspersed with a real determination and hopefulness. A month, I thought. One month! Let's see.

But the voice inside me hadn't stopped. In fact it had grown a little louder, a little bolder. The voice knew that a month wasn't gonna cut it. The voice knew that this had to be it. This had to be the point where I began to live according to my inner truth.

The real point of no going back happened at the information night for the challenge. I wasn't even going to go. I had initially planned on going, but on the day, as often happens, I got busy, and tired, and told my partner that I was gonna miss it. He really encouraged me to go. And a part of me knew it was important that I go, that it would be a powerful springboard into my new life. So I went.

The information night was amazing. After watching the video 'Making the Connection', which just made veganism seem so right, we were shown footage of what goes on in factory farms, in abattoirs. Three scenes particularly affected me. One was the scene of a small room full of small pigs, with a mechanical arm flailing around trying to pick one up, and the pigs fleeing to every corner in a panic. But the arm wins. I'm sure the arm always wins. The arm closed onto the ankle of one of the pigs, and the poor thing just hung there as it was dragged out by its leg. Something in my heart just broke for that pig. For all the pigs. For every pig that has ever been in that situation. I cried silently. The tears rolled and rolled down my cheeks.

The second scene was the scene of the baby boy calves, being thrown into the mincing machine alive, one by one, and being forced to walk along a narrow walkway toward it, despite every atom of their little selves trying to hang back, trying to live. The madness, the awfulness- my whole being reeled at the heartlessness of it all. No living creature should ever experience that. But here we are, in a world where it is commonplace. Even now, as I write this, my stomach turns and churns with grief for these stricken creatures.

The third scene was the one showing a small, squalid cement pen, where a mother pig lay, with just enough room for her and her many many piglets. She was a prisoner there, and she just gave birth to litter after litter of piglets, her whole life. They were all taken from her. They were all killed. She had no other life. The look on her face was of complete and utter dejection. A depression and hopelessness so deep that it hurts just to contemplate it. I don't think I will ever forget the haunted misery on her face. I wonder if she is still there. Or if she was slaughtered at some point when she stopped being able to make so many little babies for others to sell as meat. As a mother, how could I be a part of this? How could I act as though this was ok?

As I wiped my tears away that night, I knew I had been permanently changed. I knew I could never go back. I knew that this was the beginning of my vegan life. And it felt so RIGHT! It felt so very good to be living in accordance with my ethics, to be living in alignment with my highest ideals. A huge heavy weight, which I hadn't realized was as big as it was, lifted from me. It felt like I was going to allow myself to be truly me for the first time.

So I prepared myself for the hardship, the difficulty, the challenge of finally going vegan, and guess what? It has been joyfully easy! I have been so surprised at how easy I have found this shift. It has seemed almost effortless. Other than a couple of occasions where I found myself sitting opposite one of my favourite foods and experiencing a big craving, for the most part is has been not only easy, but fun. It has been exciting finding new dishes to prepare, using new ingredients, discovering all the things I CAN eat rather than thinking about all the things I can't. And realizing how many products out there are vegan friendly has been great!

The support given via the Vegan Easy facebook page was wonderful. I suddenly had a community of people who were doing this with me, and a cheer squad! It made all the difference. Seeing the photos of things people ate, seeing the menu plans on the website, the comments by other people, all were a big help. I really appreciate all the support, it was really great.

And discovering the Radical Grocery Store was a very very lovely thing! I love that place! I love knowing that whatever I see in that store (and there are many lovely products to see!), I can have. Knowing I could still eat a pie made a difference. Knowing I could still have a schnitzel dinner made a difference. Finding vegan pesto that was delicious made a difference. And lots of flavours of awesome chocolate. All of these things helped me so much. Oh, and finding the can of soy caramel that helped me to make a kick-arse vegan banoffie pie also made a small amount of delicious, finger licking difference. (I almost hugged that can of caramel all the way home from the store.) Oh and the amazing schnitzel burger I got from Las Vegan bakery - can I also say that that delicious, marvelous burger made a difference! I am not deprived! I am swimming in a sea of amazing delicious food.

And now, just over a month since this huge shift in my life, how am I feeling? Light, happy, joyful, proud. Healthy. Peaceful. And excited that more and more people are talking about veganism. It really is a growing thing!

Bit by bit we are making a difference, and bit by bit we are changing the world. It shouldn't be understated. This is huge. And it's getting bigger. And I'm so very glad to be a part of it.


POSTSCRIPT

I must share one of the happiest experiences I have had during this last month. I was invited to a barbecue, and I was worried. I used to love barbecues of meat! They were one of my favourite things! And I didn't really want to be around one so soon. I thought I was going to be really challenged, and I wasn't looking forward to feeling deprived and having cravings. But I really had to go. To help me along, I knew I needed to take some really good vegan food with me. So I made the most delicious vegan dish I knew how to make, which were these great mushroom, capsicum and cashew flavoured rice balls I invented last year. They just happened to be vegan. I knew they would help me get through it. But as I made them, I realized my intentions in making this dish were two-fold. Firstly, helping me to not feel too deprived. And secondly, wanting to showcase how good vegan food could be.

So I traipsed along to the barbecue with my tray laden with these rich rice balls full of flavour. And people pounced on them. They raved about them. They wanted the recipe! And it opened up a big discussion about veganism. Those rice balls were the hit of the barbecue!

And with that experience I realise that I now have an extra dimension to my love of cooking for people. I realise that now, when I cook for my friends and family, I can show them how delicious being vegan can be, and that is isn't about depriving yourself of everything delicious, but about discovering so much more deliciousness! Deliciousness that is pure, ethical, sustainable and guilt free.

I took home my empty platter that night a happy, happy woman. And that little voice inside me? It is punching the air and whooping for joy!


Heather Correia from South Yarra, Victoria - 2nd Prize

I was initially very skeptical of this vegan challenge. The fact "easy" and "vegan" were in the same sentence made me roll my eyes. How could veganism be easy??? Don't vegans eat like two pieces of organic tofu washed down with a wheat grass smoothie? However, always one for a challenge, I put down my steak knife and cheese grater, and boldly stepped into unknown eating territory.

The first week was miserable. I survived on fruit, veggies and hummus alone. However, once my body got over the loss of animal products (and I discovered a vegan cookbook), I felt surprisingly light and healthy. I was no longer stuffing myself with hormones and chemicals and whatever else. My life outlook was more positive. This physical changes I experienced gave me momentum to continue being vegan even when my friends teased, taunted and ridiculed me for my eating choices.

After 10 days, I fell into a routine of eating chili and stir-fries and salads. I developed a scandalous love-affair with Tofutti ice cream. The actual shopping and preparing of food was quite easy. The aspect of the challenge I found most difficult was socializing with friends. I'd always beg for an Asian or Thai restaurant if I was eating-out, but even then, it was a gamble whether or not the chefs prepared the food with animal products. Since none of my friends are vegans (or vegetarians for that matter), I was alone in my vote for cuisine. I compensated by carrying vegan-friendly snacks with me (nuts, fruit, etc). Even though people looked askance when I'd whip out my bag of almonds on the tram or right before dining at a vegan-enemy restaurant, at least I wouldn't starve.

I attended a vegan cooking class. It was so nice to finally meet some like-minded people. While I don't necessarily feel as though I need a support group for my decisions, the very act of being vegan sets one apart in a dining situation. The cooking class allowed an opportunity to share trade secrets (where to find the best cookies, how to make mock-meat, etc).

I plan to continue to carry the vegan torch into the future. I find it amazing and thrilling that just by changing my eating habits, I am positively effecting the environment. After these 30 days, being vegan can truly be summed up in a word: easy!

Tamsyn Green from Brookfield, Victoria - 3rd Prize

I must admit I was one of those people who was sceptical about becoming vegan, I thought it was extremist, unhealthy and unsustainable. 34 days after beginning the challenge I have not touched any diary, egg, honey or any other animal products, and I commit to doing it long term here is my story.

I have been a vegetarian since I was 12 years old, my motivation was not only because I loved animals but because I hated the taste, look and smell of meat. My mother proposed that If I was to become a vegetarian that I had to cook my own meals - at 12 years old she hoped that this would put me off my rash decision, but it made me love it all the more. However being the only vegetarian among all my family and friends left me to do all the research on my own and sadly over the years I lacked energy, and suffered and extremely bland diet of veggie stir-fry's and salads. I did want to enhance my veggie diet variety but I had neither the time or money to search for new foods.

I am now 21, and was totally lacking in energy all the time and don't get me started on ALWAYS and CONSTANTLY being sick despite getting HUGE amounts of vegies daily. So when a person at work told me to give the 'vegan easy challenge' a try I laughed, this would surely only restrict my diet more and leave me with even less energy. I agreed to give it a shot, without truly meaning to but when it came to the day my new work friend sent a message saying 'Veganism is simply the acknowledgment that a fleeting and replaceable pleasure is not worth more than someone's life and liberty'. This quote propelled my moral senses ( my love for animals) and I decided to give it a shot on their behalf, why not I truly had nothing to lose. I began my vegan diet by replacing my stocks of diary and butter with soy milk and nuttelex, and as the weeks drew on I started to take notice what products were and were not vegan ( very surprising) I found I was not as restricted as I had thought. Once I had established my interest in my new vegans foods such as falafels, puff pastry (vegan), soy strips, vegies mince, lentils, adzuki beans, soy cheese ( the list goes on and on), I began to research recipes on the vegan easy website and not only was surprised to see what I could make I was inspired. So I began to try and cook all these vegan meals, with the intrigue of my family and friends, them even trying it and saying how yum it was! . I also had learnt so much about the vegan diet that I could eat out and know exactly what I could eat and I was always satisfied. I admit I knew the great places to go for these delicious meals based on viewing people ' vegan easy challenge' blogs, but all the same I had found some GREAT new restaurants (lentil as anything, vegie bar etc). But in conclusion of my shot at vegan easy challenge, I would say the greatest thing I have gained is HUGE amounts of energy , I have never felt better in my life . . . . and you know what I haven't been sick in my 34 days of being a vegan. I no longer see veganism as a restriction of choice but as a healthy alternative way of living that gives both satisfaction towards my animal welfare beliefs and taste senses

I truly thank you for showing me the way to a Healthier and Morally Good lifestyle - Tammy Green.