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First published on Huffington Post UK on 22nd February 2016

I hurried along the high street in the usual I’m going to miss my train rush, clutching a vanilla soya latte in one hand and a pink-frosted half-eaten donut in the other, when I was stopped by a friend having her lunch break. “That doesn’t look very vegan” she smirked. “It’s from the vegan bakery- look at this thing of beauty!” I adorned. I saw the look of donut-lust in her eyes as she slurped her green smoothie before she said “You should be having bone broth- that’s clean”.

Veganism is, by definition, “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” (The Vegan Society, 2016) My own journey into veganism began in 2006, when I traded in my cheese-filled vegetarian diet for one that was cheaper and more ethical. I swapped all animal products for their plant-based alternatives- and by this I don’t mean I chose lettuce over cheesy nachos- but I swapped cow’s milk cheese for soya cheese. I also bought non-leather alternatives and cruelty-free make up as part of my vegan lifestyle, where I could live a full life, without the need for animal exploitation, as far as possible.

Just like any diet, a vegan diet must be balanced in order to be healthy. A vegan who lives off vanilla soya lattes and vegan donuts alone isn’t fulfilling their nutritional needs, similarly to the vegan who lives off a plate of lettuce. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m a food writer and cook, but I’m always asked about nutrition in vegan food- it’s all about balance and moderation, exactly the same as any other person eating anything! For me, any health benefit of a vegan diet (increased fibre intake, low saturated fats, no cholesterol) is a happy side effect of choices that are primarily ethical.

Which leads me into clean eating- a phrase that makes me shudder. How can types of food be ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’? Neither of which are adjectives that should describe food, but labels that are coined by a profitable industry focused on making people feel guilty about their food choices. ‘Clean eating’ is a diet which focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods, for the primary purpose of health. It includes cutting out sugar, wheat and dairy and including lean meats, eggs and vegetables.

Any diet which promotes the inclusion of more fresh vegetables and fruits is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, and of course we should all be moderate with the amount of sugar we consume. My experience of observing ‘clean’ eating and ‘clean’ eaters online and in circles of friends is that it becomes an obsession; not wanting to be ‘dirty’ means they deny themselves something that they fancy. They forget that food is more than nutrition. Food is good for the soul. There’s nothing quite like that smell of your mum’s homemade casserole. That casserole is more than nutrition, it’s love, it’s soul, it’s family, it’s happiness.

Somewhere along the way, seeing food as purely nutrition has taken the soul away for so many people. It has taken away all that is good about flavours, textures, seasons and home-cooking and thrown it into a blender with a bag of kale. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a good breakfast smoothie (hold the kale for my stir-fry thanks), however I don’t feel guilty if I decide to have a vegan donut instead. Especially when it’s my birthday and I have a train to catch.

Veganism is a protected belief under The Equality Act 2010. It is more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle which excludes animal products as far as possible for ethical reasons, because a person does not want to eat, wear or use animals or their products. A vegan diet can include vegetables, fruits, pulses, vegan ice cream, sugar, vegan cupcakes, and beer- with milk, eggs, honey and other animal products swapped for the many vegan alternatives. ‘Clean Eating’ is a diet focused on the promotion of health, which includes vegetables, meats, fish and eggs and excludes alcohol, sugar and wheat. The term ‘vegan’ has been used alongside ‘clean eating’ recipes and cookbooks, although the two barely correlate. Perhaps we should step aside from labels and just feel comfortable eating what we choose and choose not to. On a day that I have a smoothie, salad and dhal, I’m not more ‘clean’ than I am on the day that I throw a bowl of pasta and glass of wine into the mix- and that’s fine with me.

So next time you see me eating a vegan donut, remember that no one makes me feel guilty about what I choose to eat (and bone broth isn’t vegan FYI….

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