Frances Day’s husband died during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, so there was no funeral. “It was a horrid, horrid time. I was on my own. It took a long time for me to get fairly steady,” she says. Her 82nd birthday passed, and as the summer wore on, she thought: “I’ve got to do something. I don’t want my life to end now. I want to have a few adventures. Let’s start with veganism.”
Day has three children, two of whom are vegans, so she was no stranger to the idea – but for decades it had been personally unthinkable. Her late husband had traditional tastes.
Occasionally she used vegan ingredients when the children visited; she bought vegan mincemeat and made crumbles with vegetable spread. Her husband ate them without realising, because: “If ever he heard the word ‘vegan’, he would refuse to eat it.”
She describes herself as “very much the old-fashioned wife – I would never think of doing anything my husband didn’t want”. After dementia confined him to one room, she cared for him, taking him food on a tray. He wouldn’t notice that while she cooked him eggs, she had stopped eating them, that she bought herself vegan cheese.
When she told her three children: “I’m going to try to lead a vegan lifestyle”, they were “very, very pleased”. They bought her vitamin B12, essential to a vegan diet.
Day’s father, who served in the RAF, was “very strict. I was keen to get married and get away from home,” she says. At teaching college, she agreed to become a maths teacher, to meet a shortage, though her passions were geography and art. “I just wanted to please people,” she says.
At 21, she married for the first time, and was often alone with two children while her husband worked away. The solitude sounds tough. “Well,” she says, “I quite enjoyed that. I was free. I’m sure this is what in my life I’ve always wanted – a certain amount of freedom.” At the time, the playgroup movement was gaining momentum, and with other young women – “forward-looking and keen” – she helped to form the first one in her town.
At 34, she and her husband divorced. Her third child came along in her second marriage, when she was 37. “It would bring us all together,” she says. The family spent time in Singapore and Hong Kong, and one memorable evening in Malaysia has stayed in her mind.
Day’s family went “to watch turtles coming up the beach to lay their eggs in the dark. A lot of young men were chasing them and sitting on them, these giant turtles.” It distressed her children, and maybe, she thinks, this is where the seeds of veganism were planted.
Now Day finds that she “can’t really enjoy looking at lambs. I just think, there they are skipping around fields, not knowing what fate befalls them. It’s absolutely awful.”
When did she notice her thoughts and feelings change? “Since my husband died,” she says, “I feel more free to let my thoughts travel.”
Have there been other consequences of her move to veganism? “I’ve got a bit bolder. I would never have opened my mouth in public. Now I do.” At her local social group, “they all know I’m vegan and have got used to me looking suspiciously at the backs of packets of biscuits.” One fellow attendee recently made vegan cupcakes.
Now Frances, soon to turn 84, says that hers is “a vegan household … I’m feeling more and more my own person. Probably more than I ever was. It’s taken a long time. I think, I can’t have that much time left. I’m going to make the most of it.” What does she want to do? “Be kind and helpful and a good friend to the few I’ve got, be there for anybody who needs me. And point out a way that I think is healthy and gentle.”