Why I eat a plant-based diet
When I first told people I wanted to go vegan 2 years ago, I didn't know how to handle their questions and concerns without getting defensive. I noticed that some people were also being defensive about their own food choices in return, and the exchange would just turn out to be a little awkward and messy. Now I feel much more confident and informed to answer people's questions and create a light-hearted conversation that doesn't feel so intimidating. Honestly I think this is the best place to do just that!
The topic of food can be very personal. You simply cannot assume to understand people's relationship with food and that is something I have always been very aware of, as I have dealt with my own personal issues with it. For some people, just talking about their diet can be difficult and overwhelming and they don't even understand why. Eating disorders come in many forms and it is not always visible to the eye. We should all be mindful that everyone is on their own journey and what may come easy to some may be very difficult for others. I also want to quickly make the distinction between a 'diet' and a 'lifestyle' here: when I speak of my Vegan diet I'm not talking about a short-term diet to lose weight, I'm talking about my general eating habits. I don't believe in diet culture but that is a whole other discussion.
I think writing about Veganism is the best way to inform others. I will never force it onto anyone because as I said, you never know what that person is going through. There are other factors that we need to consider too such as health issues... It's not always straight-forward. If you're a young teenager living at home reading this, I understand that going vegan may be extremely challenging for you because you aren't fully in control of your meals.
What do I wish to gain by posting this? Obviously I do want to illustrate the benefits of being vegan and why I am against the meat, fish and dairy industries. I want this post to be open and encouraging. I guess my goal is to 'educate' others on veganism but I'm not sure I like that word as it has a bit of a negative connotation to it. It sounds like I'm being condescending and thinking myself above others which obviously isn't the case!
I am going to give my honest opinions, I hope if you aren't vegan, or 'disagree' with vegans, that you simply take the time to read this! Whatever your thoughts please feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post.
The term 'Veganism' was first coined by Donald Watson in 1944:
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. x
People go vegan for different reasons: the cruel treatment of animals on factory farms, science-based health benefits, global warming... The pros seem to outweigh the cons. There is years worth of amazing research out there that proves the benefits of being vegan. It benefits not only humans and animals but the planet as well!
A well-balanced low-fat high-fibre plant-based diet reduces the risk of obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and can be used to prevent, treat and even reverse heart disease.
I mean this all sounds pretty decent right? None of us support animal cruelty, we all want to live long and healthy lives and protect the planet we live on. So why is veganism frowned upon? I guess one of the reasons is that meat-eating is considered the norm in our Western culture, and the idea of changing habits we've had our entire lives is bloody scary. I'll talk about the basic questions I get first before sharing my vegan journey.
"Where do you get your protein from? What about vitamin B12?"
When the vegan conversation comes up the usual response is: how do you get all your nutrients? What about protein? Iron? Calcium? B12? Zinc? This is a real concern for many and for good reason. The thing is, this applies to everyone, not just vegans. You need to eat healthily whatever your diet. Vegans cannot survive on pasta just like meat-eaters can't survive on chicken-nuggets and chips.
For me, being vegan means being resourceful and making smart choices. We should all eat a variety of fruits, root vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, grains, herbs and spices, and take nutritional supplements. I take a few: irish sea moss, B12 and iodine (both of which are very important for vegans). Everyone should educate themselves on the basics of nutrition, because most of us were never taught about it in school and therefore don't actually know what we should be eating every day to make us feel our best! On top of that, most of us never learnt how to cook from scratch (either at home or at school). This can make following a plant-based diet feel scary and more difficult than it should be, because you will find it easier to follow if you know how to cook already!I mean you can buy packaged vegan food but it’s not healthy to do that for every single meal. Thankfully there are so many plant-based cookbooks out there and 1000s of free recipes online that are super easy to follow (I highly recommend Deliciously Ella). This paragraph may have scared you a little but honestly it's not that hard. Take it from someone who grew up in a meat-eating family and only learnt how to cook properly in her late teens.
As for the fear of vitamin deficiencies: that can affect anyone. This is something I have done extensive research on as I had to prove to people who were concerned about my diet that I did know where to get all my nutrients from, and what foods I needed to eat every day to fuel my body. However I'm not a professional, I don't claim to know everything about nutrition. Of course people who suffer from complex health issues need to be on specific diets etc. There are so many great sources out there for those of you who want to be healthier but feel a little overwhelmed! I'll put a few links in at the bottom of this post.
Don't you miss meat and dairy? Doesn't it limit your choices?
I used to see meat as the centre piece of my meal. I could not imagine my routine without it! I used to eat meat twice a day every single day. The plate was incomplete without it which is silly thinking back because there are hundreds, thousands of edible plants in the world. So why does 'cutting out meat' sound like you're limiting your choices? We're just so used to eating meat that it all sounds so daunting, I can understand this feeling because I remember how I felt when I first learnt what 'being vegan' meant. Now I don't miss meat/eggs/dairy at all, and I eat more types of food then I ever did before. As for fish, I've never been a big fan so I didn't struggle at all. I only ever ate fish fingers or tuna. I was more motivated to cut it out completely when I learned about overfishing and the detrimental impact it has on our oceans.
It all comes down to variety. You just need to make a few swaps and introduce new things. Instead of beef burgers you could enjoy bean burgers or lentil burgers. You could swap mince beef for quorn. Instead of cow's milk you can have plant milk. You can swap cream for coconut cream or yogurt for coconut yogurt, butter with plant-based butter. You can still enjoy all the things you enjoyed before. You can make plant-based versions of pretty much anything! Curry, pancakes, nachos, pizza, lasagna, shepherd's pie, brownies, cookies, sandwiches, chocolate- you name it! You're actually not limited at all. It's all about introducing new ingredients and changing up the recipe. I should also point out that more and more supermarkets are introducing packaged vegan food: vegan sausages, burgers, chicken nuggets, ice-cream, pizzas! It's amazing and it makes veganism more accessible (Sainsburys' spicy bean burgers are a personal favourite!).
I didn't go vegan in one day and I am still learning. It’s a process. When I stopped eating meat I'd never imagined I'd be cutting out dairy too! Two of my closest friends are vegetarian and vegan. I genuinely believe that this had a big impact on me. However they never forced their habits on me and I don't think we even spoke about it back then, when we were all so young. Eventually as I began to change my habits the conversation opened up and now my fellow vegan Rosie and I are constantly sending each-other mouth-watering recipes on our various social media platforms.
I first cut down on meat in 2013, and stopped eating it completely in 2015
I originally stopped eating meat at University because I couldn't afford it. I also had a tiny fridge-freezer and the freezer box was broken so we couldn't store anything my parents brought us anyway! Before then I only ate chicken, cow and pig- no dark meat, nothing on the bone. I didn't want to eat rabbit or sheep because I thought they were such cute animals, and I'd be straight out disgusted by the idea of eating horse. I used to love chicken tikka massala, meatballs and spaghetti, meat lasagna, sausage burgers- you name it. As long as there was no blood. I loved it and giving up meat felt like a crazy idea and an impossible hurdle. Now because I was bought up in a meat-eating family, I never questioned these habits. The meat came neatly cut up and packaged in a single-use plastic container so I never actually saw the animals, only the flesh. No blood. I didn't associate the meat with the animal. A curtain had been pulled over the slaughter and I happily accepted it.
My sister Summer and I had to survive University without meat though so we had to adapt. We lived on veggie wraps, jacket potatoes, roasted veg and cereal. Eventually meat became a treat. Then we realized we were actually doing okay without it. I started to pick-up changes in my digestive system and my gut health. When I ate meat I used to have really bad, uncomfortable acid-reflux after every meal. When I was at school it used to make me so anxious because I physically couldn't stop my throat from making these strange loud noises in class. That went on for years and it was like a blessing when it stopped. After a few months of no-meat I also felt more comfortable in my body. It took me a while to find the correct way to explain how I felt before, 'inflamed' sums it up pretty well. It was like there was a heavy layer under my skin that was constantly dragging me down. My face was often puffy. I felt bloated and 'stuffy' no matter how often I worked out or how well I ate. That disappeared when I stopped eating meat.
In the summer of 2015, I got the news that Summer & I had been accepted into an international exchange program and would be moving to Canada together for 4 months. We decided to challenge ourselves and didn't eat meat at for the full semester. Then, that Christmas, I didn't have any turkey. I still remember the moment I tentatively nibbled on a piece of leftover sausage meat on Boxing Day. It tasted nothing like I remembered and made me feel sick- I quickly spit it out. That was the last time I tasted meat.
My transition to Veganism has been a long one. I stopped eating meat completely in 2015. I only stopped eating cheese completely in September 2018.
Before we get into the heavier stuff, I want to say that I don't think there is a correct way to go vegan. It can be freaking hard! Any contribution is good for the environment and animals, and I really support the 'flexitarian' diet. You don't have to cut out everything all at once. It's ok! Even eating vegan 2-3 times a week is great! The more pressure we put on ourselves the less likely we are to stick to this new lifestyle. A more 'easygoing' approach is the best way forward.
Slaughterhouses and Industrial Farming/Factory Farming
I have always said that I love animals but as I began this journey I learned a truth that was hard to swallow. "If you love animals but eat meat, then you don't love all animals- you only love pets." I disagreed, tried desperately to defend my meat-eating. I love all animals! I don't want any of them to suffer! If I truly love animals, why do I eat them? My actions didn’t match my values.
There is a pig slaughter-house near my old middle-school and during sports class I could hear the pigs screaming in fear and pain for hours. That is something I can never forget. Sometimes my bus would pass the transport lorry and I would see their wide eyes through the metal bars. It broke my heart every single time, yet still it didn't completely dissuade me from eating pig. Why? How could I overlook that when it was right in front of my eyes? I believed it was normal and it was just the way this cruel world worked. I didn't know any other way. I look back on that time with so much horror and shame. Pigs were the first animals I stopped eating because I was riddled with guilt. It astonishes me to this day how humans have become so desensitised to pigs and cows.
Now I am aware of general slaughter-house practices, every time I see caged animals on roads and motorways my eyes swell up with tears. If there were cats or dogs in there instead of cows or pigs, there would be a national outcry. Think about the dog-meat festival in China. We scream in outrage at the footage of caged dogs, clearly scared and in pain, but we simply accept the suffering of millions of cows and pigs because we have been conditioned to believe that that is their sole purpose. To feed us. We even rename the animal's meat so there is less of a connection to the living animal: pork, bacon, sausage, beef, poultry... Why don't we see cows and pigs as the intelligent, sentient beings that they are? How can we just believe that they don't have feelings?
Another problem worth addressing is that most consumers actually have no idea how these industries work. I definitely didn't know anything about it before I did the research. Those industries don't show the reality behind the practice either. Why would they show the animal getting killed? Or the animal franctically trying to jump over the metal bar because it knows the animal in front of it just got slaughtered? Or cows being milked with machines? No-one will buy a milk carton that shows a caged-cow in a warehouse, they want the idealized image of the cow roaming freely in a large green field. Our society has worked relentlessly to stop us from feeling for these animals, and has worked even harder to hide the cruelty of death and murder - it’s violent, but we don’t see it that way.
This brings me to the dairy industry...
The Dairy Industry - Why I don’t eat any dairy products
I began to cut cheese out of my diet in 2018. During my time as a vegetarian, I began to read about the benefits of Veganism. To all you people who constantly talk about veganism on social media... it worked on me! Well, it inspired me to educate myself and I will always be grateful for that.
Now, why don’t I eat any dairy products? My answer is pretty simple and straightforward. Here are the facts: cows only produce milk to feed their babies. They do not produce milk all the time. The milk we drink was produced to feed their babies. Because we want that milk, we take the babies away. The baby females can be used to produce more milk so we keep them until they're about 4 (usually too weak by then to live longer- 20 years is their natural lifespan) but because the males can't produce milk they cannot be used. A quick google or visit to a slaughterhouse will tell you what happens to them. The females are subjected to unnatural and violent forced impregnation for years (take a quick look at how that works- it is not normal). There are hundreds of videos out there of cows desperately trying to stop their babies being taken away because they remember what happened to their last ones. How can than not break someone's heart?
This is the truth. We forcefully impregnate cows, then take away babies so we can have their milk. How could we ever, ever believe this was okay? How is this not considered animal cruelty?
Yes, this is something our ancestors did. However those cows weren't kept in cages on industrial farms, forcefully impregnated, or milked by machines. We now have resources that were unavailable to them so it doesn't make sense that we should continue to drink milk. We shouldn't even be drinking animal milk at all because it was developed by the animals for the animals- not humans!
On top of the cruelty, industrial farming is one of the world's biggest polluters. It contributes to deforestation, the destruction of complex ecosystems and air pollution. This has been proved. Scientists have stated that the best way to save our planet is by adopting a plant-based diet and ending industrial-farming. We have to produce immense amounts of grain to feed the billions of cows in industrial farms every single year. If we ended industrial farming all those resources could be used to feed the population, and the land used to farm them can be reclaimed by nature. It makes no sense.
I don't know what else I can add here. When I first read up about all this I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe that these industries were as bad as they were, because how could our society do such a thing? I was convinced it was all exaggerated. I felt betrayed. Of course it is normal to feel upset by all this information, we don't want to believe that we play a role in it all as consumers. After all most of us have no idea how these industries actually operate. We get defensive because we have always had milk, ever since we were children. It's part of our life and coming face to face with the truth behind it is upsetting. Changing habits is never easy however there is no better motivator: if we stop buying milk we are showing the world and the dairy industry that we do not support this animal cruelty or its contribution to global warming.
How has being vegan changed you?
I'm a more compassionate human being and a more mindful consumer. I'm healthier than ever before. I have a great relationship with my body. I have also become much more sensitive which is both good and bad- once you see humanity's violence behind food practices it is hard to ignore, because you know that this kind of thing is happening to millions upon millions of animals every single year. It's hard to not feel upset by it, especially when people make no effort to understand your feelings. Some days I feel utterly defeated by life, how can my choices alone make a difference? I have to remind myself that there is power in numbers: I'm with the other 3.5 million vegans in the UK. I AM saving animals by not buying meat and together, we have made a huge difference.
At the end of the day, being vegan is about being compassionate. I wouldn't be able to kill an animal with my own hands so why should I let anyone else do it? We have been completely desensitized to this violence. It's not just the violence of murder, it's the lifelong suffering farming animals endure. Workers on farms have stated that animals know when their time has come, and that those animals cry. Can you imagine? Most people aren't strong enough to watch behind the scenes footage of the farming industry. I was one of those people- I refused to watch, to acknowledge it because the proof was so hurtful. What does that say about me?
I challenge you to look up images and videos of poultry farming, chicks on convoyer belts, cows being forcefully impregnated, pigs being stuffed into lorries, livestock transport, standard procedures at slaughterhouses- watch it and if you are disturbed (which you should be), you will understand why I am vegan. If every one of us actually saw what happens on industrial/dairy farms, I believe that we would all be vegan. All I can do is urge you to do the research. Question things even if you think that 'they have always been this way'. Is it right? Many of us don't know what industrial farms look like. The word 'industrial' says it all! How can we put living things and industry together?
I don't want a living thing to die just so I can enjoy a burger. I don't want to kill animals and I don't have to because I can live without meat. As intelligent human beings I believe that it is our responsibility to speak up and care for animals who cannot speak up for themselves. We need to take a really hard look at what we consume and ask ourselves, does this cause suffering, and is all this suffering really worth it? Because in the end it does all come down to the consumer. We just need to be smart about what we buy and stop going for the easy choice. We need to stop prioritising convenience.
I also want to quickly point out that being vegan doesn't mean that you are the perfect consumer. There are many vegan products that are bad for the environment: vegan foods in non-recyclable plastic containers/single-use plastic, almond milk, imported fruit and veg, pesticides, palm oil, colza oil... There is a lot of work to be done but more and more people are becoming mindful consumers which is a really encouraging thought.
So there you have it. I'm vegan for my health, our planet, and the beings who inhabit it. We are no better than animals, and they should not suffer to satisfy our greed. I don't want to contribute to pain and suffering.
If you are thinking of becoming vegetarian or vegan you might feel overwhelmed but it's okay. There are so many great resources out there today, I have linked a bunch of things below. You can also find support from the vegan community on social media! For those of you who want concrete scientific proof, please take a look at the links below. The articles I am sharing have trustworthy sources and references to scientific studies. I will also include some informative websites to satisfy your vegan curiosity:
Plant-Based diet and Heart Disease: click here
Environmental impact of the fishing industry: click here
The Impact of Abandoned Ocean Fishing Nets on Marine Life: click here
General info and news:
veganhealth.org (great website to learn all about vitamins and minerals)
VeganSociety.com (I buy some of my supplements from here!)
Blogs and Recipes:
Deliciously Ella (my favourite!)
I know this was a long and heavy one, but I hope you found it interesting and informative. Thankyou for reading!