Some of us are lucky enough to be able to make changes to our lifestyles overnight, for others of us, it’s easier to make them incrementally. If you are transitioning to a vegan diet in this way, then, depending on your reasons, it may be better to eliminate foods in a particular order.
There are three main reasons for making the decision to go vegan or plant-based (or move in that direction):
1) For health (I’m including losing weight in this)
2) For ethical reasons
3) For the environment
For some of us it’s completely about ethics – living a life free of cruelty to others, for some it’s to improve a health issue, and for others it’s all three reasons. With me, it was initially health, but now it’s most definitely all three. Before you yell at me with accusations of encouraging people to go vegan for any other reason than the animals, I know for a fact that a significant number of people go plant-based for health or the environment, then in time come to realise that the other reasons are just as important and are all, in fact, interconnected. It’s true that some don’t, and go back to eating animals because they haven’t evolved to that understanding, but a considerable number do. As I said, I was one of those.
Here’s what you may want to give up first according to each reason:
Health: Start with dairy. You will notice the biggest change in your health by eliminating dairy. The reason why oftentimes people initially feel good on the immensely unscientific ‘paleo’ diet is NOT because they are eating grass-fed, poetry read, tucked-in-bed beef, it’s because this diet eliminates dairy, and someone on a standard diet who eliminates dairy and processed foods WILL start to feel better quickly! If you need to eliminate dairy step by step, my advice is to start with cheese. Once you’ve cracked the cheese addiction, everything else will seem much easier. You should notice improvements in conditions like asthma, migraines, sinus congestion, allergies, heartburn, IBS and eczema quite quickly.
As for losing weight, dairy (especially cheese) is full of saturated fat , and even semi-skimmed and low-fat dairy does not aid weight loss. It may be lower in fat, but it still contains saturated fat and cholesterol, so I’d still give up dairy first even if your reason is weight loss.
Ethics: Assuming you are not a foie gras munching, lobster gobbling, veal snarfing type, then as for which animal product is produced in the cruellest manner, I have found arguments declaring each of the following the most cruel – eggs from battery hens, dairy, chicken and cows. In my view the argument is somewhat academic, but I lean towards Wellness Activist and author Kathy Freston‘s view on this:
‘Although many people tend to stop eating red meat before they give up chicken, turkey, or fish, from a humane standpoint, this is backwards. Birds are arguably the most abused animals on the planet, and birds and fish yield less flesh than cows or pigs, so farmers and fishers kill more of them to satisfy America’s meat habit. If you choose to give up meat in stages, stop eating chickens and turkeys first, then fish, and then pigs and cows.‘
Environment: You might be surprised at this one. According to the Environmental Working Group, lamb is the best animal product to give up first if you are concerned about carbon emissions. Why? They produce as much methane as cows, but it adds up to more emissions per pound as there is less edible meat on them in relation to live weight. Of course beef is a close second.
On top of the methane output, these two animals are the most resource intensive to farm, using more water, fertiliser, pesticides and fuel than any other livestock. They also generate more manure (which ends up polluting the air and rivers) pound for pound than any other livestock.
Cheese, pork, and farmed salmon would be next, as they are amongst the items that generate the most greenhouse gases in production.
Note: If you currently feel there is one animal product you just cannot live without (burgers? cheese?) then give up all the others except for that one thing. Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. The chances are very likely that after you’ve eliminated everything else, after a while, because your system is feeling so good with so few animal products, you’ll want to lose this one too as you’ll have less of a taste for it. If not? No matter, do what you can – it all counts!