What Do Religious Texts Suggest About Vegetarianism?

Torah from Flickr via Wylio
© 2009 Lawrie Cate, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Don’t *they* say, never talk about religion or politics?


Full disclosure – I’m not remotely Bible ‘y’ or Jesus ‘y’. I believe there is beauty and truth at the heart of all religions, and they were no doubt pure at their origin, but organised religions of today leave me cold. Through the ages they became super patriarchal, and thus don’t really speak to me. They ‘other’ise women, and I don’t believe that God would want ANY living being to be seen as ‘other,’ and treated as if they were ‘less than’ because of whatever ridiculous human/social construct.

(Luckily, organised religions don’t have a monopoly on God, so we are free to believe as we choose – yay!)

I studied religion for my MA, which required the reading of lots of religious texts. One thing I learned is that they have two elements. One consists of the verses that are ‘universal’ – that is to say, they transcend era, and can apply to anyone, anywhere (these are the verses that seem to hold truths); and the other element consists of more ‘contextual’ verses. These verses are often proscriptive, relating to conditions at the time they were written, and when read with modern eyes, some are clearly outdated and unjust, and not in the spirit of the text as a whole – the verses about slavery and the uncleanness of women for example.

What point am I trying to make? This one.

I have read so many anti-vegetarian arguments that cite religion as a justification for eating animals, like – you’re not a proper (X) if you don’t eat meat. As far as many people within organised religions are concerned, being vegetarian (let alone vegan!) is almost akin to anarchy and being a ‘heathen’. Many believe it is divinely ordained that people eat meat, and if we go against this, we are disrespecting God.

When we look at any religious verse, we have to consider three things – the language (all possible translations of each word), the historical and political context in which it was written, and whether it fits into the spirit of the text as a whole.

If we focus on the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), there are verses in all the texts that would seem to promote vegetarianism, but there are also some that appear to permit eating meat.

The first peoples in the Christian and Jewish texts appear to have been vegetarian, hence Genesis 1:29-30

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

But meat-eating seems to have become permitted after the great flood (yes, the one with Noah and the ark!). See Genesis 9:2-4

The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.

But this permission came with caveats. In the book of Leviticus, we are taught only certain animals are permissible, and no blood must be left in the animal to be eaten. This does not exactly suggest that eating meat is ideal, just that it is permissible. More like: ok, if you must, but do it in *this* way.

Some scholars believe that it was only permitted after the flood as there was no more vegetation left on earth, so it was, in effect, temporary permission, and made difficult, so people wouldn’t eat too much of it.

Many Christians believe Jesus was vegetarian, and Seventh Day Adventists and the Bible Christian Church are largely vegetarian.

Which verses in the Bible seem to promote vegetarianism?

This one is my favourite:

Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Ecclesiastes 3:19-2

And don’t forget:

Thou shalt not kill. Exodus 20:13

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.  Psalms 36:6

The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His creatures.
Psalms 145:9

A righteous person regards the life of his or her animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Proverbs 12:10

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. Luke 12:6

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
Romans 14:2

And get this, from the book of Daniel. Daniel is being held captive in the king’s court with three other guys, and he does his own dietary study!!

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed [over him and three others] Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food [rich meats and wines], and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. Daniel 1:11-17

Now of course there are verses that mention meat or fish, but often, scholars have argued that the word meat has been wrongly translated from a Greek word (broma) that actually means just ‘food.’ Similarly, it is argued that in some verses, the word fish is actually a mis-translation of the Greek word for seaweed.


In Islam, which came five hundred years after Christianity, meat-eating is permitted, again with very strict conditions attached. When we look at the life of the Prophet however, he did not eat meat often; at a celebration maybe, or at a time when no other vegetable food was available.

Consider these verses from the Qur’an:

And there is no creature on [or within] the earth or bird that flies with its wings except [that they are] communities like you. We have not neglected in the Register a thing. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered. Al-An’am 6:38

And the earth, He has assigned it to all living creatures. Ar-Rahman 55:10

While the Qur’an is the holiest text in Islam, also holy are the Hadith, which are accounts (many first-hand) of the sayings and actions of Muhammad. Muhammad explicitly forbade hunting animals for sport and there are so many accounts of him chiding those who mistreat animals that I cannot list them all here. Here are some Hadith on that subject:

Whoever is merciful even to a sparrow, Allah will be merciful to him on the Day of Judgment. Imam Malik’s Muwatta Chapter No: 26, The Aqiqa

A good deed done to an animal is like a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as cruelty to a human being. Mishkat Al-Masabih has concluded this Hadith from Bukhari and Muslim

Whoever is kind to the creatures of God is kind to himself. Narrated by Abdullah bin ‘Amr

The Companions said,”O Allah’s Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for serving any living being.” Bukhari, narrated by Abu Huraira

Many Muslims believe that though meat is permitted, healthful food is preferred. Many Sufis and Shi-ites are vegetarian, believing this to be the Islamic ideal.


There are many Jews who also believe that a vegetarian/vegan diet is the one preferred for them by God, and that the complexity of the laws surrounding consumption of meat was explicitly intended to discourage people from eating it.

There are several Mitzvahs (commandments) that inform this belief.

One is tza’ar ba’alei hayyim, which prohibits causing pain and suffering to living creatures.

Another is bal tashchit, which is an injunction not to be wasteful. Many understand this to mean a prohibition of unnecessary environmental and animal waste. As more of the earth’s resources are used to produce animal foods, and as we don’t need animal products to thrive, it is less wasteful to be vegetarian.

Judaism also stresses the importance of health and not doing anything to harm yourself. We know beyond doubt that animal products are harmful to our health, contributing to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. Many Jews believe that eating animals while knowing this is not the ideal way.

Incidentally, Israel has more vegetarians, per capita than any other country!

While I don’t pretend to have the answers – scholars have been arguing for hundreds of years on these subjects (I’m not gonna sort it out in a blog post!) it does seem to me that the fundamental tenets of these religions (indeed all religions) are love, compassion, justice, health and life FOR ALL, conservation of natural resources, and peace.

It is fair to say that vegetarianism and veganism is in alignment with all these teachings.


The Most Important Movie Ever Made? Please Watch ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret’

I don’t know how to persuade you to watch this movie.

If the title is putting you off, I’m not a fan of it either – it sounds a bit ‘tin foil hat brigade,’ or ‘woo woo.’

I can assure you the film is neither of these things.

Kip Anderson, the film maker/narrator, is searching for answers on why, when UN and FAO research points to livestock agriculture being the prime cause of climate change (in fact you find out during the film that livestock agriculture is the biggest culprit in ALL forms of environmental degradation), the major environmental charities – Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch etc., aren’t even talking about this issue.

What he discovers is shocking. I knew a lot of this info before, but it’s sobering having it all in one place, and being validated by so many eminent people like Dr Richard Oppenlander, and ‘Mad Cowboy’ Howard Lyman.

The movie is easy to watch; it’s pretty, there’s no ‘over-the-head’ science and everything is explained in a highly accessible way with fun infographics to keep you engaged. Kip is softly spoken, calm, measured and highly likeable.

I heard of this film a while back before it was made, when Kip was looking for online crowd-funding. I thought it looked interesting and even posted links to Twitter and Facebook (but wasn’t in a position to donate myself at the time).

You learn the reason why Kip had to end up getting the film crowd funded (Spoiler Alert: A major backer pulled out due to fear of reprisals from the meat industry).

At the end of the film Kip is clearly endorsed by the Bill Gates and Biz Stone (co-founder of Twitter) backed company, Beyond Meat, who make meat alternatives. You know these guys are incredibly business-savvy (understatement!) and would not have anything to do with this movie if the information in it wasn’t proven and credible. And what an advertising opportunity for them too – who can blame them?

You know those dumb pictures and quotes about children that people post on Facebook saying ‘…Share (this) if you love your children/grandchildren’?

These things are way obnoxious any way you look at it; suggesting as they do that if you DON’T share the stupid thing you obviously don’t love your children or grandchildren.

Well, maybe it would be more intelligent and fruitful if we shared THIS FILM if we love our children and grandchildren. After all, they will inherit this planet, and I shudder to think what will be left if we don’t spread the word, educate ourselves and act against this.

Best thing you can do immediately? Do like Kip did at the end of the film – go vegan!


Don’t Call Yourself Vegan Unless You’re Doing It 100% For The Animals (Why I Think This Is Silly!)

Some vegans get very heated about those who go vegan primarily or initially for health or environmental reasons.

It’s true that the vegan diet and lifestyle (i.e. not using any animal products for clothes, footwear, accessories, sofas etc., or for our leisure, i.e. circuses and zoos) came about from the realisation that animals are sentient beings, just like us, and therefore deserve the same free, unhindered (at least by humans), safe lives that we do. Being vegan is about not being a part of cruelty and the unnecessary killing of animals, and some vegans think (not, at first glance, unreasonably) these are the only reasons one should call oneself vegan or refer to one’s diet as ‘vegan.’

They suggest that if your motivations are for health or the environment, you should call yourself ‘plant-based,’ and not vegan – the inference being that you care more about yourself than you do about animals.

I disagree with this.

Certainly, I GET this stance, and why some would feel strongly about this. I know that the original idea of a vegan diet evolved around animal rights – and OF COURSE, not eating/using animals IS the defining feature of the vegan lifestyle. It is nothing but admirable when someone decides to go vegan purely out of empathy for animals.

Several big vegan bloggers rarely blog about health or environmental issues, and have quite a large focus on delicious vegan junk food (I LOVE these blogs btw). Their reasons for being vegan are purely ethical, and I have nothing but admiration and respect for these guys.

But, if going vegan was exceptionally bad for our health and the environment – would anyone still be vegan? Really? I’m not sure I would. Does that make me a big ol’ monster?

Cards on the table. If you’ve read my ‘About’ page, you’ll know I went vegan as a late teen, predominantly for health/vanity reasons (so I wasn’t St Francis of Assisi as a teen; if you were – great! We need more people like you in the world, but I was pretty self-absorbed). After a while however, I evolved (thank goodness!). I also stopped wearing animal products, and buying them for non-food reasons. Now, the knowledge that my way of eating harms no-one, benefits my health, and treads the lightest on the planet, thrills me equally on all three counts.

I fully believe that those who embrace a vegan diet, even if initially it’s more for personal health or environmental reasons; are very likely to discover more and more information on all the other reasons, the more they progress and learn.

The viewpoint that they shouldn’t call themselves ‘vegan,’ for me feels like narrow thinking. It’s a little simplistic and reductive. I also don’t believe Donald Watson (inventor of the word vegan) would sue me for feeling this, and here’s why:

There are two main points that this viewpoint fails to take into account.

1. Humans are animals too.

2. The utter interconnectedness of ALL life.


Humans are animals too

It’s not complicated. We are animals. There are three categories of, er, stuff, in the world –   animal, vegetable, mineral. The last time I looked it wasn’t – human, animal, vegetable, mineral.

If you MUST distinguish, then it’s human animals and non-human animals.

If you say you’re ‘going vegan for the animals’ you are inferring that you’re NOT an animal. You’re separating yourself from non-human animals.

If we look after ourselves, then we ARE looking after all other animals. If we are healthy and well, we can better be present for the needs of ALL OTHER human and non-human animals. If we are sick, fatigued, depressed and aching due to poor diet and habits – we are no good to anyone. If we are vibrant, happy and radiating joy and light, we are a positive influence on every being we come across.

It is NOT shallow or superficial to prioritise your health.

If OUR wellness needs are met we become happier, and can be more empathetic to the suffering of others, and more ready to serve and help them.


The interconnectedness of all things

Is it just a happy coincidence that going vegan (providing it’s a well-balanced, varied diet of course) is one of the best things we can do for our physical, mental and spiritual health, AND for non-human animals AND the health of the planet? Isn’t it good that the health and environmental benefits may give us added motivation to go and stay vegan?

I believe these three things are completely interconnected. If I am healthy and happy, I am able to spread light and be present for everyone I come into contact with. And if I’m improving the environment – who benefits? ONLY EVERYONE! That’s every non-human and human animal that lives now and will live in the future.

An environmental concern caused by livestock farming is habitat loss. When jungles, forests, and other wild landscapes are razed to the ground to make way for grazing or growing feed crops, so wild animals lose their habitats, and thus, often, their lives as a consequence.

Again – going vegan benefits ALL animals, not just the ones bred for food.


Previous famous vegetarians and vegans seem to have known that the ethical and general ‘wellness of the world’ elements go hand in hand. For example, clever old Albert Einstein said:

‘I have always eaten animal flesh with a somewhat guilty conscience.’

This suggests he is very much concerned with the morality of eating meat.

Yet he also says:

‘It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living by its purely physical effect on the human temperament would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.’


‘Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.’

He does not separate the benefits that a vegetarian/vegan diet bestows – they are all linked.

Romantic English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a piece in the nineteenth century promoting an animal-free diet called ‘A Vindication Of Natural Diet‘ (worth a read if you have a spare half an hour).

In it, he says

‘the ardent devotee of truth and virtue…it will be a contemplation full of horror and disappointment to his mind, that beings capable of the gentlest and most admirable sympathies, should take delight in the death-pangs and last convulsions of dying animals.’

From this we know he is horrified by animal cruelty.

He goes on:

‘The most valuable lives are daily destroyed by diseases, that it is dangerous to palliate and impossible to cure by medicine. How much longer will man continue to pimp for the gluttony of death, his most insidious, implacable, and eternal foe? The proselyte to a simple and natural diet, who desires health, must from the moment of his conversion attend to these rules— Never take any substance into the stomach that once had life. Drink no liquid but water restored to its original purity by distillation.’

He got it.

It’s true that there are a few ex-vegans out there (who are, unfortunately, very vocal on the internet) who went vegan for weight/health issues, couldn’t make it work, and then made a big noise about how their body needed animal products again (which is highly unlikely).

But don’t let these people spoil it for the rest of us. And know that it’s okay that a person’s motivations for being vegan are informed by several issues.

Eating healthily for ourselves and sustainably for the environment IS great for animals too.


The Paleo Diet. SIIIGGHHH. Alright, Let’s ‘Ave It.

Dinosaurs and Cavemen from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Orin Zebest, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

‘…but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.’ 

-William Shakespeare (via Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Twelfth Night)


I’ve mocked the referred to the Paleo diet in a couple of previous posts, so I thought I should probably just devote an entire post to it already and be done!

Just in case you don’t know (but I’m sure you do,), the Paleo diet – which has now been around for a few years – is the latest in a long line (Atkins, Zone, South Beach) of low-carb, high-animal protein diets; yet this time the premise is that it’s good to eat like Paleolithic peoples, who were hunter gatherers that ate lots and lots of meat, fish, some nuts and seeds, and some non-carby, watery veg and fruit. According to the inventors of the diet, they ate no grains, beans or legumes either. The benefits of eating this way, supposedly, are increased health and easy weight maintenance.

The only silver lining is that it also prescribes eliminating dairy and processed foods.

These guys (1, 2, 3,) have made all the scientific points against Paleo in much greater detail than I have space for, so if you are seriously considering trying Paleo, or just need info to convince a friend or loved one NOT to try it, please, PLEASE take time and go click one of these links.

But, in a nutshell (ok, a bloody HUGE nutshell), these are the reasons why eating like Captain Caveman (I adored him, by the way!) does not make sense:


  • There is NO EVIDENCE that Paleothithic people ate this way!!!
  •  This diet is heavy on the meat. All meat contains cholesterol and saturated fat, which contribute greatly to heart disease. See this study; published in the British Medical Journal in 2012, that concludes that low-carb, high-protein diets (such as Paleo) are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. As we know,, there is also overwhelming scientific evidence that meat consumption puts you at risk for lots of other chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. Some people initially feel great on a Paleo diet because it excludes dairy, refined starches and processed food. This does not mean a Paleo diet is good. It means the person’s previous diet was extra crappy. In the long term, to consume meat, and at the levels prescribed by the Paleo diet, as mentioned above can be seriously detrimental to health.
  •  It is way too resource intensive. If everyone ate meat like cave people supposedly did according to the creators of the Paleo diet books, there wouldn’t be enough land on the planet to accommodate this. And the more meat you eat, the more you are contributing to all forms of environmental damage, including climate change, topsoil loss, air and water pollution.
  • No beans and no whole grains? Are you kidding? Beans are full of necessary fibre, and are a good source of protein and iron. They lower cholesterol and help eliminate excess hormones. Whole grains provide us with the perfect fuel. They also contain fibre, vital vitamins and minerals, and help the body secrete waste and metabolise protein. To miss out on these two incredible food groups is utter crazypantedness (the correct medical term).
  • You are probably a caring, compassionate person who would like to live in alignment with your values of not participating in or contributing to cruel practises. Some Paleo types hunt animals, believing they are emulating their Paleolithic ancestors. Hunting when there is no need nutrient-wise for us to do so IS unnecessary and cruel. But even if they don’t hunt – the amount of meat they eat? Well that’s just a whole lot of needless slaughter.
  • The Paleos that hunt feel this is a more authentic, primal way of eating. However, after hunting, they probably go back to their air-conditioned or heated house, put the meat in the fridge, check their social media accounts, and watch Top Gear or some dudely sport on the TV (yes, I’m stereotyping. Totally wrong but I can’t resist it). Anyway, my point is; waaaay to be selective with all the primalness and authenticity.
  • Paleolithic peoples probably did lots of other stuff too. Why would you pick ONE thing you THINK they did (except they didn’t), and use it as a gold standard in one area of your life?
  • EVEN IF it were found to be true that Paleolithic peoples had eaten a shit tonne of meat – why are we looking at the past? We know now that we don’t need meat to thrive and that in fact it’s extremely problematic for our health, the environment, and all beings. Shouldn’t we be aiming to PROgress, not REgress?

It’s pretty easy to see why Paleo caught on. In the face of rising awareness of vegetarian and veganism, when meat consumption in the ‘west’ has significantly dropped as we become aware of the health and environmental harm it causes; this diet validates and justifies the continued consumption of meat. It gives those that are so emotionally invested in meat a pretext for continuing to eat it (sure, you have to clean your diet up a bit – but you can still eat meat – yay!)

What next – the Bronze Age diet? The Ancient Egyptian diet? The Restoration diet?


I Want To Go Vegan, But What’s In It For Me?

As you know, the word ‘vegan’ ultimately defines a lifestyle not complicit in the violence, cruelty and killing of non-human animals.

For lots of people, this is ample reason to be vegan. To know that no-one is suffering for you is benefit enough.

If you DID want any more reasons to go vegan, I GET IT – honestly.

After all, everyone else eats animal products, it’s so normalised in this culture. Every other commercial outlet on the High/Main Street is a kebab shop, a fast food joint, a fried chicken place.

Celebrities are posing with milk moustaches and doing yoghurt commercials.

Every lummox on the planet seems to be prattling on about their love for baaayycuuhhn (when did the whole bacon reinvention start? It was old man’s food when I was growing up). Now, apparently, if you don’t guzzle bacon, you are not living life to the fullest.

Every other ad is for burgers, butter, ice cream. Where are the ads for broccoli? For walnuts? For beetroot?

On top of this, lots of energy and money is being spent trying to make meat cool.  More and more ‘gourmet’ burger (WTF?) places are opening every day. I even see this in my own neighbourhood. A ‘restaurant’ called ‘Chicken Shop,’ owned by a well-known private members club group, has just launched near my house. It has chickens on a spit, and the menu is chicken, chicken or chicken, with either chips or corn. Lots of painfully ‘cool’ types are flocking there. For chicken. And corn.

Seriously, no-one could blame you for thinking that vegan is too ‘different,’ too ‘against the grain.’

I truly get that this is not (yet) a vegan world and that you need as much motivation as possible to help you go vegan. What are the benefits? What will help you tolerate all the above shizzoula?

Well, I’ll tell you of some of them, but there are many others that you will discover for yourself too.


By avoiding animal products (and eating whole foods, of course), you have reduced your risk for heart disease and lots of cancers significantly, in fact some doctors in the field would say you are at almost zero risk of heart disease, eating this way.

You have also side- stepped diabetes, (or will be able to improve it, if you have it already), and are at lower risk for Alzheimer’s. There are a whole host of conditions that can be prevented or improved with a whole foods vegan diet, including asthma, and multiple sclerosis.


A whole-foods plant-based diet will have you glowing, radiant, and oozing sparkle. Your skin and body will be the best they’ve ever been – and if you’re exercising, sleeping and relaxing enough too – well, baby, you’ve never looked so good.

Is this a superficial incentive? Perhaps. But don’t forget; the more you look after yourself and ensure that you feel great and confident and happy, the better you can help and look after other people; the more present you will be when you spend time with them, and the more joyful your interactions will be.

The ripple out effect of YOU feeling good is immense. When you feel lethargic, depressed, achy, insecure, or worse, then you cannot be much help, or bring much joy to anyone.

Other Silly, Limiting Constructs Become Clear – And Evaporate

Another benefit is that when you realise how ridiculous the ‘certain animals are food but others are pets,’ paradigm is (and all the rest we have around how we perceive animals as ‘other’), you begin to see lots of other things clearly, and all other ridiculous paradigms crumble.

Just as you’ve realised what humans do so they can justify eating certain beings; you recognise all the other silly human constructs that abound.

You see all the boxes, compartments and pigeon holes that lots of people need in order to feel secure, or a part of something – and you don’t need them any more. This is one of the most liberating things I found, and probably my absolute favourite extra benefit!


Do you have children? Grandchildren? Just know some good kids?

After you’ve gone do you want them to live on a clean planet, full of natural wonders, with fresh air and clean water?  Well, being vegan is the best thing you can do for the planet. The livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transport combined, and is the prime cause of air and water pollution, deforestation, drought, and wildlife habitat destruction.

You CANNOT proclaim to be an environmentalist and eat meat. That would be silly. Like being a pacifist and a gun manufacturer. Or like being a nun and a porn star (!?).

World Hunger

Feeding grain to animals, to then feed the animals to humans is hardly energy or resource efficient.

Can we really justify this with so many people starving? When we know that if we all ate plant-based there would be enough food to go around, and then some? Knowing that you are not contributing to world hunger, while it may not directly benefit you, has to make you feel lighter, I’ll bet.


You will discover lots of other incredible benefits for yourself, lots of them interlinked. As Dr T. Colin Campbell says in his life-saving book, The China Study:  “Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence. All parts are interconnected.”

Trust me; the personal benefits of being vegan vastly outweigh being the odd one out who doesn’t eat baaaayyycuuuhnn, or not fitting in at ‘Gourmet Burger.’

Going Vegan Step-By-Step? Here’s What To Change First…

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!