All I see in my twitter feed is pictures of mangled up dogs and dolphins!
Don’t worry; I’ll not post any here. As you can imagine they ain’t pleasant.
Now of course I care about the fate of dogs and dolphins, but here’s why all the attention on these two animals annoys me:
It’s like they are the easiest animals to feel compassion towards.
Everyone loves dogs because they are our pets. They are furry and sweet and respond when we call their name. They are often subservient to humans.
We love and value dolphins because we are told they are intelligent. We know they are friendly towards us and have often saved human lives. We are fascinated by their mysticism and otherworldliness, and the fact that we still don’t know much about the way they communicate. People like to ‘swim’ with captive dolphins in theme parks.
It seems that because we ‘know’ dogs, and we ‘exoticise’ dolphins – we care about them more than other non-human animals.
It also seems like some people pick a well-loved animal to campaign for, perhaps in an attempt to prove (though to whom I don’t know!) that they are good people and love animals – and to distract themselves from the fact that they are not vegetarian or vegan, and so don’t have as massive an effect as they could on reducing animal cruelty.
This is commonly known as ‘selective compassion.’
Picking one animal to fight on behalf of implies that that animal is more worthy than others.
I get that some animal species are endangered and this is why their survival may seem to need to take precedence, but the truth is that an individual animal in any oppressed group is endangered, and the only reason there are a tonne of chickens and cows in existence at any one time is because we over breed them unnaturally for commercial gain. They are bred TO BE brutalised. *
I can’t see that one situation is worse than another.
How can we care more about the fate of dogs and dolphins when:
– The cruelty meted out to cows (in the meat, dairy and leather industries) daily is beyond comprehension and on a far greater scale than to dogs and dolphins
– Don’t even get me started on the sheer scale of cruelty to chickens (in the poultry and egg industries).
– The capacity of any animal to suffer and their desire to live a life free of pain is exactly the same as ours!
Isn’t this like caring more about racism when it’s directed at one race rather than another? Shouldn’t we be fighting racism wherever we find it existing against ANY oppressed group?
Doesn’t ANY being that is mistreated for being ‘other’ deserve our compassion?
Any Farm Sanctuary worker will tell you that cows, pigs, sheep and chickens all have distinctive personalities, and are friendly towards human animals and love being petted JUST as much as dogs – it’s just that we are never exposed to these animals enough to experience this for ourselves.
Turkeys ADORE human company, being petted and sitting on laps.
Have a watch…
In my opinion, we all need to work to stop the unnecessary brutalising of any living being, not just those that are perceived as cuter or more intelligent.
It’s the ‘feeling entitled to brutalise’ that is the stem of the problem, not the choice of animal.
*You should know there is graphic content contained in most of the videos I’ve posted links to here. If you can – and especially if you are unaware of the way these animals are treated – please watch one or two; it’s reality!
Also, no matter if the video is from the US, Canada, the UK or Australia, these practises are common everywhere.
I want to address something I’ve read quite often in comments sections following articles about vegan parents bringing up vegan kids.
It’s this worn out old chestnut:
I think it’s disgusting and selfish that you impose YOUR diet on your children. Kids should be able to choose how they eat, and they are missing out because of YOU!
I understand where that position comes from, but it’s ultimately an entitled and ignorant thing to say.
It comes from a very skewed perspective and needs to be called out.
Does any child CHOOSE to eat a meat and dairy-centric diet from the time they start eating solid food? Isn’t THAT diet imposed on them? Just because it’s the mainstream diet, it doesn’t make it any less an imposition of an agenda on a kid.
When you look at all the health hazards we set our kids up for by feeding them animal products (ear, nose and throat infections, sinus issues, migraines, food poisoning, appendicitis, diabetes, the list is too long to complete here) does the status quo REALLY mean that much? Is it better to fit in with the herd than have a healthy kid?
When the kid is sick – aren’t they missing out on playing, learning and fun? I know I had copious ear infections as a kid, and chronic asthma and eczema. What with this and my fair share of colds, flu, and sickness – I must have (as most of us must have) missed weeks of my childhood.
Then there’s this:
In my experience, kids are NOT happy when they find out that animals are killed for meat. Some actually don’t join the dots until they are much older (and we can’t blame them for this – HOW the meat got to the plate is kept WELL-hidden from them by a myriad of societal and commercial forces), but I’ve seen myself that when very young kids – say, four, five, six years old – learn that an animal had to be killed, they are not on board with this.
As vegans, we are in a position to see this first hand. Friends kids often ask me why I’m vegan, and when I tell them about the ethical reasons (I don’t get graphic about this, I just keep it simple, I’m not into scaring kids!) they are sometimes in a state of disbelief. They’ve said things like ’I know about cows but chickens aren’t killed when we eat them are they?’ Now this seems a silly thing to say, but I read it as the child in question not wanting to believe that THAT MANY chickens are killed ALL THE TIME.
Check out this video of a tot realising that the octopus on his plate had to be killed first:
I even know a kid who is very nervous around animals, so unlike most, he doesn’t particularly see them as friends – but even HE was not ok to learn that animals die for our food. He has an innate understanding of the animals right to live, run around and be happy just like him.
And it doesn’t make sense that we read our kids stories like Peppa Pig, and introduce them to a ton of friendly fictional and film animal characters that in real life we treat horrendously! Does your kid know that bacon comes from poor Peppa’s back?
Kids are often interested in environmental issues too – it’s in their interest, they will inherit the planet! But I also think they really get on board with things like recycling because they understand it. It’s also not difficult for them to understand that animal farming is more energy intensive than plant farming. They can easily comprehend that plants are grown directly to sell, while animals have to be fed with plants, then the animals are fed to us.
Because meat and dairy farming is the biggest contributor to all forms of environmental degradation, world governments are already encouraging us to eat less animal products for environmental reasons; and in the not too distant future – well within the lifetime of your child if they have an average lifespan – independent experts predict we’ll be entreated to eat NONE at all.
How will these children, as grown-ups, feel about the fact that meat was unquestioningly imposed on them as infants?
And I’ve never even explained to a child the impact that livestock agriculture has on world hunger, I think it would break their heart to know that we grow crops to feed animals to feed us (WHEN WE DON’T EVEN NEED TO EAT ANIMAL PRODUCTS TO THRIVE – in fact, eating them is harmful to us!), and that other kids in poor countries die of starvation as a result, when the crops could have been grown to feed THEM.
As interest in veganism grows exponentially year on year, all this information will become mainstream, in fact, it’s already happening. Children today will come across all these facts sooner than we think. What will they make of the selective blindness, selective compassion, and lack of thought for the future that we passed on to them?
I’ve written here about how easy it is for children to eat plant-based. There are abundant plant-based treats and fun food, just far less of the health issues associated with a diet containing animal products.
I don’t have kids, but having experienced the health problems my childhood was riddled with, and knowing that kids have a natural affinity for the environment, and for other kids across the world less fortunate than them, and for non-human animals, I absolutely couldn’t impose animal products on them.
So you don’t like the word ‘vegan’ because you feel it has lots of negative connotations?
Fine. If it helps, don’t call yourself vegan.
You can call yourself ‘plant-based’ or ‘plant-strong’ if you prefer.
Yes, I know there is a difference, ethically, between ‘vegan’ and ‘plant-based’ and that some vegans get het up about these terms being used interchangeably. I honestly DO get why, but I find this excluding and not helpful in encouraging people to eat this way.
You should say ‘plant-based’ if it feels better to you.
Or you don’t need to call yourself anything! You’re just someone that loves good and nourishing food, end of story!
2. It’ll be too difficult.
No, it won’t.
It could be more of a change for you if you are a self-confessed picky, junk food, unadventurous eater, sure, but it is still so do-able, there really is an entry point to suit EVERYONE!
If I have just described you, why not start slowly by switching your favourite junk food to vegan versions (just google ‘vegan burgers’ or whatever your poison – you’ll be surprised at the amount of entries there are with alternatives – we are nothing if not a creative lot!). Or try getting rid of a couple of animal products at a time (say, for a few weeks, till you feel comfortable enough to eliminate a couple more), and introduce two new plant foods (sweet potato and avocado for example) to your weekly diet.
It doesn’t matter what your starting point is, there is a way to do it slowly and easily, so it sticks!
And rather than framing it in your mind as something that’s going to be ‘difficult’ what about seeing it as an opportunity to expand your repertoire and discover delicious new foods!
3. My friends/relations will think I’m batshit cray.
I doubt it. Not in my experience, and I was vegan long before Beyonce made it kool.
There may be some that think it’s a bit ‘out there’, but it’s highly unlikely it will get in the way of your relationship. You don’t talk about food all the time do you? Just focus on what you always had in common. If the thing you always had in common was your love of burgers – well then introduce them to the delight that is a portobello burger!
4. It’s expensive.
No, it really doesn’t have to be.
You SHOULD prioritise and spend what you can on good food. Food is medicine, both preventative and even sometimes curative, and you KNOW you wouldn’t skimp on medicine!
I love saying ‘health is wealth,’ I really believe that if you spend what you can on nourishing food, you’ll be happy and healthy and everything else in your life can grow from there.
But that said, if you’re truly cash-strapped, it’s still easy to eat a tasty, healthy vegan diet. I’ve got you completely covered – just check out this previous post for some tips on how to stretch that vegan $ or £, or rouble or yuan!
5. I’ll have to spend aaaaages in the kitchen and I’m not a ‘kitchen’y’ person.
Guess what? It’s the same as if you’re a meat-eater. Granted, it’s advisable to spend time playing with recipes while first transitioning to vegan, especially if you don’t consider yourself very food savvy. You can get to know a wide range of tastes and textures so you always have great and satisfying ideas for what to eat for your next meal.
But even if you refuse to do ‘kitchen;’ and even if you’re the ‘ready meal’ king or queen, there are plenty of vegan ready meal options these days, most of them very healthy!
Ready meal types in the US try any of these products. I’ve had the black bean and lime soup from this range and it was surprisingly tasty. You just add water – what could be easier? And there are always several vegan options available at the hot and cold bars in Whole Foods, and some vegan choices are already pre-made and packaged in the refrigerated aisles, if you’re really short on time.
Please do try and spend some time at least one day a week in the kitchen though – if you make a big pot of soup or stew, it’ll last you for the next few days and THAT will mean you don’t have to cook for a while!
6. I knew a vegan once and they were obnoxious.
Sweet Lord! Have you never known an obnoxious meat-eater? Did they influence your opinion of all meat-eaters? Yes? Then you have issues too big for me to help with.
Look, an a-hole is an a-hole, vegan or no.
And some vegans ARE going to be obnoxious. To an extent this is understandable. I’m not remotely excusing this, but this can happen to new vegans especially.
They’ve just had their mind-blown by life changing information, and everything around them is geared towards meat-eaters. New vegans are acutely aware of the cruelty carried out on non-human animals every second, and are often well-informed about animal products being the number one environment destroyer. It’s difficult to watch people act blindly and unthinkingly, and to watch destructive behaviours legitimised and reinforced by greedy corporate interests, and I definitely feel angry about that myself sometimes – we’re HUMAN!
BUT, as a vegan lifestyle is defined by compassion, in general we try and extend that to everyone. I appreciate there will always be the bad apple, but I can honestly say, the vegans I know are kind, funny, friendly – JUST LIKE LOTS OF NON-VEGANS.
7. But baaaaaaaaycun…
You really want the flesh off this little guys back?
If you ate bacon so much previously that you genuinely miss it, there’s always vegan bacon while you’re transitioning (in UK here, in US here). True, it ain’t exactly healthy – but neither’s bacon!
Unsalted and unprocessed back flesh from a pig would kinda taste like nothing. It’s actually the salty, smoky, fatty flavour and texture that you crave, so you can recreate this taste and the whole ‘mouth feel’ of bacon yourself, very simply, like this.
The other day I was asked which books in particular have engaged and inspired me on my plant-based path.
It wasn’t a book that influenced me to GO vegan – because there weren’t really any books on the subject twenty-five years ago, just maybe a couple of sad recipe books showing how to make a very bland nut roast and other cliched vegan meals – that FYI – vegans almost NEVER eat. I can’t remember the last time I had nut roast; I’m not knocking it, there’s just NO reason it should ever have been the poster meal for vegans.
How things have changed, hoo boy!
How lucky we are now to have so many vibrant, creative and fun recipe books, and amazing voices speaking about this subject.
The recipe books I’ll post about another time. In this post I’ll cover my favourite ‘why vegan’ books.
The great thing is, today’s plant-based voices are from such a diverse crowd. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a book/author that will appeal to you.
I can’t possibly write about all the books on the subject that have impressed, thrilled and re-inspired me, there are far too many.
But these are the ones that frickin’ BLEW MY MIND, and that I still refer back to even today:
This was, I think, the first book I read that laid out ALL the reasons for ditching animal products. Until I read this, I just thought people went vegan for the animals and for some health issues.
Every impact that an animal product-based diet has, is explained here in a very accessible way.
It is full of powerful quotes and stats, and Robbins is also very knowledgeable about the corporate forces that have an interest in keeping us unaware of the damage meat, dairy, fish and egg farming do to us and the environment; and about the cruelty involved.
How do we know John Robbins is the real deal? As if this well-researched book crammed full of science and evidence isn’t enough for you to take his words on board, you’ll be interested to know that John Robbins was heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream company, but turned his back on it when he realised that the dairy ice-cream industry is not only part of the health problem, but also environmentally unsustainable and cruel.
…there is one question the meat, dairy, and chemical companies do not want people to ask, It is a question however that I find important. How much less cancer and suffering would there be if people were spreading information about true prevention with the same passion and zeal with which they are telling women to get mammograms and raising money for chemotherapy research?
THIS book is probably the one that had the most impact on me. We know the three reasons WHY vegan, but this book actually talks about even more wide-reaching and mind blowing impacts.
A main theme of the book is this:
The beliefs that make us think it’s ok to abuse and kill animals for meat follow the exact same thought patterns that legitimise sexism, racism, homophobia etc in the minds of the sexist, racist and homophobic. Every form of hate is the same. The object of hate – be they an animal, a woman or a Jew – is ‘other’ised by the hater.
We see all the differences between us and animals, and think it’s these differences that give us the right to use them. This is exactly what whites did to blacks during days of slavery, and what some men unfortunately still do to women.
Tuttle is saying that as long as we are maltreating ANY being in our society, we will never have world peace. This isn’t a new idea, Tuttle himself uses the quote by Isaac Bashevis Singer‘As long as people will shed the blood of innocent creatures there can be no peace, no liberty, no harmony between people. Slaughter and justice cannot dwell together’, but he explores this in such depth and with such academic rigour (though it’s still very comprehensible, I promise!), that we are left in no doubt that this is a universal truth.
He talks about our ‘herding culture’ that led us to where we are today in terms of our beliefs and rituals around animal foods; and the meat-medical complex which actively pushes our continuation of these meat and dairy eating habits to support their interests.
So much more is covered, way too much to elaborate on here, but you end up seeing how the livestock industry and our animal ‘other’ising culture are actually connected to most of the worlds ills. Tuttle makes you see just how this fact is very intricately hidden partly with deliberate masking by various commercial powers, but also by general social conditioning which blinds us to it.
Refusing to see animals as commodities, we are able to see through countless other pretenses. And, as transformative as this is for an individual, it would be infinitely more transformative for our culture to do so, and to evolve beyond the absolute orientation that sees animals as mere food commodities.
I love Kathy. She must have influenced sooo many people into going plant-based with her accessible, compassionate, easy-going approach. If you want to help someone go plant-based but don’t want them to feel overwhelmed, intimidated, blinded with science or academics, this book is ideal.
It is set out in a simple, enjoyable way, with eight ‘promises’ – eight benefits you will see by going plant-based.
Kathy is all about what she calls the ‘lean’ – leaning into a plant-based diet; doing it in an incremental, manageable way, so it is more likely to stick.
Like the other authors mentioned here, Kathy also talks about ALL the reasons for going vegan.
However, she is savvy enough to know that weight and health is a concern for lots of people, and that they may come to veganism for these reasons. She consults with experienced, very eminent plant-based doctors and lays out her interviews with them, but also uses stories by ordinary people whose formerly bad health has been transformed by a plant-based diet.
She offers very practical and implementable advice for optimising the weight maintenance and health benefits.
SO why have these high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets (think Atkins, the Zone, and Eat Right for your Blood Type) stayed around for so long? Probably because most of us have developed a great love for the taste of rich, fatty food and gratefully follow the advice of anyone who says it’s okay to keep eating it. Simple as that, really; we want to be told it’s okay (and good!) to keep doing what we’re doing.
This book is great. Alicia is funny, entertaining, and just says it like it is. You COULD say this book is for a younger crowd – that’s probably what the book publishers thought, but I think her style would appeal to any open-minded person with a sense of humour.
Again, she’s used her connections to the best plant-based doctors to help answer all the main questions people have and to dispel all the common myths.
Also like Kathy, she is compassionate about the different paths people are on and suggests three approaches according to what you think you can do:
Flirt – Try plant-based meals a few times a week, and switch out some animal products for plant-based products. When and if that feels ok, take another step
Vegan – Concentrate on going vegan first for as long as is necessary, before adding a whole foods health-based approach
Superhero – A whole foods, plant-based diet
There are also lots of recipes at the back of the book for every level of plant-eater!
…Maybe we should ask ourselves if we really even want to be meat-eaters. The carnivores of the natural world have quick, precise energy, but then they’re tuckered out and sleep for days. They are aggressive hunters with very little endurance. The herbivores, like horses or giraffes, not only have long-lasting energy and strength, but are generally a peaceful lot. Hmmm…
Other highly recommended books:
The China Study by Dr T Colin Campbell – This book talks, among other things, about how during research Dr Campbell undertook in China, it was discovered that upon injecting plant protein into a mouse with a tumour that the tumour decreased in size; but by injecting it with animal protein the tumour grew.
The Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn – A ‘How to’ book. Will appeal to anyone, but particularly those men that think veganism is just for women 🙂
Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman & Kim Barnouin – Very colloquial and humorous book about going vegan – not just to maintain a good weight, but for all the other reasons too (these are cleverly hidden behind the books pretext!).
When you’ve read all about ‘WHY’ vegan, you’ll need to know the ‘HOW.’
You betta know I’m here to coach you, hold your hand and help you transition healthily to this joyful, mindful and compassionate lifestyle! I’ll show you just how easy it can be!
Yes. We’re animals. Just like lions, cows, leopards, pigs, penguins, chickens and zebras.
Sounds BLINDINGLY obvious and you may think I’m being patronising. But people who eat animals do their absolute best to disassociate themselves from other animals, and make themselves seem something apart. They have to – in order to continue eating them.
The word for us – ‘human,’ is just a word (like lion) that differentiates us from other animals like penguins and sheep.
This differentiating word doesn’t mean ‘has dominance,’ or more intelligence, more conscience, or more anything. If we think it does, we think that because WE are human.
It’s exactly like someone saying ‘blond hair is best,’ when THEY have blond hair.
Why have we been taught to distance ourselves so much from other animals?
Why do we say ‘we love animals’ like they are separate to humans?
Why do we call someone an animal to insult them, again, as if animals were separate to humans?
Why do we say humans AND animals? Sorry to be Pete the pedant here but unless we are, in fact, vegetable or mineral, this is inaccurate. If you must differentiate, the most you can say is ‘human and non-human animals,’ though even this is very human-normative, i.e. arrogantly assuming that humans make up the majority and are ‘the norm’ when, in fact, considering there are around 7.7 million animal SPECIES in the world, and ants alone (according to a BBC documentary) number a hundred trillion; this indicates, quite fantastically, otherwise.
So that we can continue to kill and use other animals for our agenda (which is NOT even one of need), we have to desensitise ourselves by making them seem as different to us as possible.
And my, how we’ve done this!
Can’t we see that this is what we’ve done to any living beings we’ve wanted to colonise/enslave/subjugate/kill/rape?
Where other animals are concerned, we tell ourselves:
Other animals are here for us to eat, God said so (what we mean by this is – a book written by some flawed old men says this)
We are at the top of the food chain. Therefore we can eat animals that are lower down than us
Other animals don’t have consciousness
Other animals don’t have a soul
Other animals don’t know they will die; therefore they’re not as conscious as us
Funnily enough, there is ONE time it serves us to liken ourselves to other animals, and that’s THIS argument humans use to justify eating them:
Lions eat antelope, therefore we can eat cows. It’s the same thing.
(FYI, it’s not the same thing. Lions are obligate carnivores; they HAVE to eat other animals to survive. We are not; we thrive and are so much healthier NOT doing so).
Now we can’t have it both ways. Are we like other animals or not??
If we were to make ourselves see the commonalities and not the (insignificant) differences between us and other animals, we wouldn’t be able to kill and eat them.
In the US during slavery, slave owners focussed on and played up the colour of skin and the different shaped skulls Africans had to whites, so they’d be able to see them as not quite as ‘human’ as THEY were, and therefore not feel bad enslaving them.
Some men have traditionally focussed on the purely mechanical physical differences that women have (to them) in order to see women as other than human and therefore justify controlling and using them.
As for other animals, not only do we see all the physical differences between us, but we also see them as uncivilised, base and less intelligent.
Why are we judging them by our standards when our standards leave so much to be desired?
It’s not animals that are destroying the planet. It’s not animals that have razed forests to the ground, caused air and water pollution (apart from when WE intensively farm them for ‘food’), depleted topsoil and fossil fuels, or caused droughts and ‘plastic islands’ in the oceans.
THEY only take what they need, and actually CONTRIBUTE to the planets ecosystem. We look at the ecosystem as if it revolves around humans. But did you know that if all humans died tomorrow, the earth would eventually replenish itself with all the plant-life it had lost, its atmosphere would slowly purify, and it would utterly thrive without us? By contrast, if even the tiniest creatures, like bees, or ants were to die tomorrow, the entire ecosystem would collapse.
Look at how humans kill each other on silly pretexts, then read about how ants cooperate with each other and work in unison for the best interests and health of the colony.
It’s not animals that get obese, lollop around malls aimlessly, and get diabetes. Look how lithe and sinewy squirrels, horses, lions and monkeys are; their bodies are perfect for the needs of their habitats.
It’s not animals that create constructs to control, reduce and diminish each other.
And look at how Zen they are; how they are always in the moment, but at the same time have insanely sharp reflexes. If you have a cat on your lap and stand up suddenly, it will always land on its feet. If you had a human on your lap and stood up suddenly, they would flop to the floor like a dead weight.
We need to dehumanise in order to oppress humans. And in the case of other animals, we have to see them as different and as inferior to humans as possible to desensitise ourselves to their suffering – so we can eat them.
The truth is they are far more similar to us than different. Exactly as people with dark skin are more similar than different to people with white skin and as women are more similar than different to men.
All oppressions are the same and need an ‘other.’ We’ve ‘otherised’ animals that are not human to such an extent we don’t even know we’re doing it.
So, in case you’ve made resolutions of the new year kind, and in case they are to do with going more plant-based (or if you are already vegan and want to go in a more healthful direction, i.e. eliminating sugar), then here are 5 pointers to aid your resolutin’ :
1. Only you know you.
You probably have a pretty good idea by now whether you’re a ‘cold turkey’ or a ‘step by step’ kind of person. Don’t try and be a hero and change your lifestyle overnight if this has not traditionally been your way of doing things. If you make a change in the way that really suits your character, it is way more sustainable.
If you are going from meat-eater to plant-based overnight, this is great, only please be sure you have enough information on nutrition and all the incredible foods available to you. Take a week or so beforehand to plan and learn. If you need my help on this, here’s how to get it (there’s lots of other amazing vegan resources online, and in bookshops too). If you make the change quickly and end up only eating the same few things over and over, you will get very bored and possibly ill. You can learn ‘on the job’ as it were, but you’ll need some good varied meal ideas for at least the first few days.
If you’re a ‘step by stepper,’ don’t be afraid to go as slow as you feel you need to. Intention and consistency are key, so if you feel that going meat, dairy or sugar free for one meal, one day a week is as fast as you’d like to go for now, that’s great, as long as you are consistent with that. Set a future date when you’d like to increase that to two meals, then another for three, and so on. Maybe you could be meat/sugar free every other day, or on weekdays – of course there are endless permutations, just find one to suit.
2. Frame it helpfully, in your mind.
Whether you make a big change overnight, or you are making small changes over a longer period, DON’T think of words like ‘eliminating’ and ‘forever.’ You are not so much eliminating as adding an abundance of new tasty food to your life, and crowding the old stuff out with delicious alternatives.
If you are changing your lifestyle in a way you know will be a personal challenge; thinking in terms of ‘forever’ will be intimidating and off-putting. Rather think ‘this is what I am doing today, I’m seeing how it goes, and will reassess tomorrow.’ Yes, I know this is an AA strategy, but if it works – why the heck not apply it? And, as we know, sugar and casein (in cheese) are addictive, so it seems pretty appropriate to me. For those making big changes rapidly, take it hour by hour if you need to.
3. Slip up? Fall off the wagon? A chocolate bar/chicken nugget fall into your mouth?
So what? Yes, you heard. So the hell what?
Listen, if you beat yourself up about it, or feel guilty, you are never gonna live up to your standards, and you’ll risk falling into the mind set of ‘weeell, I’m never gonna be able to do it, I’m not good enough, so why bother…?’ You CAN do it, and you may well slip up, but a slip-up does NOT a failure make. The important thing is to just quietly acknowledge and accept what happened and move on. As in the previous point, you can take it hour by hour, and what you did in the last hour is not relevant to what you are going to do in the next hour. Try and find out why you were tempted, and ensure you are not in that situation again, i.e. making sure you have plentiful snacks on you at times when you may be tempted, or not walking the aisle in the supermarket with the tempting thing that’s calling your name.
Confession: In my first year of being vegan, I lived in Paris, and one day I was walking past a deli that had chickens on a rotisserie outside on the wall. This particular day the smell of them was too tempting, and I caved and bought one. I ate too much of it, was grossed out, and was never tempted by meat again. I think that as slip-ups go, that was a pretty hefty one for a vegan!
4. Remind yourself why.
At times when you feel despondent, or feel it’s too much effort, or that you don’t have the strength to do it, go back and remind yourself why you made this resolution in the first place. If you went vegan – read up on all the health, environmental and ethical reasons. If you are cutting down or eliminating sugar, take half an hour to read of the multitude of health benefits, and diseases that you are at less risk of contracting.
5. Reward yourself!
No matter whether you’re 4, 34, 94, we all need to be rewarded for effort. Give yourself a time period, and a treat to enjoy at the end of it. For example, if you are going plant-based from an average diet, have a dark chocolate bar/vegan cupcake/small pack of beetroot crisps every day or every other day.
If you are already vegan and trying to dodge the sugar, make sure you have a maple syrup, agave or brown rice syrup based treat to enjoy at certain times along the way.
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.
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.
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.
A big stumbling block to many people considering a vegan lifestyle is the fear that they will be perceived as ‘awkward,’ or ‘different.’
I guess I’m lucky. I’ve never given two sweet ones what anyone thought of me in relation to my life choices. There was a brief period in my early teens when I wanted to be like everyone else, to fit in, to wear the same clothes, to belong to a perceived ‘something,’ but it quickly passed, thank goodness.
If your motivation to go vegan is ethical, then just think back to the first abolitionists who spoke out against slavery, or the first people who fought for women’s rights. These folks would certainly have been considered ‘different’, being disruptive to the status quo as they were. Slaves had been kept for hundreds of years in the south, and women hadn’t voted since elections began. This prejudice was completely normalised. From where we are now, we can see clearly that these two discriminatory practices were wrong and hateful. Yet where would we be if abolitionists and suffragists had been afraid to be different?
Someone has to be the first to speak out. In the case of veganism – don’t even worry, you are nowhere near the first. The earliest vegan I’m aware of is Pythagoras; and Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Tolstoy followed later, among many, many other eminent names, so it’s not at all as risky as being the first abolitionist or suffragist. Most people you will encounter are used to hearing about vegetarianism at the very least, so by eliminating animal products from your diet, you will not be doing something that no-one has ever heard of.
Nothing bad happens to you if you stick your neck out and dare to be different. You don’t get struck by lightning; you don’t get excommunicated from life! Quite the opposite in fact, life becomes richer and fuller, and you begin to feel more authentically ‘you.’
What’s the absolute worst that can happen? Maybe a few people talk about you behind your back calling you ‘awkward,’ ‘weird,’ a ‘lettuce muncher’ and you will probably be thought of by some as ‘preachy’ and ‘militant’ (you’ll find, sadly, that even if you never speak about being vegan, it’s enough for some people to know that you’re vegan, to perceive you this way). You may not get invited for dinner as often as non-veg friends do. But guess what? This is all on them. This is nothing to do with you, and real friends WILL make an effort to cook for you, you’ll see!
People will not drop you as a friend because you eat differently to them. My partner is vegan, and I have one close friend that is. About half the rest of my close friends are at least sympathetic to veganism and are happy to eat at vegan restaurants with me. The other half I’m sure think I’m a lunatic, but it is honestly never an issue. They may or may not mock behind my back, but if, when we’re together, it’s all good and they treat me as they treat everyone else – who cares? What I don’t know won’t kill me.
And we are all different in so many other ways. You don’t have the same tastes in music or clothes as all your friends do you? Even if I wasn’t vegan, my friends and I still wouldn’t eat the same kinds of food – some have pretty conservative tastes while I eat food from a ton of different ethnicities. And none of my close friends share the same taste in music as me, so even if I weren’t plant-based they would probably still perceive me as different. There isn’t much I can do about that, but you should know – it really isn’t a big deal. When I think about most of my friends, what we share above all is our senses of humour – and that is more bonding than anything.
I do get that it’s sometimes scary to be different, but once you try it and live it, you’ll see that your life (and social life) really doesn’t change all that much. And the more you experience all the benefits of a vegan diet; the fact that you may be a little different to most people will matter less and less to you. Once you begin to feel good and radiate health, joy and purpose, there’s a good chance they’ll want some of what makes you different for themselves!
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:
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!