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.

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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.’

And:

‘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.

 

All Vegans Are Preachy, Holier Than Thou, And Think They’re Superior.

dark angel from Flickr via Wylio
© 2007 Alosh Bennett, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I wasn’t sure whether this post should be part of the ‘Dumb Comments Vegans Get‘ series, but seeing as how the above accusations are all in the same vein (associating vegans with religious zealotry), and all spewed forth with the same intention (to make vegans sound as off-putting as possible so no-one will be expected to have to become one), I thought I’d tackle them in a post on their own.

In any online comments thread on ethical  veganism or plant-based diets, there will always be some ‘super genius’ that will claim that vegans act ‘holier than thou.’

I’m not even sure that the people who keep parroting this know what it means. It feels like they’ve heard someone ELSE say it, and thought ‘yeah!’ without really thinking about it, and can’t wait to regurgitate it at the next opportunity.

You can also replace ‘holier than thou’ with ‘superior,’ and add to this the WELL-worn old trope ‘vegans are preachy.’

These are such lazy, hacky, put-downs. The same people that use these will also often resort to ‘…well, Hitler was a vegetarian.’ (He most categorically wasn’t – but we’ll look at that in another post!).

Obviously nobody wants to be thought of as preachy or holier than thou, and certainly not as being like Hitler.

These words and associations are so loaded, that for omnis who are scared that a vegan might remove them from their state of comfortable stasis by making them think; they are a quick and easy way for them to end a discourse by de-legitimising the concept of veganism by making it sound as repellent as possible to their audience. If the audience is just you (a vegan) then these words serve to silence you, because by nature of the fact that you are telling a truth, you will be self-conscious that you ARE embodying them, even though you’re likely not.

If the omni orator were brave enough to be truthful – they’d say something like this… ‘Shut up. If you speak any more I’ll have to think. I don’t want to think because then I’ll have to change my lifestyle – which I don’t want to/am scared to do. I don’t want to be different, I want to coast along and be part of the status quo. Therefore I’m going to project these words onto you which will a) make everybody else not want to be like you either, thereby giving me the comfort of the crowd, and b) shut you up because you won’t want to be associated with them.’

It is soooo boring to read this particular type of comment, again and again and again. Some omnis are truly unimaginative and predictable. Please note that I said SOME. I’m perfectly aware that not all are. But it is apparent that SOME omnis think all vegans are the same. Are all meat-eaters the same in anything other than their food choices? Of course not. Well, breaking news: neither are vegans.

It would be fine if it was JUST boring. We’d move on. But it’s also pretty harmful and damaging. Who wants to be thought of as preachy? Holier than thou? Superior?

 

Is there any truth to these accusations?

 

  • Vegans think they are/act like they are ‘holier than thou’

Do vegans act (or think) they are holier than anyone else?

Maybe some do, I don’t know. I can’t speak for all vegans. If a vegan goes around acting this way, then chances are it’s because they’re an asshat, not because they’re vegan.

What I DO know is this:

The ONE thing AND ONE THING ONLY that vegans are (more than non-vegans), is more informed. That is all.

Vegans have applied critical thinking to their diet and lifestyle, not just blindly accepted societal norms. They have educated themselves on the most sustainable way (for all concerned) to nourish themselves.

Does this make them holier?

Of course not. Don’t be silly. Vegans are multi-dimensional and each is informed by a million different influences, just like everybody else. A vegan can be as disconnected from God/Source/The Universe (pick what suits!) as anyone else.

Does it mean they have a higher ethical stance?

If they are vegan for ethical reasons, and not just doing it to lose weight (though I have no problem with this – it still has the same result of fewer animals being killed), then yes. You can’t really get away from this one.  In the same way that a person who doesn’t rape and murder human animals has a higher ethical stance than one who does; those who have widened their circle of empathy and compassion to non-human animals and have therefore chosen to NOT have them raped and murdered for their pleasure, have a higher ethical position than those that do.

This does NOT, however, translate to acting ‘holier than thou.’ If someone needs to label vegans as ‘holier than thou’ to make themselves feel better because they are not one, they may want to ask themselves why they feel so insecure in their current lifestyle choices.

 

  • Vegans think they are superior

Anyone who says this has completely missed the point, and has not grasped the concept of veganism. People who stop eating animals and their products for ethical reasons do so exactly because they know they are NOT superior to any sentient being.

By nature of killing and eating animals, you have to believe you are a superior being to those being eaten, so this silly comment may need to be redirected elsewhere.

 

  • Vegans are preachy

Yes, a vegan that really does go around advocating in inappropriate ways and situations could be a royal pain in the arse, but anyone speaking out on any subject who has the wrong intentions and attitude could be.

The reason the ‘p’ word gets hurled at vegans in particular, whether online or in person, is because people realise vegans are sharing a universal, undeniable truth – that going plant-based is best for animals, the planet and us. Truths are so often hidden from us, that we have learnt to be suspicious of them. And when they are exposed, it’s natural for someone to feel nervous and a little defensive at the moment they realise their life isn’t aligned with them. But, remember, vegans too had that moment of realisation. Not many people have been vegan since birth. There is no need to attack.

Assuming the vegan in question is talking (or writing) in an appropriate situation, and being compassionate and understanding to their listener(s), then to attack by using the word ‘preachy’ can only mean that, again (similar to those that use ‘holier than thou’), someone is very insecure with their lifestyle choices.

As a vegan, I feel I am often ‘preached’ to about the new deity that appears to be bacon. And If I turned on the TV, then commercial after commercial would ‘preach’ to me about the wonders of burger outlets, fried chicken joints, and sausages. But because non-human animal eating is currently the dominant paradigm, spouting the ‘p’ word would not carry the same weight as it does when used against vegans.

Whoever you are, vegan or not, not everyone will agree with your lifestyle choices. But it’s helpful to know what informs comments like these, so we don’t get held back by them. We can just deflect them and move on.

 

How To Respond To The Dumb Questions And Comments Vegans Get, Part 2

Probably the dumb comments and questions I’m most eager to ‘kick to the curb’ (do we still say that?) are the ones that present a very skewed perception of a vegan lifestyle.

It’s easy to see how these assumptions come about. If the basis of someones diet is meat and dairy;  they may believe that if the meat and dairy is removed there wouldn’t be much left. Thus they feel that a vegan diet is a deprivation diet, or that they would go hungry if they were to be vegan.

You’d be surprised how many people are just not aware of the many kinds of veg and fruit in existence; or have any idea of the wealth of legumes, pulses, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.

And I truly do empathise with anyone who has not ever had the opportunity to be exposed to delicious, hearty, nutritious plant-based dishes, and I would relish the chance to show them some of the infinite possibilities.

BUT…

…What’s annoying is when people with such limited knowledge make wrong assumptions that a vegan diet is lacking in fun and enjoyment, and vocalise this loudly in front of an equally misinformed crowd (that THEY of course feel safe in). They may also ask you related questions with a clear intent to mock.

It’s possible you’ll feel that they are so invested in being what they perceive to be ‘right,’ you’d be talking to a brick wall if you bothered to answer, and that you’d rather conserve your energy for more open-minded free thinkers.

However, if you do gauge it to be worth a bash, here are a few ideas:

 

Dumb Question: Isn’t veganism really restrictive and limiting?

Answer: [My answer to this one is a little cocky, you may want to ‘nice it up’ a little. Or maybe not :)]

Uh-uh. How many kinds of animals do you eat regularly? Five, tops? Maybe cows, pigs, chicken, lamb and fish? To me, that is limited and dull. Do you even know how many different sorts of plants I eat? From how many world food cultures I eat from? I probably eat more types of beans alone than you do animals. A vegan diet is only limited if you have limited knowledge and imagination – exactly like an omnivore diet in fact!

There are vegan versions of all the basics – non-dairy milks, yoghurts and cheeses; and non-meat burgers, sausages, sandwich slices, even fishcakes! Most dishes that are ‘old favourites’ can be ‘veganised.’

There are plenty of meat eaters whose diets are bland and limited. [I personally know of several people who panic if there is anything other than chicken and potatoes on their plate – use examples from your own experience!].

Most vegans have had to get creative and learn how to find food from all different ethnicities. As a result, we often enjoy a wider range of food than most omnis.

 

Dumb Comment: Vegans are always hungry.

A: If you eat a whole food, plant-based diet – the complete opposite is true. Brown rice, quinoa and in fact most whole grains expand slightly in the stomach, making you feel pleasantly satiated for longer. If each meal contains a whole grain – you will rarely feel hungry – unless you leave it too long between meals, which would also happen if you were omni. Can you really say that you would be hungry after a hearty lentil or bean or sweet potato stew? Are you hungry after a big bowl of porridge? A bean chilli? A stir fry with noodles? A huge slice of chocolate cake? A pizza? You can pretty much eat the same things as you did before, just veganised – so what’s the difference, hunger wise?

Again, a poorly thought out meat-based diet can leave someone hungry. And again, for someone who believes an animal-based diet is the way to go, you are holding a vegan diet up to higher standards than you hold your own diet.

 

DC: Vegans don’t enjoy food.

A: You’ve never been to a Middle Eastern/Indian/Ethiopian/Korean/Mexican/Vietnamese restaurant and enjoyed any of the many, many dishes that are vegan by default? Vegans enjoy food as much as omnis, maybe more, because they can indulge knowing it is free of cholesterol, most saturated fat, hormones, antibiotics and bacteria. The truth is that a person that enjoys food as an omni, will enjoy food as a vegan.

And if you are omni – you don’t JUST eat meat and dairy do you? Don’t you also eat vegetable based, soups, dips, stews, salads sometimes? You don’t have any gorgeous fruit smoothies, or lush strawberries and melons in the summer? Don’t you enjoy any of these or are you always just gagging for the meat and the cheese?

 

DC: Vegans are depriving themselves and don’t live a full life.

A: How are you defining ‘a full life?’ Lots of people are vegan for ethical reasons. They wish to eat and live in alignment with their values. They would consider they live a truer, more connected, authentic and fully conscious life than an animal eater.

And just because you choose not to partake in certain practises, it doesn’t mean you are not living a full life. Just because it’s possible to eat something, doesn’t mean we have to do it. I’m assuming you haven’t tried eating monkey’s brains (as some do in China) or duck eggs with half developed fetuses in them (as LOTS do in Vietnam, Cambodia. Laos, the Philippines, and elsewhere). Do you need to try THESE things to get a fully rounded life experience? Lots of vegans eat a wide range of foods from around the world – many foods that omnis just don’t know about (see points 1 and 3). Are YOU living any less of a full life if YOU don’t eat THOSE foods?

 

DC: I just wouldn’t be satisfied if I couldn’t eat meat.

A: This is mostly psychological. We are socialised to believe that a full meal consists of some meat, a starch (potato or rice perhaps), and possibly a vegetable, with the meat being the main event, and the veg being a side.

This is a construct. Constructs aren’t true (the clue is in the name). Just because you see a plate of (plant-based) food that may not resemble the plate of food you’ve been used to, doesn’t mean it’s any less satisfying.

In any case, the ‘satisfaction’ you may get from eating meat comes largely from the flavours and the fat content.

Animal flesh on its own is relatively tasteless until it’s flavoured with salt and herbs or spices. We can use the exact same herbs, spices and salt on our pulses, legumes, and beans, that we can on meat – and achieve the same flavours. As for fats, we can use vegetable oils to cook plant-based food, the same way that we do meat. Yes, there probably WILL be less fat involved, and this feeds your perception that meat-free meals are less satisfying. But it’s saturated fat that you are eating less of. This is a good thing. You soon get used to it, and enjoy it.

 

Never Be Afraid To Be Different

Passion Flower from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Ernest McGray, Jr., Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

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 suffragettes 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 suffragette. 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. I have precisely zero friends (apart from my partner!) that are vegan. About half my close friends are at least sympathetic to veganism and are happy to eat at vegan restaurants with me. The other half of my friends I’m sure think I’m a lunatic for being vegan, 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 look and feel good, and radiate health and joy – it’s very likely they’ll want a bit of what makes you different for themselves!

 

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.

Health

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.

Skin/Appearance

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!

Environment

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.

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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…

For some of us, it’s easier to make lifestyle shifts gradually, in increments. If you are transitioning to a plant-based diet in this way, then, depending on your reasons, it may be better to eliminate foods in a particular order.

There are three reasons for making the decision to go vegan (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 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.

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!

How To Eat Well In Restaurants As A Vegan

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So you have a get-together with friends planned, and you are partly responsible for choosing the restaurant you’ll all eat at ?

If you’re a new vegan, you may think your choices are limited, or that you’ll have to leave it to someone else to choose the venue, and just put up with a plate of lettuce when you get wherever you’re going.

Not so.

Yet,  it was so. And really not so very long ago.

I remember a meal, around 12 years ago, in a smart(ish) restaurant in Clapham, London, where, despite the fact that the staff  thought they were cultured, cosmopolitan and sophisticated, all they could offer me was a bowl of lettuce. Um… yeah. Grim.

Thankfully, those days are gone.

Unless you live in a tiny village (though even if you do, I’m guessing there’ll be a Chinese or Indian restaurant at the very least, not too far away) your biggest problem is which restaurant to choose from the many options available to you.

If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where there is a good vegan restaurant, don’t be afraid to suggest this to your friends. You’d be surprised how many people (while maybe not ready to go fully vegan) are open to trying plant-based food. Even if there is one stick in the mud friend who says they would miss their meat (though does anyone actually say this?)  hopefully they will be swayed by the opinions of the majority.

If you suggest a vegan restaurant and it gets the green light from everyone, make sure it is a tried and tested, good place. You’ll want everyone to get the best impression possible of your diet. And once there, don’t hesitate to make recomendations – even great restaurants have some dishes that aren’t as good as others, so advise where possible.

Being vegan is your opportunity to get to know many delicious cuisines from around the world, several of which don’t habitually use dairy anyway, (so no awkward questioning of waiters, checking that there’s no milk, butter, cream etc in a dish – phew!).

In my coaching programmes, I give an extensive guide to restaurant dining options, with vegan meal choices available in each specific cuisine.  But here are 6 solid choices that should serve you well:

 

1. Good old Indian.

Lots of Indian restaurants are vegetarian, so half the battle is won already. There are many different Indian cuisines, but you should be able to find some of the following dishes at most of them:

Starters: Poppadoms with chutney (avoid the yoghurt-y dips),  onion bhajis, spinach pakodas, uttapam, sev puri, veg samosas.

Mains: Vegatable malabar, bhindi bhaji/curry, chana masala, tharka dahl aloo gobi, brinjal bhaji, sambar (Don’t worry if you don’t know what the dishes are, there should be a description of each dish on the menu, and you can read up online and even decide what you’ll have beforehand, if you really want to make it easy). At the very least, there should be a vegetable curry on offer.

2. Chinese.

This is probably the least interesting of all the cuisines I’m mentioning here, in terms of vegans being well catered for, but I appreciate that this might be the only option for some people in out of town areas.

Starters: At the bare minimum, vegetable spring rolls and fried seaweed should be served here. If you’re in a Chinatown somewhere, you may get some chili fried tofu,

Mains: The go-to choice if there’s nothing else is tofu and stir-fried mixed veg with steamed rice. In a city restaurant you may get a choice of specific veg dishes, like green beans or bok choy in garlic sauce for example.

3. Lebanese (Syrian, Iraqui, Israeli and Egyptian are similar in their dish offerings).

It is usually a good idea to get several hot and cold starters  – these are normally more interesting than the mains, and you can share and let everyone have a taste. Choose from houmous, baba ghanoush, moutabal, hot or cold ful madamas, makdus, falafal, stuffed vine leaves, tabboulleh, moussaka. If you do need a main, spinach or okra bamia is the way to go (maybe marked as vegetarian bamia).

4. Korean.

Starters: Soup (there is often miso soup available, or various veg in clear, soup with tofu), kimchi, pickles (there are several different sorts of kimchi and pickles to try – all delicious), salad (often involving seaweed and tasty dressings – check these are vegan, lots are).

Mains:There should be a veg option in the bibimbap (menu may call this ‘pot dish’) section, and in the noodle section of the menu. Try soba noodles. These are made from buckwheat – a whole grain. You should also find some variation on the following dishes: grilled aubergine in miso paste, stir-fried tofu and mixed veg in soybean paste stew, cold soba noodles in spicy chilli sauce.

Desserts: Try cinnamon punch (non-alcaholic) if they have it, and don’t forget to sup on the traditional Korean barley tea throughout.

5. Ethiopian.

I am not even going to try and be clever and name the veg stews available in Ethiopian restaurants. They have several, all clearly marked. You choose one to eat with your yummy ‘injera’ (Ethiopian bread resembling a pancake, but made of teff, a fabulous wholegrain). You don’t need to check if the stews are dairy-free, they are. Dairy is not used in Ethiopian cooking at all. Most times there will be an offer on the menu where you get a selection of the veg stews at a fixed price. Marvellous. What could be easier. Once you’ve tried Ethiopian food, you’ll be hooked. Point your peepers at this plate of heaven!

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6. Vietnamese

If you think this is just a variation of Chinese food, think again.

Starters: Vietnamese spring rolls in peanut sauce (some restaurants call these summer rolls), salads.

Mains: Fried aubergine on garlic sauce, fried tofu in garlic sauce, fried mange-tout/bok choy with garlic sauce. Steamed rice or udon noodles as a base.

Desserts: Truth be told, the whole reason I included Vietnamese food here is cuz of this scrummy dessert called Che Thai. It’s a long drink made of coconut milk, with bits of fruit (usually jackfruit, lychee or longan) and chewy jelly chopped up and thrown in. It’s pretty sweet, which I’m guessing is due to a high sugar content – but you’re not gonna have one every day, right?

Final note:

Never be shy about checking for egg or dairy if you’re not sure, just smile and be lovely while you’re asking. Where possible (and only if in small groups!) let everyone try your dish – show them animal products are not the be all and end all of a dish. And, oh yeah… bon appetit!

I love hearing about great restaurant vegan food experiences. Please share yours with me in the comments.

Vegan? Plant-based? Wtf?

I want to clarify what these terms are and how they came about. Firstly, let it be known that in terms of diet, these words are used interchangeably.

The term ‘vegan’ came about in 1944, and was coined by a guy called Donald Watson – founder of the Vegan Society in the UK, who wanted to distinguish between a vegetarian, who doesn’t eat animal flesh but eats other animal products, and people who didn’t eat any animal produce at all. He took the first three, and last two letters of the word ‘vegetarian,’ and voila! The term ‘vegan’ came about.

This was the word used for years to describe people who ate this way, until there came a time when there were so many negative associations with this word, that some people decided to use the term ‘plant-based’ instead.

Technically – there IS a difference in the meaning of these words. ‘Veganism’ can involve a whole lifestyle of ways in which to avoid cruelty to animals, i.e. not wearing fur, leather, wool etc, and not using any products containing animals or that have been tested on animals, whereas plant-based tends to refer to diet only.

I noticed recently, on some new health coach type websites, the term ‘plant-based’ being used. Upon further investigation, I realised that animal products were involved in their diet suggestions, so they really meant ‘mostly plant-based.’ I’m not suggesting these people are purposely usurping the dialogue, (or am I?) (Of course I’m not!) (Or am I?) but they are clearly not aware of the genesis of the term, and are (ok, most likely unwittingly) mis-using it so it fits their purpose. So I thought clarification was needed.

Which term do I use? I always used to say vegan. Then I learned the term ‘plant-based’ and totally latched on to that. Now? I really don’t care. I use them both. Thankfully, and not before time, vegan is not the dirty word it once was, and if someone really does have a problem with that word? Well, it’s exactly that – their problem.

People will project what they will whatEVER lifestyle you choose, so whatever term(s) you use to describe your diet – just own it, and know that any negative reactions are nothing to do with you.

Do you prefer one term over the other? Why? Please let me know in the comments.

I Hardly Eat Any Meat/Dairy/Eggs…

What is the most common response I get to people finding out I’m vegan?

I bet it’s not at all what you’d think.

I’m rarely met with the ‘but how do you get your protein?’ question that other vegans seem to get so often, and equally rarely do I get an indignant snort, followed by something along the lines of ‘good for you, now pass the bacon.’

Occasionally, I’m met with an ‘ooh, I don’t know how you do that, I couldn’t do it.’ But the most common response goes a bit like this:

‘Well, I don’t eat much meat, and I don’t really eat dairy either.’

Or:

‘I hardly ever eat meat, and I only have a tiny bit of milk in tea.’

Or:

‘Oh, I only eat meat for Saturday lunch, and rarely eat dairy.’

You get the gist.

I must say at this point, that it only ever comes up that I’m vegan in a natural, organic, way, when it is relevant to the conversation, and I never carry the subject any further, unless asked. So the people uttering the above phrases were not about to be judged in any way. No-one was asking them what they ate, and there was no need conversationally to offer this information.

My best guess as to why this is a common response is this.

They have heard the negative associations attached to the word vegan – one of them being that vegans are judgemental. Ironically, because of these preconceived ideas, they have judged ME as being judgemental before I’ve said a word on the subject. They thus feel the need to justify or explain their eating habits to a very bemused listener who had asked them precisely nothing.

My other issue with this response (though I would only bring this up in actual conversation if asked), is that we all tend to think we eat less of something than we actually do. The truth is, we never know how much we eat of something until we stop. And with dairy especially (as it has so many forms – whey, lactose etc), it crops up in everything, from cookies to cakes to tablets to sauces, so it can be difficult to keep track.

After all this time I’m still learning and trying to improve the ways in which I respond to the reactions I get if it comes up that I’m vegan. This one has always kind of stumped me, I usually just mumble something lame like ‘oh…ok.’

Any ideas?