A few weeks ago I made the decision to become vegan. It feels almost inevitable — a natural step in the progression of my journey.
Four years ago, I chose to start eating gluten free for health reasons. Before this, I had severe issues with my immune system, allergies and asthma. I was on antibiotics, steroids, cortisone injections and a host of vitamins, remedies like echinacea and everything else I could think of for weeks on end. My system was fairly shot and after an allergy test, I decided to try the gluten free thing. It took a few months, but the results were fairly remarkable. Since then, my health has improved dramatically. I’ve been able to do sport, go on adventures, travel with ease and explore to my heart’s content. Of course I still pick up a cold now and then — and even caught chickenpox after moving to Norway — but for the most part I am strong and healthy, much more so than before.
I was still living in South Africa when I made this change and it was pretty tough. Most people barely knew what gluten was and restaurants, grocery stores and cafés did not mark allergens on menus. I also had to deal with the “hipster” jokes, of course. One of the big benefits of going gluten free was that I started paying much more attention to what I ate and it meant that I started cooking more meals at home.
Nearly two years ago, I started cooking mainly vegetarian meals. It is healthier and more cost effective. I like the challenge of cooking a delicious meal that does not focus on meat as the main ingredient. Usually dishes with meat do just that and vegetables tend to be a bit of an afterthought.
At the start of 2016, I made a New Years resolution to cut out meat from my diet. I had become more aware of the environmental impact of the meat industry and had lost my appetite for meat. I still included fish in my diet on rare occasions as a form of an experiment as I have struggled to find food with my gluten restriction, especially when travelling. Some places are more accommodating when it comes to dietary requirements and with some planning I have been able to find delicious meals! In Barcelona I had two gluten free vegan dinners!
More and more I started cooking vegan at home, finding more alternatives to animal products in the normal stores and speciality stores in Trondheim. I realised that I was kidding myself if I thought being pescetarian was sufficient. Overfishing and mismanagement of the ocean and its bounties is a serious problem. There is a great amount of cruelty in the animal product industries. None of these practices is sustainable. It no longer seemed like much of an option to me, so I took the plunge.
It’s a very personal choice, of course. Most people have an emotional connection to food, sometimes even a traditional or cultural one. I don’t mandate what others should eat and I try not to be an inconvenience on social occasions. I’m already used to having to answer the questions like “but what do you eat?!” thanks to being gluten free. Of course, the combination of vegan and gluten free feels like I’m playing life on the hardest setting.
The South African diet practically consists of meat and gluten and the Norwegian and, in fact, European diets are similar.
It’s still a journey for me. I still make mistakes, eating animal products when I don’t realise it until it’s too late. For the moment, I’m mainly a dietary vegan rather than a lifestyle one. Phasing out my household perishables and clothing will take some time. The toughest challenge at the moment is trying to find a network of like-minded people.
Edit: it’s very possible to be an unhealthy gluten free vegan! It’s all about what you choose to consume — for me that’s including a lot of raw fruits and veggies, seeds and nuts. Of course, I still allow myself to indulge in some chocolate vegan ice cream or gluten free vegan snacks.
What really helped me when I first went gluten free (cold turkey, no cheat days!) was being focused on the things that I could eat, rather than those that I couldn’t. In that way, I was able to get excited about food rather than disappointed. I did the same with going meat free and now with being vegan!