One small step to Vegan; one giant leap in your lifetime
As we continue our journey of transformation, and begin to share this with you online, we thought it would be a good idea to write a little more about how and why we started this journey in the first place, and why you might want to too. This isn’t intended to be a lecture piece to convince you how eating meat is evil; this is more a summary of what we think are some of the key questions and considerations about moving to a plant-based diet.
So first up; how to be vegan? Answer: just eat plants. It’s really that simple. It’s quite amazing how often a vegan can be asked “can you eat X?” or “can you eat Y?” There’s a single question that provides a simple rule of thumb: Does it come from an animal? If it does, no thanks. If it doesn’t, cool.
The next question vegans are then most commonly asked is “what do you eat?” The answer: all the same kinds of foods as everyone else, just without the animal products. But what does that look like? Well again, not necessarily so different from anyone else. Think of your typical plate of food, even one with meat on, chances are it still contains some if not mostly plant-based products. Curries, pasta dishes, pizzas, whatever; they might all commonly contain some meat but they also mostly have a foundation of and/or are flavoured by fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs and spices all of which grow directly from the Earth, and all can be just as good — we would say better — without the animal parts. Being vegan doesn’t have to limit you at all — in fact forgetting about the animal parts can open you up. How many kinds of meat do people generally eat in the UK? Chicken, beef, lamb, pork… Now how many different kinds of fruits and vegetables are there? I hope you realise the answer is almost infinitely more. If not, you might want to go for a walk down the grocery aisle of your local supermarket and open your eyes, you might have missed it before on your way to the freezer section. If you’re still unconvinced, ask Macka B.
So there’s part one: being vegan isn’t rocket science. Yes there are some more specific challenges and intricacies to be aware of, and yes being vegan typically means extending your non-animal approach to food to other areas too (e.g. clothing). But the basic principle is simple (again, animals: no thanks; plants: cool). Understand that and you’re on your way.
So next up: why vegan? Here the answers are plenty and D found best summarised in Elizabeth Castoria’s book How To Be Vegan. Again we don’t intend this to be a lecture or a scientific article (we won’t provide references for every claim, but we believe these to be true from various sources, if you want to check any claims do look up for yourself) and so won’t labour the details, but this should hopefully provide a summary of what we think are the key points in each area.
Killing or hurting animals for food isn’t nice
…putting it mildly. Again avoiding the lecture or rant that you might expect to read here, this one really should be obvious. As obvious as it is that you wouldn’t want to hurt your dog or cat or anyone else’s. Hell, as obvious as it is that you shouldn’t hurt another person. As D found during his awakening, once you embrace your empathetic connection to your fellow man, surely this should also extend to other species. To a dog, a chicken, a cow or a human, a knife feels much the same. Deep down, even if you eat meat, you probably know this. The question then is how much you think it matters, and how you choose to act as a result. We’ll come back to that later.
But what about vegetarianism? Well, it’s a great start and we commend you for taking that step. You’re definitely inflicting less suffering this way than eating meat. But, if your motivation for this is an ethical one, again you could probably extend your sense of empathy to see that dairy and egg production also inflict their share of suffering — indeed, a lot of it: Cows spending most of their lives hooked up to a machine pumping their milk, often infected and in pain, repeatedly impregnated to maintain lactation and separated from their young. Hen’s kept in close confinement, their beaks cut with a hot blade to avoid pecking (yes, free range too), male chicks deemed useless and killed almost immediately after hatching. Again, imagine his kind of treatment of dogs or cats. Even honey production — accepted by “beegans” — involves cruelty and exploitation; bees housed in unnatural habitats, many dying as they sting to defend their food, which is replaced by an unhealthy sugar substitute, from being unnecessarily stolen (think of Disney’s A Bug’s Life; we would be the grasshoppers). If you really want to limit the suffering caused by your food choices as much as possible, vegan really is the way to go. Earthlings is a great documentary that changed the way K saw food forever.
Animal-food production is bad for the environment
If you’ve been alive in the 21st Century (and aren’t a conservative climate-change denier) you’ve probably heard of (and believe in) a thing called global warming. It’s happening and it could affect all of our lives dramatically sooner than later. But did you know that the global livestock industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases, causing a greater impact than all of the cars in the world? Not only do cows themselves produce masses of methane, but the whole system of meat and dairy production is a grossly inefficient use of energy. Again summarised by Elizabeth Castoria:
Nonvegan person: Plants grow and are fed to animals, which require a significant amount of land and water to live. The animals convert the plants to muscle and are then sent to slaughter. A person eats parts of the animal, getting only a fraction of the initial energy input that he or she could have easily gotten from eating the plant directly.
Vegan person: Plants grow. Vegan eats plants. The end.
If you care about the environment and want to reduce your own footprint, going vegan is one of the best choices you could possibly make. The more people make this choice and the more we can reduce the demand for animal products, the better for the planet.
A plant-based diet is amazing for your health
(That’s right, not just good, amazing!)
If the previous two sections made any sense to you, your question might no longer be why go vegan but instead why not go vegan? That was certainly the case for D who, once the ethical and environmental reasons had sunk in, just needed a little reassurance that it was actually wise from a health perspective. After all most of us have been raised to believe that meat and other animal products are not only good for us but essential. The truth is it only takes a little bit of research to realise that these ideas are myths, belonging in the age of when people actually thought that smoking cigarettes was good for you.
Chief among these myths is the classic: protein. Contrary to popular opinion you don’t need to stuff yourself with steak or chicken breasts to survive. Guidelines recommend that we only need between 10–35% of our calories to come from protein (and even that might be excessive). There are a number of beans and seeds that contain over 10% as well as many vegetables over 5%, which basing a diet around will provide you more than enough not just to survive but thrive. Indeed protein deficiency is practically unheard of among anyone who simply eats enough food. As these Ted Talks show, it’s possible not only to get fit but even big on a plant-based diet. If you’re still in doubt, why not ask our vegan friend, the rhinoceros.
Another common myth surrounds calcium and the idea cleverly marketed by the dairy industry that milk is its best source. This is not only incorrect but a dangerous lie, as dairy actually drains calcium from your bones as it’s digested. Leafy green vegetables are actually packed with calcium, alongside many seeds, nuts and tofu. In fact just about every nutrient you might believe to be best sourced from animal products — from omegas to iron — can be more effectively extracted from plants.
One commonly cited exception is vitamin B12, which is a product of bacteria, typically consumed via animal products (but also found in our own bodies), which most recommend to supplement. We recommend you research and make your own decision how to handle this; D supplemented for his first year of veganism but since stopped, while K never did. Key to this decision was recognising that humans (and every herbivore on the planet) have evolved for millions of years without additional supplements to our natural diet, and that, as Loren Lockman explains, our modern mainstream perspectives of what our body needs might not always be reflective of nature. Likewise, remember that all living things (e.g. plants) contain protein, fat and carbohydrates alongside various combinations of nutrients. And the more you clean up your diet the better your body will become at making use of all the goodness.
To wrap up this section, there is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates that a vegan diet helps to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a bunch of other major health issues. In our experience so far, a vegan diet has continued to help us feel healthier and more energetic as time goes on. The results really can be amazing. Do your research, do what you need to do to feel comfortable, give it a try and prepare for your understanding and experience of health and food to change forever.
Vegan food is awesome!
So now you’ve (hopefully) learnt that veganism is better for the animals, the environment and your body, what else is there to hold you back? Well, amazingly, a lot people imagine that a vegan life would be less pleasurable or even boring. Let us tell you (and hopefully show you through our blogs and instagram posts) that it is anything but. As stated previously, vegans can eat all the same kinds of tasty, satisfying foods as anyone else — again just without the animal products. From curries to cakes; burgers to brownies, whatever your indulgence — you name it; there’s a vegan version out there. You might be surprised to find that a lot of the tastes and textures you enjoy in your food aren’t derived exclusively from the animal products they typically include. In fact once you start to taste and fall in love with the vegan versions you’ll wonder, rightly, why the hell anyone thought there was a need to harm an animal to make them anyway.
Many on the vegetarian-vegan journey quote cheese as something they find difficult to give up. Rest assured there are vegan alternatives available. They might be a little different from what you’re used to but do the job and there are options to explore and find what works best for you. Likewise milk, though in this case even more so, there are so many delicious alternatives, each with their own distinct flavour and personality (coconut, hazelnut and hemp would be our top picks) that are honestly so much tastier than dairy (also with none of that horrible bloating and acidity) that you can’t help but find something to suit your needs. There are even meat alternatives out there if you’re really looking for that texture. However once you learn to embrace and appreciate the beauty of fruit and vegetables even in relatively simple form there really will be nothing to miss. The advice for all of the above is simply to explore.
It might be that you feel clueless as to how to cook vegan food. Don’t worry; there are tons of books, as well as the internet, with endless recipes to cater every craving (try 500 Vegan Dishes by Deborah Gray, or our favourite Thug Kitchen). Likewise you will be amazed to find how many vegan options are available when eating out — though we recommend you check out potentials in your area in advance — just check out the great places to eat in our hometown Leeds for example. There really has never been a better time to go vegan than now. Embrace the journey, prepare to get creative, and ultimately, just give it a try!
Last but not least, you are what you eat
So it turns out that old saying is actually true, and this is where we hit you with some more hard-ass truth. As we said earlier, we think it’s pretty obvious that caging and killing animals for food causes them pain, and such unnecessary pain is best avoided, whether it’s your cousin, your cat or a cow. The question is to what extent that matters, and that is entirely up to you.
Everyone is on his or her own unique journey through life and the truth is we only learn whatever lessons we learn as and when we are ready. For some, like D, the switch to vegan can happen almost overnight. For others, like K, it can involve a gradual transition over many years. In either case there is likely to be significant personal change involved beyond simply your eating habits. There is no right or wrong way besides what works for you and no judgement towards you for trying your best. However there are some things to be aware of.
The food we choose to eat is a deeply significant part of our lives, whether we realise it or not. More than simply how we fuel and satisfy ourselves; it is how we treat our bodies and our being. It is a reflection of our selves and how we see the world around us.
If, after acknowledging the pain caused to animals through the production of meat, dairy and so on, we choose to continue to eat them, ultimately what you are saying is “my satisfaction is more important than their suffering”. But beyond that, you are also saying “my satisfaction necessitates their suffering”. You are believing in a world in which satisfaction and suffering imply one another; in which for every winner there must be a loser; a dog eat dog world.
And we can understand why you see the world that way. It can be a scary place. And we only began to really change our perspective (and continue to do so) quite recently. You might feel content to continue eating the way you are without much consideration (or even active ignorance) of where your food comes from and what it involves, but at some level — knowing the truth — you are accepting implicitly a particular reality; a reality based on fear and struggle to survive, a reality in which you are just as likely to be eaten as to eat, a reality in which you and everyone else steals what they can. You might think that this is a well-founded belief. The question is whether this is the world you really want to live in.
What if we told you about another world; a world in which you, and everyone else, can have everything they need without anyone — man or animal — having to suffer? What if we told you that you could not only survive, but thrive, without the need to steal or kill, and that you could be healthier, happier and freer than you ever imagined? What if we told you that you can make this dream a reality?
That is the world we believe in and we believe — like many others — that shifting to a plant-based diet is a crucial step along the way. We believe that the suffering of animals at the hands of knives, like men at the hands of guns, is all too real and that in this universe in which everything is energy, that suffering sticks — if not to your stomach then at least to your image of the world. In contrast, coming to a greater balance with Mother Nature and the world at large, enjoying the fruits gifted to us from the Earth, feels like love and liberation. It really does lighten your spirit throughout all aspects of your life. That might sound foreign or even crazy to you and its true; a lot of this really does need to be experienced to be believed. Stepping into a new lifestyle will always require a leap of faith but you really don’t know until you try. Shifting to a more — or completely — plant-based diet can change your perspective (as well as resulting from a changing perspective) and experience of life more than you can imagine, and we commend you for taking whatever steps you are taking.
If you’re already vegan or experimenting with it, we hope you’ll agree with and take away some positive inspiration or motivation from this blog. If you’ve read this far as a non-vegan we imagine that probably means you’re at least considering or attracted to it to some extent. This might help to move you along, or it might simply be something you read that — who knows — might provide some food for thought that might pop back into your brain somewhere further down the line, perhaps if you hear similar ideas somewhere in future. Whoever you are, wherever you are, thank you for reading and good luck on whatever journey you are on.
K & D