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Becoming Vegan

Becoming Vegan

Transitioning from Vegetarian to Vegan

At the end of 2019, I decided that instead of a New Year’s resolution, in 2020 I was going to embark on a series of small life changes. The idea being, that small incremental change is a lot easier to sustain in the long run than trying to make two or three massive life changes. By the end of this year, hopefully I will have managed to implement lots of new positive habits that will mean I will have shifted my life a bit more in the right direction than I might do usually.

 

So, along with a few other things, two of the changes I wanted to make were; to improve my diet and to be more environmentally friendly. For me, transitioning from a vegetarian to a vegan would tick both of those boxes. I’m not hundred percent sure that becoming vegan really qualifies as a small change, especially now I’m actually doing it, it’s pretty major, but as I have been vegetarian for over 36 years , it should be a slightly easier shift for me to make.

 

Vitamins and Minerals

I had been thinking about becoming a vegan for a while. One of the arguments I would have with myself previously was about getting enough vitamins and minerals. So I started there and researched whether a vegan diet does actually enable me to have all the vitamins and minerals that my body needs. And guess what; the science says it does.

 

The main issues that you need to be aware of are that a vegan diet potentially risks being low in calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, choline and omega-3 fatty acids. Which to be honest, does sound a bit risky.

 

However, if you eat a healthy balanced diet full of pulses, wholegrains, tofu, nuts and seeds and plenty of different fruit and vegetables then you should be getting everything your body needs to stay healthy in the long term.

 

To be on the safe side, you can take a supplement and it’s helpful to keep an eye out for any of the side effects of a lack of these particular vitamins and minerals. There are loads of websites you can look at which give you information about what to look out for and how to eat a healthy balanced vegan diet and I have mentioned a few of those resources at the bottom of this article.

I’m a little bit obsessive now about making sure that I eat wholefoods for the majority of my food choices but that’s mainly because I feel really strongly that I want to be able to stick to this long term, and I know that the only way that this is going to be possible is to make sure I eat a very healthy diet.

 

It’s very early days for me though, I’m only about 4 weeks in. All I know is that so far, on days that I eat really well, I feel loads better and have more energy and right now that’s enough for me to want to carry on.

 

Find Your Why

Through my research, I watched a lot of documentaries, I joined Veganuary for support and it meant I started to increase my motivation to want to stick to a vegan diet after January. I found my why.

 

For me, it’s not just about a healthy diet anymore, albeit having had a few health scares that is where my interest originally began. It’s also about the individual contribution that I can make to the environment by reducing my consumption of animal based products and ensuring that I reduce levels of animal cruelty and suffering.

 

Joseph Poore (from the “Science” journal), said that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car”. This gave me absolute clarity for my why(s).

 

Family and Friends

My family and friends have been wonderful. They have been really supportive and interested in what I’m doing, making sure that I always have vegan options available, and sharing recipes they know with me. I really couldn’t ask for a more supportive environment. I know that not everyone is as fortunate and I am very blessed and grateful.

 

Talking to your family and friends about your personal reasons for transitioning to a vegan diet so that they can understand your motivation can help. Not everyone will agree, I think sometimes people think that you are judging them because they continue to eat animal products.

 

It is difficult to find a moral argument for not being vegan, for not killing and eating animals, especially with the amount of food choices available these days, so it does inevitably cause people to question their own position.

 

Personally, I respect that we are all different, and we are all at different places on this journey, I will always advocate for compassion for animals and for me that now means sticking with and learning how to be “more” vegan.

 

Extreme Views

I’ve watched loads of documentaries about this subject the past few months. I’ve been really quite shocked and surprised by the level of venom sometimes shown to other humans (let alone the animals) on BOTH sides by people with extreme views.

 

I do get that people are passionate about it, but I think that the best way to affect change is by encouragement and education not by shock tactics like stealing pigs, barricading farms, ridiculing people for their personal opinions and choices or throwing meat, eggs or milk at people.

 

I think it’s about campaigning for changes within the farming industry. Supporting local farmers to transition to alternative meat and dairy free alternative supplies over time as demand for animal products starts to reduce.

 

It’s about encouraging people to think about the environmental impact of mass farming and reducing the quantity of animal products consumed and sourcing from local farms that have higher animal welfare standards and offering tasty sustainable non-animal based alternatives.

 

It’s not about preaching or shocking people into turning vegan; well as far as I am concerned anyway. Veganuary this year in the respect of raising general awareness I think for the first time has been genuinely successful.

 

Be Kind

The most shocking thing I think I saw in one of the documentaries I watched was a peaceful animal rights campaign being targeted by carnivore you-tubers or the anti-vegan movement.

 

What I don’t get is that a lot of the people involved say they were previously vegan. I don’t understand how you can ever stop being an ethical vegan once you make that decision. I get that you might not be able to sustain the vegan diet, because you may have dietary issues or reasons that may make it difficult for you to sustain it. But how can you go from one extreme, supposedly caring about animals and animal cruelty, to another, becoming an anti-vegan and throwing meat at people or eating raw flesh in full public view. That’s just plain cruel behaviour and not just to the animals but to the people you are disrespecting and upsetting along the way. It’s totally tasteless and it is definitely not funny.

 

Being vegan isn’t simply about not eating animal products; it’s much more far reaching as I am learning every day. It’s also about the clothes you wear, the products you use and the core belief that through your tiniest of efforts you can prevent vast amounts of animal suffering and environmental degradation.

 

It’s Not a Fad

I do find it a bit frustrating when people think this is just some kind of fad. I’ve been a vegetarian for a very long time; clearly this isn’t a fad for me. And I really hope that the fact that it’s become really trendy over the last few years doesn’t mean that this is just a fad because to me it’s an absolutely essential move from the point of view of humanity and the environment.

 

Hopefully people are becoming more enlightened and aware of the wider issues and I really hope it’s a trend that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

 

Surprising Facts

I always thought that as a strict vegetarian I was quite clued up. By avoiding eating things that contained gelatine or butter that I had eliminated most dead animal products from my diet at least, even if I did still eat free-range eggs and drink milk. But I was quite surprised to find out that really wasn’t the whole story.  I was aware of “gelatin” (from animal bones) and “cochineal” (ground insects for food colouring). I wasn’t really fully aware of “Isinglass” which is a gelatin-like substance derived from fish bladders often used in the making of beer or wine, although I think that I could have made more of an effort to take more care over that one before now if I’m totally honest with myself.

 

I had heard about castoreum, which is a food flavouring that comes from the secretions of beavers’ anal scent glands. I sort of get the first two, thickening agent for gelatin and red colouring for food but what idiot first decided it was sensible to use fish bladders to filter wine or beer!!

Don’t get me started on who first went near the arse of a beaver to flavour food, seriously!!!** (I did actually google this one..turns out it’s very old, the romans used it as a medicine, thankfully it’s not really used that often today and probably more likely to be in perfumes than in food).

 

I’m well used to reading labels because I’ve had to do that for years as a veggie, but now I’ve downloaded an app on my phone which tells me if something I want to buy is likely to be vegan or not. It’s an absolute godsend along with Google which is fast becoming my best friend.  I am just really glad that gin and tonic is vegan friendly (as long as you are careful with the tonic!) – yayyyyyy!

 

The Cheesy Bit

Cheese was always historically what I thought I wouldn’t be able to give up and I think most people would think it would be really difficult especially if you were a cheese lover before, which I would say I was.  I avoided the substitute cheeses for the first few weeks, and I have only tried a little bit of Greek-style and fake cheddar which weren’t too bad in small doses.

 

The Greek-style one I mixed with dill and lime juice and it tasted quite like normal feta which I was pleasantly surprised about. I had a go at making a vegan mac n cheese…hmmm I think it’s safe to say the Jury is definitely out on that one!!

I know there are some really great artisan vegan fake-cheeses popping up and I think I’m going to just try those when I feel a desperate hankering for cheese.  In the meantime, I have found dark chocolate covered chick peas and so, for now, all is ok in my world for treats.

 

Unintended Consequences

Veganism isn’t a guarantee of eco-friendliness.  Although there are a lot less issues currently being reported now, I remember a few years ago the unintended consequence on the people of Peru and Bolivia as the popularity of quinoa in the northern hemisphere meant that something that they had relied on as a part of their staple diet was now too expensive for local consumers which is just a horrendous consequence.

 

Palm oil is in a lot of vegan alternative products, and palm oil plantations cause deforestation and impact on extinction of species like the orangutan.

 

Avocados have been associated with illegal deforestation and questionable working conditions in Mexico and use a considerable amount of water to produce. Almond milk uses 17 times more water to produce than dairy milk, although it does have a carbon footprint that is much lower.

 

I think we need a lot more facts to be made available about our food chain so that we can make better informed choices about sustainability.

We need to think about eating more locally grown produce, supporting local food producers, eating more seasonally and looking into the real impact our food choices are having.

 

Still Learning

I am still learning, I really hope I can stick at it because it does mean a lot to me. I have noticed that my energy fluctuates. Some days I am full of energy and others I can feel quite drained by the end of the day but I think that’s just me adjusting and needing to work out better what works for me.

 

What I’ve started to think about next is to use every purchase I make to think about how I can move to veganise it and so I started with food and now I’m thinking about beauty products. So when something runs out, instead of automatically buying my usual brands I am thinking is it as ethical as it could be.

 

I’m trying to make one small change each time so it’s not too overwhelming. I’ve started with shampoo bars. At first my hair was a bit weird after I washed it, like it had a waxy film on it. But now it’s healthier, shinier and I don’t use conditioner at all which amazes me.

 

I know I am not perfect, it’s not about being perfect, it’s not about judging anyone or being judged. It’s just about saving some animals from suffering.

 

May all that have life be delivered from suffering” – Buddha

 

A Handful of Useful Resources…

Useful websites: The Vegan Society, Veganuary, Vegan Action, VegNews, TryVeg

Useful Apps: Is it Vegan; VeGuide, HappyCow

Documentaries: The Game Changers, Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives

 

PHOTO BY CHARLOTTE KARLSEN ON UNSPLASH

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