Food & Health Musings

Why I’ll Be Eating a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet (aka Vegan Diet) in 2017

Why I'll be eating a Whole Foods, Plant-based diet in 2017
Written by Jennifer Nini
"Sorry I can't go vegan, I love my cheese too much."

My standard response to any person who tried to influence me away from my 9 year lacto-ovo vegetarian eating habits and towards eating a vegan diet.

There's nothing quite like cheese. I especially enjoy eating it when at a picnic, layering a slice of brie or blue vein cheese on a cracker along with tzatziki dip, cherry tomato and a black olive. The vegan 'cheese' I've tried have all tasted awful and I think are a disgrace to the word cheese.

That's NOT cheese. I don't know what THAT is.

Why I will be going on a vegan diet in 2017

Yesterday however, I decided to adopt a 100% whole food plant-based diet as my New Year's Resolution in 2017. So it's good bye to real cheese and a reserved nod to vegan cheese. Gulp.

How did it come to this?

I tend to eat mostly vegan anyway but two recent incidents prompted me to seriously consider a whole food, plant-based diet:

  • discussions about the vegan diet with my nephew Jackson who recently embraced this animal-product-free diet (who intelligently advocates the cause with facts rather than stooping to the usual hipster food shaming tactics which I abhor), and
  • watching the award-winning documentary "Food Choices" on Netflix which I felt successfully sorted food fact from fiction and helped me to understand the benefits of removing animals products from my meals.

These incidents are what gently nudged me towards making veganism my 2017 new year's resolution, but my decision was grounded in reason. The four key factors that contributed to the vegan decision:

1. Cow milk is created to satisfy calves, not humans.

"Cow milk is for calves, not humans. Don't you think it's weird that people drink it?"

With that one statement-slash-question, my vegan girlfriend - whom shall remain nameless - exposed an inconvenient truth that made me feel sick to my stomach. We're going back about four years ago when she said this. It's been reverberating in my mind since then.

As a highly imaginative critical thinker, once my mind lands on an idea, it unleashes a flurry of thoughts. In this instance, these were the questions swirling around in my mind:

  • How did we get to this point where we think farming dairy cows for their milk is a culturally acceptable practice?
  • Adult humans consider drinking milk expressed from a woman's teat as a disgusting act but how is that any different from drinking cow's milk?
  • Isn't it morally wrong to ensure a cow falls pregnant just so she can produce milk for human consumption as is happening in the commercial dairy industry?
  • I wasn't raised on dairy food or cow milk given my Asian background, so is it the Western food philosophy - predominantly corporate controlled - that is influencing my food choices?
New Zealand dairy contaminated with cruelty

The ad ran in The Guardian newspaper.

2. Chicken period.

Now on to eggs. What I am about to say isn't pleasant, but it IS reality.

An egg is the result of a chicken's menstruation cycle. Yup. Gross.

Ben was the first to tell me (many years ago actually) that an egg is the result of a chicken having her period. I conveniently chose not to believe him and I chose not to 'Google' it. Like a woman who learns that her fast fashion purchases are impacting the planet and people in a negative way, I didn't want to know that chickens had periods that result in eggs. I wanted to ignore this fact so I could keep enjoying my Eggs Florentine in peace.

But then this year after yet another conversation about veganism with Ben, I decided to do some shallow online research and discovered a link to a PETA article titled "Would You Eat a Chicken's Period?" A drawing of a woman's stained underwear depicting her menstruation was included for added effect. The chickens can keep their eggs, I thought. I couldn't ignore the egg-is-chicken-period reality any longer.

I started to reduce my egg consumption after this discovery.

Chicken eggs are chicken period

An egg belongs to a chicken. It may not be the start of a chicken yet given that it is unfertilised by a rooster, but whether it is or it isn't, to me it is still a chicken.

3. The commodification of animals.

My partner Ben and I disagree with the philosophy of raising an animal for consumption and treating them as property for our own uses. Our disagreements usually sound like this:

Ben: I understand why people are vegetarian. But I don't understand veganism. It's not like you're outright killing an animal. You're just using what they produce. They would have produced milk or eggs anyway.

Me: Yeh I know what you mean. I'm vegetarian. But I think vegans have a valid argument about animal products. When it comes to animal agriculture, animals are treated like commodities which is awful. Their life only matters because of the value they provide to humans. But they're sentient beings. They have a right to an existence. They have a right to life. 

Ben: So you think humans and animals are on the same level? 

Me: On what kind of level? We're not the same of course, humans have consciousness, but it's been proven that animals have memory and feelings.

Why I'll Be Eating a Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet (aka Vegan Diet) in 2017

Ben: I mean, if you were in a situation where you had to kill an animal or human to save a human life, you're saying you value them both equally and wouldn't know who to choose?

Me: What kind of sick hypothetical situation is this? I would never be in this situation and that's not the point. I never said that we were on the same level as animals, just that they have a right to life as us humans do...

You get the gist of it. Ben and I disagree on animals being treated as commodities.

So why do I have such strong feelings about the commodification of animals?

Because I am a feminist and the way we treat animals bares similar resemblance to how women have been treated throughout history - as property.

In fact, to this day, some women continue to be treated like second class citizens, treated as a husband's or father's property to do with and treat as he pleases. It's as though women exist for no other purpose than to cook, clean and bear a man's children, just as some people treat animals as though they only exist for human purposes.

slave labour human trafficking treating women like property

I have the same strong feelings when it comes to the issues of child labour, human trafficking, sex slavery and exploitation. We still treat each other - and animals - as though they are beneath us and by doing so, we continue to carry out acts of oppression.

We inflict pain, suffering, brutality, cruelty and savagery on a daily basis and then wonder why we still haven't achieved peace on earth?

4. It's considered the most sustainable way to eat.

According to Cowspiracy, a 100% plant-based diet free from animals and animal products is the most eco-friendly way to eat because animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of modern environmental issues. Growing plants requires less water, land mass and fossil fuels than raising animals - plus there's less methane in the air because animals aren't flatulating. As a serious environmentalist, choosing a whole food, plant-based diet makes complete sense.


Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret by docs4all

I will need all the assistance I can get as this is by far the biggest challenge I've set for myself. So if you're vegan, I'd love to hear from you:

  • What websites do you trawl for delicious vegan recipes?
  • What have been some of your challenges as a vegan?
  • What's the one thing you wish you'd known before becoming a vegan?
  • Do you have any other tips as I transition from vegetarianism to veganism?

Thanks in advance to all who leave a comment!

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About the author

Jennifer Nini

Jennifer Nini is a writer, activist and the founding editor of Eco Warrior Princess. In 2010, after studying Fashion Business, she began this blog to explore her interests in fashion, politics, social justice and sustainability. Jennifer is also the founder of The Social Copywriter, a digital agency harnessing the power of copywriting and content marketing to help mindful businesses reach more people. When she's not perfecting a sentence or coaching business clients, you will find her at her permaculture farm reconnecting with nature.

12 Comments

  • Congrats on your decision! It’s a tough one to make. For vegan recipes, I find Oh She Glows (100% vegan) and Minimalist Baker (mostly vegan) to be very easy and reliably good. On the vegan cheeses – yes I so agree! The main thing I missed was goat’s cheese and buffalo mozzarella, but the alternatives are getting better and better. In the U.K. we have several producers of cultured cashew “cheeses” – they do NOT taste the same, but they are good in their own right and as they are creamy and tangy they can take the place in a dish that a soft tangy white cheese might have. I’m sure Australia must have something similar going (in the UK I use the ones from Nutcrafter Creamery if you want to check out what I mean). And good luck!

    • Thanks so much Anna for your advice and support! Minimalist Baker has come up a lot and so I started following her on Instagram and will bookmark her website. I will bookmark Oh She Glows too. Also I have made my own nut cheese a couple of times but you are right in saying that it doesn’t taste the same. I wasn’t eating a plant-based diet at the time, just interested in making my own. But I think I will make more of an effort if I can’t find a good vegan cheese (which I’m sure I won’t to be truthful) 🙂

  • I’ve been vegan for a couple decades at this point so I’m pretty immersed (I have a large core group of friends who are vegan too) and it’s second nature at this point but I’ll try to come up with useful answers! 20 years ago there was like 1 veggie burger brand that was vegan and they were gross – so we have it a lot better and way easier now, which is awesome!

    What websites do you trawl for delicious vegan recipes?
    – I mostly use cookbooks for this because we’re part of a monthly vegan cookbook club so I mostly try out new recipes from cookbooks — but I do pin recipes I come across online. I tend to like unfussy recipes. Food 52 Vegan, Vegan with a Vengeance/Veganomicon, and that kind of book. Otherwise – the recipes I pin are here: https://www.pinterest.com/jesseanneo/recipes-vegan-breakfast-lunch-dinner-snacks/

    What have been some of your challenges as a vegan?
    -When you’re out and you have to read labels or ask a million questions at a restaurant that has no idea what vegan means if I’m there for work or family travel. That things don’t taste the same – it took me a while to realize that it’s ridiculous to expect plant-based foods to taste like animal stuff and to just appreciate a different palate of tastes.

    What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a vegan?
    -That I will make mistakes but it’s still pretty easy. That having a welcoming community will help more than anything else. That there’s no such thing as 100% vegan and we all use stuff that isn’t, but not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That you have to make the effort to find better sourced/longer lasting vegan stuff because so much of it is “accidentally vegan” or just has a no-animal focus and doesn’t take other value systems into consideration (like environment and labor) and that people will judge you for caring about animals even if they don’t make any effort re labor standards or eco issues, etc because vegans are thought of as vocally opinionated and jerky, even if that’s not ever an experience they had with you and even if it’s not something you experience other vegans doing much – they’re out there and people remember them.

    Do you have any other tips as I transition from vegetarianism to veganism?
    – It’s a learning process and can be great if you give it the room to be so. I think internally and externally there’s a lot of judgement as to what it looks like to care about animals enough to alter your lifestyle but for me – if I kept animal suffering at the forefront of my thoughts in addition to my other values, it became easier.

    Hope that helps! And good luck! 🙂

    • Thank you so much Jesse for such a detailed response! You’ve been so positive and helpful and I can already tell that this is going to be a great food journey. Also you must be so thrilled to see that society is evolving compared with when you started! It’s great to see that the world is shifting albeit very slowly right? It has taken me a long time to get to this point even though it’s not that big a leap from being vegetarian and some time pescatorian like I had been. But now that I’m here, like with all other real decisions I make, I want to immerse myself and fully ‘own’ the decision. So I will get on to those books and check them out and will head over to Pinterest to check out your pages. p.s. I have met many of the ‘judgey’ vegans, but my experience just in the last week has taught me that they are the minority which is wonderful because it’s why I prefer to say I’m eating whole foods, plant based rather than use the word vegan. People just have a real problem with that word and again it could go back to the opinionated, self-righteous vegans.

  • I’m not a vegan nor vegetarian actually but I watched Food Choices. It’s eye opening but I want to slowly convert to plant based this year. I’ve already started and while it’s not so bad (I didn’t eat much meat anyway to begin with), it’s going to be hard transitioning my kids. If anyone can help me deal with picky and horrible little eaters, that would be great.
    Please feel free to contact me below:
    http://yaniragarza.com

    • Thanks Yanira for sharing your story. I will definitely follow up on that topic for you as I don’t actually have little ones myself and I think it’s important that parents get all the help they need to help their kids improve their food choices. I think it’s all fair and good to go plant-based, vegan and vegetarian as adults but you raise valid points about how we raise our kids. Stay tuned 🙂

  • Yes! I’m so excited you’ve decided to go vegan!
    My partner and I went vegan after 12 years of being vegetarian. I find that your tastebuds adapt pretty quickly. He was certain he couldn’t last a month without cheese or chocolate, but you’ll be surprised that if you stick to it, youll quickly forget the taste and start craving fruit and veg instead. I love the book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan foer and “How to not die” – Michael Gregor is a doctor and also has a free app ” the daily dozen” to keep track of the recommended foods to eat each day.
    It starts off being difficult to find things in the supermarket that are vegan if you are looking for biscuits, chips etc but you’ll get to know the products and there are plenty of “accidently vegan” things so I never feel like I’m missing out. I think you mentioned you live in SE QLD- there is “The green edge” and “Charlie’s vegan pantry” which are vegan supermarkets in Brisbane, and have anything you could want from chocolate to ice cream to mock chicken- but actually a lot of it is actually at IGA too!
    Honestly the biggest thing is that it feels daunting at first but as with anything once you get into a routine you will realise it’s just as easy as being vegetarian. You will adapt to and start to love the plainer taste of veggies without cheese. You can have crackers with dip, pesto or olives instead. I’ve never had a chef at a restaurant turn down a request to take off the cheese and replace it with extra veggies etc. I also like “oh she glows” for recipes but really just googling your favourite recipe with “vegan” at the end usually does the trick. I generally make up my own with rice/pasta + beans and bunch of veg.
    Best of luck and I’m so happy you’ve made this decision 🙂

    • Thanks so much Dasha for your comprehensive tips and advice, and for such an inspiring story too. You’ve been so helpful! This vegan community rocks! Now on your recommendation I have just downloaded The Daily Dozen and will have a browse of it to see what I can learn. I will head to the library also to see if I can source those books because I’m going into this full committed – but also real honest too to help those considering embarking on this journey.

      Now I actually live near the Fraser Coast Hinterland and our office is in Gympie and we have an organic food store downstairs so I might make some time later to see what their vegan offerings are. I also get what you mean about the plainer taste of vegetables. We grow our own food and no tomato I’ve ever purchased has compared to the ones grown on our farm. And appreciate your advice on online searching – that will come in very handy indeed! Thanks again for all the tips, I’m confident I can do this!

  • Hi Jennifer,

    Congratulations on taking this great step to help the planet and the animals.
    I’ve been vegan 11 years. For me it started from reading about how dairy is for cows not humans, this made so much sense to me. I started reading more about veganism and the ethical, economic and environmental reasons made so much sense to me. Over time the health impacts and animal rights issues became important to me as well. I think the more you read and the longer you do it, it becomes an all-encompassing part of your life and worldview.

    What websites do you trawl for delicious vegan recipes?
    I love Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero – their books (both together and separately) are excellent! their websites are theppk and veganlatina.
    I also like: chocolatecoveredkatie, thisrawsomeveganlife, veganricha, veganmiam, chefchloe, deliciouslyella and veganpastryschool.
    Jamie oliver, yotam ottolenghi and simon bryant also often have vegan recipes on their websites and in their books.

    What have been some of your challenges as a vegan?
    Initially it was getting friends and family to understand. and shopping. 11 years ago there wasn’t much around. but its much easier now. there is so much more awareness about it, more options on menus, more products at shops and more totally vegan places to eat. i have always loved cooking so that side of it wasn’t hard for me but for people who don’t cook or don’t like cooking i imagine it would be hard to adjust to the preparing/cooking side of things.

    What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before becoming a vegan?
    To not be so militant/evangelistic about it at the start – this only alienates people and makes things hard for yourself. its great to be passionate about something but what people eat is a personal decision and its not good to force your opinions/values on others. its much more effective to be the person who always makes delicious food to share with people, that you casually mention is vegan after everyone has eaten it. over time people realise that vegan food can be tasty and have great variety and they are more likely to want to try things again.

    Do you have any other tips as I transition from vegetarianism to veganism? Find a few books or blogs that you love, where you get excited about all the meal possibilities. work your way through these recipes until you get confident making things up or converting non vegan recipes. do a meal plan so you know what you are eating at each meal – this helps with shopping, ensuring you don’t go hungry and that you have meals coming up that get you excited, rather than focusing on what you are missing out on.

    as for the cheese thing i really like the biocheese brand. some restaurants (smith and daughters) use this and its pretty good. this brand also do a butter substitute thats really creamy.
    there are a lot more options now than their used to be and they have got better – trial and error to find one you like.
    there are starting to be more small local brands around making cheese to that are good. not sure about in qld but in melbourne there is once called sprout and kernal thats pretty good. you can also make your own if you want – theres a great book called artisan vegan cheese by miyoko schinner that makes excellent cheeses. im also in a facebook group called vegan cheeze – hits and misses! thats really helpful.
    Another really great facebook group is Aquafaba (Vegan Meringue – Hits and misses) . I highly recommend learning about aquafaba – its an amazing egg substitute and its readily available – it translates to bean water – its the water you drain from a tin of chickpeas or beans! you can make meringue out of it, truly!

    Good luck on your journey!

    • Oh wow Pixie thank you so much for leaving such a detailed comment! A week into my vegan journey and I didn’t expect so many people to welcome me with open arms into the community. I have had experience with the vegan militant types in the past but they are definitely outnumbered by the compassionate, understanding patient types I have been introduced to just in the last two weeks. So wonderful to know because I myself don’t enjoy being ‘bible bashed’ so I try to avoid the ‘eco bashing’. Now as I explore veganism, I want to share my honest and real journey to help trigger others to think about their food too, rather than ‘vegan bash’. Also I noticed Bio Cheese at my local supermarket and was wondering about it so next time I’m in I’ll purchase, although being mindful of the plastic packaging (is it recyclable? I didn’t check). I also appreciate your book recommendations as these are ones I haven’t received before. I went to the library yesterday and there weren’t many options so I will have to scour second hand. This has been a marvellous journey so far and thanks so much for taking the time to help me out, I really appreciate it! 🙂

  • Awesome! Going vegan makes living a zero waste lifestyle so much easier too 🙂
    My advice is set yourself a balanced diet, free from harmful chemicals and GMO’s. Foods that have been grown via pesticides don’t only risk the health of the consumer but also have harmful affects on adjacent and down stream ecosystems and the animals that live within them. Go Organic 🙂

    Also be confident with the choices you make and the food that you eat. Uncertainty creates worry and worry creates stress which is not healthy at all, to avoid this research helps but sometimes it is best to go with your gut feeling and trust yourself with the choices you make on food :).

    Enjoy the vegan journey 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your tips & advice! I also agree that being vegan makes zero waste living easier. And we grow some organic food at home so it makes life a little easier. But I’ve had one vegan fail so far and that’s not checking alcohol. I didn’t realise to make wine and sparkling producers need eggs! Who knew? I certainly didn’t. You learn lots on this journey that’s for sure 🙂

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