Vegans. What kind of people do you picture when you hear that word?
Those vocal, obnoxious, confronting animal rights campaigners who shout ‘meat is murder’ while shoving brochures full of graphic images of decapitated meat chickens down your throat.
Or a beautiful circle of hippies with long hair who hold hands, singing ‘Kumbaya’ over bowls of lentils, tofu, and rice. These gentle folk wouldn’t hurt a fly, let alone shout at anyone. Ever.
Or is there a middle ground between these two stereotypes, a modern eco warrior and animal lover who makes the conscious decision not to eat meat and other animal products?
With World Vegan Day just passed, and November itself World Vegan Month, now is the time to reassess our eating habits and how they affect not only our planet, but our health too. Now is the time to think of ways to overcome the common challenges, and embrace a kinder way of living.
I should preface this by admitting that I’m no expert in the realm of vegan and vegetarian diets. In fact, I’m wondering if ‘diets’ is even the most appropriate term for describing what is, for so many, not just how they eat, what they wear, or how they live, but how they view themselves.
Myself, I’ve been raised and reared as a meat-eater—hardly surprising given that my mother grew up on a cattle stud. But, in general, I’ve always viewed it as better for the environment, my body and mind, and the lives of animals reared for consumption, to at least reduce my meat consumption.
I didn’t eat meat for about two weeks after being subjected to a documentary in high school health and nutrition class about the meat industry, where we were shown graphic images of terrified chickens on conveyor belts, traveling to their gruesome ends.
Then, again, after my mother decided we would eat the surplus-to-requirements roosters from little home flock, and I stumbled on her plucking one unlucky bird outside my bedroom window.
Since moving out of home and having more control over what I eat and prepare, I’ve been able to eat the way I always aspired to, though there is always room for improvement. So, for inspiration, let’s look at what exactly is so great about the vegan way.
Many different sources, from websites to blogs, to scientific studies, to anecdotal evidence from your vegan aunt, will rave about the health benefits of vegan and vegetarian eating.
As stated on the Nutrition Australia website: “There is a substantial body of evidence supporting the belief that vegetarians in Western countries experience significantly less cancer, less heart disease, fewer strokes, and generally live longer than omnivores.”
These health benefits are attributed to a greater intake of plant-based foods which contain a better ratio of health-promoting substances such as vitamins, minerals, fibre (the list goes on) to the unhealthy fats and cholesterol in meat and animal products.
Less refrigeration, more convenience.
Not to mention that plant-based foods are less of a risk when considering food safety—they require less refrigeration (less power too!) and will rarely, if ever, leave you with a bout of food poisoning. Vegetables, legumes, and grains are far more shelf-stable than raw or cooked meat, which is a big tick for the vegetarian option if you, like me, are into convenience. Unlike raw or frozen meat, you don’t have to worry that your food will be unsafe to consume, if you have it above refrigeration temperatures for a couple of hours. Easy.
And what about the eco aspect?
One significant factor when considering your eating habits and the impact they have on our world is that the animals raised for livestock need space, and lots of it. This space is prime agricultural land that can be irreparably degraded by running livestock on it. Not only that, but using this land for farming foods like grains and legumes can produce a greater volume of food with a much lower proportion of land than for meat animals.
Ethical? Yeah, that one’s obvious.
Another huge motivator is the ethical aspect. Though it can be a great challenge for many to give up eating the way they know and love, we must all ask ourselves if it is ethical to eat animals, when we are able to survive perfectly well without doing so.
Being vegan can be a way to save extra dosh. For most of us, the price of meat doesn’t enter into our reasoning when deciding what to eat, until we have to pay for it ourselves. It’s no wonder that so many uni students are vegan.
So, are you ready to take the challenge?
If you’re feeling a bit inspired by the great difference you can make to humans, animals, and our planet, the following are my top five tips for taking up the Vegan challenge!
- Be smart—You need to pay more attention to your diet to ensure you get all the substances you need, such as B12, iron, and protein. With a little research and a habit shift, eating vegan will soon be second nature.
- Be prepared—You won’t always be able to eat what you want, and people won’t always accommodate you, so plan ahead. Going out? Eat a vegan-friendly snack beforehand, just in case your ‘vegan’ option turns out to be fruit salad…for dinner.
- Be adventurous—Creativity is your friend as laziness is the enemy of dedication, so explore and research amazing new things to try. Check out some of the awesome recipes online for inspiration.
- Be active—When you’ve settled into your new habits and found your rhythm, help spread the benefits to those beyond you. The more people who refuse to eat meat and animal products, the better off we’ll all be.
- Be kind to the world, and to yourself—So, if you have to cheat, cheat. Sometimes you just really crave a grilled cheese. Go for the ethical, biodynamic option and you can sleep easier about slipping while still satisfying that craving.
Still don’t think you’ll be able to commit? My number one piece of advice is to give it a go!
Every little bit you change your eating habits to be more sustainable, animal-friendly, and healthy makes a difference. Start small, ease into it, and be kind to yourself. Treat yourself to a slice of raw vegan cake every now and then. It’s so worth it.
Need more inspiration or motivation? Looking at all the great recipes you can experiment with is the perfect place to start.