Vegan for the ‘gram
“I could never go vegan”Me, and almost every other vegan ever
In July 2018 set myself a 30 day food challenge to find out how I would manage changing to a plant based diet. I documented every meal I ate on Instagram for the whole month, posing all my meals (comme d’habitude) to make them look their most attractive. It was a lot of fun, but that first month threw up a few challenges too.
Back then it wasn’t always easy to find vegan food on the go, so I learned never to leave the house without snacks (but let’s face it, no one should!). I wasn’t always good at meal planning, so if I wasn’t in the mood for cooking I’d often end up eating toast with hummus. I ate a lot of toast in the early days.
I quickly became adept at label reading. It’s like a vegan superpower. There’s still a suspicion over items labelled as vegetarian that appear to have only vegan ingredients – do I eat this, or nah?
That first month helped me rediscover a passion for food and cooking that I’d lost a little in the previous years, partly due to an erratic party lifestyle and partly due to not having a decent kitchen in my rented flat. By the end of July 2018 I was convinced I’d discovered a new way of eating – and perhaps a new way of living (but that all came much later).
The range of different foods I cook and eat now is so much greater, more colourful and infinitely more interesting than before. I’ve become a better cook and I have a much better understanding of what I’m putting into my body at every meal.
Sometimes there’s a tiny setback, like when I recently discovered my favourite coconut & pineapple fruit juice actually has milk in it (WTAF?). Happily I’m not allergic to cows milk, so I got over it and started buying a different juice. I still eat a lot of toast.
Vegan for the planet
“I don’t eat animal products. I don’t use any animal products because of ethical, environmental and climate reasons”Greta Thunberg, teenager and environmental activist
I’ve always been a fervent recycler. I’m the madwoman who can be found shoulder deep in the kitchen bin at the office, pulling out plastic drinks bottles that ought to be in the recycling bin. I used to have a box in my garage for collecting glass jars and bottles to drive round to the recycling bank because there was no kerbside collection where I lived.
Discovering that the farming of animals for food (and farming of the vast amounts of food required to feed those animals) is the biggest contributor to climate change (formerly known as global warming) was a shock to me. Discovering that swathes of rainforest, the size of small countries is being cleared every month, was horrifying. Realising that my ‘personal choice’ was contributing to the devastation of the earth was a moment of resounding clarity.
I recently watched a documentary called Cowspiracy. It’s very interesting look at how global environmental charities are ignoring the impact of animal agriculture and its overwhelming contribution to the climate catastrophe and focusing instead on wind farms and plastic straws. Those things are important too, but in the face of the global emergency of climate change, they’re really not worth worrying about.
It’s easy to think that one person can’t make a difference, but there are so many names that have travelled down through history of one person doing just that. One person standing up for themselves, one person deciding to make a change, one person taking the first step.
Each of us is responsible for the impact we make, for the legacy we leave behind, for the feeling that resonates with the other lives we’ve touched.
What footprint to you want to leave behind?
Me? I hope to fade back into the ground I came from, to have flowers and grass grow quickly over my bones as if I was never there – not to leave a permanent, plastic coated, Laura-shaped scorch mark on the barren earth. But I’m a bit of hippy that way.
Vegan for health
“They show commercials selling the idea that a real man eats meat. But that’s marketing, that’s not based on reality”Arnold Schwarzenegger, actor, former bodybuilder, and politician
The first vegan documentary I watched was What the Health on Netflix. The personal stories in the film about the transformations made in people’s lives within a few weeks of removing animal products from their diets are astonishing.
It surprises me when people ask me if certain foods are vegan. “Is bread vegan?” I’m always amazed how little thought people give their own nutritional needs, yet feel qualified to tell me I must be protein/calcium/vitamin deficient – it’s as if they’ve never heard of beans on toast!
There’s a myth that we need to eat meat and eggs to get protein. There’s also a common misunderstanding about the amount of protein we need in our diets. Clue – it’s nowhere near as much as you think it is. Protein is present in many plant based foods, most of which are also eaten by non-vegans, so believe it or not, you probably get enough protein in your own diet before you’ve even let a chicken nugget pass your greasy lips.
There’s a myth that we need to eat red meat to get iron. Actually, we can get as much iron without the artery clogging cholesterol from all of the dark leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach, even broccoli.
There’s a myth about calcium and cow’s milk that was invented by the dairy industry many years ago and it so prevalent, it’s made its way in to our collective psyche and even into our scientific texts. But let’s break it down:
Milk is made by mothers, its singular raison d’être is the fattening of newborns, to make them grow as quickly and robustly as possible. It’s full of pregnancy hormones, it’s full of fats and protein, it’s very nutrient dense. As it should be. For babies. Mammals don’t need their mothers’ milk, or any other mother’s milk, once they’re weaned. That includes humans.
There’s a myth that we need to eat fish to get Omega 3. The truth is that fish don’t produce Omega 3 in their bodies, they get it from the food they eat in the oceans. It comes from algae, so we could sensibly cut out the middle man (or fish) and go straight to the source. We can also get Omega 3 from sunflower seeds and other readily available seeds (which don’t have the worrying side effect of containing large portions of mercury and micro plastics).
Vegan for the animals
“People need to understand that if they are eating animals, they’re promoting cruelty to animals”Pamela Anderson, actress and animal rights activist
In the global north, we’re very disconnected from the reality of the food we eat. Everything we buy comes cleaned, prepared and wrapped in plastic, ready for us to cook and consume with minimal fuss.
The meat products in our supermarkets, and even butcher shops and offer a sanitised vision of what is actually being sold. It’s all too easy to look at that packaged ‘meat’ and suppress our cognitive dissonance about the living breathing creature that once was.
We put the decomposing flesh of other creatures into our mouths and tell ourselves it’s natural and it’s what our ancestors did. Our ancestors didn’t employ men and women in vast warehouses to cut the throats of thousands of animals every day. Those death factories are a very recent invention.
By comparison, those ancestors ate really very little animal meat. The vast proportion of their diets were made up of grains and vegetables. They certainly didn’t devour 20 chicken nuggets in a single sitting.
There are thousands of horrifying videos one can choose to watch online, secret filming taken from inside slaughterhouses in the UK, where terrified pigs, cows and chickens try desperately to escape their fate. Those animals know what’s going on, they don’t trot along happily to their deaths thinking about what a lovely sandwich filling they’re going to make. In all of these videos those petrified creatures try with every ounce of their strength to hold on to their lives.
Look at your dog or cat, or other pet. You know them; their moods, their funny habits, the things they get excited or sad about. Sometimes it’s as if they were a person. That’s not unique to the animals we keep as pets. There’s a very fun video online of a cow playing fetch with a beachball. People who keep pigs talk about how social they are, how loving they are, how they recognise people and how they can learn to respond to commands. Just like dogs – or people.
Five things to know about animal agriculture (farming)
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon.
- Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction due to loss of habitat.
- Animal agriculture accounts for 45% of land use on the entire planet.
- Animal agriculture causes more greenhouse gases than every method of motorised transport combined, including air travel.
- Greenhouse emissions from animal agriculture are expected to rise 80% in the next 30 years.
Five things to know about dairy cows
- Despite popular belief, milk doesn’t ‘come from cows’. Milk comes from all mammal mothers.
- Just like other mammals, including humans, cows have to be made pregnant before their bodies can produce milk.
- The term animal husbandry suggests some interaction between the female cow and the bull. In fact, dairy cows are impregnated by farmers and most never even see a bull.
- Dairy calves remain with their mothers for around two days after birth. They’re then taken to be raised in individual hutches.
- Only the female calves are raised, the male calves are taken to be raised for meat. Similarly, when the female cow’s reproductive ability has been exhausted, she’ll also be killed for meat
Five things to know about ‘factory’ fishing
- 58 billion fish and other sea creatures are removed from the world’s oceans every year. That’s more than the number of humans who have ever existed on Earth.
- For every one pound of targeted fish caught in trawler nets, there are 5 pounds of untargeted species caught there, including dolphins, sea turtles, whales and sharks. Since those animals are already dead by the time the nets are brought up, they can’t be returned to the ocean.
- Marine populations have reduced by almost 50% since 1970. And, the devastation caused to marine ecosystems by those trawlers can even be seen from space.
- 40 million sharks are ‘incidentally’ killed in so-called sustainable fishing nets and lines every year. That’s more than the entire human population of Canada.
- Most of the small fish captured from our seas, such as anchovy and herring aren’t caught for human consumption. They’re used to feed farmed fish like salmon and sea bass.
Five common questions about veganism
Where do you get your protein?
From most of the same sources you do. Omnivores actually get most of the protein in their diets from plant based foods. Almost every vegetable, including staples like potatoes, beans and broccoli, are good sources of protein.
Don’t you miss eating meat?
No. In honesty, when the connection is made to a living creature with emotions, the idea of masticating a lump of that creature’s flesh immediately loses any appeal it may ever have had. That’s not to say the smell of the charcoal grill at the local Turkish doesn’t still turn my head when I pass.
Why do vegans want to make their food look and taste like meat?
Most of us weren’t born into vegan families, and we still have memories and emotional connections to certain foods we used to eat. Things like tomato soup and cheese toasties, or late night kebabs after the pub have nostalgic comfort attached to them. A lot of the excitement I feel about eating a plant based diet comes from having a sudden craving for a certain dish I used to enjoy and figuring out how to recreate the essence of it without using animal products.
Why are vegans so preachy?
Think about why you asked that question. How many vegans do you know personally? How many conversations have you had with them about their (and your) lifestyle choices? If you’re honest about it, can you really say you’ve been preached at, or have you actually just felt guilty because you know you have it in your power to make the change, but you haven’t because you don’t want to be inconvenienced?
How difficult is it to go vegan?
It’s not hard at all. Once you let go of the idea that you’re giving something up, and replace that with what you have to gain, you’re already there.
It can be a daunting prospect for a lot of people; there are so many mistakes to make, and so many things we had no idea used animal products. I’ve only discussed food here, because that’s the easiest and most immediate change a person can make. It’s also the thing that impacts us as humans the most obviously.
Think about what’s stopping you, be honest about it to yourself. If it’s a fear of not doing everything perfectly, let that go. No one’s perfect. There are so many things to discover about an ethical vegan lifestyle, but that all takes time. You don’t have to be an expert on day one.
We do what we can, with the knowledge and resources available to us and no one can ask more than that.
Note: If you feel inclined to comment below questioning my sources, or the validity of the points made, please go away and do your own research. Look at the videos, watch the documentaries, read up on the science. This article isn’t an invitation to debate ethics.