My Journey From Carnivore to Herbivore
As October is apparently 'World Vegetarian Month', I thought now was a good time to write about my transition into a vegan lifestyle. I was extremely hesitant to go vegan for a while as I knew it would require hard work and making lots of sacrifices.
At present, I have only been vegan for a very short amount of time. My journey towards living a compassionate and wholesome lifestyle has been long and challenging and I feel that I still have a long way to go. So here it goes, my transition from meat-loving maniac to fully-fledged vegan.
Growing up in the UK, there was not much emphasis on health and the way your diet impacts your body, the environment or lives of billions of animals. I was a fiend for all things meaty, greasy, sweet or savoury. I was especially keen on takeaway pizza and Chinese food - along with pretty much any dessert ever (unless it involved fruit, yuck). Of course I wasn't entirely naive, I was aware that fatty foods were going to make you put on fat and sugary foods were going to rot your teeth. But that's pretty much as far as my knowledge regarding food and nutrition stretched to.
I moved to Australia alone at the tender age of 19 and immediately I had to adapt to a new lifestyle. I moved in with my older sister, who was a vegetarian for moral purposes. She encouraged me to become a vegetarian too and explained to me why she was a vegetarian. At the time I was still in my old and somewhat clueless frame of mind, I would counteract her pro-vegetarian statement with my con-vegetarian statement "but we're humans, we're at the top of the food chain and we need meat for protein and other important vitamins and nutrients." Looking back on it, I can't believe I was stupid enough to even make such a statement by assuming that was the truth, without doing any proper reading or research on the subject. I spent the next 12 months still eating meat on a daily basis, playing with the idea of becoming a vegetarian - but every time the thought crossed my mind, I would then immediately think to myself "But what the hell would I eat if I couldn't have meat?! Surely I would end up starving to death?!"
I've always been an animal lover - but I guess some small part of me was too naive to really believe that by eating meat I was doing any harm to animals. Living in Australia definitely made me more health conscious in terms of eating well and exercising regularly, but I never really opened my eyes to the possibility of cutting meat from my diet. This all changed when it was time for me to leave Australia and travel Asia. During my time in Asia I witnessed horrific acts of cruelty towards animals and this really ignited my passion for animal welfare. It made me really question my lifestyle and how I could ever call myself an animal lover and think that the more 'important' animals (think elephants, tigers, monkeys etc) really were any more 'important' than inferior farm animals. I grew more and more curious every day and then decided to watch some documentaries - Food, Inc., Forks over Knives and the one which affected me most - Earthlings.
As I mentioned earlier, I once said in argument against being a vegetarian that humans aren't meant to be vegetarians because we are "at the top of the food chain" and "evolution has designed us this way". Well obviously, I was wrong. So wrong. There are obvious traits of a carnivore, none of which a human have: claws, canines sharp enough to tear flesh, no skin pores, stomach acid strong enough to digest meat and so on. According to the American Dietetic Association, most of mankind for most of history has lived on a vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet. There are many very educational websites that you can visit to find out more regarding humans evolution and vegetarianism, simply do a google search and you will discover a tonne of stuff that you never knew about before.
Other things to take into consideration are environmental issues surrounding the meat industry and of course the sheer despair that billions of creatures live in for the entirety of their lives, just be to slaughtered for meat. Livestock farming currently covers 45% of the earths total land and it is having a devastating effect on our planet. Of course, as the demand for meat increases, so does this devastation. Not only are we tearing down roughly 1 to 2 acres of rainforest every second to grow feed for livestock, but we are also pulling animals out of the ocean at an incredibly alarming rate - nearly 2.7 trillion animals are taken from the sea every year. There is a statistic that 6 million animals are killed every hour for food - and that one vegetarian saves more than 400 animals per year. I'm not sure how reliable this information is, but it certainly inspires me to keep fighting for the cause.
I recently posed as a 'photography student' and visited a slaughterhouse for research purposes and to photograph what goes on behind those walls. As soon as I approached the building, a putrid smell entered my nostrils - that alone was enough for me to be put off ever eating meat again. The smell of dead flesh is something that will stay with me for a long, long time. As if the smell wasn't bad enough, I was escorted to the 'slaughter room', where I watched a number of cows meet their maker. I was shocked at the turnover of animals and how a cow can go from being alive and healthy to a headless, limbless and skinless carcass in literally minutes. The next 20 minutes that followed felt like a scene from one of the 'SAW' movies. When I left the slaughterhouse, my white overalls and wellington boots were covered in blood, I quickly removed them and rushed to my car where I proceeded to sob for the next few minutes and try and process what I had just witnessed. This abattoir experience stunned me to the core and I can safely say that I will never be eating meat again. ever.
Not only is being a vegetarian or vegan better for the animals and the planet, but it is better for you. Since I started eating a vegetarian diet, I lost a significant amount of weight and even my mood improved drastically. Vegetarians have a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease, prostate/colon/ovarian/breast cancers, diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Vegans boast all of the above, plus lowering their chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts and osteoporosis. Many people who suffer from the skin conditions eczema and psoriasis have reported that a vegan diet almost eliminated these things. If you would like to read more about the health benefits of being a vegan, I would highly recommend reading this article: http://www.veganurbanite.com/2010/05/04/59-health-...
As someone who is a pretty active and likes to stay fit and healthy, I go to the gym most days - I get asked a lot about where I possibly get my protein being a vegan. Nobody is a fan of vegan protein powder and I have never been able to adapt to that horrible chalky taste that all vegan proteins have. However, I have recently discovered an absolute game changer: Clean Lean Protein by NuZest. This protein is 100% plant based and made only from natural ingredients, so not only is it vegan friendly, but it is paleo friendly too! I also eat lots of lentils and chickpeas every day to make sure I am getting enough plant-based protein before and after a workout. There are many plant-based sources of protein and there is even a huge list of successful athletes and body builders that live on a completely vegan diet.
Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is not easy - it involves hard work and making sacrifices. It took me a year of being a vegetarian before I went fully vegan and I still slip up now and then, because being a vegan means being extremely mindful of everything you eat or buy. At first, you will spend double the amount of time on your weekly shop simply by reading the ingredient labels on all your favourite foods seeing if they are going to fit in with your new lifestyle or not. You will find that you will have to sacrifice many treats, but you will feel amazing knowing that you resisted something for the greater good. As I mentioned, it is easy to slip up and accidentally eat something that has a hidden animal by-product or even give in to the temptation of your favorite non-vegan treat - but never be hard on yourself if this happens. Forgive yourself, we are only human and by making the decision to live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle you are making a conscious effort to change the world for yourself and for animals. After a while, you will learn what is vegan friendly and you will find delectable recipes that you will never have to resist!
Vegan cooking has become one of my favorite things to do and I am constantly discovering new delicious foods and recipes that I can indulge in. If you are ever in need of a sweet treat or savoury snack but are not sure if it is vegan or not - I use this list I found by PETA. It is a list of all those scrummy foods that you would have no idea are actually vegan! http://www.peta.org.au/the-issues/eat/accidentally... (This is the AUS/NZ version, but you can easily find something similar for your own country of residence!)
We all have the power to make a difference, even if it seems impossible. Being a vegetarian or a vegan is not just going to positively impact the life of countless animals, but it will also benefit the environment and your own health and wellbeing. Try being a vegetarian or vegan for a week and see that it is not as hard as everyone makes out. You may have to sacrifice some of your favorite foods, but you will also find that lots of these have a vegetarian/vegan alternatives and you will be constantly adding new goodies on to your list of fave-foods.
Personally, I no longer view veganism as being a diet. It is simply a lifestyle.