This post isn’t about why you should become a vegan or why you must become a vegan. This is about what veganism offers, if you do decide to try it out sometime.
Should I begin with my own journey into veganism? Once upon a time, I was a skeptic. I mean I loved animals, but I never, as they say, “made the connection.” I was always preaching (and practising) about reducing pollution and littering, using as little plastic as possible, and waste segregation. But veganism? What even was that?
Wait, let’s start even earlier.
I was brought up as a vegetarian. Not because of a love of animals, but because of my family’s religion. But I rebelled against that pretty early on, wanting to be seen as “progressive” for eating meat (oh, the irony). I tried chicken when I was ten years old, decided that it tasted really bad, and stopped eating it. Then in high school, I hung out with friends who introduced me to salami and fish, among other things. I ate the salami without knowing it was pig meat. The fact that it was meat was enough for me; I never went into the specifics. I even ate shark meat, something that still shocks me today when I think about it. I had always been against the commoditization of animals, against the buying and selling of living beings, including puppies and kittens, but never made the connection with meat. I guess the cognitive dissonance was strong with me.
I went abroad to study, and this is where, in the interest of being open-minded and adventurous, I tried all kinds of meat. A friend of mine boasted about eating snake meat, and I was in awe. I tried fried worms in Thailand, octopus in Malaysia, beef in Nigeria. I loved smoked fish and barbecued meat. I never cooked it (I guess a subconscious part of me realized I’d have to face the origin of these foods), but I tasted it all. I stayed with roommates who cooked meat, but it still didn’t click; the meat in the fridge was packaged in plastic, and looked pink and pristine and clean. The fact that this came from an animal was the last thing you’d think when you looked at it.
I baulked at dog and cat meat, though, because of course, who eats their friends? I also made up my mind (after having tasted some “exotic” meat and then feeling guilty) not to eat anything other than animals that were reared specifically for food.
Check out my mindset: I’d decided not to eat endangered species and wild animals ostensibly because of my compassion for animals. But cows, pigs, chicken and fish? They were meant to be eaten, weren’t they?
INTRODUCTION TO VEGANISM
During grad school, I had a friend who gave free yoga lessons at the park on Sundays. She and I volunteered at a local animal rescue center. One day, she mentioned being a vegan, and said, “If you truly love animals, you’d be a vegan.” I remember thinking, “What? What does this have to do with that?” I thought she was being very militant with her opinions and didn’t take her “out there” ideas seriously at all. I had another friend who was a pescetarian, because he believed all other animals were too sentient for him to eat. What was my opinion then regarding this? “Why discriminate between animals, if you don’t want to eat any animal, that’s a better stance than judging some animals as being too sentient to kill and eat.”
I had no idea how hypocritical I was being.
MAKING THE CONNECTION (FINALLY!)
Sometimes, it’s a good thing when life forces you to slow down and think. After finishing my masters, I found myself in my parents’ home, broke and unemployed. My main occupation at the time was to wallow in self-pity, but I had just completed my masters’ thesis on climate change adaptation, and I continued to read about wildlife, deforestation and global warming. This time, though, it wasn’t from an academic standpoint, but a personal one. I had witnessed a couple of very severe and unseasonal tropical storms, and I could see that this was going to be more and more common. I had also taken part in a photography workshop during grad school that focused on urban climate change, and I’d met several people who knew stuff firsthand and we’d talked about what we felt was going on, all of us feeling increasingly disturbed.
So, yeah, back at my parents’ home, I was basically spending all day in front of my computer – applying for jobs and reading up about the environment. I educated myself so much in those few months – about factory farming, and about dairy and what it meant to the cows and their calves. The tipping point was my attempt to watch Blackfish. I only made it through the first ten minutes of the documentary. I was admittedly depressed at the time, but I still cried so hard, as though Tillikum was a close personal friend of mine. This documentary has changed many lives, and mine is one of them. And I haven’t even watched more than 10 minutes of it.
I decided to become a vegan. I wanted to have absolutely nothing to do with this cruel nonsense that factory farming is, that animal captivity is. I started as a raw vegan (only because I was living alone at the time, and was too lazy to cook). I initially watched Freelee the Banana Girl (and went from thinking she’s absolutely nuts to wondering how she did it and whether it was possible for me). She was my gateway into vegan youtube. I didn’t worry about where I’d get my protein; I’d been brought up as a healthy vegetarian, after all. I’ve been privileged to have the advantage of having been brought up as a vegetarian, which made my transition to veganism a lot easier. But I did have niggling doubts about the calcium. And the B12.
The solution to all the doubts? Education.
A VEGAN DIET IS HEALTHY, AND MORE.
I now know, and am convinced, that healthy vegans who eat a nutritionally balanced diet have no dietary deficiencies whatsoever. But it took me a long time, through many misinformation detours, before I got to this point. There is no problem with the vegan diet. It is, in fact, the best thing you can do for your long-term health.
You can be an athlete as a vegan.
You can be a bodybuilder as a vegan.
You might even be able to treat your illnesses on a vegan diet.
Whatever you decide to be, it won’t be your vegan diet that will hold you back.
WHY BECOME A VEGAN
So, without further ado, here are the reasons why becoming a vegan is good in every way:
For the environment
Factory farming places a very heavy burden on the environment. You need resources for crops and water for the animals, and you need resources to rear the animals, and to move them after slaughtering from the factory to the market. The crops grown to feed the animals is a significant cause of deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction. For example, Brazil uses about 5.6 million acres of land to grow soya beans for animals in Europe. Also, this land is land that is not being used to grow food for people.
Farm animals are given hormones, antibiotics, steroids and pesticides, and all this often leeches into the soil and the water supply, wreaking havoc on local ecosystems.
For the animals
Around 60 billion land animals and more than a trillion marine animals are used and killed per year for our consumption. It’s a conveyor belt of commoditized sentient beings being served up for our exclusive use. It does not have to be this way. You may argue that it’s the natural order of things – to kill and eat animals. Other animals do it, don’t they? Well, let’s talk when other animals number 7 billion, build factories specifically to grow and slaughter billions upon billions of animals for their pleasure, and torture, rape and exploit countless sentient beings for profit. Let’s compare then.
To counter inequality
A plant-based diet requires only one-third of the land needed to support a meat and dairy diet. As the world deals with increasing food and water insecurity, the most sustainable way to live is through a vegan lifestyle (or a plant-based diet).
For your health
Farm and factory animals are often given hormones, antibiotics, steroids and pesticides to speed up their development and increase their size. This is what humans end up ingesting, and it isn’t good for us. Dairy naturally contains estrogen, and on top of that, we add artificially high levels of sex or growth hormones to “increase yield”. I know from personal experience that dairy is terrible for hormonal health. Read up about the FDA approved recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and make up your own mind.
Food crops are also injected with pesticides and other artificial chemicals, yes, but that’s why vegans (and other sensible people) advocate eating organic, whole foods as far as possible. At least vegan food isn’t contaminated with animal feces, blood and other bodily fluids.
For your soul
The more I think about it, the more I see factory farming as one of the most horrific things humans have ever done. Such horrific, large-scale, systematic animal abuse, day in and day out, with the vast majority of humanity turning a collective blind eye to it…is just simply wrong. Can you really live with this? Would you feel more comfortable being part of the problem? Or part of the solution?
CHALLENGES OF BEING A VEGAN
Have I been a perfect vegan? Nope. I end up eating yoghurt once in a (rare) while, or I accidentally eat something with dairy in it. Sometimes I crave chocolate cake, and I buy and eat it despite trying to stop myself. I know why the craving happens, I know what I should eat instead, but I’m still a slave to temptation. Sometimes there’s a celebration in the office, and I cannot say no to a piece of chocolate without appearing really rude.
I have been a perfect vegetarian, though, but that’s only because I’m used to it and it isn’t much of a sacrifice for me to give up meat. I used to beat myself up over slipping with dairy, but I’m learning to be kinder towards myself for all these missteps. This is a systematic problem we’re facing, so individual efforts can only go so far. Our society is geared towards meat and dairy, so these are the products available everywhere in abundance. We have to find the vegan food, and ignore the rest of the products vying for our attention.
THE ETHICS OF VEGANISM
Of course, there are amazing people who are perfect vegans, and they are super inspiring to the rest of us. But the rest of us must plod on, regardless of our missteps, because giving up is not an option. If you’re convinced about the vegan lifestyle, the only valid reason for giving up veganism is affordability. In many places, it’s simply way more expensive to buy vegan food than it is to buy virtually any other type of food. So, it’s perfectly understandable if you are literally unable to afford vegan food. Having enough money in today’s world is a privilege.
But if you’re worried about possible health aspects cos your doctor told you so, or you want to build your muscles and you need “a lot of protein”, that’s just hogwash. These are silly excuses for being lazy – and frankly, just show that you are either ill-informed or insincere.
As many have said before, a vegan diet can be nutritionally complete, possibly more so than a non-vegan diet.
So, if you’re on the vegan path, at whichever stage, congrats. Hang in there! Sticking to a vegan diet will get easier as time goes on. And it’s totally worth it.
And if you’re not yet on the vegan path, here are some resources that might convince you:
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