Vegan 101

I often get a lot of questions from those around me about why I’m vegan, I can’t blame them, until I went vegan overnight I actually had a lot of questions myself. I will attempt to answer some of these below in my vegan 101.

Why vegan?

I personally have many reasons for going vegan, however, my initial move boiled down to a single YouTube video, 101 reasons to go vegan. I suppose that is how as opposed to why. The why for me takes what I would describe as the typical three pronged philosophy. Animals, Environment, Health.

Animals

I think that most people will understand the animals decision, in fact, I think most people not only understand but also agree with not wanting to cause pain and suffering to animals. But we live in a world of cognitive dissonance, and the meat, dairy and eggs on our plate, along with animal products in clothes, houses, animal testing and other areas is so far removed from the actual living breathing animal that people manage to live with themselves as they take part in something they actually inherently disagree with.

Of course, not all feel like this. Some people are fine with animals dying for their pleasure and plate. However, even the most hardened of hunters and meat eaters still don’t like to view factory farms and some of the atrocious acts that happen there.

For me there is a straight up, single yet easy choice I had to make. Once I had witnessed the horrors of what actually happened to get the food onto my plate I had to decide, am I willing to be a part of this? Is this okay and am I going to back it? Or am I going to live by what I really truly feel and decide to not be a part of this. I do not claim to be any more moral than other people, however, for me, the reality of what happens was enough to make me say no more for me. I feel like a better, more real person for making this choice, for choosing to make a decision which, while initially scary and difficult, has grown into an inherent part of me. When I think of the millions (and billions) of animals killed every year, just for food, I feel happy that I am no longer responsible for that.

Environment

I was unaware of the impact on the environment of people eating meat and animal products, genuinely, I had never even considered it, and I considered myself not completely ignorant to the environment before hand. After going vegan, this is when I discovered how badly meat, dairy and eggs affect the environment by watching a very informative film called Cowspiracy, based on a 2006 United Nations report titled Livestock’s Long Shadow. I feel that many people will think about the environment only when it is easy for them. They may recycle, own a hybrid car, turn off their lights and have shorter showers, but if they went vegan, even for a few days a week, they are helping in ways they may not even realise.

Vegan 101 - cowspiracy facts

This picture shows a number of the facts from the film, it’s hard to argue anything positive relating to animal agriculture and the environment.

Health

Another major reason for veganism is health. This isn’t what motivated me, the ethics of using animals for our own gain did, but after research, the health argument could not be ignored. Many people (myself included) believed that a “balanced diet” would keep you healthy. Two of my personal major fears are cancer and a heart attack. I’m pretty sure that goes for most people, but after my mum suddenly and unexpectedly died with heart failure, and then my dad developed cancer and slowly died in front of me, I decided that I really want to consciously avoid anything that would increase my chance of dying the way I saw them die. So, first, I quit smoking. I had smoked on and off for many years, but I made the decision (very soon after my father died) to quit. It was too much, and I knew if I didn’t I was increasing my chances of cancer exponentially. I was already wheezing when breathing, getting chest infections, colds continually. So off went smoking. I felt great. Next, lose weight. This is a story in progress but I have successfully managed t0 lose weight, however, there is much further to go. I thought, I am taking all of the steps needed to avoid cancer and heart disease, awesome.

Then I went vegan. In my research I discovered a film called Forks over Knives, a book called The China Study, and later another book called How Not to Die. These books really convinced me that the diet we follow blindly is killing us. Some of the leading diseases are caused by diet choices, people rush to the doctors for medicine to aid these, but in reality, a change in diet is what is required, especially if any issues haven’t already occured.

  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Stroke
  • Osteoporosis
  • Many types of cancer

Some of these are a given, diabetes for example, but cancer (past the expected lung cancer for smoking) surprised me. There is an argument to be made that cancer occurs as an account of a hormone in the body being switched on IGF-1. IGF-1 isn’t all bad, but one of it’s main side effects when found in too much quantity is to promote growth in the body, and what is cancer? Unexpected growths. One of the main promoters of IGF-1? Animal protein. Now, I am no scientist, and this is probably highly over simplified, but I have read further about this, and other causes of cancer, and was surprised to discover that only a very small percentage of cancers are genetic, even familial cancers are far less common than random cancer. So what causes these random cancers? Lifestyle choices. For me this is good enough. I watched my father die of brain cancer, my grandfather die of lung cancer, I really would like to do my best to avoid either of these fates. We all die one day, but with cancer occuring in younger and younger people, I want to avoid this.

I spent years of my life smoking, and I’m currently obese, these things do damage, but all I can do is try to combat that damage now. For me, health is extremely important in my vegan choice, my first reason was ethics, but close behind is health, and a little further back is the environment. For me, these three things make veganism the only choice. Now I will give examples of some of the questions I hear frequently!

What do you eat if you can’t eat meat and dairy? How do you live?

Well, you can see from my instagram, I eat a lot of varied and delicious foods. In fact, since going vegan I eat an even more varied diet than I did previously. I’ve tried foods I’d never even heard of before. Really it boils down to:

  • Vegetables
  • Bread/Pasta/Rice/Cous cous/Poha
  • Fruit
  • Lentils/Beans/Peas
  • Protein Replacements (Quorn/Seitan/Tofu)
  • Seasonings/Sauces
  • Non-dairy milk/cream/yoghurt/cheese
  • Some junk (cakes/doughnuts/crisps)

That order is pretty much it, veggies first, then carbs. Fruit as a snack, I then try to add either beans/lentils/some kind of pulse/legume or protein replacement. Jazz it up with seasonings and sauces, occasional non dairy milk/yoghurt, then some junk at the end of the day sometimes. There are so many options within these groups!

How can you live without cheese?

Actually quite easily. I loved cheese before I went vegan, but after seeing the cruelty that is inflicted upon cows in the dairy industry, and after reading how casein is also considered a carcinogen, giving up cheese was incredibly easy! There are some great vegan cheeses out there, I find the solid “cheddar”style a little strong tasting, but the “cream” cheeses are delicious, no different from Philadelphia.

Do you take supplements?

Yes, I take a B12 tablet every day (that I remember!). My daughter takes a vegan multivitamin that includes B12, D, Omega 3 and other things. I feel my diet is varied enough to cover these but for her I want to be sure she is getting enough. She also uses more fortified foods than I do, rice milk, yoghurts, cereal.

What do you do when you are eating out?

The first thing I do is plan ahead. I did this in my pre-vegan days too, I always wanted an idea of what I would have. I scan the menu for vegan options, or possible things that could be vegan if mayo/cheese was left off. Then I google these options, usually someone has done the hard work of finding out already. Lastly, if necessary, I contact the place ahead of time to ask if they have something I can eat. Everywhere I have done this too has been very helpful and happy to provide something. I even went to a steakhouse in memory of a friend who had died, the soup was vegan, then pasta with vegetables and they even bought in vegan ice cream with fruit for pudding. Sorted! Regarding takeaways, I have spoken to the takeaways I go to, they check or show me the ingredient boxes so I can check what’s in the food.

Where do you get your protein from?

As mention previously, there is argument that over consumption of animal protein is a leading cancer growth factor, in fact there is argument that as a whole we are consuming way too much protein and this causes a multitude of health problems. Luckily for us vegans, most foods have protein in them, vegetables around 10%, beans and legumes much higher, and replacements such as Seitan (which is almost pure protein) and tofu are enough for an occasional bump. There is plenty of protein available for vegans, especially if you are eating the actual recommended amount, as opposed to the inflated version.

What about Iron/Calcium/Any other vitamin?

To be honest, I don’t really spend too much time thinking about any vitamin other than remembering to take my B12 supplement. I eat a pretty healthy wholefoods plant based diet, I eat leafy greens every day, I eat lots of beans, I’ve never had any deficiencies so I don’t really think about it.

Why don’t you eat honey/oysters/any other animal use?

I think the question answered itself. Different people ask about honey (my mother in law for example) but when you explain that often the queen bee has her wings removed to keep her at the hive, and that it is just another way of us forcing other sentient living beings into our use, I hope you can understand why. Being vegan is defined as

“… a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. ” (The Vegan Society)”

That goes for any animals, oysters, bees, any animal use you can think of, vegans try to avoid.

Ah ha, well, what about plants?

This question always amuses me, it’s not a serious questions, omnivores aren’t suddenly becoming plant activists. Even if they were, if they want to save more plants the best way is to eat them directly, when your food goes through other animals a lot more plants are used to feed them, sometimes for years, for them to be killed and on your plate. So if you are a plant activist, go vegan! Us humans need to eat something to live, plants directly are the most efficient. This question is not the omnivore caring for plants, it is them trying to show us that we can’t be perfect, so why bother? The same goes for the “what about all the little animals that are killed during harvest?” I actually had someone suggest to me the only way to properly care was to kill myself. That came from a friend. Ridiculous. Veganism isn’t about perfection, it is about choosing to live a more ethical life, for animals, the planet, and health.

What about if you were stuck on a desert island with a pig? Would you eat it?

Yep, I’ve had this one too. I usually reply that since there is a living pig there, I would follow it and attempt to work out what it was eating, then eat that. That is the only answer they get, it’s the same as the previous type of question. Veganism isn’t the end point, it is a process and a life choice.

Why don’t you use dairy? Animals aren’t killed for dairy.

I’ve had that one a surprising number of times. It’s completely false, they are. The male calves have no purpose except for veal. All calves are taken away from their mothers at a very young age, days old. Why? Because the farmers need the milk for us. This may sound silly, but before I went vegan I didn’t even realise that dairy cows had to be continually impregnated. I mean, it makes sense, how do humans make milk? By having a baby. Can they make it indefinitely afterwards? No, their milk supply will decrease. The cows are attached to a machine called a “rape rack”, nice name eh? Well, that’s what the industry calls it. They are artificially inseminated, become pregnant, have their calf and then it is ripped away from them. Sometimes they bellow for days, looking for their lost calf. The horror of that, it breaks my heart to think of it. As I said, if the calf is male he may never see outside light again. If female, she will be raised on formula and go on to live the same life her mother did. Continually stuck in the cycle of pregnant, grieving, pregnant, grieving. Until one day (and a lot earlier than it should be), her body will give in, she will collapse, exhausted, after a life of pain, at which point off she goes to the slaughterhouse to become dog food. Milk and dairy is almost the worst industry out there. And it’s unnecessary, people aren’t baby cows, we don’t need baby cow fluid. You would be better with some monkey milk if you really need to still drink it. No other animal species drinks milk past weaning, they don’t need it, we don’t need it. If you don’t believe me, check out this video, be warned, it has graphic content but it gets to the point.

Is being vegan expensive?

Well, it depends on what you eat. If you eat whole foods plant based, no, it’s cheaper than the standard diet, way cheaper. Beans, vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts, these things don’t cost a lot of money (maybe the nuts but I don’t eat too many of them anyway because I’m trying to lose weight), I could do my weekly shopping for myself and have 3 meals a day, 7 days a week for around £25 (probably less using things in my cupboards which last longer than a week, lentils, rice etc). If you choose to eat nothing but pre-made meat substitutes, it will be on a par with a meat diet.

What do you do for makeup/personal items?

Superdrugs own make is vegan, although I double check anything I buy. Some Barry M stuff is also vegan, there are quite a few vegan brands out there too. To be honest, while I do wear makeup, I’m not really that into it and find myself increasingly shoving on some moisturiser and a bit of mascara and lipbalm and that’s it. For deoderants, shampoos etc I either go with superdrug, the co-op or if I’m treating myself a lot of lush stuff is vegan, but check when purchasing.

What about household cleaning items?

I either go with the co-op or astonish, when I can find their stuff! Everything in their range is vegan, and they proudly state it which makes me really try to back them. I find their stuff either in pound shops (cheap as well!) or asda, and I buy up as much as I can. As a backup though, and for clothes cleaning materials I go with the co-op.

I could never be vegan, I love the taste of meat too much. 

Okay, this one isn’t really a question as opposed to a statement, but I do hear it surprisingly frequently. I will take this opportunity to point out that me going vegan had nothing to do with me suddenly not liking the taste of meat. Before I went vegan I ate a lot of meat, precisely because I liked the taste of it. And yes, when I went vegan (and for the first little while) I worried about how much I would miss the taste and texture of meat. However, I decided that my realisation about the realities of the meat/animal agriculture, my concern for my health and the planet overrode any “taste” I had for meat. Plus, I’ve made some awesome seitan which is surprisingly meaty in taste and in texture, I also made the jackfruit chicken a while back, plus some of the meat substitutes are great, so any missing I have had has been filled.

We evolved to eat meat, you are doing something unnatural.

Another statement rather than a question. Do you know that hunter gatherers mostly gathered? The effort that was put into hunting wild animals meant that it wasn’t an every day thing. Humans grew on starches and carbohydrates. We don’t have big canines and claws, we are not carnivores, and there are plenty of people who absolutely thrive on a vegan diet (myself included). I feel better physically, mentally, all ways. Meat and animal products are unnecessary in this part of the world in these modern times, we are not cave men.

Wouldn’t animals take over the world if we released them all?

Now come on! No one is suggested that the whole world is going to go vegan overnight, if only! Animal agriculture is a case of supply and demand, the more meat, dairy and eggs sold, the more animals are “created” and killed. The less that are used the less that are born. Does this mean farm animals could die out if the world went vegan? It’s unlikely, in fact it’s so hard to think of a vegan world it’s impossible to know, but them dying out completely would surely be preferable to being born into a short lifetime (sometimes of only a day for chicks) of pain and suffering, to be killed in your prime.

Is breast milk/other bodily fluids vegan?

Yep, I’ve heard this, and yes, if given willingly it is.

It’s okay as long as animals are looked after and killed gently

This one came via my daughters teacher. There is so much wrong with this statement I almost don’t know where to start. Firstly, would it be okay if I came to your house and killed your dog gently? I’m assuming no, it would not. But it’s an animal, and you looked after it! Secondly, the animals aren’t looked after, none/a minute amount even reach adulthood, never mind old age. The meat gets too tough. Thirdly, they aren’t killed gently, it’s a terrifying, loud, painful death.

I only eat organic meat/dairy/eggs

That means nothing when it comes to the slaughter, they are killed in the same slaughterhouses in the same way. All that means is the food they ate was organic. Not much use when they are all being pumped full of antibiotics.

I hope my perspective helps people understand why I am vegan, and answers some of the questions people may have. If anyone has any further questions feel free to contact me via the contact form on the site and I’d be happy to answer.