Why I went vegan

After many many lunch and dinner conversations where friends and colleagues ask why I’m vegan, I want to explain by writing a blog.

I loved the taste of BK Chicken burgers, I loved the taste of dairy milk chocolate, I loved the taste of eggs benedict.

That’s not the point.

The point is I’ve finally realised how much harm buying and consuming these products causes – to me, to sentient beings and to Earth. We even have amazing tasting substitutes for every animal based product out there.

We don’t need to live like this anymore.

Awkward dinner table conversations

I hate judging people, I hate being a “fussy” person, and I hate being smug.

Unfortunately, deciding to reduce the demand for the cruelty of animals comes at a cost. A small cost, mind you. But it does come at the expense of people thinking that I’m judging them, that I’m fussy and that I’m smug.

When I go for a meal with a group, I usually have to inevitably ask for food to be made in a customised way. E.g. pizza without cheese, or fries without aioli.

When people ask if I’m vegan and why, it’s hard for me to explain at the dinner table. It’s a social setting where you don’t REALLY want to get into ins and outs of calf killing and keeping cows constantly pregnant, and factory farming, and throwing baby male chicks into grinders, and speciesism and eating too many hormones… All while trying not to sound judgemental, or fussy, or smug.

Like most vegans and vegetarians, I grew up eating meat too. It’s in the old food pyramid, it’s considered normal.

But is it? The realities of animal torture are becoming more widely known globally, with content shared on social media and documentaries broadcast over online TV platforms. There are some horrors that I had no idea about and I’m ashamed to admit I was enjoying my ignorance to it. I just “wouldn’t think about it”.

Since learning the realities of the global situation, particularly as it currently stands in 2017, there are three main reasons that I’m vegan and won’t be going back to my old diet.

Animals | Health | Environment

I’ll cover those three areas throughout in this blog.

Growing up

I’ll start by explaining how I got here. My mum has had a big influence over my diet, not in a controlling way but simply because she cooked our meals growing up. We never ate pigs, lambs, sheep or cows at home – but we did eat chicken and fish. At a part time job when she was a teenager she worked at Watties and had to pull chickens apart. She hated it but we could still distance ourselves from that horrible thought when we ate chicken. Turning a blind eye when eating animals was a big part of growing up. I never made the connection that we have loads of sheep farms in order to kill them for sheepskin and their meat.

At my friend’s place she once offered me a mince and cheese pie. I thought, why not try it? When I ate it for the first time I thought this is soo delicious. I can just avoid thinking about where the food has come from! It’s too yum to worry about. This was the same attitude I had with sausages at sausage sizzles and BBQs. It’s like this is the “Kiwi culture” so you want to join in. They were yum too.

I never got into steak, lamb, pork or bacon. I did try pork about four years ago at a Christmas party and it tasted quite nice.

Going vegetarian

Anyway, I went travelling to the USA and UK and was still eating chicken, fish and seafood. But the taste and quality was not the same as in NZ. In fact, I had a fish burger in San Francisco that tasted of metal. I also had some fish in Copenhagen that tasted of rubbish. That was the last time I had fish.

The second to last time I had chicken was at street vendor in Camden, London when I shared some chicken nuggets. I just felt nauseous afterwards and all I could think was “what chemicals did I just ingest?”

I finally thought “right, I don’t think I want to eat animals anymore so I don’t need to turn a blind eye”. So I watched Food Inc. It became clear that the demand for cheap, processed meat had grown and grown for decades after industrialisation. And capitalism meant that manufacturers needed to find the cheapest ways to produce this food. They adopted the production line model used for making appliances, and fashion and cars. Which meant they put the animals into the production line.

They cut corners where they could too. If there was a quicker and cheaper way of getting large quantities of meat to consumers, they wanted to try it.

So they decided to inject hormones into chickens in order to get bigger breasts, in the same way that female humans would if you did that to them.

There was one scene in Food Inc where chickens couldn’t stand up on their own legs because their bodies had so many hormones injected that they could no longer hold their own weight. That image was my catalyst to go vegetarian.

Looking back I don’t know why it took me so long. As much as I wanted to think I’m a smart person who wants to know the truth behind everything, for some reason when it’s considered “the norm”, “everyone’s doing it” and “I couldn’t imagine giving up my favourite foods”, it never crossed my mind to question things.

To question everything.

Once I became vegetarian, I enjoyed eating a lot more. There wasn’t a subconscious guilt or an “ignorance is bliss” attitude that I was trying to retain. My meals tasted better and I became more creative with meal options. I also ate more veges!

IMG-4324

Going vegan

The real caveat was learning about the dairy and animal milk industry. And I realised I had still been ignorant to what I was eating. In fact, as a vegetarian, I was eating a lot more dairy than when I was an omnivore. (An Omnivore is someone who eats both plants and animals).

I was using cheese as a protein/meat substitute. Restaurants mainly offered their vegetarian meals like this. Five meat options for a main and then one vegetarian like a vege burger with cheddar, or a goats cheese stack or a halloumi salad. I also really loved paneer curries.

Anyway, mum had started reading about the dairy industry and egg industry and telling me about it. I thought it was very sad, but again I couldn’t bring myself to give up cheese or eggs on toast.

I think despite everything, humans are inherently a bit selfish and greedy – myself very much included.

One week in London after being there for two years I got very bloated and IBS for three weeks. I looked up my symptoms and realised gluten could be a culprit. My mum and brother got tested and turns out we’re all coeliac. Cutting out gluten has helped me a lot. But that’s another story!

After reading a lot about the dairy and egg industry, and after eating mum’s delicious vegan meals back home when I would visit once a year – I realised I wanted to be vegan but I didn’t know how I could while I was gluten free too! It sounded pretty hard.

But I remembered how damn healthy and energised I’d feel whenever I’d go back to NZ for a few weeks and eat mum’s vegan and gluten free meals.

I decided once I moved back to NZ I would be vegan.

The first month – May 2017

Once I arrived back in NZ, being vegan was easier than I thought, because I was living back at home. Our kitchen was stocked with almond milk, cashew cheese, coconut yoghurt, gf vegan bread – so much delicious stuff.

I was more tired than usual at first and I had some headaches. I read that this is the body detoxing from dairy, which made sense. I slept more than usual and ate healthy meals. But by the next week I had more energy than I’m used to having! I would wake up and feel awake. I felt like this after going gluten free but this just felt like even more energy.

The concept of waking up and feeling awake (as opposed to feeling like I’d been hit by a truck, which was most mornings) was very strange at first. I wondered if this was what waking up is meant to feel like!

My stomach was flat (which never happens!!) and the biggest enjoyment was that I wouldn’t feel slightly sick after eating. Even after eating a big meal! I could have a huge vegan curry and feel great. When I used to have a paneer curry I’d be like “ok food coma time!”

Health benefits

I’ve noticed other health benefits too. I went vegan in May and it’s now November, and I’ve not had any period pain whatsoever in all those six months… which is insane. I still get periods but they’re not heavy and they’re not painful. There’s no pain! And they only last six or seven days as opposed to 10 days. Is this how it’s actually meant to be for women!? I seriously wonder if the problem is that we’ve been having so many extra hormones by consuming animals who’ve been given them.

Factory farming has also meant they’ve had to give animals antibiotics so they don’t get diseases from being in dirty, cramped living conditions. So then those antibiotics are passed onto us when we eat the animals. A few studies are saying this is contributing to antibiotic resistance, which makes sense.

I’ve lost weight and maintained it without really having to try which is nice. I probably sound very bloody smug here! Sorry! The point is that all that extra cheese I ate being vegetarian helped me put on some kilos. And things like party snacks and office pizza can’t be eaten so I don’t get tempted!

No more cravings

The biggest surprise is that I don’t miss camembert, chicken kebabs, halloumi, fish and chips etc like I thought I would. I know I’d feel sick if I ate them now.

I confess I did have chicken once six months after I went vegetarian, back in 2015,  because I was at a golf event and I hadn’t eaten all day. They finally brought food out for us which was roast chicken. But after I ate some I felt so ill and all I could think was that a bird was in my stomach… argh.

Also, cheese is actually an addiction! It was hard to give up at first, I’d crave it before bed. But now I’m not tempted at all.

Cognitive dissonance

So cut back to present day and I’m having a great time being vegan. I’m actually amazed at the health benefits. And what has struck me is how hesitant I was to do it in the first place. I went out with a vegan guy about five years ago and I was frustrated that he couldn’t eat certain things I’d make. I thought he was being contrary for the sake of it.

But my lifestyle just honestly feels like a no brainer now. It’s absolutely win-win-win. For me, for the animals and for the future of Earth.

Speciesism

Something that is fascinating to ponder is “speciesism”. Most humans in the western world don’t eat dogs and cats. Some eat rabbits. But there are these rules around which animals you can eat. Sheep, cows and pigs are fair game. Dogs and cats are not. In terms of birds – Tuis and sparrows are not, ducks are.

It’s the world we’re born into and we don’t question it. But a huge question for me now is:

How can we expect the human race to travel to other parts of the universe and meet other life forms, if we’re killing all the life forms on our own planet?

We could be attempting to communicate with these other species more and understand them more. But instead we’d rather kill and consume them. We see them as a commodity.

If an intelligent species came to Earth to meet us, we’d hope they tried to communicate with us, right? Well if we’re going to be treated the way we treat “less intelligent” life forms then we’ll probably be put into a factory production line and killed. It could become a new normal. We’ve already consented to treating other species this way.

The phrase “cognitive dissonance” is important because most humans have empathy and understand what I’ve just mentioned. It’s just that we don’t want to think about it when we’re at a fancy restaurant, or sharing a pizza in the office. It’s not a nice, light-hearted concept, so we’d rather forget about it and enjoy tasty food. I know I used to.

Social pressures

In 2017 it’s easier being vegan than it was 10 years ago but it’s still a bit looked down on. I have a few friends who want to be vegan. They’ve read up on the treatment of animals, the benefits for the environment and have made the connection – but at parties with pizza, or at pubs with only a few options on the menu – they give in. One of them is vegan at home but not when out with friends.

I applaud them for considering it and for trying vegan meals. It really isn’t easy to change your diet overnight. What interests me is that they are no longer vegan when friends are around. And after explaining myself at every meal, every day for the last six months – I can see why.

People are curious when they ask me. And I like that people are thinking about it and wondering what I eat, but there is a quiet judgement going on. And I’ll often get the comment “I could never give up bacon!”

I went to a recruiter when I moved back to NZ and they put me up for a job at Fonterra. I had to decline, of course, explaining that I was vegan. And the recruiter said her whole office was laughing and it might be tricky for me to find something when I had “limited criteria”. Hmm…

I’m actually enjoying going against the norm because I feel like I’ve had a light bulb turn on in my head. You can eat a plant based diet and be healthier than you’ve ever been before AND help save animals AND help the environment!

I’m fine with being the “difficult one” in group dinners. I’m used to it now. But us humans don’t have to go along with the norm if we don’t agree with it.

Reducing demand for the cruelty of animals

The future of veganism and plant-based diets is what this is all about. We want to reduce the demand for the cruelty of animals. That’s it. That’s literally all we want to do.

We don’t need to keep sentient beings in factories. We don’t need to eat them. We don’t need to use them as commodities. We don’t need to test products on them. We don’t need to say we don’t test on them yet still let a third-party do it so we can sell to China. We don’t need to eat horses’ hooves in lollies when we can use agar agar. We don’t need to deprive calves of their mother’s milk when we have delicious rice milk. We don’t need to eat BK Chicken burgers when we can rock up to Lord of the Fries instead. We don’t need to rear and kill sheep for mince when you can get mince that looks and tastes the same made from seeds, rice, tofu and nuts!

By being vegan we are contributing to the demand for plant based products, thus increasing the supply. And bringing the cost down. Pak n Save just had a big vegan sale because they saw the demand for this type of food.

You don’t even have to be an animal lover. Just hear out James Aspey who is giving some great speeches about the benefits of veganism. He wasn’t an animal lover either. It’s just about realising that we need to treat others as we would want to be treated, and that includes all sentient beings.

I’m not a big “animal person”. I never had posters of tigers on my walls, or wanted to ride horses. I’m not even obsessed with dogs or cats. (Apart from our miniature schnauzer Bonnie cos she’s the best thing ever.) It’s just that I want to respect them. And not needlessly commercialise them.

Finding like-minded people

We’re social beings and most of us don’t actually want to be outsiders. There are some vegan Facebook groups I belong to and they’re super supportive to everyone. There’s meal ideas, ethical discussions, news stories, and new people being welcomed every week. It’s really nice. I feel really good about the future of the movement.

Group-think is also a huge part of why we all eat the way we do. It’s proven in many psychological studies that people don’t want to go against the norm. Meat and three veg was the staple of the Kiwi diet in the 70s and 80s. We’ve got a lot more international cuisines here now, which is brilliant. Some of the vegan group think definitely helps me keep at it, because I’m not an outsider amongst them.

The future

Alternatives to meat are becoming a big industry. We’ve got soy meat in many Asian supermarkets and restaurants. Frys, Quorn, Sunfed and many other brands offer soy, tofu, tempeh and other meat alternatives.

There are also companies looking into lab grown meat. I think most vegans still wouldn’t be into that but it’s good that options are being investigated. And it could help get some omnivores thinking about other food options.

So what am I trying to say?

In summary, you can keep asking me why I’m a vegan and what I eat! It’s good to discuss these things. I don’t mind what you eat. I ate meat for years. We don’t need to judge each other.

But we are all sentient beings at the end of the day.

If you want to treat animals well, don’t treat them as a commodity.

Cognitive dissonance and speciesism are worth understanding.

I’m far from perfect, but I do finally feel bloody good.

Resources

If you want to find out why more and more people are going vegan, I recommend these resources:

My new favourite foods

  • Coconut yoghurt
  • Cashew chipotle cheese
  • Aloo Gobi curry
  • Tofu satay burgers
  • Rice milk
  • Vegan Tim-Tam style bikkies
  • Moo free coconut milk chocolate
  • Whittakers Doris plum and almond chocolate
  • Whittakers rum and raisin
  • Frooze balls
  • Smoked ‘salmon’ (made from carrots)
  • Little Island raspberry, coconut and chocolate ice cream
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