On August 4, 2020, I will surpass four years of being vegan. I had been thinking about it for probably two years or more before I actually did it. I wasn’t vegetarian first, however, prior to taking the plunge in 2016, I had only been eating meat maybe once or twice a week at most. I didn’t really like cheese so that wasn’t a problem, and eggs weren’t a big concern either. I did, however, at the start, really miss yoghurt. Vegan chocolate was relatively easy to find as I was already a dark chocolate fiend.
I originally went vegan due to accidentally seeing a really distressing video where bogans throw food into a swamp – so a pig goes into the water and a crocodile gets it, attacking and eating it alive. Its screams radiated deep into my soul (people were laughing in the video! I was amazed no one was crying or sad?) and it made me question myself – how am I any different to those people when I am paying for someone else to kill animals for me? It brought all my prior thoughts and desires to the surface, and I made the decision right then and there to go vegan.
I did, however, eat meat for a few days afterwards to finish it off in the house, and then I still did use whey-based protein powder for a few months afterwards – as I had a lot of it left. It’s really, really important when you first make this lifestyle change to finish what you have, otherwise animals have died for wastage, and there’s far too much wasted food in this country anyway. I did not want to contribute to this. If you can’t bring yourself to, give it to a family member or friend that will use it up.
It was relatively easy to go vegan in my family as my dad is predominantly vegetarian and my sister was already vegan. My sister has had a huge influence on the way I eat and is an incredibly educated, kind and compassionate person, so really, I have her to thank for all the benefits I get now from eating this way. I had been observing her healthy habits for a while beforehand, and started off copying her before I branched out into different recipes and foods.
Already following really vegan-positive blogs for years beforehand (like the wonderful Chocolate Covered Katie) also had really normalised my position for veganism. I never had a negative view of it and used to really admire people for having such strong convictions. This definitely helped me in my transition. There was never a negative image of it perpetuated by family or friends, and everyone was really accepting when I did it too.
My first vegan shopping basket in September 2016 – vegan cheese, choccy and ice cream haha! How good’s the choccy and coffee soy milkys though?!!
A few years earlier I had challenged myself to a ‘vegan week’ and had enjoyed it. I had also made the switch to soy in my coffee, so that was a super easy fix. I used to bloat every single night when I went to bed and this was completely eliminated. I am certain that this was the dairy rather than the meat.
I also found the routine-based way of eating really fun. I loved having smoothies for brekky, salads for lunch and potatoes or pasta for dinner. I still do. I love how meal prepping is so easy, and the macro breakdown is even easier (carbs, fats, veges, legumes, proteins? rice, avocado, spinach, lentils, tofu, done!). Fruits, vegetables and tofu, veggie patties or meat-replacements are some of the easiest stuff to eat. As a relatively non-fussy eater who had already been eating veggie patties for a long-time (NotBurger anyone?), I found the cooking and eating component really simple to adapt to.
I saw my relationship with food improve, my compassion for animals and humans in the destructive Westernised food chain increase, and my thirst for education increase too. And, it’s fun! It’s so enjoyable educating yourself and understanding more and more about how we got to this point and how we are going to get ourselves out. An open mind is essential, and let yourself be taught by the old-school cool of the vegan movement (e.g. Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Dr Michael Greger, Dr Dean Ornish, plus loads more). They know the score from decades of research!
You are going to make mistakes in this lifestyle, as milk powder is in everything and sometimes restaurants do not listen. I have ordered the vegan version of burgers and tacos and received the meat versions, I have eaten crisps with milk powder, I have had burgers with real cheese (yuck) instead of vegan cheese, it happens. There’s no point beating yourself up, you likely will only feel ‘sick’ because you’re thinking about what you consume, rather than what you’ve actually consumed.
I also advocate for a somewhat Freegan approach to this lifestyle. Living low waste and only buying what you can consume, repurposing others items, and encouraging others to do the same, meal-prepping, utilising the freezer, turning old veggies into soups or stews and the like is really important to stop you from throwing out perfectly good food.
How veganism has changed in four years
In such a short amount of time, I have seen first-hand the following changes, however, I am sure there are many more:
- Sharp increase in vegan junk food – I’m not sure if this is necessarily a good thing, as I originally went vegan for the animals, but stayed vegan due to the incredible health benefits. I feel like perhaps we will see an ‘economies of scale’ reduction of benefits in a few years as the amount of junk food vegans increase. Whole food plant based no oil (WFPBNO) veganism is so incredible for health, but if people think they can get away with eating vegan junk food and still see health benefits, the research will almost certainly show otherwise. However, let’s be real, how good is a vegan Magnum? As long as we treat vegan junk food as normal junk food and not as a health food, it’s at least great for the animals.
- Huge menu changes – when I first went vegan it was, grab a plant based burger and get rid of the cheese – the bun probably still had milk in it. Or at exceptionally meaty places I’d get chips or even just a bowl of potatoes (apart from being vegan I’m really not too fussy and a well cooked potato can still be perfect). Now, most if not all places have really good vegan choices, and often more than one, which is awesome.
- More and more media is being dedicated to veganism – podcasts (I really like Rip Esselstyns Plantstrong, The Rich Roll Podcast, and Simon Hill’s Plant Proof), YouTube channels (I like LOADS but Tess Begg, Amanda Ducks and HealthyCrazyCool are favourites), TV shows, movies and documentaries (e.g. Forks Over Knives, Game Changers, Food Inc., plus heaps more – check out Netflix and YouTube for a huge variety).
- Government health guidelines changing – the Canadian health guide dropped dairyand included vegan protein sources on their nutrition – this is inredible news and will likely influence other nations to drop unnecessary toxins and move away from lobby-based recommendations.
- Less overall stigma – the vegan and vegetarian image has changed massively, especially in the past decade, it’s no longer a ‘long haired hippy’ (as Jon Stewart – whose also vegan – says ‘although there’s nothing wrong with that’) image, it’s people from all walks of life wanting to change their health, be more compassionate or feel better.
- Vegan yoghurt and cheese completely transformed – the improvement of the vegan dairy replacement products in the past 4 years has been insane. The choices now are wide. Coconut, cashew, almond yoghurts, cheeses made from nuts, coconut oil, soy, etc. There’s different flavours and textures, there’s really something for everyone. This also makes it a lot simpler for people with food allergies or aversions to go vegan too.
How I’ve changed
When I first started – I really was in the mindset of – ‘ooh now I’m vegan I can eat HUGE QUANTITIES and it won’t matter!’ yes it does. Unfortunately, problematic vegans have infiltrated the space (cough fr**l**) and have tried to brainwash people into thinking they need to eat 20 bananas or 10 dates a day to be healthy. Expand your outlook – some of each influencers teachings may work for you, some may not, it’s not a cut and dry situation and it’s different for everyone.
If you’re looking to lose weight or tone up, 6 bananas in a smoothie or a salad as big as a mixing bowl is really not necessary (unless that is working for you or you’re really hungry!!). Exploring what works and what doesn’t is actually a really fun part of beginning this life, you’ll figure it out as you go along. Don’t be scared of trying a different way of doing things – you may just find something that works.
However, I firmly, firmly believe that the main part of this lifestyle needs to be compassion. My purpose of not wanting to hurt or harm animals is the driver that keeps me vegan. You don’t have to love or even like animals to not want to harm them. Just respect – do species different from you deserve active harm? No, of course not. I feel like many ex-vegan influencers did not connect with the animals and did it for views or to build a niche audience.
What still needs to change?
We are seeing so much support for climate change policy (now if only people would vote for it…) and we are still very, very slow to mention animal agriculture as one of the main causes. The veganism perfection ideal also must stop for newbies. We are pushing people away by making it so aggressive and exclusionary and honestly, if someone is looking to even simply reduce their intake (e.g. meat free Mondays) – we should be congratulating them and welcoming them in.
Leave militant veganism and intense vegan theory for the seasoned vegans (e.g. honey and backyard eggs are common questions), it’s not for new starters. It does, however, have its rightful place in the movement and we should continue discussing a lot of different topics within veganism.
Laws surrounding animal agriculture and exposing cruel farming practices also need a fix that encourages conversation. This needs to go higher up, with economists and dieticians predicting food trends and programs assisting meat or dairy farmers to transition to popular plant-based protein, that will definitely increase exponentially as people keep moving towards being vegan.
What’s next for veganism?
We predict that the movement will continue to rise after Covid and we will likely see a lot more vegan and vegetarian options, which is awesome. However, I fear for the future when veganism is no longer a ‘healthy’ change and is just a step sideways. Yes, you’re no longer killing animals, which is the goal. However, it will only be a matter of time before the curve is flattened for health benefits as vegan junk food keeps becoming more available.
Veganism has changed massively over the past few years, and it’s interesting to see how it keeps becoming more and more mainstream. However, people in regional and farming areas are very slow to catch up. Ignoring the evidence and trying to drive a wedge between themselves and city dwellers is not doing their regions any favours. Constant agricultural subsidies only delay the inevitable end of factory farming, government money which could be used towards education or helping farmers get out of the meat industry and into growth areas such as soy or legumes.
We also really need to start seeing veganism as just the norm. This is a long-term lifestyle change. We don’t eat animal products, we don’t buy cosmetics or household products that test on animals or contain animal products or by-products, we don’t use animals as if they are ours to use. We let animals be, and try to advocate to prevent harm, as much as we possibly can.
My own short-term goals are to really concentrate on buying local, for example local vegan chocolate, locally-made and produced nut butters and the like. Making sure the vegan products you’re buying are Australian is integral to our overall recovery from the covid crisis.