There’s a joke I hear a lot “How do you know if someone is vegan? They’ll tell you as soon as you meet them!” I guess that’s true for some (I do know a few people like that!) but they’re definitely a minority. There are many more who just get on with it quietly in their own way.
For many years I resisted describing myself as vegan. Partly, because I don’t like labels (why do we have to label everything?) but mainly because I wasn’t ready to define myself as one. Yes, I eat a vegan diet, but don’t describe it as that, preferring to go for whole-food plant-based. Which is a bit of a mouthful. Healthy vegan might be more accurate, but then that sounds like I’m judging the way others eat….which I don’t want to do and is one of the reasons I like using labels!
Look on The Sensitive Foodie website and it’s full of easy, tasty recipes that are whole food and plant-based, and therefore vegan. Some of the recipes even have vegan in the title! So, what’s been my issue about using the V word? And how have I come to be comfortable with using the term for myself?
The way I see it is veganism is a movement. It covers more than just dietary choices, although food is a big part of everyday life so it’s a super important element. My journey to eating a whole-food plant-based diet started with my personal health challenges. My issue was – did that make me a vegan? What about all the other elements of my life? The personal care products I bought, the clothes I wear, the understanding of my impact on others and the world around me? It went further than that though. How much did I really know and care about the environment, about animal welfare? Growing up in a completely non-vegan world, there was a lot to explore and deep soul searching to do.
What has been interesting is the more I explored, the more I realised how the principles of veganism – a kinder, more ethical world for everyone and everything – correlated with my philosophical beliefs. Being a Buddhist (another label!), I recognise the inter-relatedness of everything. Harming another being (human or animal) is the same as harming oneself. Which reflects my food philosophy that everything we eat either heals or harms – and how that’s a choice.
And that’s the key to all of this – or all of my ramblings here anyway! Everything we do is a choice, even if we don’t realise it or don’t like it. The Buddhist principle of ‘three thousand realms in a single moment of life’ means there are multiple possibilities at every moment. Admittedly, if we thought about all those possibilities all of the time it would be so overwhelming nothing would ever get done. It is all rather mind-blowing stuff! However, the principle of ‘being kind’ of being kind to oneself and others covers much of this.
So why is there so much dislike towards vegans if they’re being kind and ethical? I guess there are some that come across as neither! But I think the bigger reason is that as humans we don’t like feeling challenged, and the principles of veganism can really challenge moral codes, especially if you see every action as a choice! As humans we also don’t like being judged or told we’re wrong.
The climate crisis is a good example of this. The evidence about how our earth is being severely challenged and damaged is clear to see, yet so many dispute its validity and even refuse to make changes that can make a difference. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to food choices and promoting plant-based options.
As COP26 starts in Edinburgh, the vegan movement is pushing for big changes, particularly with regards to the environmental cost of animal-based farming. There is plenty of evidence about the amount of greenhouse gases produced by meat production, and yet the demand for meat around the world continues to rise, and governments continue to subsidise these industries. And this isn’t just environmental organisations; the UN itself has produced a report showing 14.5% of global carbon emissions comes from livestock farming.
This diagram shows the amount of greenhouse gases produced by food source. The highest levels come from cattle raised for meat, sheep, cattle farmed for dairy and (rather surprisingly) farmed prawns. The largest plant greenhouse gas producer is rice, 21 times lower than cattle.
It’s facts like this that have confirmed that even if I didn’t have to eat whole plant foods to manage my health challenges, I would still choose to be vegan. Because the human race can’t afford not to!
So, on World Vegan Day, I’m using the V word – I am vegan in all ways now and comfortable with my label. To be honest, most people know that any way! That is my choice, to do my best for a kinder world.
And I know many are on a similar journey, whether they’ve started plant-based eating due to health, have seen one of the many excellent documentaries about the food industry or just trying to reduce their impact on the world around them. Which is great, because if we all make some change, the effect can be huge.
My online course Eat Well Live Well covers all sorts of information about whole-food plant-based eating for health but also covers the wider issues such as the environment and ethics. To celebrate World Vegan Day – and indeed World Vegan Month! – you can access this course as well as my short introductory course Eating Whole Plant Foods for Health for half the normal price. Go to my courses site here and use code VEG50. But only until the end of November 2021 so don’t put it off.