An Intro: Some thoughts, some facts and my own experience with Veganism
Okay, we all knew that on a blog about environmentalism and sustainability; Veganism was going to be something that was discussed. So let me first begin by saying that veganism is not at all perfect but, as I have experienced, it is ‘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, 2020). Before I delve any further, I would like to also note that the true movement of veganism expands far beyond just animal rights. The lifestyle is built upon consistent anti-oppression beliefs with our justification for animal rights being anti-speciesism. Speciesism is the assumption of human superiority leading to the exploitation of animals. To say vegans are against this kind of oppression means that we should also stand against other forms of oppression such as racism, sexisms, classisms etc. Because ultimately, they are all intrinsically linked and the only way we are going to get out of this mess alive, is true equality and respect for ALL, human or not.
As stated above, veganism is a lifestyle that attempts to live without exploiting or harming others (no matter the species) within practical means, and it was veganism that worked as the catalyst leading to my realisation of how extremely serious the climate crisis is, the corruption of the system we live in and how millions of people are already being devastatingly affected by both of these aforementioned issues. Writing about this topic was actually a lot harder than I first anticipated. It encompasses so many other issues. I could so easily just list off the facts highlighting how destructive the animal agriculture industry is (which you can see on my Instagram - @vit.a.min_g); but the system we live under is so complex, I wanted to make sure I helped my readers to grasp, even slightly, the importance of dismantling these various destructive and oppressive branches within the society.
I understand that I was more easily able to adopt this lifestyle due to my own personal privileges in regards to time and accessibility when it comes to researching what I need for a healthy plant-based diet and to access some vegan alternatives. But I do want to emphasise how easy and cheap following a plant based vegan diet can be and also how withheld important information is from the general public in order to keep the animal agriculture industry surviving. Additionally, I do understand that there are those out there with issues such as allergies to foods like nuts, seeds, soya and wheat which make following a strict vegan diet more difficult. There are also those who are in no financial position to even go on their own food shop and are thus relying on food banks, so do not have the opportunity to be 'picky' when it comes to what ends up in their fridge. In saying this, there are many people in the same position as myself, or even living with other privileges, who are just misinformed or ignorant, as a result of societal conditioning, to the effects that consuming animal products has on our health, animal welfare, the planet and the people, so I am trying to strike a balance between the two by giving you some facts and personal experiences and letting you do with them what you will. This will most likely be the first of a few posts regarding veganism. There's a lot to say about the topic as the animal agriculture and food industry encompasses, exploits and affects ultimately every single human being as well as the obvious millions of animals. There are also numerous common myths that need to be debunked *eye roll*.
All I urge you to do is read, absorb as much as you can (it can be pretty overwhelming, I know) and do the best that you honestly can. If that means eating majority plant based with occasional meat / animal by-product intake, then great, you are still making a difference! Or maybe it's a case of swapping 2 or 3 out of 7 days to completely animal free while you get to grips with making sure you get all your nutrients, then fab! Again, you will be doing more than you know. But to those of you who are almost there with veganism (or perhaps not), I hope that these posts will help you to see why an individual such as yourself, switching to a vegan diet, can help save the world.
To many people, veganism seems extreme. This is a result of society’s conditioning and constantly being fed misconceptions and propaganda in order for industries to make money. For example, the ludicrous idea that eating meat makes you manly and that milk, especially designed for a baby cow or goat, is also somehow meant for human consumption too? I see such statements now and I am completely bewildered at how I could have believed such falsities. But I did. Just like every other person I know, because the animal agriculture industry has that much capital, and so power, it has paid it's way into 'healthy eating' and 'balanced diet' guidelines. Just one example includes being made to ignore the fact that the majority of the human race is lactose intolerant, and continue to drink milk meant for fast growing calves, because we need the calcium. This blindness didn't just stop with my consumption of animal products. I also grew up ignorant to the ingredients in my make up, laundry detergent, shampoo and skincare, just to list a few examples and I would take trips to visit the zoo, because I ‘loved animals.’ I have spent more than half of my life consuming animal products all the while declaring myself an ‘animal lover.’
It wasn't until the foot and mouth disease outbreak that I started to make the connection between the lives of these animals and what was on my plate. I vividly remember seeing the piles of dead bodies outside the farm buildings on the news. From that moment, I became someone who ‘only ate white meat and fish' somehow thinking I was doing enough. I then arrived at vegetarianism and shortly after watching ‘What the Health’ on Netflix, the blindfold was completely lifted from my eyes, I began to see the world and the systems we live under for what they truly are; became vegan, and haven’t looked back since. I have now been vegan for around 4 years and I can wholeheartedly say, it is the. Best. Thing. I. Ever. Did.
My own experience with first going vegan, and from what I have been told from a few friends and my fiancé is; you tend to go to the toilet 💩 more regularly. A likely result of eating such high fibre foods throughout the day… all those fruits and veg! You may also be a bit gassy to start with - there’s a reason the song ‘beans, beans, good for your heart’ exists. I did find that the gas issue died down after a couple of weeks, once my body adjusted. I don't think the same can be said for my fiancé, but he just uses the lifestyles switch as an excuse for a lifelong flatulence habit. Both myself and others I have conversed with found our portion sizes doubled, if not tripled. Again, a likely result of the high fibre intake; but the great thing is, as long as you are eating mostly nutritious foods and moderating the other stuff, you can absolutely (and kind of have to) eat all this extra food! A noticeable difference I experienced almost immediately, was how much energy I had, which was amazing as someone whose lifestyle requires regular early mornings and then training in dance classes quite late into the night. I have also been involved in shoots which have lasted nearly 24 hours and I can honestly say that fuelling my body with good plant energy kept me from getting burnt out. I stopped having that heavy / groggy feeling you can get after a meal and my skin, which I can still have issues with (usually after a high intake of sugar) got significantly better. Plus, as someone who wants to do my individual bit for the planet, switching to veganism did my mental health a world of good knowing I am making such a difference just from what I am choosing to spend my money on to consume, use in my house, wear and put on my skin.
After first switching to a vegan diet, there were times when I felt like my diet made my company difficult e.g. going to a friend’s or family members house for dinner or choosing a restaurant to go to. The boom of veganism we see today had not quite exploded back then when I initially changed my consuming habits. However, I quickly realised that it was society's conditioning and the animal agriculture industry, which misleads so many, that made this difficult; not myself as an individual. These moments, however, just opened up more opportunity to openly speak about what I knew and in turn many of my closest friends and family members now choose a plant based lifestyle too.
Vegans often get a bad name for being pushy and shoving ideals ‘down people’s throat’. At first I did not wish to be tied with the same brush or labelled that way. However, once I learnt what an impact me consuming animal products had on the very future of the planet and every single one of it’s inhabitants (including you, dear reader), I felt a duty to speak openly about veganism should the topic arise. Unfortunately, upon realising the truth regarding the animal agriculture industry, people must face up to their own accountability and hypocrisies (something which I have had to do myself) and as humans, our natural instinct is to push back against this – it is a difficult process and a result of the Ego; we have to go against information that has been ingrained into us from birth. Once we learn that the consumption of animal products is unnecessary (even sometimes before this realisation), guilt is generally the reigning emotion that fills us when the links are made between the plastic wrapped leg in our fridge, the suffering and death in the slaughterhouse, the exploitation of thousands of people and the climate breakdown. Once I made the switch to a vegan lifestyle however, I was filled with an enormous sense of peace knowing that I am fuelling my body with plant goodness, that each and every single creature on this planet has my respect which is reflected in my lifestyle choices and I am positively contributing to keeping this world full of a variety of life, not to mention hugely reducing my greenhouse gas emissions and thus helping to save our home for future generations, every single day I am following this plant based, vegan lifestyle.
I also realised that vegans are extremely passionate yet compassionate people. To put the health and future of other humans and other species, many of whom we will never meet, over the taste of flesh is our mouths is kind of a hugely selfless act, but also kind of not. To some, it may seem like a sacrifice, but once you try it and see how easy, cheap and tasty living vegan is, you quickly realise it's really no sacrifice at all! Vegans speak of the horrors and extremes of the events that occur on a daily basis in the animal agriculture industry because the animals being murdered have no voice. Additionally, the communities living next to the farms, are not being heard. These people are exposed to contamination of animal by-products and as a result are at a higher risk of death and disease (these run offs also get into our oceans and resultantly contaminate the fish too - which end up coming back to humans through our consumption of said fish. Just one example of a dangerous cyclical trend we have occurring here).
'There is a disproportionate number of hog facilities located near communities of colour and low income communities'
The above face is a clear example of why we must push for system change and the equality of all. The slaughterhouse is also a hugely horrifying place to work for humans in regards to mental health. For example, here in Britain, despite many Britons' and the Government's disheartening attitude towards immigrants and those seeking refuge here in the UK, we quite happily allow the immigrants to work in the slaughter houses, a job that British people do not wish to engage in, despite the demand for meat here in Britain. According to an article on britishmeatindustry.org, British people would rather take up a job in places such as an Amazon warehouse, where employees are at risk of being fired for taking a toilet break.
We must amplify those voices and make sure the consumers of animal products understand the truth about every stage of production and from there, make informed decisions regarding what we are consuming.
Meat processing in the UK employs around 97,000 people of which approximately 62% are EU nationals.
So as you can see, a fair bit to think about. What you choose to put on your plate directly affects the planet on a global scale: the animals, the plants and so, the people.
Animal agriculture negatively affects our lands, our oceans, the biodiversity of the planet, our own health as humans, both physiological (through consumption, exposure to farming, antibiotic resistance and zoonotic diseases) and mental (working in places such as the slaughter houses and losing our connection with nature). Switching to a plant based diet is the single biggest change you can make, right this very moment, which will have profound positive effects regarding the fight against not only climate change, but system change.
If you have made it this far, thank you and I hope you gained something from this post. As stated at the beginning, this is the first of what I imagine will be a series of posts about veganism.
If you are at the beginning of your plant based journey and need any advice, please feel free to throw me a message! Go gradual and remember, we need not one person doing this perfectly, but millions doing it imperfectly.