Content: This post deals with food and nutrition. Also, it’s written from the perspective of an able-bodied, adult woman in Stockholm. It’s one person’s views and opinions. I do know that I have a lot of privilege, and experiences that aren’t necessarily typical. Either way, I want to share my view on a life without eating animals. Note that there are links here and there in the text, for further reading.
On Ditching Meat
In the fall of 2009, I had just started studying at the university. One of the first classmates I started spending time with was a vegetarian, and I had already considered taking the same step but felt like I didn’t have the knowledge or support to do so. Then, after a LAN party hosted by the student union, I felt so bad physically that I decided that I had to change my lifestyle drastically in one way or another. After much consideration, I came to a decision. I was to become a vegetarian.
I’ve haven’t regretted my decision for a minute.
On Ditching Dairy & Eggs
Six years after I kicked meat, me and my partner had seen too many documentaries about the meat industry and its effects to be able to continue ignoring one glaring fact: The meat and the dairy industries are one and the same. You can’t support one without indirectly supporting the other. What happens to the bull calves the milk cows give birth to? What happens to the male chicken, who can’t lay eggs?
So that’s when we, together, decided to go vegan. Not cold turkey (nor soy-based turkey substitute), but at least at home. I do “cheat” less and less, however, and today I’d say I eat 95-99% plant-based. Fun fact: This is not at all as hard as I had anticipated. I dreaded the thought of a life without cheese, and didn’t know if we would be able to cook interesting meals without cream and eggs. There are however plenty of vegan alternatives in stores as well as restaurants in Stockholm today, and it’s been increasing drastically over these past few years. With candy and ice-cream companies catching up, it’s not even necessary a healthy lifestyle anymore.
There are many reasons to not eat meat, such as protecting the environment (a plant-based diet affects the climate far less than a meat-based one), animal welfare (’nuff said), and health reasons (meat increases the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, etc). Personally, I’m not vegan because I love animals – I’m vegan because I hate plants. Jokes aside, there are plenty of good reasons not to eat meat, and none of them is better than another.
There are those who are quick to point out that saving the world from climate change etc is and should not be about individual choice, but about large-scale, national or even international policies. And I partly agree. We can’t consume ourselves out of a climate crisis. These measures are however not mutually exclusive. In a country where the government sees no consumer awareness and no green movement, politicians will have no reason and no incentive to enforce pro-environment laws. Plant-based food is not the solution, but it’s one of the many pieces of the puzzle – and one of few we as individuals can actually affect. Also in specific cases, such as the fires in the Amazon rainforest, there is a direct link between meat consumption and the environmental issue.
One thing I’ve noticed over the ten years I’ve been vegetarian/vegan, is that people’s attitudes have changed a lot. In the beginning, people made completely hilarious jokes such as “then I’ll eat twice as much meat!” all the time. It’s now been years since I heard anything like it. People never even ask why I don’t eat meat anymore, and several events I’ve been to lately served only vegan food. Eating meat is starting to get seen as one choice among many, rather than the default setting.
On “I’m vegan”
People who have chosen a plant-based diet might mention it quite often, which may sound silly and self-centered. It’s okay to make fun of it. Sometimes. It will make you appear just as obnoxious as you seem to think vegans are, though. The reason why some of us say it so often is because it affects every single choice concerning food and other consumer products we make – all day, every day. Whenever we suspect that someone might offer us food that contains meat, dairy or eggs, we want to make sure we don’t accidentally eat something we don’t want. If you have never made a decision that affects your way of life to that extent, please just accept that we think about it a lot.
Sometimes, people say things like “you can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet” and “but how do you get the nutrients you need?!” Let’s address one thing at a time.
We don’t really need as much protein as the vendors of gym supplies want us to believe – especially if we’re not actively building muscle. If you have a basic understanding of nutrition and food content, you can easily get all the protein you need on a simple, healthy plant-based diet. In our household, we also add some vegan BCAA and protein shakes, to boost our gym results. You know, just like many meat-eating gym rats do. There are plenty of athletes and even bodybuilders who eat plant-based. As long as you’re smart about it (removing the meatballs and living on only pasta with ketchup is not a healthy diet), you’ll probably be fine. I do however know that some diseases and similar make a plant-based diet unattainable or even dangerous. As with all things – not everything is for everyone.
As for nutrition in general, well… How does the average meat-eater know where they get their nutrients from? I’m fairly certain a lot of people don’t even look at the content of the food they are buying. I sure didn’t while I ate meat. Today, I can quite easily tailor my meals to fit my needs. As for supplements, we just take a standard over-the-counter vitamin pill from Apoteket – mostly for Vitamin D (good during dark Swedish winters), Vitamin B12 (otherwise only found naturally in animal products) and Iron.
I do have fairly low levels of iron in my blood – but it was actually worse before I became vegetarian. Now I know more about how the body works, which makes me much more in charge of my health. It’s not even a conscious choice. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything when changing my diet, and it’s become an interest I probably never would have had if I had still eaten meat.
This is absolutely anecdotal evidence, but I haven’t really been sick since I stopped eating meat. Sure, I’ve had bad days and a number of colds – and I’ve been food poisoned three times. However, as an example – my tonsillitis, which I’ve had something like 10 times, hasn’t returned in the past ten years. It might have been my fragile throat growing stronger with age, but it could also be a tougher immune system. Sometimes I feel something going on – tired, swollen lymph glands, etc – but it rarely takes over. This is probably partly genetic, but I have a feeling my lifestyle has a lot to do with it as well.
In addition to this – last year, I spontaneously bought a Fitbit. Among other things, it measures your heart rate. Turns out, I have a nice and low one. So low, in fact, that it’s on the level of an athlete. Trust me, I don’t work out that much. Though I haven’t been able to find research conclusively linking a plant based diet with good cardiac health, the opposite has definitely been proven. I like to think of the old saying that food is medicine, and how much truth that holds.
(Note: My Fitbit has reduced my Cardio Fitness value since the screenshot was taken, so it might have been an overestimation.)
On Building Character
There are definitely foods I love that I don’t eat anymore. But you know what? Not always giving yourself what you want builds character. Studies have shown that children who are good at waiting for a reward rather than seeking instant gratification do much better in life. Also, a person’s taste can really change. We’re basically just a bag of bacteria who crave different things, and we can reprogram them. Perhaps reluctantly at first, but after a few years you might suddenly find yourself munching down cauliflower by the handful. I liked meat when I said farewell to it, but today I actually find it repulsive. Slabs of animal meat are now about as attractive to me as human flesh.
This essay probably makes me sound like I’m on a very high, free-range horse.
It’s certainly up to everyone to understand what they can and decide what they want to do with their own bodies. It’s not my place to force anyone to do anything. You don’t even have to apologize to me if you eat meat, or tell me how often you choose the vegetarian option (which happens more often than you’d think). I do however encourage to always be vigilant about what you’re consuming, and always be willing to reevaluate what you can and want to do. If you do choose a plant-based diet, there is so much amazing food the be explored – and you’ll be in good company. We’ve come far from the days when vegans were all hippies and weirdos.
Here’s a little photo gallery to get you started.
Thank you for reading!