Becoming Vegan

I spent most of my toddler years living in a tent in a rainforest in Tasmania and was raised as a vegetarian until the age of four. My childhood was filled with David Attenborough, National Geographic, nature photography, animals and camping trips. As an adult, I often went through vegetarian phases that lasted a few years at a time because I didn’t like the idea of animals being born into captivity, but I kept eating fish. My most recent ‘vegetarian’ episode was inspired by my teenage daughter’s decision to go vegetarian in her mid teens, and my desire to support her. My daughter cut out all meat, including fish. I kept eating fish.

Food intolerance, especially to dairy products, runs in my family, going back at least four generations, so we were eating very little dairy, and some eggs and honey. But we have vegan activist cousins which means we don’t easily get away with being ignorant about ethical food issues. With my conscience already troubled by the realisation I wasn’t eating in a way that honoured my deeper values, I went through a spiritual crisis in 2011 that prompted me to give up fish. Since then, I have transitioned gradually into veganism, with my values and passion becoming stronger. The last thing to go was honey, which (as with fish years earlier) I consumed more out of social politeness than any desire to eat it.

My transition into veganism has been accompanied by a stronger sense of self and the recovery of my voice. Over the years I had developed a ‘live and let live’ philosophy which often involved not having an opinion or a voice, but now I’m coming back into balance again. I honour other people’s rights to make their own choices but I love share what I am learning and feeling about animals, food and the environment, because it matters so, so deeply to me.

I want to share my passion, but I also want you to know that you being true to yourself matters as much to me as health, ethics and the planet we live on. We all have different values. It’s important to live your life in a way that feels right for you. Here are some of my reasons for becoming vegan:

HEALTH

I am so much healthier without animal products in my life. I personally find them difficult to digest and they wreak havoc with my health as a result. You might think, ‘But that’s not applicable to me…”, but as a naturopath, healer and avid researcher, I sincerely believe that animal products are difficult for all people to digest, to varying degrees. Sensitives like myself especially!

It so good that people have finally stopped making fat the enemy and they are removing processed foods from their diet, especially refined sugar and excess grains. But animal foods are a major risk factor in many major diseases like cancer, dementia, autoimmune disease, inflammation, diabetes, heart disease and early death. As a meat eater, the most toxic ‘food’ you can possibly consume is processed meat, but even happy, organic, grass fed, free range meat is toxic for us (read the links provided below under ‘Ethics’ for more insight into animal products and health risks).

If you do eat meat, you can improve your health by cutting down on quantity and improving the quality of the meat you select. Begin by cutting down on processed meats like sausages, hotdogs and bacon, make sure at least one meal a day is meat free and one day a week is meat free. From there, you can gradually cut back further (e.g. more meat free days) so you are in alignment with the latest advise coming from health organisations and governments re quantity of meat intake. The Netherlands, for example, are currently recommending a maximum of two meat servings per week, but they are taking environmental and well as health issues into account!

ETHICS

Since becoming vegan, I have realised I was conditioned from childhood to love animals on one hand and eat them on the other; to love and protect some animals as friends but to think of other animals as food. I watch while my community goes up in arms about a dog being shot by the council because it was a stray, and I listen while a friend agonises over whether to spend thousands on medical fees for her pet. They obviously love animals, but most of them wouldn’t think twice about the dead animal on their plate and the life it has lived.

Modern factory farming is miserably soulless and causes so much suffering, but for me it goes deeper than that. I feel like it de-humanises us to treat over living beings as objects and commodities. Not only do I not want to be a part of this process, I am concerned about how it is affecting the human psyche. There is a radical disconnect we need to accomplish psychologically in childhood to be comfortable with the idea of killing and eating one animal while caring for and protecting another. Should we really be out-sourcing this killing to others if we aren’t prepared to do it ourselves? And does it damage us to become desensitised to the suffering and killing of others?

There are three words we use when we are defending our right to eat meat: necessary, natural and normal. Haven’t we always eaten meat and isn’t it natural in the animal world for animals to eat animals? Many experts say we haven’t always eaten meat, and we aren’t natural carnivores. Our perception of ‘natural’, ‘normal’ and ‘necessary’ is based on conditioning from the society we live in. We once thought slavery was natural, normal and necessary. And that sexism was too. For more information about this, research the terms ‘Speciesism’ and ‘Carnism’.

ENVIRONMENT

Wild animals are rapidly becoming extinct, mostly due to human impact. We are cutting down forests to create grazing land and the vast food crops needed to feed factory-farmed animals. This isn’t an efficient use of resources, especially considering our rapidly expanding population (and the demand for meat, dairy etc), is going to keep growing. It makes more sense to feed these crops directly to people, and doing so may be the only way to effectively end world hunger now and into the future.

I would have to leave my shower on for two weeks to waste the amount of water used to make one beef patty. Animal agriculture also results in a lot of methane, faecal, urinary and dead-body waste, much of which isn’t managed well. For example, some communities in America are fighting to protect themselves from illness and loss of clean water caused by pig farms, the problems just keep getting bigger, with a virus currently decimating pig factories and farmers struggling to find safe, hygienic ways to dispose of hundreds of thousands of bodies. Big questions are being asked about food hygiene across the board (e.g. chicken).

Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says a report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management (click here to access more information).

“Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products – livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides.” Quote by Ernst von Weizsaecker.

If you would like to learn more about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, follow these links:

Earthwatch

United Nations Agriculture and Consumer Protection Dept

Towards a Sustainable Future

Cowspiracy, the sustainability secret

Time magazine’s article “Meat: making Global Warming Worse”

Comprehensive article about the sustainability of meat


HELPFUL LINKS

Practitioners Committee for Responsible Medicine

Vegan recipes: OhSheGlows

Vegan recipes: RawsomeVegan

Gentleworld.org

Dieticians Association of Australia

 

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