“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet” – Albert Einstein
I made a decision on the 5th August 2014 to become a vegetarian. My reasons for doing so were outlined fully in a blog post called Thoughtlessly Omnivorous (https://dazz22.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/thoughtlessly-omnivorous/). I had planned on writing up about how I’d found it being a vegetarian after 27 years of almost eating meat with every meal. But every time I have thought I’d had this raging debate settled in my mind things would change and I realised I had to figure it all out completely before documenting what my thoughts on the subject were. I don’t believe a person’s diet is ever concrete. In any moment and for any meal thoughts, desires and needs change. Any bacon lover can become vegetarian and any vegetarian can eat bacon. Nothing is set in stone. So as much as this can be a conclusion for me to the debate it is only what I feel right now as I type this out. Tomorrow? Next year? Ten years? I’ll be somewhere on the spectrum of only eating fruit that has fallen willingly from a tree and cannibalism if there happens to be a zombie apocalypse.
At first I found being a vegetarian difficult. I was determined to give it a go and originally I planned to give it two weeks to see how I felt. My diet prior to becoming vegetarian was not good at all. I ate a lot of takeaways which are easy and taste so good and can cure hunger instantly. I had noticed that I had gained weight. It may have been hard for some to tell as the male body is lame at gaining weight as most of it goes to the gut originally. So overall I was still a pretty slim guy but had this beer belly that I knew would be tough to get rid of. I’d also gotten a bit bloated in the face but some said this just looked healthy. Either way I was aware that my diet could do with some improvement and that’s one of the reasons I took the plunge into vegetarianism. Also due to environmental factors, ethical factors and the whole vibe surrounding being caring to the Earth and other beings. I’ve wrote about it before and fully believed in it and it gave me a huge motivation. The motivation was very much needed since I love bacon, steak, chicken, roast beef, duck, sausages etc. I seriously love it and nobody could ever doubt that. So it was difficult. Luckily there are Quorn products and this makes it kind of easy to do since they have a section in most supermarkets with quite a variety of products. Plus there’s pizza. After a while being vegetarian is easy but you still miss the meat. Plus this cheese heavy and processed foods heavy vegetarian diet is not exactly the answer I needed to the poor diet problem. Also, around this time I had a few digestive problems that I’d only had since being vegetarian. I managed to isolate the problem to whenever I had too much soya. It seemed to make going to the toilet far too easy…if you know what I mean. Many vegetarian products use soya as a substitute so this concerned me. And around the same time I had being thinking about going totally vegan eventually. So at this point I still wasn’t happy with the diet and had to consider what to do next.
After about six weeks of being vegetarian I attended a wedding. Absolutely beautiful food was served. There was a prawn cocktail as a starter and a lamb dish for the main course. I’ve never really liked fish or anything out of the sea and both courses were obviously not vegetarian. But the Buddhist way that I genuinely believed in was to not be attached to anything fanatically even if it meant going against something like being a vegetarian. The mindful thing to do is to accept the food and this is what many monks do when food is offered to them. So I ate it all. Surprisingly the prawns were good. And the lamb dinner was divine. The reason I dreaded being put in this position when it came to Buddhist beliefs versus being vegetarian was because my ability to remain vegetarian after tasting meat again would be called into question in a big way. I love meat. And with each bite of lamb I was wondering how I would go through life without food like this. I envied others who were free from being so mindful of their food. Later that night I felt hungry again and found a takeaway place. A meat feast pizza was ordered and devoured.
The next day I had the determination to maintain that eating meat the previous day was the Buddhist in me and not me giving up on being vegetarian. So being a veggie continued. Until I went to a stag do with a bunch of lads to Portugal for the weekend. The first night I was fine. Had a vegetarian kebab with falafel (although the stupid guy that served me originally forgot to cook and put falafels in it and handed me some pitta bread containing lettuce and mayo until I enquired about the other 80% of what should have been there). However the thing I found with being vegetarian sometimes is that I cannot drink beer like I can as a meat eater. I know this is hypocritical since the Buddhist way would be to give up beer and have a clear mind but Rome wasn’t built in a day. And this was a stag do and fun was what we were there to have. Maybe it’s the extra calories in meat or something but you seem to me to be able to drink more without being totally wasted and also having a meat heavy meal after drinking the previous day seems to help with the hangover. So the second day of the stag do I allowed myself to relax a bit on being vegetarian. By relax I mean throw it out of the window completely. I had full English breakfasts, chicken curries and erm…a mixed grill. I loved it. And this was the biggest test so far. This was two days of eating a lot of meat again. Could I remain vegetarian now when I got back home? Yeah. For about another two weeks. I remember being in a takeaway place with a friend and struggling as I really fancied a duck curry and was so close to giving up. I managed to order a vegetarian curry but I didn’t really enjoy it and was still hungry. A few days later I gave up. I’d been vegetarian about two and a half months other than when at a wedding and on a stag do but it was over. I went back to eating meat and back to my old habits of takeaways and meat with every meal. I was sad that I had no will power but seemed powerless to change. I’d order gammon and eggs and be annoyed but after the first bite being mindful would be impossible as my mind just enjoyed the taste in that moment. At least I had given it a go eh? A day as a vegetarian seemed impossible when I first started. Two and a half months was a good effort.
Being vegetarian requires discipline. And having discipline in that area gave me a constant reminder to be mindful in other aspects of life. So trying to be a Buddhist and being vegetarian go hand in hand for me. Once I leave one behind the other seems to get left behind a bit too. So at this time I became angrier again. I felt like I was being more true to myself but didn’t really like myself and didn’t want to be that person again. After six weeks of eating meat again without any thought at all I just went back to being vegetarian. I decided to not put pressure on myself. No time limits. Just take each meal as it comes. I believed in it. I could do it. Maybe those six weeks was just my way of making peace with the rest of my life as a vegetarian. This time with my previous experience to call on I found it easier. My mind was made up. The vegetarian life was for me. I didn’t relapse all through Christmas (very difficult since I was working as a chef and was constantly surrounded by pigs in blankets) but I did have a home made chicken curry on New Year’s Eve. It was the Buddhist loop hole and I didn’t mind it. I knew as I was eating it that I was still a vegetarian and nothing would change the next day. Around this period of time I was also watching a lot of documentaries and talks about being vegetarian. It was something I believed in and I enjoyed relating to others. It helped me with my journey. The alarming thing was that these great people were not only advocating a vegetarian diet but a fully hardcore vegan diet. The main influences on me at this time included Gary Yourofsky and his talk about why we should be vegan. Also Ralph Smart (Infinite Waters on YouTube) and the reasons he gives for being vegan as well as advice on how to do it. There were also the well known documentaries called Forks Over Knives and Earthlings that were very persuasive. I think if everybody watched these programmes then a good number of them would consider veganism themselves. Add to this some great people that I admire are also vegan or very close to it. These people are Thich Nhat Hanh, Russell Brand and Sir Paul McCartney. So much inspiration to go vegan.
Now here’s the part where I have to rip into the vegetarian diet and vegetarians. In the past when I was an ignorant fool I thought the vegan diet was just a step too far and unnecessary . If you cut out meat then surely that’s enough right? Drinking milk and eating cheese and eggs doesn’t cause any harm surely? There’s no death involved there. Plus it seems almost impossible to be vegan. As a vegetarian I found myself eating a lot of cheese. If you take cheese away then what? I had no problem with giving up dairy butter since there’s Vitalite and I love that. Then I’d have to have soya milk or another alternative. Not to mention giving up wearing leather (which I love) and not eating honey and being careful not to eat anything that was made using milk or eggs. It’s daunting. So vegetarianism is the option that doesn’t cause much harm that is also actually achievable. But when you realise that the dairy industry goes hand in hand with the meat industry you have to question a few things. Every dairy cow is still a slave. Every male it gives birth to will go to the meat industry. And when milk production slows down that cow also becomes a beef burger. So by buying cheese and milk you are still contributing to this screwed up industry. Also many of the inspirational vegans I was listening to at the time gave evidence that the poor health implications that arise due to eating meat are also present when eating cheese and drinking milk. Any animal based proteins are linked to cancer and most people eventually have some lactose intolerance. So when you add these factors to the fact that it is also hypocritical to consume dairy products if you believe in the welfare of animals then it becomes logical that you must go vegan. That was what I was faced with after doing research. From then on it seemed I had a new choice. Being vegetarian was pointless. I either transition to a vegan diet or stop caring about this dilemma and go back to eating whatever I wanted. Surely every person who is vegetarian comes to this bridge if they believe in their diet due to morals. So in my view every vegetarian either lacks will power and are hypocritical or they are ignorant of the facts. There are only two reasons to be vegetarian. Maybe you just don’t like the taste of meat or the idea of eating flesh. You don’t care about the morals of the industry and it’s just a personal choice. If so, cool. Eat food you enjoy. Or the other reason is that it is a stepping stone on the way to being vegan. I totally understand how difficult it is to be vegan after eating meat all of your life. So if first you just cut out meat then that is understandable. Everybody who decides to go vegan should be patient with themselves and give themselves time to adjust. If you are vegetarian because you believe in the welfare of animals and you pour milk on your weetabix and smother your toast in cheese then I believe you are a hypocrite and are not a true believer in what you preach. The other annoying thing about vegetarianism? Continuously having to type the word “vegetarian”. It’s an annoying word to type. Typing “vegan” is much better.
So there it was. The decision was made. I had to go vegan. I had a fair few Quorn products in the fridge and freezer and Quorn products are not vegan. So I decided to carry on eating them whilst buying only vegan things from then on and once the Quorn stuff was consumed then I would be vegan. Whilst eating the Quorn I had left I realised just how easy it was being vegetarian. Eating all of that readily available substitutes for meat was just like eating meat other than you can’t get it at a restaurant or takeaway place. Otherwise it’s easy. Being vegan on the other hand was a scary prospect. I had to think about what to eat. Eating out would become almost impossible unless I wanted to be the annoying customer that I’d always made fun of in the past. I was going to have to buy a lot more fruit and vegetables and do shopping elsewhere. Tofu is a great thing to have in the kitchen. I fell in love with eating avocado. I found places to shop online that had similar products to Quorn but that were vegan. There are vegan versions of milk, cheese, yoghurts, ice cream etc. I decided to always have a bag of nuts on the go to boost protein levels. There is the problem of vitamin B12. Vegan diets lack this and we need it. No way around that fact. It gets supplemented into soya milk but not enough. I decided I would be ok for a while as it can take a few years to become a problem and then you can get tablets. More on B12 later.
So now I was vegan. Friends didn’t understand. Many debates were had. You find yourself on the defensive and I can relate to people’s confusion about it all since I thought the same mere months earlier. To most people the vegan diet seems strange and too restrictive. I thought that too. But it really isn’t if you have the time and patience for it. Takeaway days are over other than chips but this saves your wallet. I was happy and proud to be vegan. I felt like I was doing my bit to help other beings and the world whilst also keeping myself healthy too. The beer belly would go and I would have loads of energy. There was such a positive vibe about it all and it leads to feeling better connected to the environment. I believed that it was the one true diet and that everybody could benefit from it. If the world went vegan it would solve many problems. I truly believe this having looked at the facts. I think any individual that understood all of the implications of the vegan diet versus being an omnivore would have to agree on some level or else they’re in denial. Free the animals and let them be. We can grow more crops for us to eat rather than to feed the ridiculous numbers of farm animals we’ve bred to be slaves. This would benefit the environment by easing the climate crisis and ease hunger problems worldwide. Less people would get cancer. It’s obvious on the surface isn’t it? But as time went on I realised just how complex an issue this was. It’s not so black and white.
I started being vegan in February. I went to Vietnam in April and I knew I would have to relax my vegan ways due to language barriers and because I really didn’t want to struggle to find a place to eat while the others I were with were happy to tuck into anything. I had a vegan meal on the plane and vegetarian noodles for supper on the first night. The second day for breakfast our hotel receptionist recommended a place a few streets away and pointed it out on the map. So off we went in search of this place and found it 10 minutes later. In we went and sat down. The menu was limited to five different versions of Pho Bo which is like soup containing noodles. All five versions contained beef. So in that moment I could either abstain from eating or just accept it and be free. I ate it. And I wasn’t vegan for the next four weeks. I was the same as the others and happy enough whilst also knowing that when back home I would still be vegan which is what happened.
And now we’re at the point in the story of the last few months. I’ve been vegan completely other than a couple of slip ups. I bought some mints that contained gelatin accidentally. What a curveball that was. Twice when out I’ve ordered only a vegetarian meal. Once was because I had to due to the even number of people ordering on a two for one menu. I would have wrecked it for everybody if I’d just ordered chips like I wanted to. The other time I was just hungry. How have I found it being vegan? Tough. I fully agree with it but you need the time to get and prepare food for every meal for every day for the rest of your life. At times I would have to go out and not have sufficient food in the flat at the time and so would go out hungry knowing I also couldn’t eat at the pub or anything. Plus all of the food that I order for convenience online that at once seemed like a huge list of alternatives are now seeming restrictive after a few months of eating the same products. The way around this is to buy whole foods and find recipes and put the effort in when cooking. This is the way to be vegan. The discipline is in every detail of it. And if you really believe in it then you will do this. You will put an hour in to make a lovely, nutritious and fulfilling meal every evening that benefits you and your planet. And I really really believe in it. Don’t I?
Hhmmm. Yes and no to be honest. I believe the meat industry is wrong 100%. It’s far too intensive and for every being involved it is cruel and pure suffering. Humans are so dominant and it’s great for us but that is terrible for the rest of the planet and if the planet suffers eventually so will we. The sea levels will rise and it’s our punishment for not thinking about what we’re doing when it comes to the meat industry and our reliance on fossil fuels amongst other factors. And I do believe too much meat is really not good for us. Also, fast food and processed foods are something that we need to think about a lot more in our daily lives. But at the same time as I’ve struggled with feeling restricted by being vegan (as well as feeling like an outsider amongst friends and strangers alike) I’ve also felt lethargic. Energy levels are not what I expected and it’s understandable when I look at the calories involved in the foods I’ve been consuming. Sometimes I eat some avocado, have a lovely stir fry and a load of fruit and I feel totally great. But sometimes I eat chips and vegan burgers and then feel awful. Unfulfilled and tired. The problem is that I often don’t have the time to be making great vegan food all the time. I just don’t. And the results can be seen. The beer belly has gone so yay for that. But the weight loss I didn’t really need. I just needed to be healthier and I guess I needed a better weight distribution. Overall I needed to gain weight a little most likely. But I’ve lost weight. And with my vegan diet I will not get it back. And…I need it to function properly. I have a new job and it’s like having a massive work out in the gym. It burns through calories and I need a lot of energy to fuel it. But with all this in mind I stayed vegan because I believed it it. To not be vegan I would need my philosophies to change. And since the evidence shows that vegans are better off and better for the world it is hard to go against it. I would be going against my beliefs. Admittedly it could be due to health reasons but that simply isn’t good enough.
I needed a re-think. There must be some way for my mind and body to both be happy. My mind is happy as a vegan but my body certainly isn’t. It’s not that I crave meat. It’s that after a meal I crave something else. My body needs something else and this is what it’s now screaming at me. A health professional would say you need to listen to your body and everybody is different. I could eat meat and be healthy about it and my body would be happy. But then I think back to the evidence of the damage I’m then contributing to and it’s a tough ask. I used to work as a chef and now I work for Tesco. You know what both jobs have shown me about food? The scale of it. It is incredible the amount of food that comes in our doors and straight back out of the doors into the public for mass consumption. Truly epic in scale. My mind boggles at how many cows, pigs and chickens there must be out there on a conveyor belt. Think of all the shops and restaurants. Each of them getting truck loads and truck loads of food ranging from roast beef to chicken tikka wraps and from smoked salmon to cranberry stilton. 1 in 400 people in the UK are vegan. Do you know what the vegan stance actually achieves in the face of such a mass scale of food consumption by the other 399 out of 400 people? We’re a drop in the ocean. A handful of sand on a beach. You take that handful away and it’s still a beach isn’t it? It is a defeatist stance admittedly. What we need to do as vegans first and foremost is stay bloody vegan. But then the numbers need to grow. More omnivores need to convert to make it worthwhile so we can start attempting to decrease the scale of this industry. What we really need is to decide together as a human race that what we’re doing is wrong and needs looking at. One person doesn’t make a difference but if everybody thought like that we’d get nowhere right? When I look at it deeply I can see the long term reality of the situation. It isn’t so concrete an argument like a vegan would believe. Everybody going vegan is not going to happen and if they did when you really think about it there would be other issues. Ok, the animals would be free and that really is a great thing and maybe would outweigh the consequences. Also if there were more vegans there would be more options in restaurants and more convenient vegan foods. And on the surface that would be great and it would allow somebody like me to be vegan much more easily. But if too many people went vegan there would be too much convenience food and many vegans wouldn’t be able to help themselves devour the next generation of heavily processed (albeit vegan) foods. Then our diets would suffer again. And the extra intensive farming methods for these foods would be the causes in the harm for the environment in place of animal farms. By our very existence we cause harm. And yes we should minimise harm. But even if it leads to our own harm? Maybe not.
I have a new look on the vegan issue that has formed in my mind over the past few weeks. I started thinking about the vitamin B12 problem. We need that vitamin so we don’t become deficient and get health problems. We’re talking about our brains and nervous system here. Plant based diets do not contain this vitamin whereas meat and cheese have plenty of it. It bothered me when I first became vegan. I looked into it and discovered that this vitamin is actually in the soil and in plants which is where the animals get it and since we’re thorough with washing the plants we consume this is why we don’t get B12 in a vegan diet. At first I thought “phew”. That meant that the vegan diet is not unnatural. If we ate naturally vegan then we would get B12 from plants. So then I forgot about this issue and carried on being vegan. But recently I thought again. Our ancestors could have gained B12 from plants. And that sparked a new argument. We owe everything to our ancestors and they ate meat. They didn’t have to eat meat as we’re natural omnivores and can survive without it. But they did and the fact they ate meat is the reason we’re here today and as advanced as we are. During an ice age there would have been places where there were no plants to eat from and those humans were reliant on meat. Scientists believe that our brains would not have evolved as quickly without the protein we were getting from animals. The interesting part of this idea for me are the effects eating meat had on early human society. Think about it. We have no claws or fangs. No real weapons with which to kill things to eat. So we had to adapt. This lead to clans sharpening rocks to use as tools. It lead to clubs and spears. And we had to hunt in teams. This required communication and teamwork. Maybe one human would distract the animal while another tripped the beast up so another could put it in a headlock and another could give it a Chinese burn until it died. Then we developed fire to cook and boil food. We used fur for warmth. These developments lead to great thought with snowballed with greater inventions until we were able to dominate and evolve and create civilisations eventually getting to where we are today. Eating meat was necessary. It is part of why we’re here, even us vegans.
One thing I also believed was that whilst I agreed that meat eating is part of our heritage we have now surely evolved to a point where we don’t need to do it anymore. This is true I guess. But then I think of the drop in the ocean that a vegan’s buying habits truly achieve. And I turn on the discovery channel and see a cheetah hunting down it’s prey. And I think of my body’s needs. I think of the fact that it’s absurd in the first place that we’re here on this spinning rock as I’m suffering from an existential crisis. Fruit and vegetables are information from the cosmos Ralph Smart says? Well so are animals. So are we. We’re all just atoms that have formed to have some kind of consciousness. No energy is ever lost, only transferred. If we take the sun’s energy via a plant or via another being then it’s the same in a cold, grand scheme of things kind of way. All energy is flowing regardless and time marches on. And us vegans can be so militant. So I’m going to attack vegans now. We’re not better. We’re not more intelligent. We’re not always more caring. We place so much emphasis on this idea that we’re right that we can be nasty about it. We’re also petty. I see some of the debates on facebook and find myself annoyed at vegans. Vegans attacking vegans for little differences in what a vegan should or shouldn’t do. It’s not a black and white issue. There are always issues and even solutions lead to other issues. When it comes down to it it is about the individual and what they’re comfortable with and one person’s views should not be forced upon others. I have struggled with this internally for too long until it has become detrimental to my own well being and happiness and when we have one life then I realise I need to walk away from this battle. It was great to be a vegan. I’m happy I did it. I agree with the principles of it. But I think we will only realise a better future when we’re all in it together. Making a stance on your own will not do it and I don’t have the drive to fight and fight for my beliefs to become a bit more mainstream. I wish the vegan movement well and I would not rule out rejoining the cause one day if the motivation returns and I have renewed optimism that I can be fully happy with it. I have nothing but love for the vegan philosophy.
However for now I am now an omnivore. The other day in Tesco these thoughts came to this conclusion. I made my mind up and was looking for a sandwich. The only vegan option is the falafel and hummus wrap. I’ve eaten it a lot and it’s nice but this time I opted for a chicken sandwich. I felt a mixture of things. Guilt was one of them. The sad thought that I’d failed with the vegan experiment and I simply couldn’t do it. The fact that this chicken between the slices of bread would have been there between the bread whether I was vegan or not. The suffering has already taken place and I do not agree with it even though I bought it so indirectly supported that suffering. The fact that if my ancestors thought about this issue like I did then I wouldn’t be there in Tesco facing this dilemma and there wouldn’t even be a Tesco and we as a species would never have been to the moon. I ate it and enjoyed it. But what surprised me was that my stomach seemed to welcome it so much. It had been missed. It was as if my body was thanking me. We’re all different and maybe after 27 years of eating meat my body just needs it and if that’s the case then we cannot deny who we are. And being an omnivore is also about freedom. Just because I eat meat again does not mean I want to eat like I did before. The danger is that I’ll be lazy and just consume unhealthily but I have learned a lot about nutrition. Plus I can still eat vegan food. I will still eat more fruit and vegetables. I’ll always buy Vitalite as it is cheap and bloody lovely. It’s nice not to have to worry about whether a biscuit contains milk in it when offered one by a friend. The decision is made and I’m happy with it. But as I said before nothing is concrete. I believed in veganism and could never see a way back to eating meat but it happened. Prior to that I loved meat and thought vegans were ridiculous. In the future I won’t rule anything out. Take each day as it comes and each meal as it comes and enjoy it. Peace and love x