Veganism could be Legit OR The reason for my Vegan Experiment
I realised that I was purposefully ignoring the data because I didn't like where it might lead me
Who first decided to grab hold of a cow's udders, squeeze, and drink the liquid that oozed forth?
I mean, really.
Who came up with that? And what did everyone else think of them the first time they did it. I kind of hope that ostracisation occurred... But then, I guess the person didn't die, and the community reckoned they'd all give drinking the calves' breakfast a go.
Perhaps that seems to be a ludicrous thought to you - but welcome to my brain.
The cow udder question popped into my head a few times over my late twenties. Also in my late twenties, I noticed that my skin was beginning to break out whenever I had more dairy than usual. And I started seeing that I felt particularly bloated after I had a lot of milk. My solution? I cut down on dairy milk in my oats every day but kept drinking and eating in all its other buttery, cheesy, chocolatey and iced forms.
And that was that. Up until two weeks ago.
My food backstory?
When I was little I grew up on bacon and eggs for breakfast every morning, a milk at morning tea break, a hot cooked lunch (always meat involved) with dessert (dairy and often eggs involved), afternoon snacks (dairy and eggs - because homemade cakes), and dinner (that always included meat) and 'afters' (again dairy, and sometimes eggs). There was a lot of homegrown fruit and veg, we kept our own chickens, and sometimes other animals, and we ate local produce as much as possible. That was pretty much my childhood. It was good. No complaints. I was a very happy child. Especially when I found out that other kids in my class had things like cereal or jam sandwiches for breakfast (what even??).
As a teenager, I became consumed with becoming thinner (I had a pretty extreme lack of self-esteem). My solution for a couple of years was to have two red bulls and a bag of sour jelly worms on my way to school every day for my breakfast (because no fat, right... !). And so every day, predictably, I crashed by 9.30am English class. By lunchtime, I could be found eating a bog standard tuck shop meat pie and a strawberry milk - all ill-informed intentions abandoned. In the afternoon I'd snack on whatever, and for dinner, I'd eat a homecooked meal (with meat, and usually dairy).
In my early-mid twenties, my food journey varied a bit. I've done a season of cooking everything from scratch, and for a while had my own chickens for eggs, and grew some of my own fruit and veg. I bought organic, fairtrade, or local, quite a bit. Then my circumstances changed quite dramatically, and I ate pretty much whatever, whenever. I knew protein was important, and that you had to eat fruit and veg, and I shouldn't have too much coffee (apparently... ) - but I rarely implemented anything. I ate a LOT of takeaway and a lot of meals out and drank WAY too much coffee.
Fast forward to my late twenties and joining Instagram - and I started seeing 'smoothie bowls' (whatever they were... ) on my Insta feed, and that people were choosing to eat clean, eat whole foods, eat superfoods?! I still had a STRONG sugar addiction to the extent that I could polish off a quarter or half kilo block of Cadbury's chocolate in a night, or in an hour, and didn't understand why that was an issue. I reasoned that, sure, it wasn't great for me, but I was pretty slim, I ate well most of the time, so all good?
But the peer pressure (both of social media and the example of some real life healthier-than-me humans), along with the knowledge that I used to eat better and did actually want to look after myself, gradually got to me. I decided to eat more nutritionally-minded, went to the gym more (sometimes), and took on a one-month no-sugar challenge (eventually). During the sugar challenge (after the first few days of my body yelling at me to eat chocolate bars) I felt SO much better and lost a couple of kilos without really trying. But a month or so after the challenge ended, I began letting a little sugar back into my meals from time to time. Things escalated, and within a few months, I was basically back where I started with that particular addiction.
But overall, I figured I still ate pretty healthy on the whole... at least compared to a lot of people... I had lots of fruit and vegetables, rice and nut milks, nuts, avocados (avocados are the dream), usually wholegrains, and only some dairy and meat and fish. Pretty good, right?
That was me up until two weeks ago.
I found myself draped over the share table in my office at 6.00pm on a Friday night. Sick, and not wanting to move to make the forty-five minute drive home. Purely delaying the inevitable commute, and loosely in a conversation between two workmates.
One of them, it turned out, loves dairy - cheese pizza is his favourite thing. But he had discovered that eating dairy caused his mega migraines. He had been experiencing days-long-drive-you-to-bed-at-times-blackout-worthy migraines since he was in his early teens. It had only been a few years ago when he was in his mid-twenties that a doctor suggested cutting dairy, to see if it would have an effect. It did. The migraines went. Completely.
This turned into a conversation about what is actually in dairy and how your body isn't really meant to process it. And I'd heard that before a few times. It makes sense really. As an infant, we survive off our mother's breast milk, but then we are weaned onto solid food, and no longer are breastfed. One hopes that's pretty standard human experience, milk formula aside.
But I never processed this information into any form of 'what does this mean for me?' After all, we all drink milk. Except for a few extreme vegans... Dairy is good for you! And besides, I loved my ice-cream, my cheese, my chocolate, and many other dairy-filled goodies. YUM.
My workmate reminded us of the Harvard shared WHO report a year or two ago which said that processed meats and possibly red meat generally, were carcinogenic, e.g. they were linked to cancers and other diseases. Linked - similar to how cigarettes are linked to lung cancer. But how that everyone, in the mass public sense, basically ignored the findings once it spent a day or two in the news.
And then it hit me.
I was one of those people. I had chucked out that piece of valid (Harvard, WHO, hello... ) information, which initially had shocked me when I heard it - just because it didn't align with my desire to eat bacon, processed meats and red meat.
I irrationally and unreasonably remove the data
I had irrationally thrown out valid and reliable data on the negative impact of processed meat and red meat on human health. At the same time, for years I had been refusing to acknowledge that any data on the positive aspects of vegetarian and vegan diets could have a practical implementation for my life personally. Why? Because it didn't fit with what I wanted to believe, or how I wanted to live my life.
And I never thought I was that person.
I have always wanted to be the person who is reasonable and engages with the data, even if it proves a challenge to my existing lifestyle or worldview. I don't want to be irrational or incongruent in the way I live my life.
I realised that I was purposefully ignoring the data because I didn't like where it might lead me.
I wanted to pull the doona up over my head and hide in my bed, refusing to acknowledge any voices that threatened my comfortable omnivorous existence. With that revelation addling my brain and my heart, I picked myself up off the table and went home.
I openly engage with the data
It was during my forty-five minute drive home, that the thought of veganism gained legitimacy in my head, along with a determination to openly engage with the data on it, even if it conflicted with my existing lifestyle and worldview.
That night I watched the film doco Food Choices and discovered that living on a plant-based diet, arguably, is actually better for you than living on an omnivorous diet. I found that you could actually be vegan and be healthy, and that actually, you likely would be healthier.
It messed up my mind and challenged my heart.
Was I going to let my selfishness and desire for particular foods get in the way of what was actually best for me?
I could never understand vegans.
As a child, I used to mock my cousin who was a vegetarian. I didn't get it. Why wouldn't you eat meat? Why wouldn't you eat dairy?
Animals were made for our food. I used to see cows in the field and joke that they were steak. That was their purpose. When I watched Bambi, and his mother was shot, I barely blinked - I grew up in the country - that's what happened to deer. Animals, at least domesticated farm animals, were made to be food. I cared about their lives, that they would be free range or organic when possible, and have good living conditions, and be slaughtered well. But I didn't have an issue with them being killed or farming them for me to have dairy or eggs (or leather). Wild animals were made to be wild, to be protected in wild natural eco-systems. That was different. Pets were different again. That's why we didn't name the piglets we grew on our smallholding when I was a little child, or the chickens, or the geese. Though we did name the sow who bred the piglets, oddly enough, and we did name the horses, the dogs and the cats. But it was silly to name the local wildlife - they were wild.
I knew my categorisation of types of animals was inconsistent. I knew it was based on cultural values. But I didn't care. At the end of the day, I understood that animals, at least some animals, were there, at least in part, to be food for humans.
Yet now, despite this thinking and a strong history of cultural, familial and personal identity as a voracious omnivore, I found myself accepting veganism as a legit option, and possibly, a better option than what I'd always known and done. The more I researched it from various publicly available sources online, the more I could see that it had a solid backing for both my own personal health and other benefits.
Long story short: I decided to experiment on myself.
I would do a vegan experiment for a few months, to actually see and experience it for myself. I would see if I felt better. I would see what happened to my health and wellbeing.
At this initial stage, my reasons for the experiment were pretty much just:
1. being able to stand and say that I had rationally considered the data and then had made my choice, either way
2. to see if this could actually be a viable way for me to live, and a healthier way for me to live - even if it scared me (yes, actually scared me - my food choices were more rooted in my identity and held an addictive grip on me than I cared to admit)
So, tomorrow, on Tuesday 1 August 2017, I, a committed, passionate, (now admittedly somewhat irrational) omnivore, will begin my vegan experiment.
Because it turns out that veganism could be legit.