I am not sure of the exact date when I made the transition from vegetarianism to veganism, but I remember it being around the start of July. That means that it has been 3 years since I started this new dietary lifestyle. I think it’s important to reflect back on this time and describe the challenges that came with making the transition, as well as the highlight the benefits of switching from an animal-based diet to a plant-based diet.
I first adopted a vegetarian diet during my first year at university, around the beginning of April. My reasons were purely ethical. The idea that animals could have moral value was first implanted in my mind during a lecture on animal ethics (I studied Philosophy, by the way). We studied the pioneer of the animal welfare movement, Peter Singer, and I was convinced by his arguments and reasoning that it would be both logically inconsistent and morally unjustifiable for me to carry on eating meat. Before making the transition I remember sitting in my room, thinking to myself, “If I become a vegetarian I can never eat bacon again…is it worth it?” My decision was still a resounding yes – to this day, I have no urge to eat bacon. The idea of eating any meat is generally pretty unappealing. I also remember posting on Facebook, something along the lines of: “I’ve decided to become a vegetarian” – to which people responded with, “Won’t last”.
It wasn’t difficult to live life as a vegetarian, since vegetarian meals are offered in pretty much every supermarket and restaurant. However, when I became interested in animal ethics, it also dawned on me that the same arguments in favour of vegetarianism have to be logically extended to veganism. For example, if it is logically inconsistent and immoral to harm an animal simply because it belongs to a different species, then how could I justify consuming eggs and milk, both of which are linked to animal suffering? Having weighed the pros and cons of the arguments, I decided to make the switch to veganism. This was after about 3 months of vegetarianism.
I felt confident in my decision, but I do regret not planning my diet better. The switch from vegetarianism to veganism is far more drastic than the change from an animal-based diet to vegetarianism. First of all, you have to know where to get essential nutrients and vitamins. This is something I did not pay attention to. A vegan diet is only difficult if it is not researched or planned well. Once you know what you can eat and what is healthy, it just becomes part of your everyday life. However, when I went vegan I basically stopped consuming all animal products and stuck to eating foods which I already ate which happened to be vegan. This included pasta, noodles, vegetarian sausages, baked beans, chips, crisps, hummus, bread, peanut butter, and very occasionally fruit, salad and vegetables.
I was also making mistakes – such as eating food containing animal products – but I think that is expected from anyone trying to figure out what is vegan friendly and what is not. My diet, at this point however, was not healthy – it was full of processed foods, wheat, and lacking in whole-based, unrefined, nutritious foods. During my second year at university, while I carried on this sort of diet, I became skinnier (which wasn’t a good look since I was already skinny), more pale (I was already pale) and my skin looked worse. Some people say this look it is characteristic of any vegan; however, I’d say it is more characteristic of any vegan who knows nothing about nutrition or about how to follow a well-balanced diet.
It took me a while to learn about what was lacking from my diet, but when I did, then things turned very positive. Instead of eating processed foods and wheat (bread, pasta, noodles) all the time, I started eating more vegetables, fruit, seeds, beans, lentils, nuts, and tried cooking my own meals, instead of just eating frozen, ready-made meals. A well-balanced vegan diet can be the healthiest – it can provide sufficient protein, calcium, iron, and the rest of the vitamins and minerals that the body needs. I tried making mushroom risotto, stir fry with tofu, falafel, salads, different sandwiches and wraps, wholegrain rice with vegetables, bean chilli, quinoa with beans, and generally ate more varieties of nuts, more cereals, more fruit and drank more smoothies.
Once my body was getting everything it needed, I could really notice the change. Compared to when I was eating meat, milk, cheese and eggs, I now felt less sluggish, and felt a massive boost in energy on a day-to-day basis. Consuming animal products made it a lot easier to eat fast food, but since I no longer consume animal products, I also no longer ate fast food. Admittedly I eat still eat chips, but for the most part, I never feel lethargic after a proper meal. I feel like my diet has helped with my sleep (I used to find it incredibly difficult to get to sleep) and that it has encouraged me to exercise more. In addition, I definitely get ill less often compared to when I was eating an animal-based diet.
So, in conclusion, I still feel as principled about my diet as ever, and I would also recommend the diet for its various health benefits. I have accidentally eaten foods containing milk or eggs from time to time (although rarely now since I know what to avoid), but I’ve realised I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. The purpose of the vegan diet is to have good intentions and to do the best you can to avoid animal products. I’ve tried not to be self-righteous and forceful with my opinions – I believe it is up to the individual to look at the facts and arguments and to make their own personal choice. It is unhelpful to the vegan cause to take a position of moral superiority and try to persuade others through guilt. If someone asks me, “Why vegan?” I’ll tell them what led me to make that choice – I think it is both ineffective and impolite to demand that someone makes the same choice that I have. A bullying, judgemental attitude is not the way to change people’s minds; it is through reasoned argument (that is what persuaded me to go vegan).
And sure, friends will poke fun at my diet, but I prefer to laugh it off than to take offence and go into some fierce debate about animal rights. Another shift in my journey as a vegan has been my philosophical outlook. I now accept the abolitionist approach of the animal rights philosopher, Gary Francione, over and above the welfarist approach of Peter Singer.