My One Year of Being a Vegetarian!
Updated: Jul 13, 2019
I DID IT!
For the first time in my life I actually stuck with something; I became a fully fledged vegetarian, and the best part of it is; is that it's made such a difference to my health and has a positive impact on our planet. Damn it feels good to do good.
It honestly wasn't that difficult either. I never ate a huge amount of meat before, but I loved my fish - I think I ate salmon and tuna at least three times a week back in the UK and I always chose the chicken dish in a restaurant. Saying goodbye to pigs in blankets during Christmas dinner, opting out of extra crispy bacon on my English breakfast or turning down beef gravy on my chip shop chips were some of the hardest sacrifices I made during this time, but with all the amazing meat alternatives out there, it was certainly possible - it just took will power.
So last May, a close vegan friend said to me, "Annie, I don't know why you aren't a vegetarian. You say you love animals and you definitely strike me as someone who is conscious of the environment. It shocks me that you aren't on board. I bet you could be." My response was the same as it always was; "Yeahhhh... I tried it for like three days last year and I thought it was going well, but drunk Annie seems to forget she's a vegetarian and buys burgers on her merry waddle home from town".
Which was true, I always thought about doing it but I hadn't had that push yet. I needed more motivation and to be honest my heart just wasn't in it. Until the same said friend turned around and challenged me to try it for a two week period as a 'dare'. Unable to turn down the chance to defy the expectations of my peers (a life-long challenge that I set for myself), I willingly accepted and so my two week journey began (this is both a weakness and a strength of mine which I call the Monica Gellar effect; you can pretty much get me to do anything if you advertise it as a 'challenge', 'once in a lifetime opportunity' or a 'way to prove someone wrong').
BUT. I haven't eaten meat since.
MOMENTS OF WEAKNESS
I admit that I had a few off days throughout the year where I didn't like options on a restaurant menu and so had a 'cheat' day and ate some tuna (sad face) but I feel like those moments of weakness are now a thing of the past as I continue on to try and eat vegan as much as possible! My general rule is if there is a vegan option, I go for it. But if there isn't a vegan option (or one that I like, woe is me detesting mushrooms which happen to come on everyyyyything that is vegan...) then I eat vegetarian. I try and do my weekly food shop purely vegan so that whatever I have in the cupboards I can be satisfied to just grab it, go and feel no guilt.
Checking the labels is the most frustrating part of this process but once you're out of the supermarket it feels good to munch freely! When I am out I am far more lenient, but hey, it takes a while to transition into a new lifestyle - you have to start somewhere.
WHAT I FOUND HARD
So let's begin with what I struggled with at the start (and sometimes still do - as Oscar Wilde said 'I can resist anything but temptation'). I suffer greatly with a thing that I call 'Food Envy'. It is a serious mental complex that means that even if I am not hungry, I must order food when everyone else does because if I don't, when their food arrives I get insanely jealous.
So seeing all my carnivorous buddies indulge in a juicy steak or BBQ pulled pork (my all time favourite) whilst I nibbled on gods natural gift of leafy greens - was quite torturous. But you know what? That ain't even half the torture of what that little moo cow or piggy went through to end up on their plates. So it gets easier when you can envision the reason WHY you're enjoying lentils over lamb chops.
Cutting out meat is one thing, but when you realise that your favourite gummy sweets, Parmesan cheese and sweet chili sauce are all made using gross and weird and sometimes very unexpected body parts of animals, that's when the tedious label checking and chef pestering begins. I was eating fries at work for months before the kitchen staff revealed that they were made with real beef flavouring *rolls eyes*. Not everything is always as it seems.
REAPING THE BENEFITS
Moving to New Zealand definitely helped me - I don't think I would have made the decision to ditch the dead carcasses if I was still at home in the UK. My family are all fairly big meat eaters (though I know my momma has been cutting down - go Andrea!) and not many of my close friends are veggies. I had never really had the question asked or topic raised before I came travelling - before I met a gazillion veggies on the road who all actively encouraged me to join them.
It's a lot easier and cheaper when you're travelling to eat less/no meat, particularly in South East Asia where you're wanting to avoid illness at all costs. So as well as saving my stomach from some unwanted nasty business, I saved pennies too.
I never really considered digestion a big deal - I feel like it doesn't really appear on a young adults hierarchy of needs or worries just yet, but after years of hibernating into a food coma after a heavy meal, I definitely noticed a difference in my 'after dinner fatigue'. Vegetables just give you glorious goodness, and when you have enough to fill you up, you feel immensely satisfied but avoid reaching that 'SHE'S GONNA BLOW!' bloated stage. Eating more veggies keeps you regular too... so less problems there.
MY SKIN oh my god my skin - it got so much better when I began cutting down on my dairy intake too! I love cheese like Donald Trump loves a wall, but when I began switching to vegan alternatives I noticed my skin became so much less clogged, less spotty and just generally more glowy. I made a couple of big lifestyle changes all around the same time last year so I can't put it purely down to diet, but I've always been prone to outbreaks after a weekend of drinking or eating badly, so that was a wonderful bonus.
I feel lighter, more energetic, less guilty and I lost weight (in a good way - many indulgences of carby, take-out food along with gallons of goon when I traveled the east coast of Australia had me at the heaviest I've ever been)!
WHY I STAYED A VEGGIE
To be completely honest, I didn't do it for the animals at first. I did it for me. A lot of the time I feel for people to be able to make huge changes to their lifestyle, it has to be down to purely selfish factors. Which is in no means, a negative thing. Being selfish is something I encourage everyone to do if it has positive consequences for those around you.
I love and have always loved animals - but it unfortunately wasn't quite enough for me to stop putting my taste buds before their quality of life. I decided to continue being a vegetarian because I instantly felt healthier and better about myself. That was my number one priority. But then my number two priority was absolutely knowing that what I was doing was helping to aid a fundamental and incredible movement to better our planet and wildlife. It's ok to admit this as it's just a part of being human, and I did want to help, I really did.
It wasn't however, until my vegan friends recommended that I watch a couple of hard-hitting documentaries about sea world, the dairy industry and factory farming, that I realised just how ignorant I had been to what I had considered previously as 'completely normal and acceptable'. I felt sick to my stomach knowing that I had contributed to this dark world of greedy money-makers and the devastating ill-treatment of animals.
After meeting so many travelers who were vegetarians and vegans, I felt well supported in my decision to be meat free, and with a strong community in Queenstown (where I currently reside), the transition couldn't have gone more smoothly. It's completely opened my eyes to food too. I was always a big foodie and enjoyed cooking, but I hated handling meat because I thought it was gross to look at and touch when it was raw (oh the irony). I LOVE cooking now and there is so much that you can do with vegetables that I hadn't even considered before.
Coming to the realisation that everything I had been taught previously about the human diet was all bullshit, allowed me to freely explore the culinary arts in a far more interesting way. Vegans have the most vivid imaginations when it comes to the kitchen and I have enjoyed sampling and creating vegan food so much - I feel like far more effort goes into developing textures and flavours as they aren't relying on the natural feel of meaty products. Of course generally, being a herbivore is a lot healthier and as long as you are being kind to your body, you will always reap the benefits of a plant based diet.
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT TODAY
You don't NEED meat in your diet. You might desire it, but you certainly do not need it to live a healthy balanced life. Once you get over the fact that for your whole planetary existence, you've been taught that you need milk to make your bones grow stronger and that that is in fact, simply a clever marketing ploy devised by the dairy industry to sell their product, you can feel a little less brainwashed and little more free.
In every aspect of our lives; as a community and as individuals, we are constantly communicated misinformation that can heavily influence our lifestyle choices. If we ever want to make way for change, then it is up to us as sole individuals to seek out our own facts and make up our own minds, helping to guide and inspire others to do what is right.
Now that we have an abundance of scientific and environmental information at the click of a button, and now that the flood gates have opened entirely on the topic of climate change, there is absolutely no excuse to be ignorant. What you do with your body and with your thoughts, are rightfully, your responsibility and your choice. But to jump on a band wagon and claim that you care when none of your actions reciprocate those 'feelings', is being just as ignorant as those who don't read the articles, watch the documentaries, engage with the activists etc.
It's very easy in this modern technological world to be a hypocrite. You can sit there on social media and share several posts that call for the banning of single use plastic all whilst you're obliviously sipping on a straw in your bottled water. You aren't expected to be perfect, but as a human who wants to provide for the planet that is providing them, you are expected to be actively seeking the best for it. As Tesco famously put it; 'every little helps'.
We've had a million conversations about the ice caps melting and the levels of pollution and plastic waste in our oceans. We've discussed countless times, the effects of global warming and the breaking down of the O-zone layer. We've performed demonstrations on animal activism, we've told stories of cruelty and we've told stories of great compassion to counteract them... but it is simply never enough. Until we all wake up out of this hellish nightmare that we have engulfed ourselves in and enlighten our communities to the horrors that the papers don't print about, or that the news channels don't display for family viewing, our world will continue to struggle and the suffering will never cease.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
HOW TO BEGIN YOUR OWN JOURNEY
I encourage you with all my heart to make it your pledge this year to adhere to the movement that is rapidly and wonderfully sweeping our nation in order to make Mother Earth the sustainable haven that she and all its inhabitants deserve. We are the only species that can save it and bit by bit, decision after decision, we have the potential to do so. But it all starts with when we decide that we want to be a part of the revolution for great change.
If you are considering becoming a herbivore then first of all; PAT ON THE BACK FRIEND! The animal kingdom, the planet and all us veggies applaud you. Secondly, ensure you have done some research in how to replace the foods you've become accustomed to, because I found that whenever I tried to become plant based before and failed, it was because I tried to cut out those foods completely and then had cravings that I didn't know how to deal with. Caving under pressure is all too easy and so to avoid it you need to have lots of yummy vegan/veggie snacks lined up!
As I mentioned before, I found it a little more difficult to cut out fish then I did meat, and dairy even harder, purely because of how many foods actually contain dairy products. If you are an avid carnivore wanting to make the switch then I suggest not going completely cold turkey (pardon the pun) in order to avoid a 'relapse' - but take it in week long stages. Begin by cutting out red meat like your heavy steaks and processed bacon/sausages, then white meat such as chicken and other poultry, then fish and seafood and BOOM! You're left with mother natures finest to dine on 'til your little hearts content.
The tool that proved most useful to me, other than the constant nagging (that I am now eternally grateful for thanks Courtney) from my earth advocating friends, was sitting down and paying FULL attention to the following documentaries:
2. What the Health
3. Black Fish
About ten minutes in to watching COWspiracy I said "I'm never eating meat again" and Black Fish eradicated any desire to go back to Sea World and the likes (which as a child I unknowingly went to and adored). The thing is, me sitting there and saying out loud 'I think I'm going to change the way I consume and live' is one thing, but to have information, science and statistics thrust upon an undecided mind is the best encouragement for someone who is sat on the fence.
ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE WISE WHO WISH TO BE WISER
So, whether you're just curious or whether you are ready to make the switch, here are some encouraging positive reasons on how becoming a vegetarian will benefit your life, collated from fellow meat-free friends:
You'll join a community of people who are fighting for a better world! Being in the midst of animal and planetary kindness is extremely elevating.
Going vegan could save the planet. According to WWF's Livewell report, switching to a plant based diet could cut our carbon emissions by 70% if everyone was to do it! In 2006 the UN reported that livestock generate more greenhouse gases than all the vehicles in the world combined. Imagine if we eradicated our meat industry - we could live cleaner, greener and more harmoniously with our furry friends. The single largest positive impact an individual can have on the environment is to adopt a plant based diet.
Be a voice for the voiceless. Animals don't have the capacity to speak up for themselves, so we need to do it for them. The poor creatures that are caged, raped, impregnated, beaten, inhumanely murdered and tortured every day, need advocates to stand up and speak out where they cannot. Often we choose to put our pets on a pedestal and treat them with more kindness than we do the rest of our wildlife, but what is it about dogs and cats that make them so different to a cow or chicken? They are no more intelligent or deserving of life.
Help end world hunger. Another biggie... incredible isn't it? Not only could we gain control of global warming, but we could save our fellow humans from starvation too. It makes you understand why vegans are SO passionate about their lifestyle. We aren't preaching a religion people, we're sharing KNOWLEDGE and FACTS and ACTUAL RESULTS! A heartbreaking statistic indicates that every 3.6 seconds, a person somewhere in the world perishes due to starvation - and it's likely that that person is a child under the age of five. 40% of our worlds grain production is used to fatten up the livestock that will then go to the slaughter house and become your Big Macs, and in more affluent countries, that number can sky rocket to 70%. If these grains were given directly to our starving population, then around 4 billion additional humans could be fed. Veganism isn't always directly about the animals.
Exercise kindness your new lifestyle will evoke the spirited, compassionate version of yourself and guide you and the people you surround yourself with to kinder living all round.
You'll become a culinary god my skills in the kitchen have excelled ten-fold. From grilling (and often burning) bacon and simply whacking a chicken breast in the oven, I have begun making my own hummus from scratch, blending vegetable soups and smoothies, formulating patties made from black beans or homemade falafel mix, made dozens of delicious veggie curries and experimented with plant based alternatives to popular meat dishes (think nut roasts and burgers etc.!). Cooking is so much more exciting, often quicker and you know EXACTLY what is going in, where it came from and how it was produced.
It's great for your physical health. Becoming a veggie reduces the likelihood of you suffering from the number one killer; heart disease, as well as a reduced risk of developing cancer. It'll keep you regular too - meaning a lot less toilet trauma! Hand in hand with health benefits, comes good news for the economy too. Diet-related chronic diseases, stroke, obesity and diabetes etc. cost our medical centers billions every year, which will be coming out of your pocket during retirement with many people unable to afford their own medications. So eat well now, and avoid paying for it later.
It's great for your mental health with the constant negativity prevailing our technological era, it's great to be actively pursuing something that has a positive impact on the planet and yourself. Nature is the best healer for anyone who feels they are suffering under the weights and strains of social pressure, so why be a part of something that is seeking to harm it? Clear your mind and clear your conscience when you're dining and living your best life guilt free.
Animals are cool, we should be watching them, loving them, looking after them, learning from them, studying them - not eating them or using their tusks, tails and hides for our own 'luxuries'. Most creatures are sentient, intelligent beings who can experience love, loss and pain - they have every right to co-exist compassionately with us.
Avoid harmful contaminants. Meat often harbours hormones, herbicides and pesticides, and antibiotics. Viruses, bacteria and parasites such as salmonella, trichinella and other worms, and toxoplasmosis parasites are also at risk of been obtained from ill-prepared flesh food.
You'll find it easier to lose weight and keep it off
The greater the demand, the greater the options. If more people turn to plant based diets, the more cafes and eateries will cater to their needs. With mass change comes mass demand - and with mass demand there is money for businesses to make. Those who worry that the reduction in farming, hunting and any other occupations that involve the meat industry are going to leave many humans without jobs, think again! What will be will be, and there will always be jobs for catering - it'll just be a different type of catering. In order to advance and move forward, we need to think ahead and strategically plan for a new wave of conscious living to take over.
Live longer and slow the aging process. A study published in the British Medical Journal advised that because plant-based diets are rich in fiber, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, a person on this diet could outlive a meat eater by six years.
You'll become wiser, more intelligent and well informed on the ways of the world. Since actively reaching out for information and doing 'outside reading' I feel so much more enlightened on what goes on out of the media.
It's good to be a shepherd, not a sheep. Not in the literal sense, though I'm sure grazing on grass all day is in every way riveting, but what I mean is that we veggies are still a minority. Start the trend with your pals... be the one who gets the ball rolling and then when one day we are the majority, it'll be a huge cause for celebration! And you can say it all started here...
Watch this space: COMING SOON! The best replacement snacks and meals for when you're transitioning.