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Cultivating Compassion with Vegan Food

Jo delves into the world of veganism and draws on her own experience as a vegan in this opinion piece. As many people decide to begin Veganuary, she offers encouragement, advice and tips on how veganism can change all of our lives for the better.


Image Credit: Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash.


Veganism can evoke many different reactions from many different people. Vegans are proud of the kindness they bring to a very cruel world. Ambivalent live-and-let-live type people, maybe flexitarians, easy going souls will likely be curious and supportive (the world needs more people like this too). Those who assume all vegans are preachy and holier than thou usually take to social media to quote tried and tested comedy greats like ‘Plants Feel Pain’ and ‘If we don't eat cows, they will take over the world’. Or the commonly used refrain, ‘We’ve been eating meat since we were cavemen’. Cave people have been known to eat each other but we didn’t take that kind of gastronomy into the modern world with us!

 

Let’s talk about Mother Nature. She is the most spectacular entity there is. Nature gave us food in abundance. Plants of every hue and flavour. Plants that heal us. Turmeric reducing pain as well as ibuprofen, plants targeting cancer cells, Aloe Vera soothing sunburnt skin, echinacea reducing cold symptoms, and mushrooms providing vitamin D; the list is endless. Nature intended us to eat the plants that grow around us. She did not intend us to invent intensive farming. We make our fellow creatures live in ways that are so far removed from their natural life that they cease to have a life at all. They are abused commodities. We even call them ‘livestock’ like that’s all they are. To use as we please. The folly of treating living beings this way is evident in the pandemics that have become a feature in our everyday lives. More will come unless we stop forcing animals to live in ways they were not meant to. Imagine spending your whole existence in a cramped cage with no access to light or fresh air or a normal family life. A prison sentence without committing a crime. This is how we treat the most vulnerable beings on earth.  


Veganism brings many benefits to the Earth. I’m sure we’d all rather live here than muck it all up and have to emigrate to Mars. Here are some facts: 80% of agricultural land is used for feeding animals. That’s worth repeating. 80% of our agricultural land is feeding approximately 100 billion animals that are slaughtered every year. If we switched to growing plants for the 8 billion humans instead, we could not possibly use all of that 80%. Think how many forests we could cultivate on that land instead, giving us the carbon capture that we desperately need. The global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss. Agriculture alone is the identified threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at threat of extinction. Think your beef burger isn’t harming anyone? Think again, it’s harming you and the cow, and it’s driving the extinction of many wild creatures. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that emissions from animal agriculture represent around 7.1 Gt CO2eq per year, 14.5% of annual anthropogenic (human activity generated) greenhouse gas emissions.


Veganism has brought many benefits to me personally. At 55 my weight is under control and I have youthful clear skin. I have an abundance of energy and feel fitter than I’ve ever felt in my adult life. I rarely get the afternoon slump that used to plague me. I eat a wonderfully varied diet of diverse and flavoursome food. I’m incredibly boring in any health survey because I suffer from no health issues, while others of a similar age are beginning to suffer the problems of advancing age - arthritis, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I do regular yoga, and have no aches or pains. My mood is the most balanced it has ever been. 


My four-year-old grandson very strongly vocalises that no one should be eating his animal friends. This is such a natural reaction from children. So why do people do the opposite of that very human response to other living beings?


Image Credit: Nadine Primeau on Unsplash.


Nudge Theory is the designing of an environment to encourage contrived choices based on free will. It was developed for us to make better choices, but as with all things, it’s not always used that way. We are being nudged every day by the government and by commercial companies. We have been nudged all our lives by our family and our peers. The choices we make may be ours, but they are encouraged in ways that we’re not always aware of and they may also be bad for us. We have been conditioned. Think about dairy adverts implying that calcium is vital to life and milk is the solution, and by the way, look at these happy cows eating grass in this field. You may be old enough to remember athletes in adverts with milk moustaches. Sports people drinking milk is a strong and insidious inference that’s hard to ignore. Product placement puts sweets near the till where bored kids in the queue will nag parents to buy and McDonalds or KFC sponsor sport - the implication yet again that if it’s linked to sport, it must be good. We’ve been convinced that we need vast amounts of protein whilst the National Diet and Nutrition Survey reports that people in the UK actually eat far more protein than they need. This is probably why every vegan in the world has been asked where they get their protein from! When it comes to being persuaded to eat something by nudging or outright bold claims, we should question what we’re being told. Follow the money. If someone is profiting from the information they are feeding you, then you should question it.


Then there is tradition. Eating a turkey at Christmas, chocolate at Easter, bacon and egg for breakfast. Tradition can sometimes stop us from evolving. It can stop us from embracing diversity, from being different.


We can be different, we can stop this fatal assault on ourselves, other beings and the planet. Would I advise people to be vegan? Yes, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. But don’t go cold turkey. Do it incrementally and you must be prepared to cook. Vegan food is the same as any other, if you don’t take the time to add flavour it will be boring and tasteless. The flavour in a good spaghetti bolognese doesn’t come from the beef, it’s a marriage of the wine, the tomatoes, the oregano, and the olive oil. Start with one meal per week or swap one item out of your diet every month. Try cutting out milk first, that’s quite easy to do. Or become a pescatarian first, then a vegetarian and once you’ve cracked that, try vegan. Remember, inside almost every vegan is the ghost of a former cheese lover. Find your good reason to change, your reason to make it stick, it could be for your health or your newfound understanding of the harm you’ve been causing to animals and the world. Do it for your children. Do it for yourself.

  

Be prepared to take some supplements. I take B12 and Omega 3. Even people who eat meat generally don’t get enough of these two vitamins. Eat Tofu as it’s a powerhouse of nutrition and my favourite meat replacement ingredient alongside mushrooms. Anyone who says tofu is crap, can’t cook tofu! Eat beans, eat nuts, eat the rainbow. Eat vegan meat alternatives occasionally, but don’t rely on them because they’re still processed.  Vegetables are remarkably versatile and over time your taste buds change; I never thought I’d crave vegetables!


Image Credit: Gonzalo Mendiola on Unsplash.


Here are some shoutouts to some great resources. For the latest scientifically evaluated information about plant-based nutrition: 


And if you think it’s a great idea to look after your brain: 


There are dozens of vegan recipe developers on Instagram once you start looking for vegan recipes your feed will be inundated. These are my favourites: 


About the Author: Jo Mann is not a stereotypical vegan (Let's face it stereotypes are usually wrong). She is a wife, mother, grandmother and Head of Intelligence for an emergency service. She’s been vegan since 2016 and hasn’t eaten meat for 11 years. She would like her grandsons to grow up and see a world resplendent in diverse beauty, where every creature is equally important, as Mother Nature intended.

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