June 1st marks my five year anniversary of switching to a vegan lifestyle and in honour of this landmark day, I thought I'd write about some of the major lessons I've learned along the way.
In many ways, not that much has changed. The last time I ate meat was two decades prior anyway and the amount of dairy alternatives (cheeses, milks and yogurts) has sky rocketed to the point where I don't even feel I'm making any sacrifices but still, veganism has fundamentally changed my life in many other ways. I'm now constantly aware of the complexity of adequate nutrition, sustainability issues, and even political factors that affect the health and lifestyle of our generation. I'm healthier (although more on this below) and savvier, snapping up seasonal produce and bulk-buying kitchen essentials like grains and pulses. I feel a consistent kind of inner peace from knowing that I'm doing all that's in my power to protect the environment but on the flip-side, when I slip (and that I do) the feeling of guilt (or eco-anxiety as they say) become very real. It has been far from a perfect journey and there is a lot I learned along the way with I'm sure, more to follow.
1) People are accommodating. In the beginning, my biggest worries were that I would not fit in anywhere, that I’d cause unnecessarily hassle and that I’d struggle to feed myself while travelling. All of these ended up untrue. Yes, some people may be confused at first but once I take the time to elaborate, I never feel judged. And eating vegan while travelling ended up a true blessing. By seeking out vegan restaurants or vegan options (that are everywhere, from my experience of travelling across the five continents) I’ve not only been able to eat nourishing meals, but also made countless connections with likeminded people. Some of my best memories from travels include spending time at these place. Free Bird Café in Chiang Mai, The Green in Cusco and Seeds of Life in Bali are a few that come to mind immediately, amazing food and times!
2) The risk of nutrient deficiency is very real. You wouldn't have been able to get me to admit this early in my journey but I’ve been diagnosed with several deficiencies in recent years despite eating a mostly whole foods diet. Most consistently, Calcium and Iron but also an Estrogen hormone dominance that that I suspect was partially caused by an Omega 3/6 imbalance. These deficiencies contributed to me developing serious ailments like anaemia as well as endometriosis. I’ve been turned away from donating blood twice (something I did regularly before) and required a laparoscopic surgery to remove the rouge endometriotic tissues that caused unbearable pain. Since all of this happened, I have been much vigilant about supplementing and tracking my nutrients to ensure I’m not falling short and, I’m convinced switching to a plant based diet is not something to be taken lightly, it has to be done responsibly.
3) Being prepared is paramount. Veganism is easy-peasy when you have full control over your shopping and you’re in your familiar surrounding. Mix in a work trip, a weekend away or transport delays and the best of intentions can get buried under stress and those pesky hunger signals that demand you feed them immediately with whatever you can find (and the more calorie dense that food, the better). I’ve learned to carry snacks when I know I’ll be away for awhile (protein bars, nuts and bananas work well) and feed myself a full nourishing meal before heading out to any social settings where I suspect my diet would not be catered for.
4) Black and white thinking is harmful. The ideal self knows what’s ultimately healthy and strives for perfection when it comes dietary choices. Similar to setting new years’ resolutions, it heads to the supermarket with strict intentions but life happens and of course, it ends up failing and giving up for awhile all together. This perfectionistic behaviour is ultimately harmful. It’s much kinder to allow yourself to slip, to savour the times you consume something off the allowed list without feeling guilty and to not discount the whole day just because you’ve made one un-ideal decision.
5) Veganism has become a trend. In London, the supermarket shelves have become lined up with expensive new products and trendy restaurants are constantly popping up everywhere you look. It’s amazing that there has been so must investment and interest in the field but truthfully, they are not a necessity and may distance people who find the price range out of reach. Rice, beans, potatoes and spices are some of the cheapest things at the shop and they don’t require any reinventing of the wheel. Being vegan does not mean forking out hard earned cash for expensive products although I’ve certainly enjoyed splurging every once in a while.
“All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death, all love life. See
yourself in others. Then whom can
you hurt? What harm can you do?
” Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)