10 things being vegan has taught me

2012-01-31-lola-lollipop-i-could-never-be-vegan-comics-about-food-199

“Veganism is the philosophy that rejects the commodity status of sentient non-human animals. Vegans abstain from the use of animal products and derivatives as far as practical and possible (regardless of how they are obtained) in every facet of their lives such as diet, clothing, toiletries, skincare, furnishings and entertainment etc.” So in English, that means vegans chose to leave animals alone.

Once upon a time five months ago, I was reluctantly consuming animals and their secretions. Whilst I have dipped into veganism on two occasions before, I failed to continue due to a cacophony of moral questions and due to being a lazy excuse for a human being.

After my stay at the reforestation project Sadhana Forest in India, I was vegan and surrounded by other vegans for a month. Even meat eaters were required to be vegan within the forest so there was a big opportunity to explore these ideas in a mixed community of over 100 volunteers. My stay there made me realize how wrong so much of how I live my life is, and since then I have committed myself to veganism and the philosophy it promotes.

Since taking the leap, I’ve tried my best not to mention it casually due to receiving the same regurgitated list of questions and justifications for using animals. Whilst I understand these reactions due to being a carnivore for over twenty years myself, I also know what it takes to make a change. The more I learn, the more veganism seems completely logical. As a result, the information is burning away inside me whilst I find a peaceful way of expressing it in a world of McDonald’s fiends.

There’s a lot that can be said about veganism and it’s a perpetual debate. I can only talk about my own experiences and how it has affected me. But it turns out that veganism has had an amazingly positive impact on the lives of many people and on my own.

We don’t learn things by being told, we simply take it in. We usually really learn things once an experience requires us to. So when I talk about my personal experiences, I do so with the sole intention of spreading how the change has affected my life. If you eat meat, that’s your choice. I come in peace.

Lists seem to have become an efficient way to pique the interests of the attention deficient Internet dwellers of this world – including myself. So here’s one I wrote about some things I’ve learnt since taking the leap.

1. More about food than meat ever taught me

So as you may or may not have heard, the only things vegans eat are lettuce and nuts. Except actually that’s not true. Nature has kindly provided us with an extensive catalogue of tasty things that do not require a painful slaughter process for us to eat them.

Since becoming vegan, I’ve had to educate myself more about food so that I don’t shrivel up and pass away in a beans on toast coma. That means now my diet has 100% more variety and I know where all of it comes from, the kinds of effects  it’s going to have on me and that no animals were harmed in the making, man.

2. How to cook

After learning more about food, I also had to learn how to cook it. It’s one thing knowing what kale is, but it’s another thing knowing how to use it. In the kitchen, I have been forced to learn how to cook and how different ingredients work with each other. The best part is that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever been forced into doing.

Being vegan can make eating out difficult and makes microwave meals near impossible. With the majority of convenient, unhealthy foods cancelled out of my diet and being on a low-budget, I’ve had to be very open-minded in my approach to food. As a result, I can whip up a simple, healthy, tasty and cheap dish which 99% of the time makes people think twice about all this vegan malarkey.

3. Practice what you don’t preach

It’s a simple concept that is easy to overlook. In the past I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve felt the need to preach needlessly to fill the void where my own commitment to the cause was lacking. It’s one thing to have ideas, but putting them into practice is a whole different ball game.

I’ve now committed myself to not preaching about my beliefs (except on the faceless world of the Internet where consequences don’t exist, duh.) What that means is, I educate myself to the best of my ability about my ideas on how the world could maybe work in a nicer way, and I try my best to apply it to my everyday life.

After this is all done, world peace has been achieved, society is made up of sustainable communities and other animals are left alone – people will undoubtedly want to know how this perfect utopia they thought was impossible came to be. Then it’s my turn…

4. The nature of justification

“But I like the taste of meat.” “But we’re at the top of the food chain.” “But what will we do with all the animals if we’re not eating them?” “But what about protein?” “But we have canines” “But if it’s free range it’s ok.” The arguments vary from mildly thoughtful to so lame I almost feel sorry for those burdened with such excuses. But the point isn’t to condescend to people, the point is to inspire positivity and change. So I want to try my best to remain focused on spreading information with as little malice as possible.

The problem is that as a vegan receiving the same kinds of questions, you get a lot of practice with developing your viewpoint and putting meat-eaters in the wrong. It’s a damaging realization that if expressed outwardly will make most people think you’re a dick – but I feel in a position to say that in the modern world, all arguments against veganism are wrong. How do I live with this burden of self-righteousness? I just shut up and smile of course.

People who like meat do so because they were conditioned to as youngsters. There are no known illnesses related to lack of protein, only to too much protein. We’re barely at the top of the food chain and even if we are, it means we are instantly granted with a responsibility to look after the world and all other inhabitants, not to abuse the power for our own selfish gains. If we’re not eating them, most of the animals will be spared a miserable existence in a cage and even if they’re free range, how would you like to have your nipples squeezed every morning and be robbed of what you use to feed your kids?

We have canines as a result of an evolution process that took place thousands of years ago when we were too busy thinking the world was flat and running away from tigers to contemplate an inclusive philosophy on how empathy could impact the global community positively. I’m pretty sure I’m lacking the correct historical references there, but you get my point you pedantic sod. The world has moved on since the development of canines, for better or for worse? Your choice.

Upon mentioning that you’re vegan, you can almost guarantee that there will be one of three responses. Some will raise their eyebrows in a mysterious reaction that will leave you wondering how their perception of you has plummeted, some will instantly defend themselves for not being vegan and some will attempt to make fun of your choices whilst simultaneously making themselves look like the joke.

The reason for this is that upon the idea of veganism entering most people’s consciousness, they are confronted with the possibility that their choices could be wrong. They also think that as a vegan you are somehow perched on some moral high ground where you think you are better than them, which gives them a reason to hate you and possibly launch a verbal or physical attack in your direction.

In actual fact this is all born of personal insecurities and I’m just trying my best to be a good person and make the right choices, I can’t force anyone to do anything, nor do I wish to. If someone’s ego feels threatened by this in some way, then all I can say “thank you, have a nice day” and carry on with my tofu.

5. To listen to my body

The increased attention I pay to my diet has also meant I’ve been listening to my body a lot more in order to check out how it is adapting to all this lettuce.

The body is totally set up to let you know how it’s getting on, it’s amazing what you can learn once you start paying attention.

For example, no one is hungry in the morning, so now I won’t eat breakfast until I get hungry. A lot of the time, hunger is psychological and can often be dehydration mistaken for hunger. So now I’ll drink water at every given opportunity.

After a good vegan meal, far from feeling full, I felt light and full of energy to apply to being productive. I now know that I should not feel full after a meal as comparitively, being full means I feel foggy and unable to do anything for hours afterwards.

Sometimes I get tired in the early evenings. Before I would have avoided a nap in order for me to sleep better that night, now I go for a nap and sleep less that night. If my body wants me to sleep that much, who am I to prevent it?

This method of listening to my own body instead of what someone else tells me about it has also applied itself in all other areas of my life.  It is also part of the bigger picture of an increased overall awareness, which leads me to the next thing I learned about..

6. All other worldly contributions

Becoming a vegan plunges you into the world of ethics and dangerous questions – the rabbit hole gets really deep and I speak for myself here when I say it scared me away for the two years after I tried veganism out.

How do I know that the universe inside this grain of rice isn’t the home of amazingly intelligent wildlife? Do plants not have feelings? What about all the money I’m giving businesses who continue to sell meat? Oh shit I’m going to have to start composting and recycling, what a hassle.

All my previous doubts were simply my own lazy excuses about applying myself to a change that will obviously be difficult at first. But now I realize I don’t need to strive for perfection, but simply to do my best to reduce my personal negative contributions to the world.

Now I know once I am set up with a base, I will recycle and compost to the best of my ability, abstain from animal products to the best of my ability, try to grow a bit of food and try my best be good to the planet and its inhabitants. Something somewhere is responsible for my heart beating right now and all that is good in my life, and I owe everything around me thanks for it.

7. Empathy

So here’s another conundrum. Most people when driving will swerve out of the way if a cow walks out in the road. But that evening chances are that meat might be on the menu, maybe even beef. What is this?

Empathy is another feeling that will bubble more prominently to the surface once you start listening to your body. The connection you feel with all other animals and the sadness you feel when they suffer intensifies once you’re paying attention.

The problem is the world we live in teaches us to be completely detached from our food and what it is and to maximize our enjoyment from it.  As a result, we have a world full of people who would struggle comprehending that the hunk of flesh on their plate was once a living, breathing creature that they would probably stop to admire on a walk in the park.

Some people might also say that animals don’t suffer like we do, but a quick search on YouTube will put a stop to that idea.

People often allow their empathetic reach to stop at personal human contact, but suffering is suffering regardless of whether you can see or connect with it, and a lack of empathy is a lack of empathy. It’s the same lack that is allowing war and suffering to continue the way it does

No we can’t just learn all-encompassing empathy overnight – but we can take baby steps towards caring more about our actions and taking something but our own lives into consideration

8. Positivity

That’s right, once upon a time I was a miserable pessimist who disguised his negativity with the argument that he was a realist. Maybe there are still traces of that, but I have since seen the light and know what pessimism breeds, why I need to get past it and how.

Although being vegan has been difficult, especially while I’m travelling, the fact I have remained committed makes me feel good about myself and as a result, confident and able to be a better person.

Optimism breeds smiles and change in a world that really needs it, pessimism allows everything that is wrong in the world to persist. I’ve made my choice.

9. It doesn’t have to be so complicated

One of the main problems is that many people, including myself previously, dismiss veganism as a belief for some bearded extremist who lives in the woods. Whilst you’d be a dick to judge this guy even if he does exist, veganism is actually perfectly accessible, simple and logical once you take a good look at it. By dismissing things with negative imagery, we just make ourselves feel comfortable with our lack of consideration for it.

If you don’t care so much for nutritional jargon and hours of research – that’s fine. Just buy a heap of fruit and vegetables from a local market, try to get organic if your budget allows for it, drink a lot of water and maybe even sacrifice a couple of beers at the weekend for a few items from a health shop. Anything else you want will be in your local independent shops where things may be a fraction more expensive, but the money contributes to the humble needs of the family who run the business, and not the swimming pool in the supermarket executive’s garden. Simple right?

10. It doesn’t have to be perfect either

Well this obviously depends on what your definition of perfect is. But mine includes a world where there is maximum empathy and minimum suffering, as would most other people’s I imagine. Whilst this probably won’t be achieved fully in our life time, we can definitely work towards making it a possibility.

Every small change makes a difference and if only we could switch this ‘no one else cares so I don’t care’ attitude into ‘I care and other people will care once they know what is possible’ attitude.

So even if a person who leaves the tap on whilst they brush their teeth reads this and decides to stop, and then tells their friends why they decided to stop and they stop to, there’s a little bit of water saved which on global scale could solve many problems.

I wouldn’t go as far as to think my feeble experience in veganism credits this rant with enough power to inspire anyone, but I hope it at least gives all of you some food for thought. Thanks so much for reading!

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