“Are you vegan?”
As a Holistic Nutritionist, I hear this question all the time.
All. The. Time.
The short answer? No.
I do pay homage to vegetarian ways and the natural foods movement origins and their generation. But I choose not to eat meat every day.
I also don’t like labelling the way I eat.
I know I’m not alone in this: most of us don’t want to fit into a box. As much as we’d love to believe there is ONE diet that works for every person, it’s simply not the truth.
Let’s take some time to move through five truths about going vegan, whether it’s your tried-and-true way of life, or a method of eating that you are currently exploring.
1. Vegan is not a “diet” in the way that we typically see diets.
We often see diets as short term attempts to lose weight, but people who have chosen to go vegan often do so for ethical reasons. It is a life choice, not a diet choice. Those of us trying plant-based or meat-free eating for the short term are feeling out plant-based nutrition.
You don’t have to say you’re “going vegan” because it is now trending. Committing yourself to veganism as a short term diet to lose weight is much different than the lifestyle shift needed to embrace vegan as a life choice.
Going vegan is a fantastic way to learn how your body feels on plants. But it does not mean that you have to treat it as a ‘diet’ or that you have to commit to being vegan forever.
2. You don’t need to be 100% vegan to be a good person.
Vegans believe they are changing the world. Yes, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting it’s healthier for humans to eat a plant-based diet. But convincing as it may be, that does not tell the whole story.
Guilting or shaming people for not eating the way you choose to only further divides the issue. We all see the world through our own lenses and experiences. There is no ‘better than you’ when it comes to nutrition. There is just a better for you.
People are allowed to try things on, see how it feels, see if they can incorporate it, and see if it works for their body. But if it doesn’t? Well, okey-dokey, and so…
3. There are other foods you can get protein from.
Picture a 1970s restaurant scene. Cigarettes/Manhattans/steak… a balanced meal?
We are certainly graduating to a new scene of local fare. Clean, whole, fresh, appropriately portioned and, when we can, organic. And because we aren’t saints, an occasional Manhattan.
Back in the luxurious, overindulgent days, we ate meat in excess. We may still believe that we need meat every single day to feed our bodies adequately or to get enough protein. It’s simply not true. Whole foods, plant-based diets are nourishing people all over the world, and even many top athletes are touting their love for whole foods.
4. You don’t need to label your nutrition in order for it to be healthy.
We have this idea that we need a special ‘diet’ to label ourselves with, get in line and follow perfectly for success. This is how the diet industry has seeped into our consciousness, and as a society, how we eat becomes a badge to wear.
How about mindful eating, and eating what feels right to us at the moment?
What about plant-foundational? What about flexitarian? What about how we are doing the best we can to feel well in the way that we know how?
You don’t have to be militant about your diet.
5. Factory farming is one big reason why many people choose to go fully vegan as a lifestyle.
Gone are the days of animals grazing the open fields with a sunset in the background. The treatment of thousands of animals needed to provide all the grocery stores with meat, across the continent, is no good. There is no grazing, there is no enjoyment.
The farm is based on sales and fast results, and sadly, Canada’s anti-cruelty laws do not protect farm animals from suffering caused by factory farming systems. The tragedy is that standard industry practices are responsible for some of the worst animal cruelty imaginable. You can do almost anything you want to a farm animal in the name of profit without breaking the law, provided standard industry practice is followed.
If you want to see what’s really happening, you have to go look for yourself, because improper animal conditions or animal abuse is easily hidden from consumer’s eyes.
There are well-earned philosophical arguments for animal rights. Spiritually speaking, there are practices thousands of years old that advocate against causing harm or hardship to animals.
We also know that industrial animal agriculture has a large role to play in greenhouse gas emissions.
However, some communities rely on animals for survival. There are cultural practices centred on the ritual of eating animals. There are people economically dependent on the animal agriculture supply chain. There are people who, because of the complexity of poverty, couldn’t be vegan, even if they wanted to.
Our comfort level with ourselves comes into play when we are making these types of balancing choices:
- Be comfortable enough in your own skin to not judge
- Be comfortable enough in your own skin to not feel judged by others
- Stand grounded in decisions that you know are right for you
To choose these options, we are refusing to polarize the vegan debate. It takes time to hone these skills and patience to perfect them. It takes trust to really grasp them.
Most importantly, you don’t need to fit yourself in a box to be doing the right thing.