In this feature, Karyn Jane discusses the Gift of Being Vegan - a gift for yourself, others and the planet – through her own transformative story. What do you think about it? You may contribute with your comments at the bottom of this page. Enjoy!
Four years ago, my kitchen looked very different to how it does now. My fridge was full of red meat, chicken and fish and I ate a lot of dairy products. I adored yoghurt, cheese and honey and I loved to have a big plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast on the weekends. All in all, a relatively normal standard Western diet!
Throughout my late teens and 20s I’d flirted with vegetarianism and gone back and forth between a diet full of plants and a diet full of animal products. I’d always liked the idea of veganism because of its ethical basis, but somehow, I’d never been able to find the motivation to stick with it. I had the mindset that it was one of the hardest things in the world to do, and that only health freaks and environmental superheroes could do it!
However, a depressive episode at the end of 2013 led to me re-evaluate my life and question who I wanted to be. I’d always considered myself an environmentalist but when I found out the devastating effects of animal agriculture in terms of greenhouse gases released (it is more damaging to the environment than all the world’s transportation!) I knew I had to really start walking my talk. I set myself the goal of being vegetarian again within the month and being completely vegan within the year.
As it turns out, I didn’t need anywhere near that amount of time to make the switch – and I was about to discover that going vegan was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
You see, it’s hard to understand the true benefits or importance of being vegan until you’ve tried it.
A lot of vegans talk about “waking up from the matrix”. It’s that feeling of realising just how deeply you’ve been lied to – it’s quite shocking once you begin to learn.
I won’t go into all the horrible details about what happens to animals in factory farms here. I’m sure you would prefer to read a light-hearted blog post! Besides, all the sad facts can be discovered with a quick Google search or by watching one of the many great documentaries out there, such as Earthlings or If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls.
What I’m going to do instead is focus on all the benefits of veganism – how you can become a happier, healthier person and how you can treat the world around you with even more kindness than you already do.
Because I firmly believe that everybody is good. Everyone wants to treat the planet, and the animals, with love and kindness, and veganism is a fantastic way to do that.
Culturally, Western societies have such an ingrained idea that we need animal products to thrive as human beings. We believe we need three serves of dairy a day to get adequate calcium, or we need some form of animal flesh to get enough protein and iron. It’s simply not true!
What if I told you that the very people telling us we need dairy for calcium, or meat for protein and iron, are the people selling those products? Look down in the corner of any commercial espousing the health benefits of consuming animal products and you will see it is sponsored by lobby groups from the animal agriculture industry.
But the truth is, you don’t need to eat animal products to be healthy. You can get enough protein, iron, calcium, magnesium and any other micronutrient from a plant-based source. Even vitamin B12, so often associated with meat, can be obtained from a non-animal source such as nutritional yeast.
(In fact, I just saw my doctor this very morning and he told me my vitamin B12 levels are wonderful – better than most meat eaters!)
Consuming a diet high in plant foods is also very beneficial for balancing your body’s pH levels. We want to aim for a slightly alkaline state, as an acidic pH can lead to numerous health problems such as cancer.
Animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy make for a more acidic environment, and to balance things out your body will draw on its reservoir of calcium carbonate – the biggest source of which is in your bones. Therefore, ironically, consuming a lot of dairy can increase your risk of osteoporosis instead of reducing it! To avoid all of this, you can simply gain your calcium from plant sources such as leafy greens, which will make your bones strong whilst maintaining healthy pH levels inside your body.
Vegan diets also naturally reduce cholesterol, hypertension, your risk of many cancers, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Many vegans report increased levels of energy, reduced weight and many other improvements in their physical health.
You don’t even need to be overly health focused to see the health benefits of veganism. I am what some call a “junk food vegan” – I adore indulging in vegan treats and even processed vegan food occasionally. I was bulimic as a teenager and I enjoy finally not feeling guilty over what I eat, so I don’t count calories and if I am getting enough vitamins and minerals, I don’t worry too much about things like oil and salt. But even I have seen marked improvements since going vegan. My skin is clearer, I sleep better and I have lost about 20 kilograms.
Who doesn’t want to do more to help the environment? We all know that Mother Earth really needs a hand right now and I’m sure you’ve already done some research into how you can help her more.
Did you know that going vegan is probably the biggest way you can reduce your carbon footprint? It helps even more than giving up your car.
According to the United Nations, the raising of animals for food, their transportation to slaughter and the further transportation of animal products to points of sale produces a shocking amount of greenhouse gases.
In a 2006 report it was found that animal agriculture accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas production, with transportation (cars, trucks, trains, ships, even aeroplanes) accounting for only 17%. And according to the documentary Cowspiracy, it’s likely the figure is now higher than 18%.
In comparison, the production of plants creates far less pollution, uses far less water and takes up much less land. We are currently using 30% of the world’s land mass to raise animals for food – yes, 30%! This is because as well as having places to raise the animals, we must grow plants to feed them with – and the animals eat far more than we humans do.
If we weren’t raising animals for food, we could use some of that space to grow more crops to feed the world’s starving. Currently 1 billion humans are malnourished, but we could easily feed them if we used the land to grow plants instead of raise livestock.
Furthermore, we might be able to turn some of that 30% of the world’s land mass back over to nature – allowing wild spaces and ecosystems to flourish again.
This one is, I believe, one of the best reasons to go vegan!
It has made such a difference to my mental health to know that my dietary choices cause the absolute minimum amount of suffering in the world. Nobody suffered to make my food – or my clothing or beauty products for that matter. (Remember, veganism is about eliminating all animal products from your life, not just your diet!)
Because you’re a good person, I’m sure you already try only to consume animals that have been killed humanely. Sadly, the truth is that humane slaughter doesn’t really exist. Even during legally-sanctioned “humane” practices, the animals still experience unimaginable terror and pain.
We would all really like to believe that their deaths are instant and painless but unfortunately, they are not – plus, as many of my vegan friends say, “There is no right way to kill someone who doesn’t want to die”.
If you adopt a vegan lifestyle, you are ensuring that no sentient beings suffer for your choices. Although it can also be very sad discovering the truth about animal agriculture, you will also feel incredibly empowered once you understand how simple it is not to contribute to the horror.
Prior to being vegan, I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression and I can honestly say that has been vastly reduced. I am sure that this is not only because of the physical changes in what I put into my body, but also due to my improved self-esteem knowing I have made a difference in the world.
Every day that you are vegan you will save 1,100 gallons of water, 40 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest, 20 pounds of CO2, and the life of one animal. Every single day.
That’s a huge positive impact!
There are a few steps I recommend everybody take once they decide they want to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
Some people go vegan overnight, but many people find this quite difficult. It can be a huge change, especially once you begin realising just how many of your favourite foods contain animal products. So, I would recommend first focusing on giving up meat, and then giving up other animal products later.
If you are already vegetarian, that’s fantastic! You have already done so much to help. But don’t stop here. Sadly, the production of eggs, dairy and even honey does kill animals and cause them immense emotional pain. So, work at removing the rest as quickly as you can – some people choose to remove one animal product at a time, so if this works for you that’s great.
Ultimately, we want this to be a long-term change, so you definitely don’t want to approach this like a fad diet. Have you ever tried one of those incredibly restrictive eating plans, only to give up and cave in three days later? Me too! Sometimes massive change just isn’t sustainable. So, take it a step at a time and you will succeed.
Why do you want to be vegan? What aspect of the vegan lifestyle appeals to you?
Whatever it is – health, the environment, the animals, ethics, helping the world’s starving, even spirituality – keep that in mind. Do whatever you must do to remind yourself of why you have made this choice.
As mentioned earlier, I recommend watching documentaries such as Earthlings, If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls, Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives and What the Health to help you stay committed. Follow various vegan personalities on social media, or like the Facebook pages of well-known animal sanctuaries or groups in the Save Movement, a worldwide network of people who hold peaceful vigils outside slaughterhouses. Mentally consuming some of this material can be tough emotionally but it can also help you keep your resolve.
The biggest thing that stops people from maintaining a vegan lifestyle is that they often do not know how to stay nourished. If you are used to getting your iron, calcium, protein and B12 from animal products, it can be difficult to know where to get these micronutrients in the plant world.
But before you can even find out where to get these nutrients, you need to know where your new vegan diet is falling short. You need to check just what nutrients you really are consuming now. So, use a tracking website such as Cronometer to see how you are going. If you notice you are not getting an adequate supply of a certain mineral, you can research what plants are rich in it and add those to your diet. Except for vitamin B12, everything you need can be found in plants.
Speaking of B12: you must pay attention to your levels. Not getting enough B12 can lead to long-term health effects that can be serious. However, there is no need to eat animal products to get it! Many vegans, myself included, make sure they get plenty of vitamin B12 and end up with more of it than some meat eaters! This can be done through tablets, injections or via products such as fortified nutritional yeast (affectional known in the vegan world as “nooch”).
As mentioned earlier, veganism is not just about your diet. Food is the largest part of being a vegan, but veganism is a lifestyle that avoids harming animals wherever possible. This means vegans do not purchase clothing or accessories made from leather, suede, wool or even silk. Vegans also do not use any personal products or cosmetics that contain animal products or which have been tested on animals.
You may have items in your cupboard such as leather jackets or shoes – don’t worry, you don’t have to throw them away just yet! Many vegans continue to use clothing and products that contain animal products if they purchased them prior to becoming vegans. It’s what you buy from now on that is the important thing.
Having said that, making the switch to veganism can feel huge and you may find it easier just to focus on your food for now. That is fine. As your diet is the bulk of your impact, mastering this area of life first will make a phenomenal difference, and you can begin tackling the other areas of life later.
Eventually you may wish to do away with all your existing clothing, accessories and cosmetics that are made with animal products. However, if or when you choose to do that is your choice. Some vegans sell these items and donate the money to animal sanctuaries, so that may be worth keeping in mind.
You will find that being vegan is far easier than you expected it to be – but there may be some aspects that are a little tough. Don’t worry! It all gets easier with time.
For example, some people find that the very last food they eliminate is cheese. They cannot figure out why, but they just find it so hard to give this one thing up!
What if I told you cheese is an actual physical addiction? That’s right. Dairy products have substances called casomorphins which are chemicals designed to bond a calf to his mother. He will literally become addicted to his mother’s milk, which is nature’s ingenious way of ensuring the species survives. But when we humans consume these chemicals, we are the ones who get addicted. Worse still, when milk is turned into cheese those chemicals are condensed and made stronger. This is why so many people find cheese and other dairy hard to give up.
Fortunately, as with any addiction, over time it can be broken and you will cease to crave it. So be gentle with yourself. Hold on to your resolve and don’t cave in, but also be kind to yourself.
Remember that you are doing something amazing and every day you choose plants over animal products, you are saving lives. Furthermore, you will be creating a kinder, more peaceful, more environmentally friendly Earth and you will be healthier physically, mentally and emotionally as well.
For more great resources on making the switch to veganism, check out these links:
Written by Karyn Jane
Karyn Jane is from Melbourne, Australia and runs the YouTube channel The Lost Lemurian where she teaches about sustainable living from a spiritual perspective. She covers topics such as veganism, environmentalism and the zero waste lifestyle and runs the Facebook group Veganism and Spirituality. You can also find her at www.thelostlemurian.com as well as on Instagram and other social media. Karyn also offers personalised Tarot card readings and coaching for spiritual entrepreneurs looking to launch YouTube channels of their own.
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