Reflections On 5 Years In Veganism
September 15, 2007 was the day I said to myself, “I no longer want to eat meat.” Though it was not my initial intention, by January of 2008, I had stopped consuming animal products entirely. While I have been free from animal foods since, I don’t consider myself “the perfect vegan“; there are some items of clothing I have that are still made with leather, for example, a pair of moccasins as well as some of my motocross gear (boots, pants). Most of this was purchased before I adopted veganism and today I make the extra effort where possible to find products that are made without any animals involved in the process, but, to be transparent, I still have these things in my closet.
While I have had valid discussions with others that it might not be possible to be 100% vegan (animal products sneak into a multiplicity of areas we wouldn’t normally suspect), it is possible for each individual to reduce their consumption of products directly or indirectly made from animals to a minimum (i.e. to a point where it is no longer profitable for companies & organizations to produce something in that regard). It is my hope that my example is positive enough that those around me will seriously consider this possibility.
This is the main reason for my interest in what I term a proper vegan diet; one based around abundant consumption of whole, preferably organic, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, grains, & seeds as well as water. Just because one adopts a vegan diet or a vegetarian diet, it doesn’t automatically mean that it will be healthier. There are many vegan & vegetarian individuals who eat essentially a SAD diet sans meat. They have lots of veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs, non-dairy milks, yogurts, cheeses, etc. While these products don’t have the problematic ingredients that animal products do (cholesterol, excess saturated fat, trans fat, hormones, etc.), they are all still processed foods with more sugar, fat, & salt than one should be consuming regularly. The majority of these products are made from processed soy as well; while natural soy can play a positive role in one’s nutrition, processed soy has been linked to many maladies that are just as damaging as those induced by animal products. What problems these folks may deal with are the result of too much junk food, not a lack of animal products. Vegan & vegetarian diets can be comprised of too much junk food, the same as animal based diets can.
These people have become the face of veganism & vegetarianism, and I believe this is where people get these ideas about malnutrition from abstaining from animal products or that the philosophy behind either is just a bunch of self-righteous gobbledygook. So that animal suffering be eradicated, the world’s environment restored, and the health of people I love & respect can be given back to them, I want that stigma to change. Thus, I live the fit, healthy, happy, vegan lifestyle the best way I know how. Am I the best at anything I do? Certainly not. I just try to be good enough that people will consider my position when they sit down to the dinner table.
Something I have come across more than I would care for is commentary from people who are not, have never been, nor have any intention of becoming vegan on all sorts of topics. I have been told (directly and indirectly) what I can & can’t accomplish athletically as well as how I’m to behave with regards to my views in social settings. Before I go any further, I would like to say to people to try it (and try it properly) before you claim to know anything about my or any other vegan’s perspective. With that said, something that I have heard a lot is “how disciplined I am” to adhere to this lifestyle for this long.
Let me say that I’m not a good example of discipline. When something comes up I don’t want to do, I’ll fight it, grumble about it, or maybe just skip it if I can get away with it. I pick only the foods I enjoy, and I still give in to temptation in the form of vegan ice cream, cake, or cookies every now & then. What I do have though is real, genuine, honest conviction. I believe that when your conviction is real, decisions are easy. My decision to stop eating meat was literally cold-turkey (no pun intended); I went to bed one night having eaten meat for supper, and I woke up the next day to have never eaten it since. I have also had no desire to consume it; I have sat across the table from pizza, burgers, prime rib, & the Thanksgiving turkey with no cravings whatsoever. With regards to dairy my feelings today are the same, though I spent 4 months after ceasing meat before I realized I didn’t need milk either. I can do this because I harbor a sincere belief in my position. Being vegan is not about discipline, it is about doing what your heart feels is right & true.
I feel there is a great hypocrisy in the world when it comes to animals as food. I have been around people who strongly advocate issues such as civil rights, pro-life, anti-war, environmental well-being, health & disease management, and even limited areas of animal welfare (puppy mills, fur, breed discrimination, etc.) who turn the blindest of blind eyes to what’s on their plate. I don’t pretend to understand how or why people do this, but I desperately try to reach them, because it doesn’t matter what you say, consuming animal products is still contributing to the holocaust of 54 billion animal deaths every year for food (and all the side effects that come with it).
I’ve also become increasingly frustrated with the perceived quality of a nutrition philosophy being equated with how dehydrated & ketogenic it can make your body. Yes, lots of models & bodybuilders use a calorie restricted diet based around a high percentage of meat & dairy products to cut up for a photo shoot. That does not mean it’s healthy. Besides the fact that a lot of people who are in these areas use some type of steroids or related anabolic drugs, they don’t maintain that physical state for more than a matter of hours before they binge their hearts out. While they’ll tell you how miserable it is, there is a widespread idea that you can eat this way with good comfort. If you take off the limiters of calorie restriction & the minute window of time the resulting physical state lasts, in addition to the steroids, what happens? Obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, & osteoporosis become very real concerns. If you keep the calorie restriction in place, then you end up risking eating disorders the likes of anorexia & bulimia.
As far as I’m concerned, a truly healthy, sustainable diet allows you to eat as much as you care for without any degenerative effects. I, and many others, have found that a whole-food plant-based vegan diet is the best bet for this. Yes some people have allergies to soy, gluten, corn, or something else; veganism is not bound to any specific food. You are free to make it what you will, and there are examples of all kinds of individuals doing it to look towards.
For all that a proper vegan diet can do, I want to say that it’s not a miracle. It simply allows your body to do what it needs to do with a minimal amount of load to get in the way. While many on the outside feel that a vegan lifestyle is based on a conscious deprivation, those of us who thrive this way know that it is anything but. We don’t make choices from the mindset of, “I can’t have this or that.” Rather we know what we want; good health, high performance, a clean conscience, peace, & good taste (despite what many believe that food without meat & dairy is void of flavor).
Keep it strong, keep it vegan.