Here is how I became vegan
This post was originally published under my Medium account at the time.
I’m sharing my journey of becoming vegan in the following essay. I will talk about the different aspects I studied in the past years, such as health considerations of a solely plant based diet, animal rights movement, and ecological sustainability. I will also explain why I don’t see veganism as the right solution even though I’m currently vegan. I will use a mix of western scientific literature, ayurvedic references and my personal experiences while discussing the subjects.
Chapter 1 — In which I decide to go vegan
I grew up in Hungary. I followed an average omnivorous diet. I ate meat and dairy on a regular basis. There were even periods in my life when I lived on fast food, and had the slice of pizza from last night cold in the morning as breakfast. I ate simply to satisfy my appetite. I didn’t care too much about what exactly I had as long as it tasted okay. I didn’t have any emotional attachment to any type of food really. Despite eating a lot, I maintained a thin body figure. My metabolism burns food quickly, and I was always quite active physically.
When I moved away from my parents, I started to cook for myself. Before that I hardly cooked. I got an old cook book with full of simple and cheap Hungarian dishes. This was how I started to prepare food for myself. It actually happened quite often because cooking was a significantly cheaper way to get food on the table. I couldn’t afford to eat out regularly so food was that I could save money off. I also started to visit nearby markets in the weekends. Primarily because of the price, and also because there I often found nicer vegetables and fruits than in the supermarkets. Since cooking became a daily activity in my life, I gained experience and I really got into it. I enjoyed doing it solo and with friends as well.
Many years later I became active on CouchSurfing. I hosted people every week for a year or so. I met people who were vegetarian. It bothered me that I could only cook for them a few dishes that did not contain meat. Every time I figured something out and prepared a meatless dish, I always thought how nicer it would be with a little meat. Not because I was a fond of it, simply because I was used to it. This gave me the idea that I needed to become vegetarian to really understand how to prepare meatless meals that are delicious on their own.
That said, I started to eat primarily vegetarian. I was curious to try the vegetarian offers in restaurants. I also experimented a lot with simply cooking something that was based on plants and dairy. I ate meat occasionally If I had the choice, I went with the vegetarian option. This was the time when I started to educate myself about food. First of all, I experimented much more with cooking. I cared more about the quality of the ingredients because suddenly vegetables became the prime not just the side. I checked out the ingredients on the back side of the products. I worried if I could still get enough protein (sic!) that made me more conscious about health considerations of various diets. Turning to a vegetarian diet made me more healthy not because I stopped eating meat but because I started to care more about my health and the food I ate.
Having an interest in vegetarian cooking and in healthy food in general made me get to know new people too. The first time I visited a goa trance festival I was introduced to vegan dishes. I was already aware that some people followed a solely plant based diet but it never really got my attention. During the week I spent at this festival I had incredibly delicious vegan daishes every day. I enjoyed the food so much that I decided that this is the type of food I wanna eat in the future. The people who I labelled vegan looked frankly really beautiful to me too. I said to myself, “fuck yeah, I wanna be more like these folks”. So I made up my mind and became vegan as an experiment. Given I have already changed my diet once, I was curious to see what effect going vegan would have on me. I also started to learn if I can maintain a balanced, healthy life on a plant based diet. I used the same approach to change my diet as before. Whenever I had the opportunity to eat vegan, I chose that. Sometimes I still ate dairy. Eventually I got to the point that all I ate was plants and therefore I concisely made the choice that for the future that this is what I want for myself. Up to date I follow a plant based diet with rare and conscious exceptions such as eating ghee for a few weeks as part of ayurvedic treatment.
Change is hard in general. Changing diet is no exception. There is plenty of literature available how you can introduce long lasting changes in your life. My personal approach to change is to do it as an experiment. I give myself the permission to go back if something does not work out as expected. There were times when I stressed myself much about what to eat. For instance at a random conference when I could not find anything for myself at the lunch buffet. This is wrong. I learnt that I should eat what I need. I started to rebuild my senses to be able to listen to what my body needs. It will tell you. When I craved for sweets or coffee, there was a need for it. It does not mean that consuming them will build a healthy diet, but I learnt to satisfy my immediate needs first and then change something to avoid that happening again. I’m not saying to eat cheese today and buy tofu from tomorrow. Change your lifestyle so that you won’t crave for cheese any more. If you wanna eat the cheese, then do so. And at the same time it’s helpful to understand why your body needs that. Take time to see if it’s only your mind that craves for that, and what impact this habit of yours puts on the environment.
Stressing about food or not giving yourself the food you need puts an extra burden on you. Brendan Brazier in his book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide dedicates a whole chapter to how one can reduce stress to increase vitality. It explains how stress can help us perform better and can exhaust the body on the long run. Inproper nutrition intake creates stress too. Brendan is a professional iron man that follows plant based diet for quite a long time. His book is based on conclusions of his own experiences and various researches that are not always scientifically proven according to the western approach. While I was struggling to find food that I chose to give to my body, I had very similar observations as him. His thinking helped me to understand the role of nutritional stress.
Since I became vegetarian and later vegan, many things changed in my life. It’s hard to say what was exactly the impact of certain dietary changes. What has clearly changed though is that my allergy is gone completely. As a teenager every summer was a nightmare for me because I couldn’t breathe normally. My nose was running constantly. I could not enjoy nature or the close companion of pets because I started to sneeze. Since I’m vegan, my body odor changed, my sweating habits changed, the smell of my urine and faces changed. I feel great about living on a plant based diet. I take medical tests every year and my results are great. I do feel great. My body allows all I want from it.
Social aspect of changing diet, especially going vegan, was sometimes challenging. While I appreciated all the curiosity of friends and random people about my reasons behind the change, it became tedious over time. It was also interesting to observe that suddenly everyone was very health conscious and was worried about my health and whether I got all the nutritions I needed. Yet they kept eating burgers made of the meat of sick, drugged animals. Eventually I mostly stopped going out and have food with friends in restaurants because the plant based options were pretty poor. If there were any at all. I’m aware that it’s getting better year by year and it’s great — and to be honest, that’s just one part of the story. Today I’m just generally less interested in not eating my food. In fact, the majority of the food I eat I cook it for myself. It’s partially because eating vegan is not healthy on its own. You can eat pretty shitty food and call yourself vegan. That’s out my interest. I prefer food that is unprocessed, comes from local and organic sources, prepared with love and fresh on the spot. I recently started to study Ayurveda and to apply its principles on my diet. You can call this a high standard or simply crazy, yet this is the food I decided to put into my body. This is my everyday medicine to maintain a healthy life.
Chapter 2 — Health considerations of a plant based diet
Going vegan doesn’t mean you will eat healthy. In fact, veganism isn’t related to health. It’s an environmental, animal rights movement that offers an alternative “way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” (The Vegan Society, 1979). At the same time, following a whole food, plant based diet can in fact have a positive effect on your life. Colin Campbell, in his book The China Study, demonstrates that common western diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, various cancer types, hearth diseases, all can be prevented and even reversed by proper nutritions provided by a mostly plant based diet. Campbell is a researcher from the US. In The China Study he compiles a summary of his researches of the past 30 years along with other researches from the same domain. He studies the conditions and causes of the mentioned diseases that are the leading reasons behind people’s death in the US. It’s not terrorists, it’s not car accidents, it’s the poor diet that people are served with. He also explores the connections of science and food and medicine industry, and explains how tangled they are.
There are many researches in the western world to prove whether certain dietary habits can cause health issues or they are safe life style choices. In fact, you can find many contradictory results that make it hard to understand what you’re supposed to eat. Even this book is criticised in many forums. Campbell shows that most of the North American researches assume animal based diet for their studies. When the same researches are repeated using plant based diet, the results are often different. Campbell points out that since Western food started to be accessible and popular in bigger Chinese cities, so did the western diseases appear more and more. In rural China, where people mostly consume plants and occasionally meat that comes from organic farms, people have rarely the diseases.
We spend lots of resources in terms of money and time to research what cause diabetes, cancer, obesity and other serious health issues in societies we call developed. We are in the business of treating sick people. We are not in the business of preventing people from becoming sick. We invent pharmaceutical drugs and vitamins to treat health issues. We create the illusion of popping pills is the way to balance one’s health. As individuals we would rather deeply believe in this than seeing what we can and need to change in our life style, including our diet. I totally understand this. Changing diet is hard per se. It’s easier to put the responsibility on the industry to develop the magic pill than taking the responsibility for my own health. There are several documentaries discuss this topic. The movie What The Health is good example that shows how US health and nutrition related institutes simply deny to comment the role of industrialised, highly processed and primarily meat and dairy focused diet in all major health diseases and keep recommending such diets on their website.
When people ask about my protein intake, I understand their confusion. We get very little education about health and food and even if someone takes the time to do the research on their own, they will likely find dead ends. I was very annoyed when I came to the realisation that western science has no holistic view on what diet one should follow. It cannot tell if I should follow a plant based diet or not. In fact, I found it very amazing that diet is rarely discussed or changed as part of the recovery process for an ill person. My chronic allergy was treated for several years with medicines and none of the doctors asked about my diet. Food is our prime medicine and yet we get subscriptions for the latest drug developments in a one-size-fits-all manner.
We bury ourselves so much in the analysis of individual elements that we lose the sight of the big picture. The western approach provides no comprehensive study on the relation of food and health that one could point to. There are only state and institute level recommendations corrupted by various motives. I find it very arrogant that in the name of evidence based science we fail to recognize the knowledge that can be acquired from “pseudosciences” such as Traditional Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda. We look down on sciences that give clear instructions on how to preserve one’s health. This is not to say that one is better or worse. All approaches have their own great achievements and additions to human’s knowledge. We should integrate these researches instead of rejecting them. There’s an informative talk given by Dr. B. M. Hedge called Ayurveda Over Western Medicines. He speaks about Ayurveda’s potential and how ayurvedic medicines are better for the human body in the long run than western medicines. His arguments are much debated too.
Chapter 3 — What taste is worth a life?
Do you know where your food comes from? In what conditions it was harvested and stored? Is it from an industrialised farm? Was it treated with hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, or other chemicals? How were animals kept and treated? How were they killed? Were they healthy in their life? Most people are far from their food sources. You buy a box of liquid labelled “milk” in the supermarket that has very little to do with fresh, raw cow milk. This gives an extra source of confusion to discussing various diets and their health aspects. We use a vocabulary of old times to refer to food, although we changed our food production dramatically.
Veganism is most often seen and advertised as an animal liberation effort. It promotes that we remove animal products completely from our diet. This reaction comes from the fact how large scale farming and meat and dairy industry abuse and exploit animals and the environment. Animals are constantly on drugs to increase their production in quantity and quality. They are locked up and kept in cruel conditions. They are treated as parts of a factory, not as beings. Imagine a woman who has been fed mostly on McDonald’s food. She spends all her life in a cage. She is on various drugs. She is constantly pregnant but her newborns are immediately taken away so that her milk can be tapped and given to others. She’s emotionally stressed out. She shares her space with tens or hundreds of women like her. Now imagine that this woman is actually a cow. You are drinking the milk of this animal. Is this really the food that you hope to get good health from? Is this really the system you would like to support and sustain?
One can challenge veganism for various reasons but let’s admit first what is currently happening to satisfy the dietary habits of the western world. Watch any of the documentaries about animal slavery, for instance Earthlings (free to watch) or Live and Let Live, to get one step closer to what you eat. If you prefer reading, Bronwyn Slater shares a list of each farmed animals and a summary of their exploits in her article Why Vegan?. You eat the meat products of these animals. Would you eat that burger again if you knew that before?
Being vegan creates an illusion that you can stop exploiting the environment by abstaining from the use of animal products, including diet, and choosing plant based alternatives instead. It also encourages, almost religiously, everyone to make this choice. While veganism definitely has elements that promote a better future on both environmental and individual level, as an answer to the problems it aims to address I believe it’s wrong. Animal abuse is definitely for immediate stop. At the same time it’s “just” one way of abusing our environment. Will it really solve the problem if we all go vegan and start eating banana, avocado and quiona tomorrow? While this might be liberating for animals, the large scale production of these farm goods still dramatically exploits our environment, including the people who work on those farms. Again, we are detached from our food sources. This is hard too see in our every day life. We need to develop an awareness of this and we need to start with ourselves. We need to liberate ourselves first.
Are we exploiting ourselves in our every day life? Are we in any sense similar to the animals in the meat industry? Are we providing the best conditions for ourselves that we can? Do we have nourishing food and relationships in our life? Do we take enough time to rest? Until these are not provided for ourselves, it’s very hard to empathize with other beings, be it our fellow humans or animals. We need to switch to an ecologically regenerative way of living. What we can do is that we can change our behaviour to take only a fair share from the environment and that, depending on our conditions, will not necessarily be a vegan choice. Going all of us vegan in the name of animal liberation will very likely only destroy Earth differently.
The other part in which veganism falls short is its relatedness to consumerism. It assumes certain purchasing power to make the switch. It’s easy to buy avocados and a new pair of faux leather shoes if you can afford. In fact, when going vegan has the message of choosing vegan products over others, it just changes the object of the consumption. As any movement that requires consumption for its success can only be successful within capitalism, which is, in contradiction, the major driver behind environmental exploitation.
Peter Gelderloos further explores this topic in his essay Veganism is a consumer activity:
“As an ideology, veganism fails to understand capitalism and ecology. It is incontestable that to save animals and the planet, capitalism must be abolished. Emphasizing the dubious power of consumer choices sabotages the fight against capitalism and ecocide. Existing as consumers, which is a role involuntarily imposed on all of us, is not compatible with nature, and in the long run the vegan diet is not the same as an ecological diet.”
“But as a whole veganism tends to spread a false consciousness. It misrepresents what means are capable of creating an ecological society and what lifestyles an ecological society could sustain. Vegans have spread the lie that you can’t be a meat-eating environmentalist, and suppressed the truth that you can’t be a capitalist environmentalist.”
“You cannot live in a capitalist society without killing animals and destroying the environment. We are all in this together, and the division between vegans who don’t kill animals and the rest of us who are responsible for enslaving animals and destroying the environment is stupid and self-righteous.”
Chapter 4 — Post veganism
Veganism is defined within the problem space. It offers to fix some symptoms of the current system of the modern world. In order to achieve significant, radical changes, we need to choose a different system though. “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” (R. Buckminster Fuller) I believe that we don’t need veganism but we need to change our relationship to ourselves and to our environment. As long as we are ignorant to the environmental damage our very every day living costs, going vegan is just a product we buy to remove guilt off our dinner plates.
Over the past one year I used my time to explore the world even more out of my box, to study different schools (degrowth, eco-communities, permaculture, Ayurveda, social enterprises) and to engage in activities that are to heal relationships (intentional communities, Sociocracy, Tantra) and environmental damages (natural farming, reforestation). I spent many months in Portugal where nature’s degradation, sometimes in the form of vast wild fires or lack of rainfall for a whole season, cannot be unseen any more. I got my world view challenged by many others who chose to live in world where we live together with nature. They study and reuse patterns of nature to make advancements rather than making efforts to separate themselves from it. We reached to a point where it’s not enough to find sustainable solutions. We shouldn’t sustain what we have but find resilient and regenerative solutions to our problems instead. Seemingly we achieve great technological progress in producing food, as seen in today’s agriculture, but we often forget that we’ll always need great soil for food and for great soil we’ll always need healthy forests. Today’s food farm industry that is optimized for short term gains does not take this into consideration. I started to appreciate places more and more where there’s actual earth on the ground. Places where it’s actually Earth around me. We need to reform how agriculture is done today, and chose natural methods to feed ourselves. See article The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race from 1987, or the book The One-Straw Revolution to explore the topic more.
Although food is essential fuel for human beings, people lack access to great quality, pure, local and therefore affordable food in modern societies. There is access to food that damages Earth and abuses animals and humans. Controversially it does not even provide the necessary nutrients to maintain a balanced and health life. Simply put, it’s not a sustainable, regenerative approach. If people had access to good food and if were responsible for their own food production, they wouldn’t only be more healthy and balanced, but also be less dependent on states, governments and be less impacted by natural disasters. Yes, probably they would depend more on each other and therefore re-form local communities.
I strive to live a life in which I receive food from sources I know, in which I mostly buy locally available seasonal produces, therefore I support local people and their businesses, and eventually in which I’m able to grow most of my food. Over the past year I almost exclusively ate food that I or my partner cooked. Therefore I’m not only in control of what I consume but I also educate myself about what diet gives me strength and health. I consider myself vegan because I refuse to support a system that is based on environmental exploits and because I sympathise with the concept of ahimsa. At the same time I’m aware of the consequences of this choice and I’m working towards a way of living that will allow me to take my fair share while fully caring for both surrounding people and Earth. I imagine that in the future from dietary perspective a vegetarian choice may put less impact on the environment. I would love to have that discussion but I’m not there, yet.