Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vegan FAQ

Photo via On Our Sleeve

Hi everyone! Today I'm posting some of the questions I am most frequently asked about being vegan. I wanted to have a place to direct people who want more information and a chance to get some of my thoughts about the issue in type. What is most important to me is that I feel better than ever having transitioned to a vegan lifestyle more than a year ago. The process has been really profound for me, and I am able to live a life of abundance every day through plant-based nutrition. I have discovered so many new kinds of food since making the change, and am enjoying my food so much more than I did before. 

While I am passionate about veganism myself, I recognize that each person's eating choices are very personal. This post is intended to provide information about my own choice, and to inspire open discussion about the issues I present. 

What do you mean you're vegan?

The simplest way to put it is that I am an herbivore. I eat delicious fruits, vegitables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and all of the amazing foods that can be made with them. I do not eat meat (of any kind - if it was living, it's not going on my plate, this means fish too), dairy products, or eggs. 

Photo via VegNews

Why did you stop eating meat?

I went vegetarian two years ago for environmental reasons after taking a year-long ecology course. If you are concerned about the environment and resource consumption, it is important to recognize that eating meat is an unsustainable consumption model. The most logical way to understand this is that when you eat a plant based diet you are consuming simply the plants you eat, but when you eat meat you are consuming not only the animal itself but all of the plants that animal ate and water it needed to drink and more. From this simple standpoint, it is obvious why eating meat takes a toll on the environment. 

However, there's more to the story. In 2006 the UN (United Nations) issued a report stating that the “livestock sector” generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, trains, ships, and planes in the world combined. The livestock sector alone is the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions and one of the top sources of carbon dioxide missions. In addition, the livestock sector uses an incredibly disproportionate amount of land. The report notes that 30% of the entire land surface is used for livestock, mainly for pastures but also including 33% of the globe's arable land to produce livestock feed. You can read more from the report here

So by going veg or by eating less meat, you can have a great impact on global resource use and decrease your emissions footprint significantly. Chris Weber is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, and has calculated that not eating red meat and dairy products alone is the equivalent of not driving 8,100 miles in a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon. Since transportation-related emissions are only 5% of the total emissions output, eating local meat and dairy will not make up the difference. You can find the NPR story featuring Chris here

There are so many other reasons for going veg (many of which were catalysts for my own transition), which span from health reasons to biological reasons to religious and philosophical reasons. In fact, here's 101 more reasons

But why give up dairy and eggs too?

My reasons for choosing not to eat dairy and eggs are three-fold. For one, I have always had difficulty digesting milk products, what is commonly referred to as lactose intolerance. For years I took medicines and supplements like Lactaid to try and cover the unpleasant sensations I experienced after consuming dairy products (stomach ache, bloating, cramps, etc.). But once I started listening to my body and cut out dairy entirely I felt so much better. It makes me wonder if other people are experiencing similar symptoms due to dairy consumption and never realizing that is the cause.

Secondly, I started to examine the issue of eating dairy products from a logical standpoint. Do any species drink milk from from the mother of another species... besides humans? No, because that milk is designed by nature to help the mother's unique babies grow into big adults at a rapid pace. Cow's milk has a purpose and that is to help grow a newborn calf into a 1,000+ pound adult. Do we still feed off of our mother's breast? Well, no. So why a cow's? There are many other issues around dairy consumption, such as growth hormones, which you can learn more about here

I also decided to stop eating dairy products and eggs entirely because I am against factory farming. The conditions that a vast majority of dairy cows and hens are forced to live in is completely atrocious and something I refuse to support. Compassion for all creatures is very important to me. You can find more information about factory farming here.

Photo via Lunch Box Bunch

Where do you get your protein?

Protein is an important building block of any diet, which is why I choose to get mine naturally from lots of fresh, whole plant foods. Some of my favorite protein sources include raw vegetables, nuts, and seeds (such as raw almond butter and hemp seeds), whole and sprouted grains, and yummy complete proteins like quinoa. I also toss in mock meat products every now and then (perhaps once or twice a week) including tofu, seitan, and tempeh to spice things up. Many of us in the US are more than a little obsessed with protein, and associate the word protein with meat; but this does not need to be the case. For more scientific information about vegans and protein, check out this link. There are also plenty of vegan sources of calcium, including lots of leafy greens, which you can find more information on here

I would go vegetarian, but...

I hear from lots of people that they tried to give up meat but "couldn't" or that they just could not give up cheese because they are "addicted". I liked the taste of meat and cheese very much at one point in time, but after learning about how my choices impact the world around me and really taking the time to consider that, meat and cheese were no longer appealing. In fact, when I see meat and cheese now I no longer see food, just dead flesh and chunks of byproduct. As for those addicted to cheese (and oddly enough, I hear this a lot), I recognize that giving up certain foods is a very emotional process - just don't let the cheese control you! ;) 

Whether you have been vegan or vegetarian for many years or you choose to change from SAD (the ironic acronym for the Standard American Diet) to a more plant based diet or not, I encourage everyone to think more about their dietary choices. It is healthy to experiment with different foods and find what works for you. If you would like any more information or have any other questions about going veg, just shoot me a comment or message.

Photo of Jason Mraz via Synthesis
You're a Freak!

Well, that may be the case, but I'm in great company. A few vegans you may know of include:

Leonardo di Vinci - Vegetarian Know it All
Jason Mraz - Singer (pictured above)
Davey Havok - Lead Singer of AFI
Tim McIlrath - Lead Singer of Rise Against
Natalie Portman - Actress Extraordinaire
Brandan Brazier - Professional Ironman Triathlete 
Ginnerfer Goodwin - Film Actress
Alice Walker - Pulitzer Prize Winning Author
Donald Watson - Founder of the term vegan
Jillian Anderson - Actress
Ellen Degeneres - TV Personality
Gretchen Wyler - Broadway Actress
Tom Commerford - Bassist of Rage Against the Machine
David Pearce - Philosopher
Andre 3000 - Rapper of Outkast
KD Lang - Singer
Thom Yorke - Singer of Radiohead 
Robert Cheeke - Body Builder
Salim Stoudamire - NBA Player

Additional Resources

VegNews Magazine - Vegan news and lifestyle glossy
Experience Life Magazine - Living your best life
The Discerning Brute - For the ethically handsome man
Herbivore Clothing Co - Super cute vegan duds
Happy Cow - Finding veg-friendly restaurants 
Veganomicon - The holy grail of vegan recipes
VeganYumYum - A gorgeous vegan cooking blog
Hugo Naturals - My favorite vegan beauty products

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