An introduction to the plant-based lifestyle
noun: vegan; plural noun: vegans
1. A person who does not eat or use animal products
First and foremost, I don't necessarily believe in the label "vegan" or "veganism", but I do believe in listening to my body. Eating an entirely plant based diet feels good to me; my body feels nourished and fueled and my mind feels mentally clear.
My transition from eating a Sad American Diet (SAD) to a real-food vegan diet wasn't easy. Initially, I fell into the junk-food vegan category (I ate anything and everything labeled "vegan" and assumed it was healthy). My food journey started slowly (I was not an overnight vegan) and accelerated as I became more aware of the influence food had on my body and mind.
Vegan is a lifestyle that works for me and if you're thinking about going vegan below are a few questions you may be asking yourself.
1. What is vegan exactly?
There are many vegetarian terminologies ranging from vegan to freegan or flexitarian to pescetarian, all are defined based on what you choose to consume, but a simple definition for vegan is someone who chooses to avoid all animal products completely, although, what this includes may vary greatly.
For example, many people who follow a vegan diet think that eating honey is essentially exploiting bees, therefore, if you are someone who eats honey you are not considered a vegan (in the world of very strict vegans this matters).
But, as with all things, there are shades of grey. I enjoy honey (ethically produced), but I don't support commercial honey harvesting. The truth is, I don't support most commercial and conventional production of anything, but that's another story (an answer to a different question).
2. Why vegan?
There are many reasons why people go vegan, some choose to go vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, some for religious, and others based health. Whatever the reason, make sure to do your research before jumping into the diet.
For me, veganism was a part of my religious journey. At 19, I decided to follow a branch of Buddhism (Mahayana) that denounced eating meat on the grounds that it violated the cultivation of compassion and was a form of self-killing and cannibalism (heavy, I know!). I've since dropped the religion, but kept the diet.
3. How do you get protein? What do you eat?
This is a question that comes with the vegetarian/vegan territory. People either wonder what you eat or where you get your protein, and as an average body builder, I would have to say, there are so many vegetable protein sources that listing them would take me an eternity (probably not, but you get the idea).
Living off of veggie burgers is certainly one way to do things. In fact, it's almost as if it comes with the initial territory of making the switch, but it's not the only way. And, as is the case with any processed food consumption, it's not the best way. Still if, you're going to go that route there are things to look out for to ensure you aren't doing your body more harm than good.
Genetically Modified Soy: The threat of GMO has been ringing more loudly and clearly than ever before. And soy is one of the leaders of the pack, right up there on the front line with corn. If it's not organic and/or verified as non-GMO, then the soy- soy protein concentrate or isolate - that makes up the bulk of your cuisine is most likely genetically modified, bringing with it numerous health and environmental threats.
Too Much Sodium: Yes, you need salt, but frozen foods are notorious for ranking in high amounts of sodium, and frozen meat substitutes are no exception, especially those soy-based.
Fillers: The longer the ingredient list, the more room there is for unwanted entities to sneak into the mix. The most popular being those of the corn and wheat varieties. As a rule of thumb, it's always great to start with the last line of any ingredient list to see if it's even worth considering -- meaning the allergen statement that reads something like, "Contains milk, soy, and wheat ingredients."
Standard Frozen Faux: There are many frozen meat substitute alternatives on the shelves, and while many companies are seeking to provide products that offer increased nutritional benefits, I highly recommend eating real food. But, if you don't have much time on your hands, order your vegan meals from Vegetable and Butcher. They can provide you with breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner between 2,4 and 6 days a week (talk about making the vegan lifestyle easy).
Just Ask: If you're concerned about an item on a menu or on a supermarket shelf containing animal ingredients, make sure to ask. Remember, veggie doesn't automatically translate to vegan.
4. To be or not to be?
The vegan diet isn't for everyone and I don't recommend jumping into the diet until you have done your research. There are many options outside of veganism that might work better for you. Just because you choose to eat an omnivorous diet, does not mean that you show less compassion for animals. Understand that many living creatures die everyday for the production of grain and vegetables; plowing kills moles, mice, snakes, lizards, etc. and any piece of land turned into cropland destroys home and food supply of many other animals. Not to mention, fertilizers and pesticides that threaten bio-diversity.
I DO agree that it's not healthy or ethical to eat conventional animal products, but I also believe that people can be ethical meat, egg, and dairy consumers.
Choose a diet that works for you. Remember it's about what makes you look, feel, and perform your best.