It has been almost a year since I left meat behind and changed my diet. People often ask me about what my experience has been like: Has it been hard? Did it cause you social stigma? What was hardest to give up? Are you protein deficient?
I thought I would compile my answers to some of the top questions I have gotten at dinner parties, social events and on planes, trains and automobiles as people heard that I had become plant-centric and plant-based.
Plant-based eating is the future. Millennials, rich people and highly educated people have known for a while, but we are on the brink of everyone else finding out now.
Why did you do it?
I did it for health reasons. After my father had a stroke, I started to get serious about my own health. His stroke happened on my 42nd birthday and it was a big deal for me – a shock and a reminder that no one is immortal.
I started looking into health causes of strokes and cardio events. All the evidence I could find was that veganism or vegetarianism reduces all cause mortality by a significant margin. This was brought home to me through the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn whose book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease is very convincing. I highly recommend it.
Since then I discovered the wok of Dr. Michael Gregor, How Not To Die, which is an engaging read demonstrating the healthful power of vegan/plant-based eating.
Are you going to become vegan?
Right now, I am not on the road to becoming completely vegan. However, I would say that I eat plant-based meals 60% of the time right now, with my only exceptions being eggs, cheese, and oysters!
Have you seen any health benefits?
Yes. Enormous. I have lost 20 lbs. My blood pressure has plummetted. As well, when I actually have a string of vegan days, my blood pressure gets down to 100/60, down from 130/80 when I was eating meat. As well – particularly on vegan days – my resting heart rate has dropped from ~77 to ~60.
But don’t you lack energy?
No, quite the opposite. My energy level is very high and I never get that sick feeling that I used to after eating meat. In fact, I recently bought a bike and have a goal of doing a triathlon this summer. There are many examples of plant-based and plant-centric athletes, such as Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll.
Ok. So you started for health reasons. How about the animals?
To be honest, I was not very aware of the plight of animals on farms when I started my vegetarian adventure. The fact is that many factory farm animals live lives of torture and suffering.
Watching movies like Cowspiracy and listening to Rich Roll’s excellent podcasts has reinforced this for me and brought home the healing power of plant-based (vegan) living. From duck-down coats, to your cosmetics tested on animals, to the coyote fur brimming your parka’s hood — you are being made a participant in the torture and slaughter of innocent sentient beings.
Once I came to this realisation, I couldn’t unthink it.
I am done with meat and I do my very best to avoid products that use animal parts such as skin, fur, feathers and down. Does that mean I am throwing away my leather couches or jacket? No. That would be absurd and disrespectful to the beings who gave their skin to the creation of that furniture or those clothes. Will I ever buy another leather couch or jacket? No.
So before you think I have become an animal rights fanatic or something let me explain.
Through my own lifestyle change, I have discovered that ending my consumption of products that depend on violence towards animals or their bodies and minds has enhanced my awareness of suffering in people too.
We should strive toward a non-violent, cruelty-free and suffering-free society for all sentient beings. That means animals and people.
How about the environment?
Animal husbandry is a greater source of emissions. The pollution doesn’t end there, either. Whether it is the incredible amounts of animal waste that factory farms generate or the methane those animals emit, the animal husbandry industry is a major contributor to climate change and polluter of our lakes, rivers and soil.
Was it hard to give up meat?
Yes, at first, it was. I longed for a burger at first. But after a while, I guess my microbiome changed and my body and mind stopped craving meat. In fact, I recently went to buy olives at the grocery store and found myself in the middle of deli section where the olives are found. I felt sick. The area looked like an abbatoir or a morgue. It smelled like death. I saw body parts all around me. I was repelled and left as fast as I could.
Do that mean you have become a delicate petal?
No. It means that over the course of the last year my body’s microbiome has changed and things that used to smell good to me now smell really gross.
How about cheese and dairy?
Well, I am not vegan. I enjoy cheese and eggs. I don’t like milk – I never have. I have always preferred soy or almond alternatives. I love cheese in my pasta and on a caesar salad. I do prefer vegenaise to mayo.
On the one hand I recognize that cheese is full of saturated fat, which is bad for me. On the other hand, I don’t eat it massive quantities.
Also, I think (although many will disagree) that cheese and eggs can be ethically sourced. I have visited the farm that produces the eggs that I buy and the chickens look very happy. They run around the barnyard, eat lots of kale and bugs and worms, and run happily toward the farmer when he approaches. They really love him.
How about fish?
Well, I was a pescetarian for the first half of the year, but then I gave up the fish as well. I did this more for ethical reasons than for health ones – fish farming has a strongly negative environmental effect. Also, I found that my taste for flesh has really diminished and I don’t crave fish flesh. I have to admit that I still love oysters!
How about vitamin b-12 and omega-3?
I have discovered that you can get more than enough of both of these through flax and chia seeds or by supplementing. There is nothing better than overnight oats with lots of chia, hemp and/or ground flaxseed. Fortified almond milk can be a great source of b-12 as well.
How about protein?
Well, I still eat cheese which has protein. As well, I eat a lot of kale, beans and grains, which also have a lot of protein!
Has this been hard, socially?
Ha. No. In fact, I find that there are tons of veggie options at most restaurants. You just sometimes have to get a few appetizers and a salad instead of a main course.
Also, most people I have spoke with tell me that they would like to reduce or eliminate the meat in their diet. The percentage of vegetarians has been growing enormously in the last ten years, particularly among millennials who are the likeliest to be vegetarian of any generation.
I think meat-eating is going to quickly become something that old people, less-educated people and poorer people do, like smoking.
Alex, are you a fanatic now?
No, I am not. I have made a conscientious choice to do something for my health, for the good of animals and to help build a better, cruelty-free world.
Do you judge me for eating meat, Alex?
No, I don’t. You are just making a different life-choice than me. It’s a choice. We live in a free country. You can do as you please.
It comes down to a simple thing: I don’t want a sentient being to have to die so that I can eat a meal.