I just remembered that October marks eight years of veganism for me.
I’m still happy, healthy and going strong. Literally strong – on my busiest baking days I move close to 400 pounds of dough out of a mixing bowl and on to a table, divided into 20, 25 and 30 pound chunks and moved into a divider, and so on. I’ve built some good upper body muscles lately. All proud of myself!
Anyways the point is I’m happy and strong and not lacking in energy. For so many people, the barrier to accepting veganism is still hinged on two stopping points – “What do you eat?” and “How can you have any energy without meat?” Well personally I eat a lot of hearty food, mostly prepared for us by my partner, though I do get in a creation or two now or then: shepherd’s pie with spiced black beans as the ‘meat’ layer; spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce; lasagne; casserole; our take on “Mexican” burritos; soup and veggie pate sandwiches, roasted potatoes, pizza with homemade ‘cheez’ sauce, coconut Thai curry, chili, etc. …
As for the ‘energy’ question, and concerns about trace minerals and everything that is supposedly adequately provided by a meat-centric diet, I eat a wide variety of vegetables, and try to integrate nuts, seeds and tofu which boost the calcium intake. It’s worth noting that vitamin deficiencies can be common problems for meat-eaters, and vitamins such as B12 are absorbed poorly by some people whatever their diet. So the paranoia about vitamin deficiencies for vegans is over-exaggerated. The same thing goes for protein intake: many vegetables provide protein, and with the inclusion of beans, lentils, rice or other grains, whole-grain breads, breakfast cereals, nut butters, pasta in one’s diet, it’s not a cause for panic either. I will say however that I notice a significant increase in my energy and ‘lasting’ power while doing physical work if I eat something protein-rich like falafel and hummus wraps, as opposed to something more carbohydrate-based like spaghetti with tomato sauce.
And for preventive measure, I do try to eat some B12-fortified nutritional yeast along with a few processed foods that are highly fortified with vitamins and calcium – soy milk, for example, and sometimes those processed vegetarian meats like Yves veggie dogs. Let’s not mince words: those things are rubbery, tasteless hydrolized-plant-protein junk food that only taste tolerable when stuffed into a bun filled with mustard, relish, sauerkraut, onions… and to be frank, meat-based hot dogs are exactly the same thing. You can occasionally find something actually yummy like the Kielbasa or Sundried-Tomato sausages that are made by the same company that makes Tofurkey; those are some good sausages! I think it’s fine that most vegetarian meats are not that great – they’re not something to base one’s diet on, anyways. They help a person make-do and not feel ostracized when eating with company at a barbecue, for example; otherwise, it’s a lot more fun, interesting and tasty just to make your own food that’s not centered around a brown chunk of something that’s supposed to remind one of ‘meat.’
Apart from the physical considerations of veganism, I would like to convince my readers something of the moral and emotional benefits of abstaining from animal products. Most of us, the vast majority, have strong and heartfelt reactions to the thought of unnecessary suffering and death. We see people who enjoy inflicting suffering on others as sociopathic or psychopathic. We like to think that the food we eat is decent, humane, and kind. And yet food from animal origins is steeped in unnecessary suffering and death.
Unnecessary? Don’t we need to eat? Don’t we need to kill to eat?
No we don’t, and all vegans living and thriving today, including myself, still kicking after eight years, are proof that we don’t need to kill in order to eat decently. Here is a wonderful passage from Henry S. Salt’s A Plea for Vegetarianism, a pamphlet version of which convinced Gandhi to embrace vegetarianism on ethical grounds after a brief break with his Hindu heritage.
If it can be shown that men can live equally well without flesh-food, or, rather, unless it can be shown that the contrary is the case (for the burden of proof must always rest with those who take on themselves the responsibility of the wholesale slaughter), it must surely seem unjustifiable, on the score of humanity, to breed and kill animals for merely culinary purposes…
And, if we assume for a moment that a fleshless diet is practicable, how cruel to animals, and how degrading to men, is the institution of the slaughter-house! Having no wish to dwell on what is morbid and unpleasant, I shall not pain the feelings of my readers by harping on the sufferings which their victims undergo, but shall content myself with remarking that those good people are mistaken who imagine that the slaughter of animals is painless and merciful…
There is overwhelming proof that Vegetarianism is possible; there is an utter absence of proof that it is in any way detrimental to perfect health.
- H. S. Salt, A Plea for Vegetarianism, and Other Essays, 1886.
But what about eggs and dairy, which do not involve the killing of animals in order to take these products from them?
Well eggs come from chickens, and chickens come from eggs, but so do roosters, who are of no economic value in egg-laying facilities … so baby male chicks are disposed of as worthless garbage, in horrific ways, by the thousands. So even the kindest backyard chicken rancher, who cares for each animal, treats them like pets, and doesn’t kill them when their laying days are over, is still unfortunately contributing to a ruthless and systematic blood bath by buying female chicks from the local feed store. And that is not counting the ways they cheat the animals of their natural instincts by denying them the pleasure of roosting and hatching the eggs their bodies worked so hard to produce. I say this with some pain, as I grew up with four laying hens who I loved very much and who died of old age. Of course I enjoyed eating their eggs at the time. But I make different choices today, based on what I now know. I deny myself certain small pleasures to spare other beings their certain suffering.
As for milk, it is a similar sad story. Though taking milk from a cow doesn’t kill her, the only way to get milk is to force the animal to become pregnant and then take her baby from her – to the cries and anguish of both mother and child. Some of the female calves are raised to themselves become baby- and milk- machines, while most of the rest, along with almost all the male calves, spend a few short innocent months of life before they are put to the knife to ‘become’ veal.
We can live – and live well – without participating in such horrors.
I don’t even have space here to get in to the global justice and environmental factors of a plant-based diet, which are also significant motivators. Nor have I stressed the health benefits of whole-foods (as opposed to junk-food) veganism, the most important of which in my opinion is the good intestinal health it promotes.
Anyways – please, if you have a heart, think about veganism. Or better yet, take the plunge. There are so very many good resources out there today on vegan nutrition, vegan cooking and baking, and support and help for whatever you may need on your journey. And it is a journey – one that has given me so much in return. It is not always easy, but it is so worthwhile! Do it for the animals that you spare. Do it for you. Do it for the environment. For the money you will save. For your health. For all of the above.
Veganism is love, love, love!