As promised a couple weeks ago, we thought it would be interesting to tackle a few aspects of our transition to veganism. That’s right! One year and a half ago, we went completely cold turkey and switched almost overnight to a menu consisting mostly of plant-based products. Changes to some of our other habits soon followed and, overall, the transition has been quite easy for us.
Still, veganism has turned into something of a trendy fashion in the big cities. This requires one to be watchful of both the reasons motivating your switch and the stuff you end up using to 'make up' for animal products themselves. If aside from this you’re a high-performing athlete setting out in increasingly longer runs as is the case with Jonas, then, attention has to be tripled.
So this entry here is post one of two pieces where we’ll be sharing a few ‘insider tips’ on vegan living to clear some doubts and perhaps help those of you who may be thinking about switching, or simply of cutting down on consuming a few things.
What is veganism?
The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a 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.” Veganism is indeed more than a diet. It comprehends an entire lifestyle. Still, while the concern with animal life is certainly an aspect of it, the definition above does not fully expose another relevant preoccupation most vegans share: the dependency of our societies on a variety of industries that make exaggerated use of chemical and hormone-rich products, on the one hand, and our actual dependency on animal products themselves, on the other. For us, practicing yogis, these are some of the most important reasons to opt for a vegan diet today. Ahimsa my friend!
Artificial additives and enhancers are not always safe, nor are they fully good for human and non-human health. Aside of this, some scientists have already hinted at the possibility of animal products being in and of themselves at the heart of some of our most pressing epidemics; this is so even before any additives or chemicals are added to them. But even if you leave health reasons aside, what and how we eat is a reflection of how we do life itself, and we in the west have become excessively complacent with practices we find unethical but that we somehow passively accept.
It’s time for all of us to wake up and become conscious humans, in all possible ways. So let’s begin to make informed decisions about the foods we eat and the practices we spouse, and progressively regain the control over our bodies, our lives, and our health.
If it ain’t broken, why fix it? The ‘whys’ of switching
As discussed, one of our main motivations to go vegan was the long-term consequences of eating so much animal stuff and utilizing so many artificially-enhanced products. This was the reason we opted for veganism over, for example, vegetarianism.
It all started with us naively watching a couple documentaries and films on the large-scale consequences of meat production –films like What the Health, Cowspiracy, Before the Flood... Aware that most of these somewhat critical visual materials have a-not-so-hidden pro-animal agenda, we thought it best to do some more independent research and read a few papers from renowned institutions exploring the consequences of the regular intake of animal products.
The more interesting the research, the scarier the outcomes, with a number of studies even postulating the connection between animal product consumption and higher risks of a long list of bad conditions. We'll spare you the names, but have a look for yourself, it ain't fun. From there, we went to researching the composition of some our beauty and cleaning products. Again, not so happy to find some of the informations we bumped into... And well, long story short, we decided to try the switch for ourselves and reach our own conclusions based on how we felt.
Indeed, most of us never think about the nature of the products we consume or their overall effects on our environment. It is uncomfortable to do so in a way. With regards to food, for example, we had never really stopped to consider why we ate the way we ate. We took it for granted. Our parents taught us to eat a certain way (which was not altogether unhealthy), and their parents taught them; but none of us ever second-guessed the logics behind our alimentary habits. The same with the clothes we wore, the hygiene products we utilized, our transportation choices, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Still, one look at the way the average person eats suffices to bring an alarming factor to the surface: from packaged meat and beverage products, to milk, cheese, fish, sweets, eggs, industrial sauces or cookies, the list of products containing animal-derived products, chemicals such as plastic and other components, and/or hormones is stunning, even when many of these sport the popular ‘BIO’ or ‘ORGANIC’ label.
For example, many bio veggies are sold as bio, and yet, they are wrapped in a thin layer of transparent plastic, placed on a cardboard tray, or contain oils that are of dubious provenance. Many products, then, can not only jeopardize our health when consumed too often but also that of our ecosystems –an aspect we choose to forget too often.
So, the question is not to suddenly become so strict and dogmatic about your diet and lifestyle that you end up living in an ‘impossible inflexible bubble.’ Instead, the goal is to become aware of the industries and practices you support and participate into through your habits, and take action to correct those which, upon careful consideration, don’t seem to make any sense.
How to transition
Where to begin is different for each of us. And let's just put it out there: we are just two people trying to find what seems to make the most sense for them. We DO NOT have the ultimate say on what may work for others, but have somehow managed to find something that works pretty well for us and hope that for our planet as well!
In our case, we gave our formula away at the very beginning of the entry: we went cold turkey. But we were a somewhat peculiar case. By the time we decided to switch, we were already eating meat, eggs, and fish pretty much on occasion. This was partly due to the excessive price tag of some of these products in Berlin, and partly because we both love vegetables and simple foods most of all. In fact, Jonas had by then really observed the benefits of following an alkaline diet during his professional athlete career (more on this in part two of this entry).
We had also started cutting down on some of our most polluting habits and were making good use of the popular phrase “less is more” by giving away what we didn’t need or finding a second life for some of our older things. So switching overnight was not that big an achievement for us as it can be for most.
Still, a radical switch is really not the way to go if you’re looking for lasting, stable change –particularly if you’re someone with great dependency on animal products. So our main tip on how to transition is pretty simple: begin with your eating habits and establish doable landmarks and routines first. Leave for last whatever may seem the hardest –which for most of us is cheese!
Some of you may want to try going vegetarian, which is, in our opinion, a really good way to transition and, should you find your happy place right there, a great middle-ground. Others may just want to start with smaller steps and simply cut down on the amount of animal products they eat or begin biking to work. Establishing a ‘meet-free’ or ‘dairy free’ day a week, or biking to work as much as possible, for example, may go a long way at the beginning, and you can always progressively increase the ‘whatever-free’ days as you ease into your new routine.
Use your own judgement, that is the bottomline
It really is no use at all to spend a bunch of days jonesing for pretty much everything and then cave in to start all over again; nor is it any good to fool yourself into implementing changes you are not even sure you really want to begin with. There’s a great deal of hype with this type of transition, so make sure you’re switching for the right reasons and not to fit some cool label.
It is also advisable to devote some time to learn to properly cook again. This step is actually very important. You cannot expect to give up animal products and cook your meals as you used to, now with veggies. This may work on occasion, but won’t get you too far on the regular! Fortunately, there are myriads of easy to do vegan recipes and tips on google that do not require crazy amounts of time or hard to obtain ingredients. Trust us, you will be surprised how easy vegan eating really is and how many products you can find once you break out of your former grocery shopping routine. And if you are lucky enough to live in a vegan-friendly neighborhood such as hours (Friedrichshain) you'll also always have a vegan choice close by.
Overall, try to remain conscious, yet flexible. Again, it makes no sense to stop taking animal products and become absolutely dependent on other mass-produced vegan products. Just read well all labels. BIO or ORGANIC can mean many things and not all of them are necessarily healthier. Marketing specialists really know their trade. With this we are specifically referring to the substitution of animal products for vegan bio-whatever, soy-, tofu-, or seitan-based substitutes, ‘meatballs’ or ‘gyros’ made of pre-cooked veggie pastes with trans-fatty oils, and other similar products. Just as too much meat or dairy can be harmful, so can everything else.
Eventually, if you are serious about your transition, actual research can really be of help. This is how we got into sprouting, for example. We have really discovered a great ‘value added’ in growing our own sprouts to take at breakfast or add to our salads. You can also easily grow your own aromatics; they make nice window decoration and keep some insects at bay! Or you can try make your own veggie snacks in the oven, or home-made spreads; these can be canned for consumption throughout the year. If you can do it at home, don’t buy the ready-to-cook alternative.
Once you feel you have found your groove with whatever first steps you’ve taken, slowly start with the rest. What this ‘rest’ can look like is really up to you. In our case, it's slowly taking more and more facets of our lives, but we leave this for our next entry, where we will also share some tips on vegan habits for really ambitious athletes!