‘It’s hard to watch people making terrible choices about food… but I want to be a shining example, not a bully’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


Our latest contributor, Christie, turned to veganism in desperation to help with a challenging range of health problems. It brought huge physical benefits and soon became a key component of her spiritual life

Christie

Tell us a little about yourself…
I’m 44 years old and female. I’m a follower of Jesus. I am married (to an omnivore) and we have four wonderful cats and no human kids. I’m a speech-language pathologist who specialised in supporting kids with developmental diagnoses (especially autism) and their families. I wrote and now distribute a curriculum to teach biblical truths to kids with special needs (the Chirp Curriculum) and I have a YouTube channel  where I post videos relating to special education. My husband and I both love cats, reading and hiking. We’ve been married for 23 years next month. We both grew up in gorgeous Minnesota. We now live in Arizona (also gorgeous).

You’re vegan now; were you vegetarian before?
Yes, I was a vegetarian for about six months before I became vegan.

What led to that?
I was searching for answers to my health difficulties. I noticed that I felt a lot worse eating meat, and cut that out first… but that didn’t solve my problems!

How long have you been vegan?
I became fully vegan in August of 2015 and I’m grateful for every day for the opportunity to support my own health and to cause less suffering in this world.

What led to that choice?
My vegan story started due to the aforementioned health concerns. When I was in my first graduate program (age 23), I found out I had celiac disease (I am therefore gluten-free). In my second graduate program (age 25), I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis, attached to my intestines and all over inside my abdominal cavity (ew). Endometriosis is when the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus. It responds to hormones and causes extreme pain and trouble.

My case was pretty extreme due to the threat of it perforating my intestines, and the Monday after my graduation, I had a complete hysterectomy with removal of my ovaries, too. I was 27. This did not prevent further health difficulty, however; in subsequent years, I developed Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and eventually Crohn’s disease (that’s the one that really knocked me on my butt).

Obviously my body was screaming to be heard! I didn’t understand what it was saying until I was at my very lowest about four years ago. It was the most miserable time of my life. I was terribly depressed because I couldn’t get well and I didn’t know how to live life in that state. I was scrolling through things to watch on Netflix, and I came across What The Health. These days, all those doctors seem like friends to me, but at the time, I couldn’t believe that drastic health improvement could come from eliminating foods that I’d thought were health-promoting.

I didn’t jump on board right away, but I began researching. I read the books, I looked on PubMed, I watched YouTube videos from the plant-based doctors… and I discovered that there is a scientific backing for what these doctors were saying. It scared me because I did not know how to do it and I did not want to tell my friends and family that I was becoming vegan. And in fact, I didn’t tell even my husband for a while. We both grew up in Minnesota, where dairy is almost holy, and people believe that eating meat is a necessity for survival.

Veganism was a pretty big departure from everything we were used to and the way I had been cooking. Thankfully, because of the celiac disease diagnosis years before, I wasn’t quite as intimidated as I could’ve been by changing my cooking. To my surprise, Continue reading →

‘Embrace the cognitive dissonance of eating meat, overcome it and become a better version of yourself’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


Our latest contributor, Adelin, 25, a newly graduated electronics and computer engineer,  has a fuss-free approach to being a vegan despite the challenges of living in bacon-obsessed Denmark

Everyday Vegan: AdelinYou’re vegan now; were you vegetarian before?
I was an omnivore and I just went vegan, cold turkey, about a year ago.

How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for about one year. More precisely, since October 2017.

What led to that?
My girlfriend was vegan beforehand and I just got inspired. I watched Cowspiracy, Forks over Knives, Earthlings  and all the other movies on the topic. Then I looked into the science, and I read How Not To Die, by Dr Michael Greger, and watched most of the videos by Nutritionfacts.org.

Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
Provided that I don’t lose my mind, obviously not.

Are you a “healthy” vegan? Often people assume we’re all fitness-obsessed, when the reality is that we come in many flavours and for many people life is an eternal hunt for vegan cake. What makes up your diet?
I fully adopted a whole-foods plant-based diet so I consider myself a “healthy vegan”. More than 95% of my diet consists of whole foods, thus I eat very little processed food. It has never been a struggle to be honest. My taste buds needed two or three weeks to get used to the change. I’m also a supertaster, so I just had to reprogram my taste buds and now I just love the taste of each single vegetable in my meals. I never thought I’d be craving broccoli. I don’t use any oil and I consider salt to be a lazy spice since it covers the unique taste of each vegetable in the mix. So, purely by good fortune, I have the healthiest diet of anyone I know.

Where do you shop?
I shop locally. Most times we actually end up going to at least a few shops just to find everything we need. Danish society in general has a very unhealthy diet, so while you find 10 types of bacon, only one shop has canned beans without any added salt or some unhealthy sauce.

Do you consciously think about where you get your protein, etc, from?
I don’t worry about macros since I think they’re overrated. As long as one eats enough calories, they just can’t be protein deficient. However I’m more mindful regarding fats and try to avoid saturated fats as much as I can. That’s why I don’t really use oil, coconut cream or other foods rich in saturated fat.

For many vegans, the initial realisation of facts that make us turn to a different lifestyle is pretty life-changing and alienating. We view things differently, from the supermarket shopping experience in a meat-eating world to the people around us. How was that change in mindset – the reality of being an outsider in many situations – for you?
It does feel pretty alienating at times. However, my girlfriend is with me on this so it all becomes manageable. I haven’t even presented the ethical arguments to my family, for example, since they have very unhealthy diets and I just want them to get healthier and basically improve the quality of their lives. I don’t want them to think there’s any doubt about whether it’s healthy or not to eat this way. I try to keep up with science and I can present very clear arguments promoting a plant-based diet. And so, when it comes to the ethical part, it’s only other vegans who really understand what I’m talking about. Social events that involve food make me feel uncomfortable, since I can’t just sit there and enjoy my food while people around me are eating dead animals…

Do you mix with many other vegans – does your lifestyle mean that you come into contact with people of a similar outlook regularly?
Yeah, I know all three other vegans in my city (smiles). In all honesty, I don’t really come in contact with many vegans, actually.

Do you seek out vegan groups and forums online?
Yeah, especially culinary groups.

Do you live in a meat/dairy eating household? And if so, how is that?
Definitely not! I just can’t imagine opening my fridge and seeing a dead animal in it without losing my appetite.

Do you feel you have more in common with vegans than the majority of other people who don’t believe plant-based is the way forward?
Not really. I actually think that non-vegans just have a blind spot but can be more enlightened in other areas than vegans. Although it’s one of the pillars of my moral code, I can easily disagree with other vegans. We’re on the same team when it comes to ethics, but Continue reading →

On six years of sobriety: living moment by moment with the dark, bottomless thirst for oblivion

glass of water

I sit opposite my dining companion, me with my glass of water, she with her single glass of wine. I enjoy the company, I enjoy the meal, I enjoy my water; however, the whole time – sometimes more strongly, sometimes less, but always – there is this thought in the back of my mind.

Why on earth would you do that? Why on earth would anyone drink one glass of wine? Why would you not by now be on to the second glass, the third, the fourth; why would you not already be ordering the second bottle, and indeed contemplating the whiskeys to follow?

This is a consistent thing whenever I am in the company of a “healthy drinker”, one who is happy to have “just the one”. It is one of the big things that reminds me why I do not drink alcohol, why I am today six years sober. It indicates very clearly that deep inside the dark, bottomless thirst for oblivion still remains in me.

I am less inclined these days to throw the term “recovering alcoholic” around, although that is indeed one of the things I am. My path is the path of trying to see who I am from moment to moment, of trying to emerge from the grooves – of behaviour, of thought – into which I constantly fall. So self definitions seem slightly at odds with the project.

Of course, as someone still grubbing in the lowest muds of the path, this business of escaping the bonds of patterning is more an intention than a reality. For now, it helps occasionally – particularly on each January 28 that I am blessed to mark as another year of sobriety – to remember where I have come from. To remind myself that I am a recovering alcoholic, grateful to be sober, one moment at a time.

‘We’ve all been fed lies about the necessity of consuming dairy and meat when the truth is it does us harm’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


UK music teacher Jenny, our latest contributor, explains how she ended up treating herself to becoming a vegan for her 40th birthday and why she is committed for life

Vegan Jenny with her kids

I’m 52 and I live with my three children and my second ex-husband. My eldest has been influenced by my first husband’s family and sadly wants to eat meat. He buys his own food and I sometimes put his choice of food in the oven for him. My younger two are both vegetarian but I would be happier if they were vegan. My second ex is vegan but doesn’t insist his children are. I mainly buy them vegan food but occasionally buy them Quorn products.

I’m a part-time piano teacher and accompanist, mainly in a fee-paying school.

I went through a very gradual transition to being vegan. When I was at college one of my friends was vegan which did have an effect on me. However, I didn’t think she looked that healthy, so sadly I assumed she was missing out on foods she needed. I hated the idea of eating animal flesh but I truly believed that we had to do so in order to stay healthy.

From my late twenties I began by giving up red meat, then white meat, then fish. My first husband was happy to have veggie mince for some meals as his mum liked veggie food. When we split up in my mid-thirties, I picked up some Viva leaflets at my local Sainsbury’s supermarket and from them realised I didn’t have to have dairy and eggs to be in good physical shape. I went along to some Veggie Essex meetings and decided to go vegan for my 40th birthday.

I then met my second husband through a veggie friend’s website and he went vegan soon after me.

Although I used to like the taste of meat; I would never go back to eating it. For me, it’s a no-brainer being vegan:

  • I love animals and wouldn’t want to cause them to suffer just for my taste-buds;
  • It’s better for my health; and
  • It’s much more environmentally friendly.

I’ve been vegan now for around 14 years and it’s never been easier.

We went on to have two children, who were both breastfed for over two years. They are careful not to accept sweets with gelatine but at the moment can’t resist milk chocolate, pizza and Quorn. My daughter likes to eat school dinners with her friends but unfortunately the veggie option is rarely vegan.

I shop in my local Sainsbury’s or Tesco store. I sometimes have takeaway chips or Chinese food due to a very busy schedule. My 12-year-old likes to cook vegan food at the weekend and he’s adapted all his school cookery lesson ingredients to be vegan so I can eat them.

As an ‘eat to live’ kind of person rather than a ‘live to eat’ person, I’m not terribly worried about my protein levels as I have soya, nuts, vegan cheese etc and I think I’m strong and fit most of the time. I eat fairly simple food like porridge with oat milk, muesli, toast and marmite, sandwiches or salad at my school for lunch, fresh fruit and lots of jacket potatoes with fresh veg and sometimes a Linda McCartney pie or sausage etc.

I’m always pleased when I meet other vegans as it makes me feel saner to know that others think like me. I have joined vegan Facebook groups and attend vegan fairs and talks when I can. I’ve also joined a vegan pen pal scheme for the over-50s Continue reading →

A ‘basic’ yoga posture that’s anything but (and why you should listen to your body rather than your teacher)

Reversed Warrior yoga posture

For all we know, the guy in this photograph is pictured at the very moment of enlightenment, uniting with the wider cosmos via his body. So it goes without saying that there is nothing wrong with what he is doing.

It should be noted, though, that his spine is curved back and to the side at angles way beyond what is considered functional for the human body; similarly his rear leg is extended far beyond natural range, with powerful effects on his hip joint and pelvis. Again, no problem – it’s his body, he can do whatever he wants with it.

What is a problem, however, is that the shape he is producing here is frequently offered in yoga classes as a reasonably standard, basic posture called Reversed Warrior, sprinkled into flowing sequences of poses, or vinyasas, for a bit of variety.

As the teacher – perhaps hypermobile, as many in the yoga game are – arches beautifully into the shape, burbling the instruction “now reverse your Warrior”, mere mortals attempt to do so and swiftly discover the natural limitations of a healthy human spine and hip joint. If this were the point that the posture was being used to demonstrate, that would be a good lesson.

However, the suggestion is more often that if we keep practising our yoga, one day we too will be able to make this shape; this despite the fact that if we were to continue to do so, there’s a reasonable chance that we might never get close – cue potential feelings of inadequacy – and indeed might hurt ourselves somewhere down the road.

But almost worse than the risk of injury, to my mind, is the fact that instead of the practice being a means of exploring what is happening in the body, mind, the universe, right here and now, yoga becomes something that has to chased after, a goal to be achieved in the future, like a mansion, or an expensive car, or £1million in the bank. And the future, as we know, is something that is by no means guaranteed, considering that we do not even know whether we will be alive in a minute’s time.

I am categorically not suggesting that people should stop doing Reversed Warrior, or any number of other modern yoga postures that similarly require joints to be taken far beyond functional range (that for which the body has evolved to be healthy). If this is the kind of yoga you want to do – if making shapes you consider to be aesthetically pleasing is what the practice is all about to you, if striving and goal-setting and achievement are your thing – then by all means go wild.

However, if you simply want to move your body in a functional way, building useful degrees of strength and flexibility while practising the art of being in the present moment – which is what I think yoga is really all about – it is perhaps worth thinking carefully before you start trying to push yourself into positions like this.

(If, by the way, you find positions like this easy to get into, it is probably worth investigating whether you are hypermobile, and how you might adapt what you do for the health of your joints.)

Remember, you do not have to do what any teacher tells you to do – when it comes to your body, they do not know better than you – and if a teacher tries to physically push you into positions like this, remember you absolutely have the power to tell them to back the hell off.

Remember, too, that there is nothing sacred or special about yoga poses – they are mere positions in which to put the body. The postures that are offered in mainstream yoga classes are generally modern, 100-odd years old, and were mainly invented by blokes who knew little about anatomy and who history has often shown to be pretty nasty pieces of work.

This is not to say there is not plenty of value in these poses; they can be excellent body laboratories in which to explore the deeper layers of who you are. But it is important to reinvent them as you will to suit your own body, or to find ones that work better for you. Just make sure they are serving you in a healthy way.

Fortunately, more teachers are coming round to the approach that empowers practitioners rather than the image-based studio industry. A leading figure helping to inspire the process is Alexandria Crow, whose work I particularly recommend if you are a teacher wanting to learn more. I also strongly recommend Peter Blackaby’s book Intelligent Yoga: Listening to the Body’s Innate Wisdom; and if you ever have a spare hour and a quarter, there’s a deeply inspiring talk by Blackaby here.

In my own quiet way, this is the kind of yoga I am trying to teach in my classes in London. If you happen to be near Woodford Green and are interested, please get in touch. Full details on my website.

A note on the photo
The picture with my post was taken from an online repository of open-source stock photos available for anyone to use as they please. I would never pull a picture at random off a yogi’s personal website or social media feeds. I have used this photo under an open-source licence purely as an illustration of a posture as it is often taught and encouraged in yoga classes, not as a comment on the model.

‘The best way to promote veganism is to show how happy and fulfilled you are by not consuming animal products’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


US nanny Bethany, the latest contributor to our series, believes veganism is all about love and compassion – and she tries her best to let these qualities in her life speak for the cause

BethanyMy name is Bethany, I’m 26 years old and I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, with my husband Ryan and our four pets. We have three cats – JiJi, Milo, and Sophie – as well as a tortoise named Teva. I currently work as a nanny for an incredible family, and my previous job was as the coordinator for a local nature museum. I’ve lived in the Southern US all my life and have a huge love for stereotypical Southern cuisine (everything deep-fried please). When I’m not working or eating awesome vegan food I enjoy hiking and camping, reading, crafting, and have just started practising yoga.

I went straight from an omnivorous diet to a plant-based one literally overnight. After a lot of thought and deliberation, I made a plan to go vegan on June 1 2016 and from that date onward I have been vegan, with a few minor slip-ups. I was a pescetarian in college for about a year, and had tried a vegetarian diet a few times over the course of the previous few years.

My attempts at eating a meat-free diet were usually spurred on by reading or seeing something related to animal agriculture (reading The Jungle, watching Food Inc) but was usually thwarted by lack of options or self-control. Saying that now sounds like such a cop-out as there are so many vegetarian options compared with vegan ones.

So, as of today, I have been vegan for two years and seven months!

My husband Ryan watched Earthlings in 2015 and he decided to make the change, quite suddenly, to veganism as a result. I was sceptical about it and I really enjoyed non-vegan food so I continued to eat meat and dairy for an entire year before making the switch myself.

It was tough going for Ryan for a while, as I joked about when he’d give up being a vegan, and I didn’t give his dietary concerns much consideration when choosing restaurants.

Over the course of the next year, I ended up making a lot of vegan food and trying out vegan restaurants with him. I started thinking that it might not be as impossible as I previously anticipated. Ryan was never pushy about me eating a plant-based diet, and it was his patience that encouraged me to start doing some of my own research.

I started watching vegan YouTubers who had totally vegan families. They were all incredibly happy and healthy and raved about the benefits of a plant based diet. I also followed a lot of vegan bloggers and listened to podcasts and speeches. All of this definitely contributed to my decision to go vegan, however it wasn’t until I read articles about the atrocities of animal agriculture that knew I had to make the switch.

I don’t believe I would ever be an omnivore again. I’m a big animal lover and having the awareness of the horrors of the animal agriculture industry is what would prevent me from eating animal products again. And, to be honest, the smell of meat cooking or even plain cow’s milk makes me gag now. There are so many plant-based alternatives to animal products that I don’t really miss any of the old foods I used to eat.

I’m definitely not a healthy vegan. I’m an ethical vegan, which means I switched to this lifestyle to protect animals and the environment rather than for health reasons. I absolutely love deep-fried tofu, potatoes, vegan sausage and bacon, bread, and, of course, anything sweet.

I started out my vegan journey trying to recreate all my favourite non-vegan dishes and eating an obscene amount of processed vegan meats and cheeses. However, this diet is not very nutritious, and I was starting to feel sluggish and tired most of the time. So, while I still enjoy all those tasty treats mentioned above in moderation, I’m trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into my diet. I find my skin, digestive health, and even mental health are much better when I eat a more whole food plant-based diet.

I usually drink a protein shake or make oatmeal for breakfast, but will sometimes splurge and eat banana oat pancakes or blueberry waffles. Lunch is usually leftovers, vegetable soup from Amy’s, or a sandwich loaded with veggies and hummus. For dinner my husband and I try to eat something filling but healthy! Our favorite meals to make are harvest bowls (broccoli, sweet potatoes, black beans, and Brussel sprouts over quinoa), chili, barbeque jackfruit, loaded nachos or tacos, and tofu stir fry.

We get most of our groceries for the week at either Trader Joe’s or Publix as they typically have great prices on produce, grains, spices, and other staples. If we need a specialty item, or if I want a smoothie or protein shake on my way to work, I will head over to Whole Foods to pick it up. We do enjoy going to the local farmer’s market from time to time as well.

I don’t really think much any more about where I get my proteins and other specific nutrients from. I did at the very beginning, but it’s become such second nature to me that I don’t really think about it anymore. I know I won’t be satiated unless I eat something with beans, oats, lentils, or tofu in it so I try to make sure I include one those in each meal.

Most people think you have to eat meat or dairy to meet your daily nutritional needs but that just isn’t the case. Most, if not all, nutritional needs can be met with a balanced plant based diet. I do take a few supplements though, as I had critically low vitamin D3. I take a multi-vitamin as well as extra D3 and B12 supplements. I urge everyone whether they are vegan or non-vegan to get their vitamin levels checked.

Being vegan can definitely make you feel like an outsider. I think the hardest part of being plant-based isn’t finding food at restaurants, or going to a party where there’s no vegan food, or even struggling to find decent vegan dairy or meat substitutes at the store; these things are really minor in comparison to the awareness you have being an ethical vegan.

It’s very hard to come to the realisation that many people around you either aren’t aware of the cruelties that animals face, or even worse that they know and don’t care enough to change their lifestyle. Animals suffer a great deal for the fleeting pleasure that humans get eating their flesh or bodily secretions. I was definitely that person who said, “I’ve always grown up eating meat, so I don’t think I could change my diet”, or even, “I’ll just buy from a local farmer and that’ll be fine.”

But so many people don’t realize the horrors of animal agriculture on a small or large scale. Animals are sentient beings capable of feelings of love, joy, and sadness. To kill them for our own enjoyment is absolutely unnecessary.

Animal agriculture is also a major contributing factor to global warming, something which is an issue for my generation Continue reading →

‘I found myself surrounded by good, caring people who were participating in hideous acts of violence’

Everyday Vegans
An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life


Argentinian traveller Manu, the latest contributor to our series, sees veganism as the next stage in human evolution and is optimistic about its growth

Manu

My name is Manu, I’m 25-years-old, and I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Currently, I’m happily settled in Mexico.

I fell in love with the nomadic lifestyle and have been travelling since 2015. I’ve hitched my way up to Mexico and back down to Argentina, only to come back up and stay put for a few years here in Mexico. My wife and I recently purchased an ’87 Volkswagen bus (or Combi) as our first home/vehicle.

I’ve been vegan since early 2015. I never was a vegetarian; I was aware of the horrors of the dairy and egg industries before I went vegan, so, for me, it wasn’t really an option. What led me to a vegan lifestyle was a spiritual growth. I was really into meditation and spirituality at the time – I still am, but I don’t meditate anymore.

I knew veganism was the next step forward towards what I pictured my life to be. As an Argentinian, I was born and bred in a meat culture. I was really into weightlifting before I left home and I’d never heard of the notion of vegan or vegetarian bodybuilders. Chicken and tuna were the diet staples of my gym buddies. Oh, and lots of whey protein.

Really, spirituality aside, it was my love of animals that eventually pushed me into veganism. I say pushed me because, after my experience with the documentary Earthlings, there was absolutely no way I was ever going to eat meat… never again. My love for animals grew massively that day. After you’ve seen for yourself the pain, horror and suffering of these gentle beings, there’s no way your heart won’t expand.

Like I said, I’ll never eat animal products again. Firstly, don’t think it’s healthy at all and these days there’s plenty of evidence to support that claim. Secondly, I don’t see animal products as food anymore. I see dead, decaying flesh, and stuff that comes out of an animal’s ass and tits. To be honest, that doesn’t make me hungry.

Back in my weightlifting days I gained a passion for healthy living. At that point, I wasn’t exactly ‘healthy’ since I was eating so many animal products – but I thought I was. After I went vegan, it all changed. I felt like a new man. My energy levels went up, I slept and looked better, I felt better overall, my mood changed for the positive, and it felt really really good inside not to be directly funding the torture and slaughter of innocent beings.

I still like to keep myself healthy. My wife and I eat mainly a whole-food, plant-based diet, but of course we indulge in unhealthy food every now and then. Mexico has a wide variety of healthy and delicious vegan food. It definitely seems like the most vegan-friendly food culture in Latin America.

Most of our food nowadays comes from local markets. They’re the cheapest places to get food from, and we prefer to support local farmers and shops. We usually avoid packaged foods, although recently we bought two cases of vegan queso from a brand called Heartbest and we absolutely devoured them. It’s been a while since I had a quesadilla with ’actual’ cheese.

To be honest, I don’t count calories or nutrients, especially not protein. There’s protein in fruit; most people don’t know that. There’s protein everywhere, especially in plant foods. I know that if I eat a wide range of veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes, I’ll be alright for nutrients. And I hardly ever get sick anymore.

Of course, my entire life changed when I went vegan, not only physically, but mentally too. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by good, caring people who were participating in hideous acts of violence, three times a day. It was shocking.

Most of the time, it became a hard thing to cope with; honestly, it still is. We live in a (mostly) non-vegan world. That means sentient, innocent and harmless beings are being treated as mere commodities, Continue reading →