An occasional series in which ordinary people
talk about living a plant-based life
My name is Aaron McMurray and I’m from Northern Ireland. I’m a 29-year-old theoretical physics graduate and PhD researcher studying laser driven ion acceleration, which basically means I shoot high intensity lasers at thin metallic targets to accelerate protons and carbon ions. The hope is that one day this technology might have applications in radiography and cancer radiotherapy. When I’m not writing my thesis I’m travelling, practising karate, scuba diving and writing music.
You’re vegan now, were you vegetarian before? What led to that? How long have you been vegan? What led to that choice?
Eating meat was something I didn’t question. It was “normal,” so I dismissed vegetarianism and veganism as hippy nonsense. Of course, I never seriously listened to what vegans and vegetarians actually had to say. My dismissal was a mental knee jerk reaction to something I saw as strange and different.
Eventually, I realised I was taking some of my beliefs as a given, simply because they had been culturally normalised to the point where I didn’t even notice that was what had happened. I came to realise that if I’m interested in believing things which are true and doing good, rather than believing things I like to believe because they make me feel good, then I should really hear vegans out.
I was lucky enough to witness an atheist vegan debate whether atheists should all be vegan at my university’s debate club. They made some good points, but I was left seriously disappointed by the counter arguments. I thought maybe I had witnessed a bad representation of the anti-vegan argument and the opposition was trying to win the crowd with arguments they knew were technically bad, but sounded convincing. I started researching the arguments for and against veganism and couldn’t any good argument against veganism. Nearly all were subject to basic errors leading to inconsistencies, hypocrisy or absurdity. The best I could find was an argument against veganism in survival situations but I’m not in a survival situation. It seemed clear that veganism was the better position.
As a STEM graduate I went to the scientific literature with a question: what did science have to say about eating meat? Turns out, it has a lot to say about it. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance (a serious threat to human health now and in the future); it’s a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions; it’s the leading cause of deforestation; it causes land degradation; it aids in the development of oceanic dead zones; and it’s a serious contributor to the loss of biodiversity on this planet. 15,000 scientists from more than 180 countries signed off on a declaratory paper (setting a record for most signatories) warning humanity that nearly all the problems identified above had been exacerbated. Put simply, the current model of feeding people is not only unsustainable, it’s dangerous.
From that point on I was a reluctant vegetarian – accepting veganism was the stronger position but not quite ready to take the plunge, mostly due to all the fearmongering articles written about it in the media.
Supposedly I wouldn’t get enough protein, vitamin D, omega 3, omega 6 or B12; I would suffer digestive issues within a year; I’d become lactose intolerant; I’d gain weight; I’d lose weight; my mental health would decline; and I’d get diabetes. The list of utterly nonsensical claims about living on a planned vegan diet was astounding but worrying to me, having never tried to change my lifestyle this drastically before, so I stuck to vegetarianism for a while.
Not only did I not suffer any adverse effects from vegetarianism, but I felt better physically. I wasn’t tired after big meals anymore, I wasn’t sleeping as much (which was good because before I overslept consistently) and I was able to be more active for longer. I had originally planned to do a year of vegetarianism but considering all the positives I cut it short and went vegan after six months.
I’ve been vegan for several years now. I’m still active and healthy and I feel better than ever; I’m not protein deficient; I get my omega 3 and omega 6; I get plenty of B12; I haven’t suffered any digestive issues; I’ve no idea if I’ve become lactose intolerant or not and have no interest in finding out; my weight didn’t change; my mental health has marginally improved, rather than worsened; and I definitely didn’t get diabetes.
All in all, it has been pretty good.
Do you see yourself ever going back to being an omnivore?
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’m not fitness obsessed but I am very active. I practice karate and sports karate (kumite) five times a week. I also go swimming once or twice a week and scuba diving once a week and somehow manage to find time to run.
My diet is pretty much what you would expect: a mix of fruit, seeds and nuts, vegetables, grains, beans and lentils and fortified foods.
When I ate meat I often thought it would be impossible to go vegan, I thought it would be too restrictive and that I’d end up eating broccoli feeling miserable. The truth was the opposite. When I went vegan, Continue reading →