Words by Phoebe White
Have you been thinking about going vegan but don’t know where to start? Phoebe discusses how yoga philosophy helped her slow journey to veganism and shares four top tips for making a sustainable change.
Everyone’s talking about veganism. Since joining the bandwagon a while back, I’ve spoken to lots of people who are thinking about it, are overwhelmed by it, totally resistant to it, would do it in a flash if it wasn’t for cheese, are already doing it… everyone has something to say. In 2019 almost twice the amount of people signed up for the UK’s annual campaign Veganuary than the previous. It’s gonna be bigger than fidget spinners, and for good reason too.
Given you’ve clicked to read this, I’ll (try to) save the campaign for why veganism is the way forward and these stats support the case better than I could anyway.
I don’t like to eat anyone. They say food is love, but if that food costs life, how can it be love… or even food? I’m here to share a personal viewpoint which will hopefully inspire and support your journey.
I’ve been vegetarian most of my life, I just couldn’t love a cat but eat a cow. What tipped it for me at a young age was a rare beef joint at a family lunch, I squirmed. I bleed, why would I want to eat blood? I was convinced that meat-eating wasn’t normal. Thankfully, my mother supported my wishes.
I’ve not been a strict vegetarian all that time since then, I’ve had periods of time where I’ve eaten fish and chicken, largely to make sharing and cooking meals with others easier, but I can honestly say I’ve felt the most well, physically and spiritually, when I’m not harming animals (or forgetting my principles to keep the peace).
Seven years ago, I cut out cow’s dairy and then three years ago, I looked at my diet and realising I was largely vegan already, made it official - with myself, my shopping list and everyone else. It’s no surprise that it was around this time I had started delving deeper into yoga studies.
The idea of living as equals with nature and therefore animals features in many yogic philosophies. A few months back I wrote about ahimsa, non-violence, the first of the yamas. About being kind. Veganism is about being kind too.
I find the fourth yama, Brahmacharya provides me a useful outlook in living true to my vegan principles. When written, Brahmacharya meant celibacy, but a modern interpretation is one of moderation or ‘right use of energy’. This mindset helps me make choices about what I eat, wear and buy, and offers me an other dimension: in not ingesting the energy of violence or suffering, and all those ‘I’m about to die’ stress hormones, I’m calmer in myself. I appreciate this is intuitive and impossible to qualify with evidence. But I feel happier about my place and impact on this earth.
So, for me, practicing Brahmacharya is exercising restraint in my relationship to animals and nature. Moderation is absolutely the space where the environmental narrative for veganism sits, we must moderate our behaviour to save the planet and indeed ourselves (this report is scary).
In order to fuel my body, I don’t want to use up the earth’s resources unwisely. And I’m sure you don’t either. So here are my thoughts on how to navigate the path to vegan.
1) Decide where you stand
Inviting veganism into your life opens up a can of worms - a tangle of supply chains and farming practices, opinions and counter arguments. What resonates with you? It is the anti-cruelty, the environmental or health campaign, or none, or all?
Do you want to just refrain from eating animal products or do you also boycott the products that cause harm in the journey to market, like unsustainable sources of palm oil, or cosmetics? Buying veg not wrapped in plastic can be a total minefield! (Grr) Is it vegan if the package ends up in a whale’s belly?
Make these decisions for yourself. And avoid ‘compare and despair’ syndrome. No one vegan is better than the other. Even just cutting down on animal products makes a difference. You’ll still need to sustain your life and health; and unravelling the cultural weave that is human’s exploitation of animals takes consideration. I took it slow.
The older I get, the more radical and purist I become – I don’t even want to sit on a leather chair anymore and I was a leather bag owning vegetarian for a period. I notice how people I share meals or shopping trips with refer to animal products as ‘you can’t have that’ but really, it’s a choice, I don’t want it.
It’s this mindset of ‘can’t have’ that makes any lifestyle choice hard work to implement – it’s a stick, not a carrot. Overnight changes often don’t stick, walking a path of moderation, of gentle restraint over time will help sustain any change you want to make. Be clear with yourself about your reasons and the rest will come.
If it’s about more than the food you eat, here are two sites to check out if you’re concerned about your presentation without harming animals.
2) Re-educate yourself
Going vegan will see you become a master at making creative tweaks to usual choices. Nutrition is important, not because meat has nutrients you can’t replace (or supplement) but because if you’ve grown up in a meat-eating community, you’ll likely need to adjust what you expect to see on your plate, so you get a rounded diet.
Cooking depletes nutrients so I endeavour to eat food that’s as close to its natural state as possible (so definitely not steak!). It’s better to eat bigger portions of veg and pulses to cover your protein needs than reaching for the nearest processed substitute – vegan it may be, healthy it may not be.
Know what you need: Dr Geger, author of ‘How not to die’ has a website filled with the nutritional facts and how to get the best out of your food (hint: he’s big on a plant based diet). Veganuary’s starter kit is useful for a quick start off the block.
If you can afford it, vegan restaurants will inspire a new perception of food. And if you’re the physically fit type check out the Sculpted Vegan for a meal plan that’ll see you to your goals (behind a pay wall).
And there are lots of news feeds you can follow to stay in the loop on nutritional as well as other product issues. I like Plant Based News.
And educate yourself on yourself. Journal what you’re eating, your energy levels and how you feel about a harm-free diet. Changing the way you eat is a big deal, take a moderate approach and monitor each step.
3) Favourite meal swaps
I find my vegan diet far more vibrant and enjoyable than ‘meat and three veg’ ever was. And there are a growing number of vegan recipes out there to choose from.
But there are few dishes that come from our family, and life without them feels like no life at all, like lasagne. Here’s my rule of thumb for keeping family dishes in the repertoire:
If the recipe used mince, then choose lentils. Use a good amount of oil and spice.
If it asks for chunks, pick a bean. Borlotti and Pinto are good.
If it’s a salad, the chickpea is your friend.
If the meat was the main attraction on the plate, go for a high fibre show vegetable like a roasted whole butternut, cauliflower or jackfruit. Or something with nuts.
If it’s a South East Asian dish, tofu or mushroom is just as authentic.
But what about cheese? There are some great vegan cheeses available now for the ‘with cracker’ experience; a white sauce made with oat or soya milk is just fine on top of your lasagne; and there’s always hummus where soft cheese was the choice.
Be prepared to experiment.
4) Get used to talking about it!
People will ask you about it, you’ll have to explain your reasons to those who cook for you, those you eat out with, those die hard meatarians in your circle may even call you names. That’s ok.
I’ve found people will either find their own way to vegan or not and I choose to live by example. I’m clear on my reasons, and I can speak to that. But sometimes it’s just about smiling and agreeing to disagree.
Having said that, if you want to brush up on some effective arguments. Check out Earthling Ed, he’s on the case.
Use the comments below to let us know how you came to veganism and what your top tips would be.
I’d love to know.
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A long serving Londoner, Phoebe is a qualified practitioner in Neurolinguistic Programming, life coach and yoga teacher, and experienced singer songwriter. She’s been leading workshops in a range of personal development topics and supporting people to achieve their goals for over 15 years. She teaches and sings regularly in North London and all around the world.
Contact Phoebe via her website or on email@example.com for 1-1 enquiries.