In case you didn’t know, Veganuary is a charity, inspiring people to try vegan for January and throughout the rest of the year.
Veganism as a lifestyle trend is attracting a lot of attention here in the UK – in comparison with 59,000 people signing up for this challenge last year, this year the numbers are well over 160,000 at the time of writing this article.
Terri Walsh, who is a world champion in pole, is one of Veganuary’s ambassadors in 2018
I have been very interested in adopting a plant-based lifestyle for a while but without committing to be 100% vegan, so it made perfect sense to jump on the Veganuary bandwagon to see what it is like being fully vegan.
But first, just wanted to share where I am now on my journey towards veganism.
Back to the very beginnings…Whilst I was living in Hungary, until I was 23, my diet was less than ideal. I used to eat lots of white bread, white pasta, oily pastries, and processed meat such as salami, ham, pate, lardon, hot dog sausages – you name it! Any Hungarian knows these foods are staples in the traditional Hungarian diet. The biggest change came when I moved to the UK in 2007 to pursue my dreams after finishing university. Here in the UK I was exposed to lots of new types of food and ways of cooking – for example, I have never had prawns, porridge, sweet potatoes, fennel, peanut butter, maple syrup, coconut oil, medjool dates, ginger or blueberries and many other things before I came here. I know… this may be shocking to some people.
I first fell in love with plantbased food when Deliciously Ella stepped onto the scene. I got really curious about some of the ingredients she used in her recipes which I had never even heard of before – chia seeds, goji berries, hemp seeds, Manuka honey, acai, tamari, tahini and so on. Her delicious recipes and this new way of eating really inspired me, leading me to try out many new ingredients and foods I had never dared touch before. A whole new world opened up to me and my cooking and overall diet have improved massively after cutting out all processed foods, adding in more fruit and veg, and reducing unhealthy treats in my diet. Once I started nourishing my body with ‘real’ food and upped my cooking game, I started to feel so much better in my body and saw gains in the gym and in my running, too. However, I continued to consume eggs, dairy products and lean meat without giving much thought to how these products make their way onto my plate and ever questioning whether they are really as important part of a balanced and healthy diet as they are made out to be.
Those of you who have been reading my blog and been following me on Instagram know that I became very interested in the vegan lifestyle after attending Vegfest in October last year, and also because a lot of my London based friends turned to this lifestyle, too. At the Vegan Athletes’ Summit, I met some inspiring vegan role models who I could really relate to. Before that, I always thought that following a vegan diet was not compatible with building muscle and fuelling your athletic performance as you can’t get enough protein from plants alone. I have to admit that I kind of always associated vegans with being malnourished, yoga-loving hippies who grow long beards and are wearing sandals (with socks).
Yeah, something like this. Not that I have anything against hippies, especially if they are this happy.
At the Vegan Athletes Summit, I did not only meet a professional vegan body builder who scooped up countless awards (Nimai Delgado), but also an international vegan cycling champion (Christine Vardaros) and one of the world’s strongest man (Patrick Baboumian) who also happens to be a vegan. Holy cow! The prejudices that I had built up in my head about vegans have slowly started to evaporate.
I also found out that many well known athletes happen to be vegan as well, such as Mr Universe 2014, Barny du Plessis; Scott Jurek, ultramarathon legend; Fiona Oakes, multiple Bristish marathon record holder; the ‘tennis sisters’, Venus and Serena Williams; and boxing champion Mike Tyson. Most recently, Formula 1 icon Lewis Hamilton followed suit, too. These happen to be people who I find very inspiring. Needless to say, I became even more curious to find out how athletes can thrive on a vegan diet which still seemed quite extreme to me, needing to cut out so many key food groups.
Vegan athletes #vgang
At the end of 2017, I spent a lot of time researching how you can live healthily on a vegan diet and how you can avoid the potential nutritional pitfalls. I made sure to watch videos, read books and articles on this topic from reliable vegan and non-vegan sources alike. Nutritional science is an extremely complex field, so I gathered that I would be able to get a clearer and more accurate picture by piecing together the puzzle from different sources, stripping the facts and hard evidence from all bias. I always encourage everyone to apply a bit of critical thinking, especially when you hear claims that one diet is superior to the other.
Patrick Baboumian taking a stroll…
There is no doubt, the vegan diet is very healthy, and people can thrive on it, however, make no mistake, there is a lot of junk science that permeates this community, too. There are many good reasons to live a vegan lifestyle, but for example, the popular documentary, ‘What the Health‘ is NOT one of them. Read ‘Vegan for Life‘ by Virginia Messina instead for a no-nonsense low down on the vegan diet. (As a vegan nutritionist, she also wrote a really good critical review of the aforementioned documentary).
Scott Jurek – going strong…
Sadly, it is not only junk science, but also spiteful rhetoric that often casts a dark shadow over the vegan movement. There are lots of people who are extremely passionate advocates of veganism, and are respected in many vegan circles. Whilst I applaud them for living their values and trying to make a positive difference in the world, unfortunately, I can see that many activists (no doubt fuelled by good intentions) go too far in their quest. Some seem to forget that being compassionate towards all beings should be extended to fellow human beings as well who might have different views from theirs. Some of them even go aganist the law in their actions, such as stealing animals from farms or getting into altercations with the police. Even worse, some feel entitled to giving nutritional advice without appropriate qualifications (which can be harmful). And don’t even get me started about people who are cherry picking references from the Bible to back up veganism, when they clearly do not know the Bible. Using different dietary choices as an excuse to turn against each other is definitely not the way forward. Talking about the Bible, God specifically said in Romans 14 “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” God sees what is in our hearts and he has the authority to judge a person’s motives in all matters.
No issues with getting enough protein!
Dogma penetrates veganism quite a lot, and indeed for some people, it has almost become a religion. Some of the idealogy behind veganism can be a positive thing, though, because they challenge our current thinking and the status quo. Melanie Joy and the belief system that she introduced called ‘carnism‘ (an invisible ideology that conditions people to eat certain animals) is extremely thought- provoking, for one thing… When I was a child, my family used to keep many different kind of animals at home, such as rabbits, chickens and pigs for food. As a child I regarded these animals as pets that I cared about. I regularly visited the chicken and the pigs because I found them fascinating. I even brought out the bunny rabbits from their cages and played with them sometimes. I remember feeling very upset when they were turned into food. I specifically remember locking myself into my bedroom at times when my family spent the whole day killing the pigs and processing them for food. I was sick at the thought of the pigs being slaughtered, and the smell that was lingering in the air the whole day made me retch. I wish I could forget once catching a glimpse of my grandfather skinning the rabbits I loved so much in the graden workshop. My family wasn’t sympathetic towards my feelings, for them these domsetic animals were just ‘food’. But somehow, in the process of ‘growing up’, I came to forget how I felt about domestic animals as a child. I grew to accept that it was completely natural and even necessary to kill and eat these animals for our nourishment, and of course we can love cats and dogs because they are companions. Little did I know back then that humans can actually thrive on a fully plant based diet. Watching Melanie Joy’s speech on YouTube brought back all these deeply buried memories and it has given me a whole new perspective on our eating habits and our relationship with animals.
In the end, I have reached the following conclusions about veganism as a result of my personal research:-
- You can go vegan AND get jacked. Really jacked.
- You can go vegan AND be a kick-ass runner.
- IF well-planned, a vegan diet can be extremely healthy. It is NOT necessary to consume dairy, meat and eggs to live a healthy and abundant life.
- God allows us to eat meat, Genesis 9:3 says “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.” Even Jesus was a meat eater (most likely a pescatarian) when he walked the earth. What the heck, he even fed fish to thousands of people when performing the famous miracle of ‘the five loaves and two fish’. However, it is the horrendous practices in modern-day factory farming, and exploiting the enviroment as a result of our current agricultural practices that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable about eating dairy and meat. We have to remember that ultimately, Jesus’ message is one of love and compassion, and there is nothing loving or compassionate about modern farming practices. There are plenty of stomach-churning videos and movies out there to give you an insight into the realities of how farm animals are treated. If you have a sensitive stomach, watch the movie Okja instead. It is a sweet story about a gentle giant pig and the girl who raised her. Both of them are caught in the crossfire between animal activism, corporate greed and ethics. My point is that we need to recognise that things were very different in the Biblical times and I have the feeling that Jesus would not approve of most of our modern day practices around producing food.
- Globally recognised and reputable organisations have highlighted the benefits of adopting a more plant-based diet for preserving the earth. For example, the UN have said: ‘a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change’.
All in all, I am not saying that everyone should go 100% vegan (and there are certainly some cultures or circumstances where it would be quite tricky to do so, even some vegans recognise that), but I feel that it would benefit the earth, our environment, the animals and our own health if we adopted a more plantbased lifestyle and reduced our consumption of dairy, meat and eggs. With the food choices we have available now in the UK, this really should not be a huge challenge.
Ellen Fisher – one of my favourite Instagrammers who made me fall in love with veggies and fruit even more
I have really enjoyed the Veganuary challenge so far. I am feeling great, and I have plenty of energy for my runs and workouts: my running times have improved and I am like a Duracell Bunny during the bootcamps in my gym. I love experimenting with different recipes and trying foods I have not considered adding to my diet before, such as tempeh, tofu, and nutritional yeast. A vegan diet is definitely not as extreme as it seems, but you do need to give it a proper go and research recipes to see it for yourself. The trickiest times are when I am invited over for a meal or we are going to a restaurant. Checking the menu in advance does help, or bringing a meat-replacement may be a good option when eating with non-vegans. (The only question is when I am going to get excommunicated by my family for appearing to be a picky eater??)
Are you doing the Veganuary challenge? Would love to hear how you are getting on!