Don’t panic, I’m not here today to be the moral police or to tell you to give up all food. Often vegans don’t have the best reputation (Leotie Lovely has a great post about that here that I really recommend reading) and, as Ethical Unicorn exists to provide a variety of options and ideas which you can pick and choose from yourself, this post is merely a suggestion about repositioning some of our attitudes to food, as one of the easiest ways to live a greener life.
So what is this Veganuary? No, it’s not a word I’ve made up, it’s actually a charity dedicated to changing attitudes and ideas about veganism. If you live in London you may have seen ads for this plastered all over the tube, so I thought I’d shed some light on this for you today. To put it simply, the idea is to try out a vegan/plant based diet for the month of January. It’s not saying you have to be a vegan for the rest of your life, it’s not saying you have to believe in or agree with every single reason behind veganism, it’s simply about giving it a go.
When it comes to ethical and sustainable living, how we choose to eat is one of the quickest ways to make an impact. In the past I’ve talked about seasonal local eating, but reducing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can also do great things for the planet. There’s a lot of debates out there about the full environmental impact of commercial meat/dairy production, and I’m not going to list that all here. However if you are interested, I found a whole list of articles and sources here, and I will give you a quote from The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations paper ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow‘, published in 2006, which I feel is very much a reputable source:
‘Livestock have a substantial impact on the world’s water, land and biodiversityresources and contribute significantly to climate change. Directly and indirectly, through grazing and through feedcrop production, the livestock sector occupies about 30 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface on the planet. In many situations, livestock are a major source of land-based pollution, emitting nutrients and organic matter, pathogens and drug residues into rivers, lakes and coastal seas. Animals and their wastes emit gases, some of which contribute t climate change, as do land-use changes caused by demand for feed grains and grazing land’
If you want to know more and have a ton of academic knowledge, I’d recommend reading this paper as its chock-full of info and research, though it is rather long (284 pages, so don’t say there is no data behind this). It’s very clear that eating mass-produced meat and dairy is problematic, and reducing our intake is the best way that we, as consumers, can have an impact, especially if we do it collectively. Companies pay attention to their consumers, as do (most) governments. Red meat consumption is on the decline, if other products begin to also, we can make way for a rise in demand of local, good quality produce instead.
I have also seen debates about a plant based diet and health. So I trawled through JSTOR, and I thought I’d give you these quotes from ‘Vegan Diet And Health‘, written by R.W.D Turner, a self confessed ‘non-vegetarian’, and published by The British Medical Journal in 1979.
‘it was clear that veganism had been thoroughly investigated by experts…The vegan diet has been assessed at the Queen Elizabeth College in London and found to be satisfactory in all respects apart from requiring a supplement of vitamin BI2.’ It is also adequate during pregnancy and lactation, and healthy normal children are born. The general health of vegans has been found in the UK and USA to be good and indistinguishable from that of others. Vegans are of normal height but lower weight through having less obesity, which could be an advantage. Professor Dickerson and his colleagues have carried out haematological studies at the University of Surrey and at the Kingston hospitals. Blood counts and blood films were normal and serum folate concentrations higher than in controls
Biochemically, vegans would seem to be at an advantage, with lower concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL): LDL ratio, and a higher HDL: cholesterol: apo A-I ratio.6 There is no suggestion of a deficiency of long-chain fatty acids and phospholipids, as some had expected from the vegan diet. At the Johns Hopkins University it has been found that the blood pressure in vegetarians tends to be lower than in others. This cannot be attributed to the salt content in the diet and is probably related to food of animal origin. Vegans are certainly not cranks. If anything, it is the other way about. Most of us habitually consume an unnatural diet high in saturated fat from animals artificially fed with concentrates; from hydrogenated, and thereby saturated, vegetable oils; and from a huge excess of dairy fat, which has no nutritional value as a constituent of the UK diet. Flour and other cereals are refined, removing the fibre and the germ. Sugar is a concentrated form of “empty” calories which contributes to obesity and dental decay. The vegans are free from such avoidable anomalies.
If those of us who are not vegetarians were to move in that direction by consuming less food of animal origin and more whole-grain bread and other cereals, pulses and other vegetables, nuts, fruit, and so on there is little doubt we should be healthier, and wealthier, improve the British and European economies, and improve a situation in which half the world is undernourished but 90% of the cereals grown are used as animal feed to make meat for man instead of providing food for those in need.’
(I love the part when he says ‘the vegans are free’ like they’re aliens. Haha)
So basically, a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle is good for the planet and you, if you make the right choices. Vegan does not automatically mean healthy. My argument (echoed by Leotie Lovely too) is that if you replace meat dishes with all processed, fake things or vegan-friendly-but-still-unhealthy foods, you’re going to make yourself unwell. On the other side, I’m also not into people pushing ‘clean living’ and kale so much that it pushes us to have unhealthy relationships with our bodies. If we start by over-demonising food, believing that one bit of cake will kill us, that’s a slippery slope to body dysmorphia, unhappiness and eating disorders.
My solution? Sit in the middle, have a balanced diet of things that you’d find in the ground. Try Veganuary, use it as an opportunity to explore recipes and diversify your diet (before I reduced meat I basically ate no legumes, which are so good for you and a fab source of protein! Now I love eating lentils on the reg) whilst also reducing your dependancy on meat and dairy. You may decide to stay plant based, but remember to replace meat and dairy with nice whole foods. Try and find local producers/farmers in your area and support them by buying fruits, veggies, wholegrains, legumes, nice things. I recommend checking out Jenny Mustard and Laura Miller to get you started on some recipes.
Maybe you will decide to return to meat/dairy in some way. Maybe you’ll be a freegan. I’m not saying that you can only be vegan and only follow one set of rules to have an impact. I have a lot of friends who practice different variations: some do meat-free mondays, some only eat meat on weekends, some are vegetarian but not vegan. It’s not up to me to tell you what to do, it’s up to you to make a choice. But what I am suggesting is giving it a go, because you never know what you’ll learn about your body, how you’ll vary your relationship with food and health, and you’ll have a positive environmental impact.
What have you got to lose?
Until next time, stay magic y’all.