Why Vegan? – My Journey Towards a Plant-Based Diet
Posted Dec 27 2011 3:03am
Since I’ve been back home, I’ve had a lot of questions about my veganism from friends, family members and acquaintances alike. As it’s still a relatively new venture for me, many of them had only just found out about my lifestyle choices and were naturally intrigued. So I’ve decided to do a series of “Why Vegan?” posts to clarify why I chose to eat the way I do.
As far as diet goes, my foray into veganism has been more of a gradual evolution rather than a full on switch. At the age of 12 I became a vege/pesce/flexi-tarian. Basically I wouldn’t touch red meat or poultry, but would have seafood on occasion. This was purely down to personal preference – I just couldn’t stomach the taste of meat anymore and the smell made me nauseous. I was always quick to highlight to critics (because believe me, as a pre-teen Arab girl who didn’t like meat – there were critics) that it wasn’t down to animal rights advocacy, I just didn’t like the taste. I even likened it to my friend’s severe aversion to tomatoes once.
I stayed this way all throughout high school and my first year of university. Now, anyone who knew me during that period of time will know that my immune system was never up to snuff. I was constantly getting sick with sinus infections and tonsillitis up to 4 times a year, highly abnormal for anyone over the age of 12, let alone 18 – according to my doctor. He recommended a tonsillectomy and after much shuffling back and I was convinced. That summer I had my tonsils taken out and endured two uncomfortable hospital stays, a grueling course of post-op medications and anti-histamines, with the promise that I would no longer fall ill every 5 minutes.
Fast forward to my second year of university and I was still suffering with borderline chronic sinus infections. Needless to say, I was pretty fed up so I took to consulting Dr. Internet. Somewhere along the way I came across a list of mucus forming foods – and was surprised to find dairy at the top of the list! A little more research into the topic and I discovered a slew of other shocking facts about dairy products, which made sick to my stomach. One food intolerance test and two Skinny Bitch books later – I decided to completely eliminate dairy products from my diet.
Now I should point out, this was coming from a person who regularly bought 3 types of cheese, consumed yogurt fruit-corners like it was my job, and lived for labneh and skimmed milk. But I was so passionate about the arguments against dairy that I would’ve done so even if I hadn’t tested positive for a dairy sensitivity. It wasn’t easy, but I made do with soy milk and copious amounts of hummus (I believe that’s where the obsession began). Before I knew it my sinuses had cleared up, and I felt great all around.
For the next year I stuck to my flexi-tarian guns and tried to avoid dairy as much as possible. I did well for a while – soy yoghurts and vegan cheese where apt replacements, but the occasional slice of pizza managed to find me, as did blocks of halloumi at the supermarket. It wasn’t until I embarked upon my weight loss journey and decided to “clean up” my eating when I completely cut out dairy again.
I also cut out imitation meat products so I began experimenting with other plant-based sources of protein. Lentils, pulses and beans became cupboard staples and was constantly surprised as to versatile vegan cooking could be.
A few months later I went raw for a whole 30 days – an incredible all around experience. I just loved the innovation and simplicity of flavours that went in to creating a raw meal. It was also extremely liberating to be able to eat whatever I wanted with no hesitation after months of restriction and calorie counting. I firmly believe that transitioning to a raw foods diet is what saved me from plummeting into a full-blown eating disorder. That month pretty much sealed the deal for my veganism. I’d experienced first hand the benefits of fueling my body with nutritionally dense and delicious whole foods, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Although I had lost just a little too much weight (as a result of my restrictive eating habits, not my vegan diet)– I managed to make it back to a healthy BMI quickly and feel more comfortable in my own skin now than I have my whole life.
My decision to stay vegan was down to three things: health, ethics and good food.
I’m extremely passionate about staying fit and healthy, and I genuinely believe a plant-based diet is the best for optimal health. The food as medicine movement is rapidly growing, and I’m constantly reading about people who’ve cured their ailments through eating a largely whole foods based diet. Reading books like The China Study and movies like Forks Over Knives have only strengthened this belief, because at this point it’s not just speculation. There is credible scientific evidence that a plant food/vegan diet can minimize or reverse the development of chronic disease.
As I mentioned earlier, ethics were never part of my agenda when it came to eschewing meat, but during my gradual progression towards a vegan diet I became a lot more aware of mass factory farming and the conditions under which animals are kept tortured and killed in. There’s a story from Skinny Bitch in a chapter about slaughterhouse conditions that still haunts me.
A worker tells of how he killed a pig, he decided to torture it first and slice it’s snout off with a knife. The pig then went wild, squealing like crazy and running around the killing floor. When it finally stopped, the man grabbed a handful of brine and rubbed it into the wound to make him squeal again.
That, and so many other chilling accounts have only strengthened my convictions in my decision to live a cruelty free lifestyle. The truth is that the current mass demand for meat can’t be met without a mass production system that neglects the welfare of animals – and I refuse to be a part of that. Sure, free-range farms are great and I really do respect independent farmers who invest in the well-being of animals and use humane practices, but when all is said and done, an innocent animal still has to die. In my mind, if I can do without it then I don’t see why I should contribute to the pain and suffering of another living creature.
There’s also no denying that the mass production of meat has had a significant environmental impact. Livestock population is expanding faster than the human population and farmed animals now outnumber people by more than three to one. This means a continuous contribution towards malnourishment in developing countries, global warming, pollution, deforestation, water scarcity, land degradation and species extinction because more animals mean more crops are needed to feed them. Very few people realize that what we eat plays an integral part in our ecological footprint.
When I made the official decision to stay vegan – I decided to ease into it and made a deal with myself. If I felt like having anything (namely seafood and eggs, as they were the only two sources of protein I was still consuming beforehand), I wouldn’t deprive myself of it just yet. But in all honesty, that never happened. The reason for that is that I got so caught up experimenting with delicious vegan food that not once did I feel like something was “missing”. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Vegan food is so inventive, flavourful and versatile – it’s virtually impossible to get bored.
My passion for good food is what drove me to start this blog and is what motivates me to show others that vegan food IS accesible and expands far beyond a garden salad and a slab of tofu. It would be my dream to open a vegan restaurant in the Middle East someday, but for now I’ll stick to blogging.
I want to highlight that I feel veganism is what’s right for me personally. Although I think everyone could benefit from eating more plant-based whole foods, I do acknowledge that it’s not for everyone and is not a one size fits all lifestyle – which is why I don’t try to preach, brag or enforce my beliefs on others.
***For my next post in this series I’ll be doing a Vegan FAQ – so feel free to ask any questions you might have via e-mail, formspring or in the comments below!