This article was first published on Oxfam’s 3things website on 30 May 2013. It was written for Oxfam’s GROW campaign, which creates awareness of the changes needed to fix the broken food system. Eating less meat and dairy is the third of six steps to a better food system. This article is Australian-centric but it translates to our international food habits. Read my previous GROW method blogs here and here, and stay tuned for my blog on why I care about this campaign!
I’ve always started and ended each day with an animal product of sorts, whether milk, yoghurt or a plate of meat, until I took a 7 day vegan challenge last week and turned my normality upside down.
When I began the challenge, most people looked at me sideways or laughed, saying: “Don’t worry if you don’t make it to the end of the week!”
Many people run from the idea of veganism because it’s too ‘hippie’ (is that an insult?) or appears to take the enjoyment out of eating, but I want to tell you about my vegan week before you sprint the other way.
What is Veganism?
Veganism is literally the practice of ‘going the whole hog’ (but without the hog), that is, abstaining from any animal products ranging from steak, cheese, milk and even honey, leather and certain toiletries for some. Although dependent on the individual, a vegan is generally a “non-dairy vegetarian”, or one who is against the exploitation of animals and livestock farming that is damaging to the environment or violent towards animals. It’s both a moral and health issue.
Why did I take the challenge?
It’s easy to become complacent, like I did, and shovel food into your mouth like you’re eating on auto-pilot. Although eating meat doesn’t mean that I (or you) agree with the suffering of animals or the degradation of the environment, it’s important to greet reality at the door when it knocks and understand the effect of your food on the wider world, which is what I intended to do by taking this challenge. Livestock account for approximately 18% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, more than transportation¹. The truth is that if we are to prevent climate disaster² and feed nine billion people by 2050, we need to eat less meat.
Did I survive my vegan week?
I didn’t consciously consume any animal products or by-products apart from the clothes I wore (I should have gone naked) but I had a few challenges: I begrudged my coffee because the almond milk didn’t mix; I missed eating dairy; my mum made my favourite roast chicken one night and I ate peanut satay tofu with quinoa, kale and carrot instead (I’ll admit it was good); I had to prepare all my meals for days out (oh no!); I am no fan of meat substitutes; and it would have been better to research my meals before I started, but thanks to Google, winging it worked. As you can see, such challenges were entirely trivial especially in comparison to the bigger picture. Overall, it felt damn good.
Where did I end up?
I bit into my first non-vegan-and-totally-scrumptious piece of lumberjack cake on Monday but it was in that moment that I’d lost the self-discipline, self-control and a small version of “mindfulness” over my food consumption that I’d gained from my vegan week; the things that added to the joy of eating. I’d returned to the “dark side” although I haven’t lost all hope.
In an era of abundance, and paradoxically in an era in which we’re sucking up the planet’s resources, it’s important to be mindful of what’s on your plate and the processes by which it arrives there. Going the whole hog and abolishing animal products from your diet may not be for you, or even me, but reducing meat and dairy intake is imperative to greater food security. That’s the joy of eating for me.
Lastly, a neat saying to remember is: “Less meat means less heat.”
Extra resources and support
- Find My Vegan Week Pinboard for ideas and watch my progress with food (I might even let you in on a delectable brownie recipe I found)
- Take the 7-Day Vegan Challenge (#7dayvegan) – this one’s a collaborative project with Zenhabits’s Leo Babauta
- Watch Graham Hill’s TED talk on being a weekday vegetarian
- Extra Reading
- Leo Babauta’s Little Book of Contentment
- Check out the Meat-Free Mondays Initiative and give it a go!
- Find extra support in local meat-ups (pun unfortunately intended) like the ones you see here
¹United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2006
²Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian 2012
Are you vegan or vegetarian? What do you think about it all? Do you have any questions about My Vegan Week, such as what I ate? Go nuts!