I’ve been talking to people about this idea for ages, yet never gotten around to writing a blog post about it. Finally, it seems to be time.
The last post I wrote about diet was The Space Diet in November 2016, in which I described a “pescavegan” diet that I believed would be suitable for space settlements. A lot has happened since then. In the month following that post I became fully vegan, which means at the time of writing (December 2018) I’ve been vegan for 2 years.
I think almost anyone reading this post will be aware that veganism has become incredibly popular during the past 2 years. It was considered by some “the movement of 2017”, but clearly momentum hasn’t slowed, and in 2018 more people have become vegan than ever before.
People have different reasons for becoming vegan. As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware that animal agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change, ecological destruction, and high extinction rates; that most of our major diseases arise from the consumption of animal-based foods; and that factory farming involves abhorrent cruelty towards animals. Whether it’s for health, environment, or animals, most people can find at least one reason to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
Becoming vegan has never been easier. As the movement has grown, so has the number of vegan restaurants, products, recipes, websites, YouTube channels, and other resources. These days, no matter what favorite animal-based food or meal you can imagine, you’ll probably be able to find a delicious vegan version of it.
The catch is, for many people going vegan just isn’t that easy. That was the case for me. There several issues that I faced during the process of becoming vegan:
- As a fitness enthusiast, I firmly believed that I needed a high protein diet in order to reach my health and fitness goals. I didn’t believe this was possible, or how to achieve it, on a vegan diet.
- I had a lot of physical and psychological addictions and habits related to animal-based foods, especially milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, fish, and honey. Even once I had the information about why not to eat these things, my body would still ask for them or be attracted to them.
- I didn’t know what to eat instead of those foods. When I first went vegan, I found myself getting so hungry that I would end up eating loads of bread and cereal, which was definitely not in line with my health and fitness goals.
The challenge for most of us is that we’ve been eating animal-based foods for a really long time; since we were kids. When we eat them, they affect our bodies in ways that are familiar and satisfying. They provide energy, may trigger a surge of pleasure, and they remind of happy times when we ate these foods before, maybe when we were with our friends or family. Sacrificing these foods can feel like giving up a drug, or separating from a treasured friend, and the body and/or mind resist.
Adding to this problem is the fact that adopting a vegan diet, especially if you stick to mostly whole foods, will make you healthier, slimmer, and happier, which can obviously positively affect many other areas of your life such as relationships and finances. But these positive changes can really challenge our self-image. If we have well-trodden psychological pathways relating to depression, anxiety, body image, self-esteem, or anything like that, it can be very difficult to allow ourselves to experience these positive changes.
Becoming vegan can, therefore, be a real challenge, but it’s a change that’s worth making. So, what’s the answer? The solution for me was to take it one step at a time. I found that changing my diet step-by-step allowed me to make the transition in a way that wasn’t excessively disruptive, and thus was ultimately sustainable.
I didn’t do this deliberately, it was just how it worked out; however, I’ve since developed this concept into a useful process for people to follow, if they want to transition to veganism without suffering, feeling deprived, or freaking out.
You may not find it possible to “climb” the whole vegan ladder. You don’t even need to commit to that goal from the outset. However far you get, you will have made a great difference in your life, contributed to a better climate and environment, and reduced the amount of suffering in the world. And you might find that, after a week or two, or a month, you might feel inspired to take the next step.
If you need a schedule, I suggest you attempt to take one step up the ladder per week, but feel free to move faster or slower through the steps if that feels more comfortable.
Step 1: Go pollotarian. Stop eating mammals.
Processed meat has been classified by the World Health Organization as a Class 1 carcinogen, which means it’s proven to be carcinogenic to humans. They classified red meat as a Class 2A carcinogen, which means it’s probably carcinogenic. There is mounting evidence of the correlation between the consumption of red meat and certain cancers, such as colorectal cancer.
I think people find it easier to give up eating mammals than other animals because it’s easier to empathize with them. We’re mammals, and it’s easier to demonstrate that mammals experience pain and fear; they don’t want to die, or live in a cage; they have thoughts, feelings, and distinct personalities; and they love and want to care for their offspring and hate to be separated from them. Anyone who owns a dog or cat can attest to these attributes, but what many people don’t realize is that cows, pigs, sheep, goats, etc. are just the same. It’s harder for people to tolerate mammals being treated cruelly.
The farming of mammals, especially cows, is one of the main causes of environmental destruction on the planet. Most of the issues relating to greenhouse gases, ocean dead zones, deforestation, and elevated extinction rates are tied to the production of food from mammals.
Thus, removing mammals from your diet is a great compromise for anyone who feels that they just can’t possibly become vegetarian or vegan. You can substitute red meat with chicken or fish; or (preferably) vegan alternatives like tofu.
If people only gave up eating mammals, the world would be in vastly better shape. When I meet someone who tells me they could never give up eating meat, I try to encourage them to just give up eating mammals. It may not be the ideal outcome but it’s a big step in the right direction.
The word “pollotarian” is not very common and can be hard to explain to friends, family, and waiters. So, let’s promptly proceed to Step 2: pescatarian.
Step 2: Go pescatarian. Stop eating birds.
The next step is to remove chicken, turkey, duck, and other birds from the diet. This includes such cruelty-packed delicacies as duck-liver and goose-liver paté.
The term for someone who has removed all mammals and birds from their diet but still consumes other animal-based foods is pescatarian.
An insane number of birds are killed every year for human consumption. They are treated extremely cruelly by workers, and due to the intense competition in the industry, companies are under pressure to process birds as quickly as possible. Many birds are still alive when scalded in hot water to remove their feathers. They’re not thoroughly washed, and it’s been found that over 90% of supermarket chickens contain traces of feces. It’s also been found that all supermarket chickens carry bacteria, which invade kitchens and are nearly impossible to eradicate.
Don’t be fooled by the “free-range” tag, either. This is a ruse and has nothing to do with chickens being free or living in anything like a natural, happy state. It just means the chickens are all together in one massive building instead of lots of small cages. They still live inside, for the most part, in cramped, dark, smelly, unhygienic conditions, among the corpses of their fallen sisters. Most farm chickens could not survive in the wild.
Step 3: Go vegetarian. Stop eating seafood.
This is the last main category of meat to exclude from the diet. Congratulations, you are now a vegetarian. An equivalent term you might see is lacto-ovo-vegetarian, but if you just say “vegetarian”, most people will assume you still assume you still consume eggs, dairy, and honey.
Some people like to split hairs here and treat different categories of seafood differently. For example, in Jewish culture fish is considered kosher, but crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, prawns) and mollusks (mussels, clams, oysters) are not. Then there are people who will not consume any meat other than mollusks; the argument being, they can’t run away, therefore they don’t experience pain (very strange reasoning if you ask me).
Feel free to split this step into substeps if that makes it easier for you. You can remove mollusks and crustaceans from the diet, which is probably a lot easier than removing fish for most people, then remove fish later.
I assessed these options, and, for a while, I was quite comfortable being a pescatarian (and later, pescavegan) that only consumed fish and no other seafood. I was very interested in the idea of aquaponics (a symbiotic combination of hydroponics and aquaculture), which seems to be an efficient way to produce food, on Earth as well as in space. I believed that eating fish was a good way to get some high-quality protein and healthy fats.
However, I learned a little more about the suffering and disease in fish farming, heavy metals in fish, bycatch, bottom trawling, and massive depletion of the world’s fish populations, and decided I couldn’t possibly justify eating fish if I didn’t really need it. I also learned that there are plenty of plant-based sources of healthy protein and fats. That was it for me. Back to being a vegetarian!
To get plant-based protein, eat plenty of legumes, i.e. beans, soybeans, peanuts, peas, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), and lentils; and green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli. (Or “greens and beans” as I say!) There are also some processed foods that are high in plant protein, like tofu, TVP (textured vegetable protein), and seitan (wheat gluten). Plus, if you’re into lifting weights like I am, you can easily add extra protein with a high-quality plant-based protein powder like Prana On’s Power Plant Protein.
It’s also very easy to get healthy fats from plants. I don’t recommend consuming a lot of oils, which are refined foods with a high calorie-to-nutrient ratio, and not exactly what we’ve evolved to consume. I expect a little olive or coconut or safflower oil is not going to be especially harmful from time to time, but preferable choices for your daily diet are whole foods such as olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Step 4. Go pure vegetarian. Stop eating eggs.
This was a hard one for me. When I was vegetarian I decided I would get most of my protein from eggs. I would consume 5–6 eggs after a workout, just scrambled in a pan with a cup or two of veggies. I used to remove the yolks until I decided that whole eggs were healthier (not to mention quicker to prepare).
Perhaps due to confirmation bias and cherry-picking with my research, I had convinced myself that eggs were a healthy food. I didn’t know at this time that many experts (including the FDA) actually do not consider eggs a healthy food. This is mainly due to the high level of saturated fats in the yolks. However, there’s also the rather obvious question of how healthy any food can be if it comes from woefully unhealthy animals.
The scientific term for a food or diet that excludes meat and eggs, but includes dairy, is lacto-vegetarian. However, I much prefer the term used in India, which is pure vegetarian. A lot of Indian and Hare Krishna restaurants serve pure vegetarian meals.
Step 5. Go almost vegan. Stop consuming dairy products.
[I put “almost vegan” because I don’t know the term for a vegan who eats honey. I doubt there is one. Usually, these people just call themselves “vegan” and try to convince everyone (and themselves) why honey is vegan (it isn’t).]
Giving up dairy can be especially difficult because of the addictiveness of cheese, which contains casomorphins, an addictive compound similar to morphine, and also because dairy is in many products that we associate with pleasure, such as milk chocolate, ice cream, yogurt, and more. We also love to have milk with our cereal and coffee, cheese on our pizza, and so on.
Take heart — there are now plenty of great vegan milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream substitutes that will not disappoint. Most of these are made with nuts, especially coconuts, almonds, cashews, and macadamias.
Many vegetarians hold to the false belief that the dairy industry does not involve killing, and thus dairy is an ethical food. Sorry, but there is plenty of suffering and murder inherent in modern dairy farms. Male calves are frequently killed on their first day of life, just like male chicks in the egg industry. All calves are taken away from their mothers, causing some of them to chase the trucks carrying away their babies, and to cry for days after.
Also, consider that, if milk is a suitable food for humans, why does it need to be pasteurized; a process that kills all the bacteria and viruses in the milk? Why are so many people lactose intolerant? Many cows in a dairy farm are sick with serious diseases like mastitis and cancer, and since they can’t give antibiotics to just the sick cows, they give it to all of them. Those antibiotics end up in the meat and milk, which affects our own gut biome and immune systems.
Cow milk is for baby cows, not humans.
Once dairy is eliminated from the diet, you’re almost vegan. But not quite. One tiny step to go.
Step 6. Go vegan. Stop eating honey.
There’s a long-standing debate within the vegan community as to whether or not honey is vegan. Many beekeepers are quick to point out that honey production supports honeybee populations (which have been declining), and that only surplus honey is removed from the hives. However, honey production involves a lot of bee injuries and deaths.
Honey comes from animals and is, therefore, by definition, not vegan.
In my opinion, you can’t really justify honey-eating with the argument that “it maintains bee populations”. Consuming milk and beef maintains cow populations, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.
I found honey hard to give up. I used to consider it a superior sweetener to sugar because it has a lower glycemic index. It’s also much better than artificial sweeteners that contain aspartame, which many experts believe to be toxic, and can have adverse effects on mental health. So I used to enjoy honey in coffee and tea, and on muesli and toast. However, once I understood why it wasn’t vegan, I gave it up and embraced stevia, a plant-based sweetener, which is becoming widely available.
Whether you consider honey as vegan or not, you’re probably better off giving it up anyway. There are much healthier plant-based sweeteners, such as date sugar and molasses.
Congratulations! You made it. You can now confidently call yourself vegan. Your gut bacteria will change and you will surely start feeling better. Part of that good feeling is all your bodily systems working more efficiently, as the toxic load of animal-based foods is removed. Part of it is a satisfied feeling that comes from doing something really good for yourself, the planet, and the animals, and being at the leading edge of human evolution.
Now it’s time to try out all those great places your annoying vegan friends have been telling you about 🙂