How I found veganism
When my daughter became a vegan some five years ago I didn't quite get it. This might sound strange, as I had been growing my own vegetables for years, but I was brought up on the premises that a good meal consisted of one protein, one carbohydrate and two vegetable side dishes. In summer time I usually only bought the protein part of the meal from shops, a good quality steak or some fish, and picked the rest from my garden. Yet I still didn't get it - how can you feel satisfied eating only the green stuff? Well you can't. Veganism is much more complicated than eating only the side dishes with a bit of bread. You need to take into consideration all the different ingredients on the vegan chart to get a balanced nutrient intake, and this means mixing it all up and making sure there is enough variety to have a healthy diet. For example using beans and lentils for plant protein, fiber, B-vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc, and adding to this a wide variety of all vegetables seasonally available. Slowly my daughter taught me how to cook vegan dinners, and I found to my amazement an abundance of fantastic recipes substituting animal fats with vegan alternatives. At first I felt it was all very complicated and difficult, but soon enough I learned things like soaking nuts such as almonds over night before adding in the mixer as an alternative to cream when making sauce, or prepping raw vegetables in the morning before work so I can just throw them in the pan when I get home tired and grumpy in the evening. And now that I have gotten into it, I can't really imagine not eating this well. So this year I committed to doing #veganuary and I have really enjoyed it. I do miss fish and seafood however, and after this month I will probably go back to moderate intake of a animal protein as well. I doubt I will ever be a totalitarian militant vegan, but equally I am convinced that I will continue with a 90 % plant based diet hereafter. But here I will present the main five reasons I decided to join the #veganuary movement:
1. I can't bear animal cruelty
Having kept summer chickens and spent a lot of time around farm animals I am most aware that animals have souls and feelings exactly like us humans, and the older I get the more of an ethical dilemma it becomes to eat animal meat. I don't say animal produce, as personally I don't think there is anything wrong with eating cheese or drinking milk from happy cows, goats or sheep. Happily it is much easier nowadays to make well informed choices, and it's not just a question of choosing between ecological or regular produce, but there is also plenty of produce from free range cows available. (Yes really! A Finnish family firm called Juustoportti has a whole range of milk produce from happy free range cows available in grocery stores all over the country.) But consuming produce made from stressed, intensively farmed animals who live in cramped spaces and live of gmo feed infused with preventative antibiotics, only to be transported across countries and slaughtered while terrified in brutal conditions... no, it just doesn't appeal to me. The difference between these poor souls and the free range happy rare breed Kyytö cows and old-breed Finnish lamb that live at my neighbours farm and roam my fields all summer is absolutely mind boggling. So, if I can't be sure of the providence of the meat I'm offered, I'd rather just stick to the vegetarian option.
2. I sleep better
How many people do you know who swear off carbohydrates? It's like suddenly carbs are the root of all evil, and if you get caught actually eating the little buggers people will go "Oh, no wonder she is fat!". It's as if the world has become so one dimensional that there is no perceived difference between stuffing ones face with gene modified wheat and maltodextrin filled everlasting buns, or adding oat bran to the morning smoothie. A protein rich diet is lauded as the epitome of healthy eating and if you have fallen off the Keto wagon you have no self discipline what so ever. I've always been a bit of a rebel so naturally I don't quite buy into all that. If I thought that being skinny was all there is to life I probably would, but personally I think feeling great is much more important, and to me sleeping well is one of the cornerstones to feeling good. Actually, there might be some science to the fact that I sleep better on a predominantly vegan diet. The internal track works much harder to process meat and cheese than when on a lighter vegan diet, and consequently vegetarians have a much faster average bowel transit time. Since starting my veganuary challenge I have slept an average of 7,5 hours, not waking up once in the night. For being me, this is like having won the Euro jackpot!
3. I believe that every little helps
Years ago Tesco used the advert slogan "every little helps" and ever since then it has become something of a family joke as we use it for all manner of things. But really, it is a brilliant slogan as it is so true in all its simplicity. If you want to change the world, it is done not by one big enormous splash but by the thousands of tiny little things ordinary people do in their everyday lives. Of course the best way to save the world would be to make global multinational corporations tow in line to reduce their carbon footprint and eliminate all toxic waste, reinvent air travel to be environmentally sustainable, and most importantly convince politicians all over the world that climate change actually does exist and is an issue. But, as this might take some time, I think it is important we all do our bit to make the world a slightly better place and maybe some of our actions will encourage others to follow suit and make a change. Take for example the introduction of a charge for plastic bags to reduce plastic in the environment, that has gone from a small minority lobbying cause to a worldwide environmental policy. I'm quite hopeful that same will eventually happen with food production and consumption, as I believe that the more educated we become about our impact on the environment the better choices we can make. The great obstacle isn't evil corporations but the uneducated masses. So, although it is a drop in the ocean I have joined the bandwagon of #veganuary to let my voice be heard and support our environment.
4. I'm not getting any younger
I do know that some people actually gain weight in the beginning after changing to a vegan diet. This happens while the body readjusts to having fibre in the gut, as a fiber rich diet retains water in the body. Oh no!! Isn't water retention a bad thing? Actually no. Having a well hydrated body is a good and healthy thing as the body needs water to maintain its temperature, remove waste, regulate hormones and lubricate the joints. This is one of the reasons many people who turn vegan report a decrease in aches and pains in the body. So hydration is not only a question of drinking water, but of allowing the body to use it well. (After a month or so as the body readjusts to a healthy gut function most people start reporting weight loss.) For me, it really hit home that I needed to change something when I had my first big health check done and discovered that I actually have higher than average cholesterol. WHAT?! At my age? I'm barely out of my twenties! Well, actually no. If I have the average Finnish female lifespan I am exactly half way trough my life right now. What I do now, and how I now live my life, will determine what kind of health I will have in the last quarter of my time here. And, although exercise is a very important factor in this, how I nurture my body through diet plays a leading role in this endeavour. Eating a lot of meat or poor quality additive filled food, drinking alcohol excessively and consuming calorie rich sugar laden food all raise the risk of lifestyle induced disease such as cancers, diabetes and liver disease. Now, I do recognise I will never be a stick insect, but I can make sure my BMI stays within the healthy range and I can make an effort to eat a healthy fiber rich diet to nourish my gut and keep my body hydrated.
5. It's a question of taste
Although I did say that going vegan for a month has had its challenges, it's not rocket science. The basis of eating healthily is eating stuff that actually looks like what it is. By this I mean that I use fresh whole food ingredients and that I do put time in to cook my meals from scratch. Yes, I know that time is the ultimate luxury nowadays but I'm ok with actually spending time preparing meals and cooking. During the week when time is more restricted I often food prep while socialising with Mr Netflix and thereby have the best of both worlds - I get to catch up with all the latest episodes of my favourite series while I feel good about feeding my family healthy food. Yet, the most important factor is not so much the issue of being healthy as the issue of taste. I am a foodie and I really like to eat well! I love food that tastes and feels great, just as much as I find bad food off-putting. Going vegan for a month has really opened my eyes to the masses of fantastic recipes there are online, and I find myself trying out so many new taste combinations that I never knew were there. Like other people read online shopping directories or follow reality tv I engage in foodism at a higher degree. Who knew that a beetroot-apple smoothie or a cauliflower-almond soup could taste so great?! And as a bonus, I have an abundance of new inspiring thoughts on what to grow in my kitchen garden next year!