An Experience in Veganism

It is the 32nd day of no meat products… well, maybe that’s a little exaggeration but here’s my Experience of Veganism.

I’m a Personal Trainer in Bowen Hills. I find it important to know my clients and understand their choices. If a client is eating Paleo, Vegetarian or has any intolerances I want to know what that’s like. We all know by now there is no one size fits all. This one of the reasons I recently undertook a curious exploration of veganism. 

While I’m not a registered nutritionist, I used to be a chef, and now I’m a personal trainer. I have the benefit of knowledge as far as understanding food ingredients, preparing them, and creating appetizing dishes. My personal nutrition and performance, and the ethical undercurrents of eating meat have been the guiding forces in this experience in Veganism. This is my own version of what I learned from hands-on preparation and eating 100% non-animal food products for one month. I’ve thought seriously about several issues relevant to choosing veganism, and what’s needed to fulfill this lifestyle goal and still make healthy food choices.

To back step for a second, I stumbled across Veganuary on Instagram just before New Year’s eve of 2018 and decided to jump on board for 30 days. I had a realization as far back as 2009 while working in London, that animals deserve much more respect than we give them and for what they endure for us to gulp them down and discard what we cannot fit in our bellies.

This isn’t a passing interest, though. My current lifestyle revolves around running my business, studying, researching, reading books, coaching clients, cooking, my own physical performance in and out of the gym, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Diet Choices: The Role of Lifestyle and Philosophy

I think individual lifestyle is one of the most important factors for every context when we talk about a chosen diet and nutritional needs. Everyone needs something different but in its purest form, we all just need sustenance. And as a very smart coach once wrote, it’s about your identity or what you identify with that leads you to what you eat. You may be influenced by tradition, culture, social status, demographics, budget, knowledge, your goals, or self-perception. Whether your identity leads you to a particular type of diet or another does not automatically mean that it su its you, is good for you or everyone else, or that it is good for the planet. What it means is that you chose ‘the diet’ because of your belief.

In Buddhism, sentient beings are described as ‘something that has matter, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness’. The difference between animals and humans is awareness, with the exception of (and bear in mind I believe this list will continue to grow) orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, bottlenose dolphins, elephants, orcas, bonobos, rhesus macaques, and European magpies. All other animals are apparently unaware. Not being aware of human standards does not mean they have no emotions or feel pain. Because they sure do. No research project needed to prove this.

Following this line of thinking, then, because I am self-aware, does this mean I have the right to kill en masse whatever it is I want to eat? Let’s be fair, I am a sentient being, and I want to live a happy, healthy life, too. Is this an instance of ‘survival of the fittest’?

If you’ve seen the documentary “Dirty Money”, you would have seen the bit where they were testing auto emissions on primates. If you were a person who chose veganism for animal welfare reasons, would you drive a car made by the automakers in the documentary?

Do we take the ‘equal rights for all’ stance or do we take the ‘survival of the fittest’ stance? Abuse is defined as ‘using (something) to bad effect or bad purpose, misuse, or treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly’. It sounds like what these car makers were doing is animal abuse. While animal abuse does take place in slaughter, it surely is fairly isolated, apparently. Where does the animal welfare begin, and where will the fair playing field begin? There’s a lot still for me to continue thinking about as I explore a vegan lifestyle.

Vegan Health and Wellness

In a more practical vein, there are several things I’ve learned in beginning a vegan lifestyle. You don’t need meat or dairy or eggs to maintain life. However, you do need vitamin B12. Animal products are a rich source of B12. The foods that people commonly suggest as plant-based sources of B12 may not provide an adequate level of the vitamin, and taking a supplement would be wise.

From a macronutrient point of view, I hit my carbs very easily while eating vegan. Even when focusing on high protein sources like legumes I was eating more carbs. Legumes are high in carbohydrates (not to mention all the other good stuff in them) as opposed to meat, which contains no carbs.

As for protein, I had to focus a bit harder on getting my protein. I’m an 80kg male who lifts weights 3-5 times per week, does cardio, some Crossfit and on my feet most of the day. So I aim for 160g protein per day. While getting adequate protein was not an issue after a little research and making proper food choices, discovering higher protein sources and getting acquainted with their flavour in recipes did not take me that long. Being a Chef, after all, has its benefits. When I was eating carnivorously, I always hit my protein, probably because I was so focused on the muscle growth and gains. But with high meat came high saturated fat. Some may say saturated fat isn’t bad for you. Well, it’s not if you don’t over-consume it. The Australian Healthy Food Guide recommends 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat. And being extremely calorie dense, as all fat is, it can be easily over consumed by throwing your energy balance out.

Bloating can be a problem when introducing legumes or eating too many. Not sure if everyone experiences this but I’ve read it doesn’t last long as you body adapts with the right enzymes. You’ll have to trial an error on this one. And yes, I did bloat in the first week but that soon subsided in the second week.

Phytic acid was, of course, a concern, and the problems it poses with mineral absorption. I learned to soak my grains also (brown rice, steel cut oats, farro, etc.) and as normal, I soaked my legumes, too. All water was discarded, as this contains most of the phytic acid, though I was discarding nutrients also. To minimize the effect of phytic acid, I made sure to soak, sprout, ferment, and cook plant foods before consuming them. Additionally, I also added foods rich in vitamin C to my diet (e.g., guava, oranges, grapefruit, brussels sprouts, broccoli, sweet potato, kale, and parsley). Using vinegar in salad dressings and in meal prep can mitigate the effects of phytic acid. I also chose foods that had been fortified with additional minerals when needed and added supplements with phytase enzymes as needed.

For some people, nutrient deficiency in a vegan diet may require additional supplements. In some cases, consuming small amounts of animal foods is critical to boosting the stores of necessary minerals in your body. I know this is widely debated that we need animal products at all.

Meal Prep Matters

Prepping for a vegan diet is no extra work at all I found. Any extra time soaking, cooking beans etc is countered by the ease of cleaning up compared to animal blood and fat after cooking.

Animal products are like convenience food. Animal products are calorie-dense and pack a nutritional punch. You don’t need to eat much if you want to get your daily intake of minerals such as iron. There’s a catch though – animals are very expensive to produce, need high resources (water, feed, transportation), may be environmentally damaging, and foster less-than poor living conditions for those in extremely confined spaces (e.g., cage chickens, feedlots, piggeries), as well as inhumane slaughter practices and export conditions.

When following a vegan lifestyle, you generally have to be willing to spend some more time eating. There is more chewing and meals tend to be a bit larger and more fibrous I found. But in saying that, who wouldn’t benefit from eating a bit slower, chewing your food and getting more fibre? I guess a steak if chewed properly could take quite a while, too, though.

Save Money – Go Vegan?

As for my grocery budget, I sincerely think my food bill went down. Funnily enough, even though meat is expensive so is tofu – I mean in terms of quantity consumed to get an equal serving of protein. For example, firm tofu per 25g serving of protein costs between $1.10 to $2.20, and chicken breast per 31g serving of protein costs between $0.90 to $2.10. So, no real saving at the dinner plate.

But what cost is that to the quality of life of the animal, the environment or cost to local producers who are trying to raise food in an all-around ethical way? “But I’m in the city and I buy at Coles!” you may say. But as the old saying goes, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

People have said, “Oh, but it takes so much more time to soak beans, cook beans, strain them and all you seem to be doing is cooking all the time.” I don’t buy this. If this was from someone who stops past the shop to grab a steak, some frozen chips, and a bag of rocket to cook at home, then yeah that’s going to be faster. But everyone can benefit and thrive on eating fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, if you tolerate it all, of course. And everyone would do better if they stopped eating so many processed foods. So all in all, I think it balances out. I mean, how long does it take to clean a barbeque after a big Aussie day celebration? Compared to making a big batch of falafels at home or bean burgers? Probably the same amount of time. One thing I found is that meat leaves a greasy residue everywhere when cooking. It’s a dirty product to clean up.

A Good Run, So Far

I keep getting these notions that you never see someone before they started a vegan lifestyle, and the claims that “it saved my life”. How has Veganism actually helped them? And where is the before and after lifestyle shots? What did their diet look like before?

“There’s lots of well-controlled science and research to show that adopting a predominantly plant-based diet probably has the biggest impact on health [compared to other diets] for all the chronic diseases,” says Rick Miller, a registered dietitian, and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.

While the duration of my commitment to veganism remains to be seen, it’s been an insightful experience giving up meat products for the month of January. My culinary background certainly made some aspects of it easier; however, the philosophical angle still requires deep thought and evaluation of new ways of thinking.

I’m currently not vegan. I eat a well rounded, balanced diet consisting of fish, beef, chicken, tempeh, legumes, nuts and seeds, only extra-virgin olive oil and rarely a tiny bit of coconut oil to cook with, lots of vegetables, some fruit, dairy, Whey protein, Creatine, a glass of red wine a couple times per week, multivitamin supplements, green superfoods, mushroom powders, and lots of coffee ?

If you have any questions regarding going vegan or eating a balanced diet and want to get on track jump over to facebook and shoot me a message.

Yours in health and fitness.

Jerome

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