Vegan. The sound of this word can make even the most tolerant people recoil. Vegan. People who don’t eat (or use) any animal products. Vegan. No meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs, no honey. To the standard omnivore, that might seem like a lot to not eat.
The meat and dairy industries have huge environmental impacts: agriculture constitutes around a quarter of global carbon emissions, contributing to deforestation, soil degradation, species loss and water pollution. Some claim that veganism is one of the best ways to reduce your impact on the earth, stemming from a 2018 study published in the journal Science on the global impacts of food production.
Due to my environmental concerns, I’m not a big meat eater, over the past few years, I’ve diligently reduced my meat consumption, transitioning to meals laden with pulses and vegetables. My dairy intake fluctuates depending on where I’m living: in Thailand dairy was wasn’t readily available, so I didn’t eat much of it. However, I’ve never stopped totally eating animal products. I wanted to find out how hard it would be. Would I be able to sustain myself nutritionally? Would I be able to sufficiently power my active lifestyle without meat and dairy? So, 40 days a vegan it was, which just so happened to coincide with Lent.
I swiftly replaced yogurt with almond milk or coconut yoghurt on my cereal; butter didn’t swipe across my toast anymore; I made vegan snacks: bliss balls, coconut cookies, sweet potato bread; I whipped up vegan pesto, maxed out on nuts and packed my dinners and lunches full of lentils, chickpeas, beans, quinoa and vegies. I found some great recipes but also had some rather flavourless meals. There are so many plant based substitutes, but stocking your kitchen with all of them can be time consuming and pricey.
Yummy vegan brunch on the beach; bean, quinoa and sweet potato fritters
Removing meat from my diet was no big deal: it was dairy, eggs and honey that I found the most demanding. I began to read the labels of EVERYTHING, searching for the skerrick of dairy or egg that could be lurking in some product. I was astonished what foods milk products find their way into and found that cheese is used to flavour many dishes. Once I was hungrily devouring an eggplant dip, only to discover there was egg in it! Who would have thought!
Sweet plant based ‘baking’: vegan chocolate covered dates, pecans and peanut butter; bliss balls made with nuts and dates; substitute for eggs: chia seeds!
While being vegan in an omnivorous household has its challenges (I would often cook two separate dinners to satisfy everyone’s needs, which was time consuming), careful planning was required and a few new ingredients had to be purchased. I made a lot more things from scratch, (luckily I love cooking) but this also took time. Eating out was more difficult. Fish and chips on the beach: a regular household event, was omitted: the only vegan food the shop had was salad and chips, which would have left me hungry and dissatisfied. Sharing food with others can be problematic if you want to eat something different from everyone else. One time I strongly withheld from eating gelato that others were gorging on.
So now I’ve finished my little experiment, I’ve not delved immediately back into the world of meat and dairy, although I have eaten some dairy, eggs and honey. If we need to transition to a less impactful food system to reduce our environmental footprint, veganism is definitely doable, but its not straight forward. Renaming it as ‘plant-based’ would also help its plight.
We need improved accessibility to nutritious plant-based foods for all. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the impacts of different foods on the environment and their nutritional benefit.