When I tell someone (particularly a date) for the first time that I’m a vegan, their reactions typically follow the Five Stages of Grief:
Disbelief: “Wha-what?!?! No, you can’t be. Your hair is too short. You shower. You haven’t worn the same outfit since 1996.”
Anger: “What the hell? How am I supposed to ever eat with you? Damn you, now I’m going to feel so guilty anytime I eat meat. What is wrong with you?”
Bargaining: “C’mon, just order the filet mignon. We’ll split it and I’ll eat most of yours (ironically I never got much peer pressure to do drugs, but I get a LOT to cheat on my diet)”
Depression: “You’re a nice guy, but I dunno if I could ever (date, hang out) with you. I feel like we have nothing in common.”
Acceptance: “I guess it’s not so bad. At least you still drink beer.”
When I made this decision, I expected a wide variety of reactions (mostly critical) whenever I would tell people of my choice. Surprisingly, I’ve found that the reactions (at least to my face) have been pretty consistent across genders, races, and even locations as cuisine-divergent as Dallas and San Francisco. I confess that prior to my conversion to a vegan diet, I was one of the people who looked at vegans as hippie, animal-loving, far-left liberals. But my opinion changed quickly after looking at the research behind it and pulling a dietary Jonas Salk by trying it on myself.
Three years ago I was a seemingly healthy 27 year old. I worked out 5x/week, kept my vices to weekends and Vegas trips, didn’t smoke, ate mostly lean meats and veggies, slept 8 hrs a night, and didn’t have any major life stresses. Yet my blood pressure remained consistently high for my age: 145/90 (120/80 or below is considered healthy). Perplexed, I quit drinking for 6 months, trained for a half Ironman Triathlon, and cut out red meat almost entirely, but it had no discernable effect. Around the same time I took a trip to NYC and saw a friend of mine who is a well-known chef. When I mentioned my blood pressure issue to her, she recommend a book called The China Study and said it would appeal to my health concerns and science nerd inclinations.
I purchased The China Study the next morning and read it cover to cover the same day. I’ll spare you the details here, but it makes a very strongcase to support a vegan diet as a way of dramatically lowering risks of cancer (see chart below) and heart disease, the two most prevalent causes of death in the US, as well as diabetes and other major killers in Western societies.
The science seemed sound, and I followed it up with independent research of my own that supported the research from the book. Then and there, I decided to give veganism a shot: for three months I’d eat almost exclusively a plant-based diet. I admit I wasn’t (and still am not) 100% strict, and would occasionally have cheese (my weakness) or eggs (typically mixed into something), but I made sure that at least 90% of my meals were vegan. Three months later I went back to the doctor and got my blood pressure checked again, only to stare in disbelief when I saw a reading of 114/68 - a 25% drop - staring at me from the sphygmomanometer.
Fast forward a bit and I had convinced my mom, dad, and sister to become vegans. We were already (by normal standards) a very healthy family: none of us smoked, we weren’t overweight, our drinking wasn’t excessive, and we all worked out regularly. Yet we each lost an average of 10 lbs, my dad’s elevated cholesterol dropped by over 25%, my sister’s normal cholesterol experienced a similar drop, and we all felt healthier, more energetic, and looked younger. I personally lost 17 lbs, kept the same low blood pressure, and had improvements in my already healthy blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Again, keep in mind that as a family we were already healthier than probably 95% of American families, yet still experienced these dramatic health improvements within less than 6 months of becoming vegan.
The first question that I typically get asked when I tell someone that I’m vegan are: “Why did you do it/Was it for an ethical choice or for health?” I did it initially for health but the implications of a larger movement towards veganism are pretty compelling for anyone that has even a passing interest in the environment. Among them:
- Consider how much of the US is currently in a severe drought, and the death and suffering it causes. The amount of water saved by removing 2 lbs of beef from your diet is equivalent to the amount of water saved by not showering for an entire year.
- Raising livestock contributes more emissions to the environment and contributes more to global warming than all of the world’s automobiles.
- The antibiotics given to animals so that they can process the cheap food that we feed them contributes not only to antibiotic resistance (of the kind that leads to things like deadly, once-treatable staph infections) but to increased outbreaks of Salmonella and E Coli that kill and sicken many people every year
- Regardless of your stance on the ethics of eating meat, I challenge you to watch a video inside the livestock industry and not feel like we’re morally obligated to make some changes
The second question I typically get after telling someone that I’m vegan is “Is going vegan difficult?”. The answer is, “Yes, but not as difficult as you might think. And going vegetarian is surprisingly easy”. To put it in perspective, realize that most Americans ate a much less carnivorous diet only a century ago, before livestock production became more automated and drove the prices of meat down as our standard of living increased. But unless you are an absolute die-hard carnivore and can’t imagine living without meat, I extend you an offer to try going vegetarian for a couple months to see how you feel. If you find it palatable, try substituting a a few vegetarian meals with vegan ones each week. There are a lot of great recipes online and in vegan cookbooks that help with the main challenge of finding appropriate substitutes for non-vegan items (e.g. soy milk instead of regular milk) and acclimating your taste buds to new foods. I readily admit that I hated vegan substitutes like soy milk and tofu at first, but now I actually prefer them to the taste of regular milk and most meats. There are a couple changes you’ll need to be watch out for in order to make sure you get enough protein, as well as essential vitamins like B12 that occur almost exclusively in animals. But those can easily be managed and supplemented, if necessary, via a daily multivitamin or enriched vegan foods. Also, don’t feel bad if you need to cheat every so often to keep yourself sane, that’s ok. I still cheat probably once a week (primarily with cheese, and primarily when I’m hungover).
I certainly don’t expect everyone, or even most people, to become vegan. Eating meat and animal products has been a way of life for a long time and is a part of certain cultures, albeit not to the extent that it occurs today. But I have no doubt that as a country and as a species, we can make dramatic improvements to our health, our well-being, our environment, and our moral compass if we cut out the majority of the animal-based products that we consume and replace them with plant-based foods. I challenge you to go vegan or vegetarian for three months and tell me that you don’t feel lighter, healthier, and more energetic. Feel free to ask me questions you have directly in the blog comments, or email/tweet/FB me if you have questions you’d rather ask me directly.