In recent years, the vegan diet has gained great notoriety, especially in Western countries. For example, in the United Kingdom, the percentage of the population considering themselves vegan is on the rise, particularly in urban or suburban areas. According to The Economist more and more people in the developed world adopt the dairy and meat free diet for a variety of reasons, ranging from environmental and health concerns, but also because it has become an incredibly trendy thing to do, and is being advertised by celebrities on social media platforms. Hearing all the alleged positive effects of veganism and its popularity, we have decided to try it out ourselves for 30 days. Can going vegan for a month really change our lifestyle into a much healthier one and alter our outlook on veganism itself?
We started this challenge by calculating our carbon footprint. How many earths would be necessary if every human on the planet conducted the same lifestyle as we did? We were quite shocked in knowing that we would need up to 3 earths. This fact made us even more aware of the urgent need for further sustainability. During our studies as International Relations students, we have come across articles, documentaries and videos online regarding environmental issues and in particular about the global impact of veganism. A report recently published by United Nations stated that humanity has only 12 years left to save the Earth. Aside from the measures that governments and global institutions ought to adopt, there are multiple ways in which individuals can bring about a change. Moreover, if cows alone had a country, they would be the third greatest greenhouse emitters. The benefits for the environment become evident if more people would adopt a less meat and dairy oriented diet.
It does not mean that veganism fits a rigid definition and that it is the only sustainable diet out there. There are more extreme versions of veganism, such as the recent case of a man who pressed for ethical veganism to be considered a religion. The kind of veganism upheld by him is not only dietary but rejects all types of animal exploitation, affecting other aspects, such as clothing. Although the vegan diet has the least impact on the environment, there are also other diets which produce a limited amount of greenhouse emissions. The vegetarian and Mediterranean diets ,for example, see a reduced consumption of meat. Being flexitarian can help, i.e. shifting back and forth between being a meat eater and a vegan/vegetarian.
After gathering some information, we had only one thing left to do: go vegan. 30 days afterwards, what were our observations and final thoughts?
Overnight we removed from our fridges dairy and meat products, and without much meal preparations, we just went for it. Among the most common changes one experiences in the first two weeks of veganism is the energy boost. We indeed felt energised, which helped a lot with our late nights at the library. However, we made the mistake of not paying enough attention to how many calories we were eating, especially since an important practice of veganism is maintaining levels of nutrients high and having balanced meals. As a result, we constantly felt hungry and had to snack all the time. Being third year students and with the end of semester deadlines coming up, we lacked the time to properly prepare healthy and balanced meals. As the weeks went by, it was challenging to maintain our diet. We felt increasingly weaker and were relieved to finish the challenge at the end of the month. That is why we would highly recommend to start in a less stressful period if you are planning to go vegan. “Veganuary”, for example, is always a good idea and you can now join the challenge of Beyonce and Jay-Z to commit as vegans!
We ate food that we had never tried before, expanding our taste buds’ horizons.
A lot of people asked us whether we spent more money on food and how tasty plant-based substitutes were compared to the food we were used to. The price of vegan food is pretty much the same as regular food. The vegetables needed in order to cook wholesome meals are very affordable. It is true, though that some plant-based substitutes are slightly more expensive than average. Milk substitutes, such as oat, soya and almond milk are all nice alternatives. In fact, we still drink our coffees with ‘milk for humans’. Curry is very popular among vegans as well as everybody’s ‘favourite’, tofu. There are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops in London which are vegan friendly, which definitely makes it easier to adapt to the diet. Our favourites were the vegan burger at Honest Burger and a very nice cafe, called Gallery Cafe near Bethnal Green. Despite the many vegan options available, we also noticed how at times it became more difficult to attend social events with our friends, because there was nothing that we could eat.
Will we continue this diet further? Not until we submit our dissertations!
Nevertheless, we now have great admiration for the commitment and strength shown every day by full-time vegans, as we are now aware of the effort it requires, and we will keep in our diet some of the things we would not have discovered otherwise. We will also be more conscious about the food we are consuming, and when grocery shopping, we will opt for organic and plant based alternatives. In conclusion, going vegan even if it is only for a month, can indeed make you a healthier and more conscious human being.
Written by Silvana Limni and Vanda Suha.