Oh God, I have to live with a Vegan!

One might argue that living with a vegan is equal to living in hell. After all, aren’t vegans all scrawny, chickpea-chomping hipsters that cannot stop preaching about their ethical decisions, to stop the pain of billions of animals, that put them righteously above everyone else in the world? Are they not going to challenge every decision, or meal I put on my plate? If this were the case, who would be advocating for the prevention of my suffering? While stereotypes flood the mind when the word vegan enters a discussion, this is not the story I am going to tell, like thousands of other vegans these labels are not a true reflection of veganism. Within this blog I am going to share my experiences of living with a vegan, the lessons I have learned, and address the challenges presented to veganism. Veganism is a crucial tool and means that we can use to tackle the issues our world faces. Global issues such as food security and growing emissions of carbon dioxide from agricultural practises are becoming more and more prominent yet are not discussed nearly enough. Instead of being viewed as taboo, this lifestyle should be embraced and those who take strides toward it should be celebrated, as these small changes are a step in the right direction. The vegan movement has been rapidly increasing in past years; in the UK there were 600,000 vegans in 2018 and this has increased to 1.1 million in 2020.[1] The nation has seen a growth in this empathic lifestyle, for example the popularity of Veganuary and Meatless Mondays has taken off in recent years which has had a major impact on the foods available.

This movement has even crept into my flat this academic year with one of my flatmates being vegan and even sporting a vegan themed Instagram account (@veganbyKitty for those who are interested). Even though we are only a halfway through the year, I have learned a lot from living with a vegan. This has come with the benefit of a free dinner every so often, delicious leftovers and a mouth-watering variety of cuisines that have diversified my palette in a matter of months. Within our house, we have created creamy carbonaras, rich chocolate cakes, and a personal favourite of mine, paella. There is a wide variety of dishes that can be recreated using a diverse range of ingredients to recreate our favourite flavours but also reimagine traditional dishes in a beautiful manner.

While I have discovered new perspective on this lifestyle, veganism is riddled with opposition. I for one was very much against this lifestyle before sharing a kitchen with someone who follows this way of life. One of the key criticisms that veganism faces is the lack of protein that can be acquired when removing animal products from your diet. My flatmate has told me stories of how she has constantly nagged about making sure she the correct nutrients and has taken her vitamins. Yet, what are the facts around health and this dietary choice?

Since being vegan my flatmate has described the widening of her palette, stating that she now consumes a far greater range of vegetables and foodstuffs. This is often due to the increased need to find suitable, tasty substitutes to make up new meals and recreate old ones. This a familiar trait of most vegan transitions. Vegans tend to eat a far wider range of fruit and vegetables which has a massive impact on their health, for example lessening the risk of diseases such as bowel cancer and lowering the intake of saturated fats which can lower cholesterol, blood pressure and reduce the risks of coronary heart disease (CHD) which is often linked to high red meat consumption.[2] There are numerous health benefits that surround the transition to veganism. There are certain barriers for individuals with nut or soya allergies, and the infamous vitamin B12 struggle. However, this transition is unachievable for the majority of the population. It would also reduce key amounts of stress on systems such as the NHS caused by CHD and other cholesterol-related diseases.

Furthermore, one argument for veganism that has had the greatest impact on my outlook is the impact it has on climate change. Our diets are intrinsically linked to the environment and the planet, we rely on the earth to provide us the meals on our plates but the meals on our plates also affect our planet we call home. Since I have uncovered the truth around the impact of my steaks, southern fried chicken and bacon sandwiches I have found it increasingly hard to turn a blind eye to the role I play, and these products play in the fight with climate change. Meat provides us 18 per cent of our caloric intake but uses around 80 per cent of our farmland.[3] It also produces 60 per cent of emissions from agriculture and only provides us with 37 per cent of our protein intake.[4] By reducing our meat and dairy intake we could reduce land use for agriculture by up to 75 per cent, allowing for rewilding, reduced water usage and reduced carbon emissions.[5] A study by the University of Oxford stated that going vegan is one of the single greatest steps you can take to help in the fight with climate change.

One of the greatest challenges this movement faces is the relationship with the farming industry. ‘Militant vegans’ are often described in the media as aggressive, and irrational, attacking local farmers with absurd language and outrageous acts of violence. While vegans may disagree with these practises, local farmers neither are innocent or our enemies in this plight with both climate and moral justice. It is a systemic change that is needed to deal with the problems caused by the animal industries. Systemic changes such as the direction of subsidies, and education are needed. The United States alone subsidise the meat and dairy industry $38 billion a year, which allows for this inefficient market to continue.[6] Experts such as Kuhnhenn have stated that there needs to be policy changes, abolishment of subsidies for meat production and industrial farming that will change our systems surrounding these industries. These systemic changes would eventually make plant-based alternatives both more economically competitive and appealing.[7] In addition, there needs be greater education on these diets, which will help consumers transfer to these lifestyles. These changes will make it affordable, opening it up to more within our society, further reducing the impact of these problematic industries. These changes will have meaningful and lasting effects on farmers and we must not forget them. Therefore, I call for safety nets that will help create industries and jobs that will lessen the impact of these systemic changes.

My friend Josie has continually reminded me of a time where we were sat on a bus three years ago, I defensively argued that ‘I would never not eat meat’, as I ‘need it for my sport’ and now that I am vegetarian, veganism seems a more and more likely outcome. I must acknowledge my privileges and the lack of barriers to this lifestyle I have faced, but I would advocate that anyone who can adopt aspects or commit fully to this lifestyle, should. The science supports this transition and I support anyone that takes steps towards it.

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[2] Laila Al-Shaar et. al. (2020), ‘Red meat intake and risk of coronary heart disease among US men: prospective cohort study’, BMJ, Available at https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/371/bmj.m4141.full.pdf, [Accessed 5th March 2021].

[3] Carrington, Damian (2018), ‘Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth’, The Guardian, Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth [Accessed 5th March 2021].

[4] Carrington, Damian (2018), ‘Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth’, The Guardian, Available at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth [Accessed 5th March 2021].

[5] Webber, Jemima, (2021), ‘Global Land Use Would Drop 75% if Everyone Ditched Beef and Went Vegan, Says Oxford Research’, available at https://www.livekindly.co/global-land-use-beef-vegan/#:~:text=Says%20Oxford%20Research-,Global%20Land%20Use%20Would%20Drop%2075%25%20if%20Everyone%20Ditched%20Beef,Went%20Vegan%2C%20Says%20Oxford%20Research&text=A%20study%20published%20last%20month,at%20the%20University%20of%20Oxford. [Accessed 5th March 2021].

[6] https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/removing-meat-subsidy-our-cognitive-dissonance-around-animal-agriculture [Accessed 5th March 2021].

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