A few weeks ago, pre-China, we ran a wonderful autumnal yoga retreat in Cumbria. Funnily enough, the question I got asked most by students wasn’t about technique or philosophy… it was about the food I choose to eat. ‘Why are you vegan?’ is a question I usually try and avoid answering publicly – especially over the dinner table – because food is an emotive and personal issue! Even the most diplomatic answer can elicit some pretty big responses. But, in honour of National Vegan Month (woop! No? L), I thought I’d try to answer the question with the care and attention it deserves.
It was actually National Vegan Month (aka November) that turned me in the first place. The Vegan Society were at The Yoga Show. I approached. With caution. (Everyone thinks vegans are weird at first!). They were disappointingly normal. They suggested a 30-day vegan challenge called the ‘Vegan Pledge’. And I love a challenge…
The short version of this story is that after those 30 days were up, I felt so good I didn’t want to go back to my old ways. And just 31 days earlier the idea of a meal without cheese, let alone a whole month or more was entirely inconceivable.
The longer version of the story is what keeps me vegan. Just like most of us start yoga for a great ass and stick with it for the completely unexpected depth and beauty it adds to our lives, veganism has layers, too! I took it up to shift a few pounds and get glow-y skin. I carry on because…
Eating vegan is better for:
- The Earth
The health benefits of veganism are well-documented. Whilst it is possible to be a junk-food vegan, most plant-powered individuals eat an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole foods. These plant foods tend to be low in saturated fat, high in fibre and choc-full of antioxidants, blitzing modern trends towards obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Going vegan is also a healthy way to lose excess weight. I will never forget how amazing those first 30 days made me feel, and how I continue to look and feel.
The animals… Where else in our lives do we get the chance to choose kindness and compassion over cruelty and violence three or more times a day? Rubbishly, there’s no dressing it up. We can’t say we care about animal welfare when we kill (or worse, pay someone else to kill) and eat them. It is violent. They are scared. Trust me, my day job has meant I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in slaughterhouses. And even the top-notch premium supermarket ones are not happy places.
And it’s not just the killing part. I know many great farmers who really care about their animals… But even the best-kept animals are subject to unnatural living conditions and suffer (often tremendously) from illness and injury as a result of this husbandry. And I don’t want to talk about those animals (including fish) where the farmer doesn’t care, or is a corporation, because I don’t want this post read as gratuitously shocking. But you can imagine, it’s just most of the time we choose not to. This is where yoga comes in for me (ahimsa, anyone?). As our practice progresses and we try to know ourselves more deeply, we become more able to see situations as they really are and more comfortable with asking uncomfortable questions like ‘If I can’t kill my own meal, should I be eating it?’ Even ‘What are the morals of making someone else do it for me?’ We open our eyes to just how many people and animals our food choices affect! Which brings me onto the last point…
Going vegan is probably the most positive impact you can make on the environment. No, really. How many of us recycle? Fill our homes with all manner of resource-saving devices? Shower instead of bath? Keep our showers short? This is all great stuff! However, producing one, single hamburger uses more water than a WHOLE MONTH of showers (even really long, indulgent ones). 2500 GALLONS of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef (1) and 1000 litres of water are used for just 1 litre of milk (2). Imagine trying to stash that in your fridge! Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emission than all of transport combined (3). So going vegan would do more to help our environment than never getting in a car, plane or train again.
I absolutely don’t believe the gates of yoga heaven remain closed to omnivores. Some of the most beautiful, loving, generous and generally wonderful people I know think Meatless Mondays are radical. Very occasionally I (perhaps hypocritically) claim ‘flexitarianism’ when offered a meal prepared with love and animal products. Like my Gran’s ‘special vegetable soup’ where the ‘special’ looks and tastes an awful lot like chicken… It makes my toes curl if I think about it too much, but it was cooked and served with heart and I cannot say no to that lady. (Except when she tells people I’m a virgin instead of a vegan.) (And a yoghurt teacher). I do, however, feel so freaking amazing as a vegan that I kinda can’t help myself trying to spread the plant-based-lifestyle love when I get the chance.
Sharon Gannon said, ‘Traditionally a yogi is someone who rejected culture and was trying to live in joyful, peaceful harmony with the earth and all other beings’. That kinda sums yoga and veganism up just right for me. That and ‘Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it’!
So please… If you’d like to hear more about the vegan lifestyle, comment below. If you think yoga teachers talking about veganism oversteps the mark, let me know, too. (The Leave A Comment button is up there and on the left) I’m curious!
Love, peace and plants,
P.S. Some great resources (a few of my faves rather than a properly collated vegan guide):
www.food52.com – gold-standard food-porn for all dietary persuasions – but check out the vegan columns!
www.richroll.com – subtly vegan athlete, inspiring, often yoga-y podcast
www.thisrawsomeveganlife.com – amazing recipes on a uber-cool blog
Cowspiracy – a film not just for the plant-curious but for everyone who spends money on food or votes: www.cowspiracy.com
Earthlings – an important, if difficult to watch, film that doesn’t skirt around stuff like I’ve been doing here. It will change your outlook. http://www.earthlings.com
www.vegansociety.com – general info, take the ‘Vegan Pledge’ for yourself
www.peta.org/living/food/free-vegan-starter-kit – FREE J vegan starter kits. I haven’t tried one, but they sound super-useful.
PPS. If you want to try delicious vegan food without the cooking, our next yoga retreat at the beautiful Fawcett Mill Fields in the Lake District (fawcettmillfields.com) will be April 17th-19th 2015 – registration will open soon! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
1 – Water Footprint Assessment. University of Twente, the Netherland
2 – US Environmental Protection Agency, http://water.epa.gov/learn/kids/drinkingwater/water_trivia_facts.cfm#_edn11
3 – Fao.org. Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment. http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm