22 Mar 2016
Veganism can be frustrating at times – there are a lot of obnoxious comments, it's difficult to eat out, and you have to watch people participate in several things you believe to be unethical. Veganism can also be liberating – I'm leaner, more focused, and I'm pretty sure I can see two abs now instead of one. I am just a newbie though, a young grasshopper learning the ropes - I have been vegetarian only nine months and vegan for the past three. There is a sensation that many new vegans experience, akin to being told as a child that Santa Claus is not real. You stare at Mum and Dad blankly and think, “this world is fucking brutal”. At least that is how I felt when my elder siblings broke the news. Terrible similes aside, there are a few positive and negative eye-openers that I've stumbled upon on my veggie crusade. Here are the 6 top things I have noticed since making the change:
This has been the biggest change for me. When I was training for my first marathon almost two years ago, I struggled to stay awake at work. My energy levels plummeted and I was having 4-5 cups of coffee just to get through the day. I was a grumpy piranha snapping at those who dared get in my way. What to do? I cut out all fast food and lowered my alcohol intake. A slight improvement, but nothing spectacular. So I only ate lean meats – no sausages and only the occasional strip of bacon. I was eating super 'clean'! Nothing. I came down with the dreaded “man-flu” and suffered an anxiety attack. I was about ready to give up on the marathon, but I had raised almost $1,000 for charity and have a fierce stubborn streak. So I couldn't just throw in the towel. What resulted was a decrease in mileage leading up to the race and missing my target of a sub-four hour marathon. I was more relieved than disappointed, but I did vow never to run further than 21.1km again. I'm not very good at keeping vows. Flash forward to the present day and I'm running 60-100 kilometres a week. If I don't run I get hyper-active. When I do run I can't wait to bound up the hills and over the tracks. I have 1-2 cups of coffee a day, but that's only to keep me sane while staring at a computer screen. It's not that eating meat, dairy, and eggs made me sluggish. It's that the foods I have replaced them with are more wholesome, more nutritious, and less fatty. Legumes instead of meat; seeds and grains instead of fish and eggs; vegetables, fruits and nuts instead of dairy. The change is dramatic.
I've been told that I'm unhealthy, emaciated, part of a cult, ignorant about nutrition, crazy, going through a phase, extreme, and just plain wrong. I've been asked whether fish and cheese are vegan, whether I'll eat meat at Christmas, how much I miss bacon, and whether I would accept organs from a meat-eater. And I've only been vegan three months. Brilliant. When it comes to our diet, our belief systems are deeply entrenched. I think it's because we are told from a young age that what we are eating is healthy. So when someone tries to challenge that, it's like someone is saying our upbringing was wrong. This must be why I have received so many bizarre responses when I've told people I am vegan. “I'm not going to judge you,” is my favourite response, as if I am doing something wrong. I've been told that twice.
Vegans have a reputation as being a bunch of self-righteous, confrontational, holier-than-thou assholes. They do exist. Ask an 'innocent' question on a vegan Facebook page and be prepared to get your head bit off by the few hardliners. But a lot of non-vegans are self-righteous, confrontational, and holier-than-thou assholes as well. I bet the per-capita figure would be similar. The vegans I have met in the past three months have been welcoming and good-natured people. As a new vegan, it is ideal to have this support base.
I used to get dandruff as a kid and teenager without ever understanding why. I shampooed my hair with a special anti-dandruff shampoo every couple of nights. During university and recent years, I only used ordinary shampoo, but if I didn't shampoo for a few days my hair became itchy and flaky. Now? I haven't shampooed my hair in a week. I just don't need to. My hair is shinier and I bounce down the street with the Wellington wind blowing it around - ala the latest Maybelline ad. Maybe I was born with it. An incredible change, and one I am still coming to grips with, is the reduction in scarring. I had a bad acne outbreak in my teens and was left with some harsh scarring on my back. Years of radical treatments either failed or only slightly improved the problem, including spending over $3,000 on dermabrasion. Going vegan? Scarring has reduced in the past three months to the equivalent of about two dermabrasion sessions (or $1,500, soreness, and recovery time). I wish I had known this as a fifteen year old! Years of insecurity and mental anguish could have been avoided.
Whenever I am training for an event I like to test myself every few weeks with a time trial - typically 5 or 10 kilometres. Every single time I have run a time trial (or a race) since being vegan, I have broken my previous best. Without fail! I have knocked ten minutes off my half marathon, four minutes off my 10k, and two minutes off my 5k. It makes running easier when you know that you are getting faster. I take less time to recover, as well. I can now throw in a few extra runs without feeling like my legs are made of cement.
I mentioned 'militant' vegans earlier and, since becoming vegan, I can totally get why they exist. They still piss me off though. Removing myself from animal exploitation has been a steep learning curve, and it is a curve I am still on. Animal exploitation is everywhere and it becomes quite sad and humbling to think about. It amazes me how much our diet revolves around animals. It's the small things that bug you, like having to be the 'fussy' person when choosing a restaurant, or asking at a shared morning tea if something was cooked with egg or dairy (almost always yes), or just giving up and eating before a catered function. However, the exploitation in food is somewhat obvious (except for those goddamn 'e' numbers), but there were several other things I hadn't considered. Clothing – leather, wool, silk, glue etc (including learning that several running shoes are not vegan!). Entertainment – Rodeo's, dog shows, horse/greyhound racing etc. Household Items – Silk (again), leather furniture, woolly rugs etc.