As I might have mentioned a few thousand times already, I am fully on board with the Extinction Rebellion and support their efforts to bring the climate crisis to the public’s attention. I applaud them for doing everything they can to bring about vital changes to prevent catastrophe. My reasons are simple: I have three children and (call me old fashioned) would like to see them growing up in a world where we have enough food to eat, water to drink and aren’t in danger of being wiped out by extreme weather. Not a big ask, really.
Surely going vegan is the answer to all our problems?
We are bombarded with the idea that going vegan would reverse the climate crisis. Trouble is, and I know I’m in danger of having a VERY unpopular opinion here, not all vegans are created equal. Put bluntly, some are damaging their bodies and the environment, which is the opposite of their intentions. To be clear: I have nothing but respect for well researched, truly healthy vegans, such as my wonderful friend Mandy, who blogs at Sneaky Veg and Cook Veggielicious. If you are cutting down on meat, and upping your veggie intake, Mandy can provide you with much inspo. Simple, family friendly meals and snacks don’t come more wholesome.
Here’s the thing: standard pro-vegan articles, such as this one, assume the person reading has the time, inclination and budget to make their own food from scratch. Sadly this isn’t always the case. Most pre-prepared food, vegan or otherwise, comes at a heavy cost to the environment due to processing methods, not to mention excessive – often single use plastic – packaging. As well as lots of nasty ingredients that our bodies do not want on a daily basis. I bought some leading brand vegan cocktail sausages the other day, which contained no less than six bolded ingredients (allergens) as well as dextrose, which is a sugar derived from corn. Not great, I’m sure you’ll agree. This is just one example, and one of the better ones. All pre-prepared food looks a bit like this.
When your main diet consists of plenty of fresh veggies and seasonal fruit, there is little that can go wrong. Adding ethically reared meat, fresh dairy direct from the farm and as-local-as-possible grains, will enhance your health. Unfortunately, many people jumping on the vegan bandwagon do not eat this way. They eat a grain heavy, processed heavy diet, with ingredients often being flown from the other side of the world, or made in labs. Even taking the carbon footprint out of the equation, eating this way means far too many carbs (sugar) for us humans to function optimally, potentially putting us at risk of disease.
How much do you know about where your food comes from?
Rather than reading a few pro-vegan articles and deciding to eliminate potentially health boosting foods from your daily life, why don’t you start researching where the food you are eating comes from? If nothing else, it will be an eye opening experience.
I gave up fast food way back in 2003 after reading the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. In fact, back then, it didn’t just put me off junk chains and factory farmed meat, it put me off all meat. After fully acquainting myself with how Maccy D’s, et al, produced their “food” I was not down with eating it ever again. I’m proud that I have never – even once – been tempted in the 16 years between then and now. If anything, I have become even more vehemently against everything the big fast food chains stand for. This is a great, well rounded recent article, deep diving into what is actually in your “100% beef” burger.
So back to me, it’s the 1st August 2003. I’m hungover as all hell and I eat a McD’s to soak up the alcohol I’d poisoned myself with the previous day. The only reason I can remember the date is because it was the day after my 24th birthday. Instead of curing my hangover, it made me feel sick as a dog. Within weeks of this experience I read Fast Food Nation and almost instantly decided to cut out all meat. I was already dairy free anyway due to lactose intolerance, as well as fear, as we’d recently lost a family member to breast cancer.
My meat free experience
Deciding the pescatarian life was for me, I ate fish/seafood two or three times a week, which worked well for a few years. Until I became ill with typhoid in Cambodia and my body told me I needed iron and other nutrients I simply wasn’t getting from my diet, or would get from supplements. My first meal was a juicy steak, followed by the decision to eat red meat once or twice a week. Gradually, I started eating more meat over the next few years, but because I was already aware of factory farms and what goes on inside them, I sought out good quality, free range meat. At one point, my friend and I would go halves on a whole lamb or pig, which is a great way to keep the price down (more on that below).
My point is, I cut out meat until it simply wasn’t working for my body. Once I reintroduced it, I made sure I was buying meat that wasn’t going to do more damage to my body, or the planet. There is a HUGE disparity between factory farmed, highly processed meat, and ethically sourced, free range, farm meat. It’s totally bonkers to put all meat into the same category. The former creates disease and the latter, when it contains vital nutrients us humans need to function optimally, can help heal it.
Some healthy swaps for you and the planet
If you care both about the climate crisis AND your own health, because lets face it, you won’t be much of an activist if you are so ill you can’t function, here are some suggestions.
Gut health. I cannot stress enough how much becoming gut healthy has changed my life. They say our gut is our second brain and the links to mental wellbeing are absolutely undeniable. This entails so much more than taking a probiotic supplement. Check out my recent post on how to make kombucha and flood your gut with beneficial bacteria.
Truly free range meat. If you choose to eat meat, for the love of all that’s good, please make it the absolute best quality you can afford. Daylesford are leading the way on readily available, ethically reared, organic meat and can be found on Ocado. Turner & George are a fantastic City of London based butchers who deliver within the M25. Field & Flower have every pastured meat, line caught fish and ethical cheese and deli product you can imagine, again delivered to your door. Alternatively, if you have freezer space, speak to your local farm shop about purchasing a whole animal. They will butcher it for you and give it to you in neat little bags ready to be frozen (labelled shoulder, chops, etc).
Rethinking dairy. There is a world of difference between raw dairy from local farms and bog standard supermarket dairy. Also, goats and sheep are not intensively reared the way cows are, and are usually easier on the digestive system. I’m a big fan of using goat milk to make home fermented kefir, creme fraiche and yoghurt.
Organic local, seasonal veggies. No introduction necessary. Whether you’re a vegan or hardcore carnivore, your diet should include a ton of local, seasonal veg (preferably organic).
Eggs are awesome. Nutrient dense; full of protein; loaded with iron and zinc, not to mention vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, D, E & K. What more could you want from food? Unfortunately, once again, not all eggs are created equally. They get very a bad rap because of the horrendous conditions battery farmed chickens are subjected to. However, truly free range eggs are a wonderful thing. It probably won’t come as a surprise that I like to buy eggs from farmers markets, but am also a huge fan of St. Ewe, who can be found on Ocado.
British grains. Did you know that we produce quinoa, oats, millet, lentils and an array of peas and beans right here in the UK? If you are going to swap out meat based protein for plant based, then at least buy British. I can’t help but feel buying dried goods from the other side of the world cancels out some of the benefits? Hodmedod’s have a huge range and deliver to your door for free if you spend over £30.
Bandwagons are bad news, instead of jumping onboard, educate yourself
For starters, here are some great articles/resources…