In 2016 I switched from a meat-heavy diet to a plant-based diet overnight. My motives have since evolved; this post outlines the process and my current views.
Before my switch, I was a passionate carnivore. I heavily relied on meat sandwiches and I often planned dinner around a choice of meat. Animal welfare was not something I cared about a lot; I felt more compassion for the environment we were treating so badly.
During a semester abroad in Sweden, I started to read into the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and climate. This convinced me to start cooking vegetarian meals occasionally. Another key turning point was a lunch at Hermans in Stockholm.
Hermans offered an unlimited, vegan buffet that was stuffed with tasty goods like lasagna, nachos, chili sin carne, potatoes with veganaise, and salads that I actually liked. It made me realize that my dependency on meat, eggs, and dairy for flavor came from a limited set of recipes that my culture happens to be familiar with.
When I moved back home, a roommate told me she just turned vegan. I jokingly told her that I was impressed since she was one of the least disciplined persons I knew. The same week, I followed her example by entering into a vegan diet overnight.
My motives were primitive and mostly dependent on the environmental argument. I hadn't even seen Cowspiracy. My main motivation was the urge and willingness to experiment. It was perfectly in line with my other life-hacking efforts like running barefoot, switching my keyboard layout from QWERTY to Colemak, amongst many failed attempts like messing with my sleep cycles.
People often claim they feel an immediate health benefit after switching to a vegan diet. For me the opposite happened: I felt lightheaded and lost weight. This was due to my lack of experience with eating plant-based, so I had no idea how to cook a rich meal without meat or how to replace my afternoon snack. Over time this got better, and now I feel as healthy and energized as before.
Right from the start, I was on a strict vegan diet. This wasn't easy at first, although it forced me to learn fast and get creative. I don't see strictness as something wrong, but over time I've let myself loosen up a bit. I would now rather describe myself as a pragmatic vegan. The downside of being flexible is that you constantly need to think if something is worth an exception or not. At first I feared that this would lead to moral decay, but I found quite a relaxed middle ground. An example of an exception that I would now make is eating leftover meat on the occasion that others would throw it away. I'm also more relaxed when others cook, especially in big groups.
A side-effect of becoming more pragmatic is that I find it more easy to let go of any judgment towards others. I've learned to focus on the willingness of people to change, instead of comparing their level of action to mine. People also seem to get inspired by pragmatism versus alienated by strictness.
Like many people that dip their toe into eating vegetarian, I started out eating a lot of plant-based meat. This was due to a lack of cooking skills, but what didn't help either was a lack of appetite for vegetables, legumes, and hummus. Nowadays I'm more reliant on fresh ingredients, and my biggest takeaway from the past few years is that you can change your taste, just like learning to drink coffee.
Another thing that evolved — lucky for me — was the world around me. Since 2016 I've seen dozens of vegan restaurants opening up in Amsterdam, hundreds of vegan products being added to the supermarkets, and the general awareness of the need to cut down on animal products has skyrocketed. Hey, there is even a vegan cheese shop in Amsterdam now!
So what are my current reasons for still being a vegan? First of all, I don't believe that eating animal products is wrong in itself. There were times in which it was needed, before we had access to all the types of food that we have now. I do believe that we have hit a point in history that forces us to start thinking about a vegan future.
First of all, I don't want to harm animals. I think most people feel the same way, but some have made exceptions for certain types of animals. Some people love their dog so much they'll walk it several times a day but don't feel empathy for a pig that lives up to 6 months and doesn't see daylight. The fact that pigs are pretty intelligent shows that we practice random speciesism. I'm not going into detail on all the harm that is done to animals; I believe that, given the growing population and demand for low pricing, factory farms will always have a level of inhumanness towards animals.
In addition, I don't want to harm the planet. I can't stand the thought that after billions of years of growing biodiversity and complexity we would destroy a lot of it in just a few hundreds of years. I assume that you — the reader — acknowledge the problem of climate change. Science shows that animal products have a huge carbon footprint and are the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, through cattle farming and soy-based animal food production.
I've also grown confident that I don't need animal products for my health. Already in 2009, the American Dietetic Association claimed that appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. This included infants! If you're worried you'll spend a lot of time planning your food: my personal experience is that just eating an above-average amount of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes will keep you perfectly healthy. I also think you'll be surprised by the amount of world-class athletes that are vegan, as can partly be seen in the documentary The Game Changers.
Finally, I don't need it for flavor. This remains a difficult one since a lot of meals or baked goods tend to be better with egg or dairy. There are several solutions for this problem: getting smarter with egg and dairy replacements; exploring completely different types of snacks; forgetting flavors over time or — even better — not growing up with them. The industry is working hard on the first solution, and we can take care of the others ourselves.
Thanks for reading my story! I hope this post gave you some insights into my journey. Since this is my personal story, I tried to avoid long chains of scientific reasoning. I'll probably write some separate in-depth posts soon.
This post is part of The Vegan Index, where I've listed several posts and recipes.