I have been plant-based for eight years now, and would’ve been much earlier had I not believed that I had to eat meat to be healthy. It never sat well with me to eat animals and I only ate a limited amount of meats, but as I didn’t know anyone who didn’t eat it, and the common belief was that it was the only way to get adequate protein and iron, I kept consuming ‘enough’ to be healthy.
Once I got to know new friends who were vegetarian or vegan it was easy to convert. I could clearly see that they also were healthy, and I enjoyed all of their foods. I tried vegetarianism first, then strict veganism, and then raw veganism for a year. I felt great but it was hard to maintain, especially with different family needs. I now eat raw and cooked foods, primarily vegan but also including some eggs and honey from trusted sources.
I don’t often call myself a vegan, even when I was completely plant-based, because of the connotations most people associate with that word. “Vegan” has become synonomous with extremism, and while some of that is media portrayal, some of it is also from extreme activism by passionate, but often judgemental people.
I have never joined a rally or had a heated argument with anyone about eating meat, even though I believe being vegan is a healthy and kinder way to live. There are several reasons for that which I’ll detail below, but I just want to point out first that even though I’m not a traditional vegan activist, I have been quite successful in inspiring others to eat more plant-based diets anyway.
My encouragement and example in my family has helped my mum be confident in eating a pescetarian diet for as long as I’ve given up meat. My two children are also fully vegetarian, and they have free choice to eat meat and fish at any stage if they want to, but at this point they both refuse it. My son eats dairy and my daughter eats eggs, and if they want to change their diets and experiment on what feels best for them as they grow up, they will have my support and guidance on how to do it healthily and sustainably.
My partner Anthony is now a flexitarian. He still eats meat but in very small amounts, and willingly so—he does not enjoy large servings now, nor does he enjoy it regularly. He feels better internally eating primarily vegetarian food, and I think it’s a great outcome for his health, the environment, and our animal friends.
My influence further is founded on trust and being an example of a healthy and happy person who happens to eat a plant-based diet. I blog about sustainability topics, and my readers know that I present information and examples without judgement, to inspire change and start thought-provoking conversations. I try to provide a safe space where I can lead by example, share my own mistakes and learnings, and discuss topics that can be uncomfortable but help us all to think more and try something different.
For World Meat Free week recently, I shared some of my family’s journey and some information about veganism on my social media accounts. I didn’t ask that anyone go 100% plant-based for the week, but just that they try a meal or two and see how it went. I encouraged them to try it for longer if they had been thinking about it anyway, and I provided meal ideas which many readers added to. And most importantly, we had an open discussion about how plant-based diets work for many people but that one way of eating will never suit everyone, yet that anyone can eat less meat and enjoy a positive effect on the environment and their health. We also talked about how it’s never been easier to eat a plant-based diet, how you won’t know if it is right for you without trying it, and how it’s okay to try it and then return to eating meat if you don’t feel optimal.
I am fortunate to know some people who have been vegan for a long time and changed back to incorporating meat into their diets again. I also have friends who follow paleo and low FODMAP diets, friends who seek sustainably-produced meat, and friends who are in various stages of eating less or converting to vegetarianism. It is great to get information from them and realise that some people’s history and constitutions benefit from eating meat products, while others, like me adapt well to never eating it again.
I have also studied anthropology and travelled a lot, and know that humans can exist on a very wide range of diets. We are not specific eaters like many of our animal friends; we can exist on primarily on blood and milk, vegetables and fruits, or seal fat and meat. Most of us believe that our particular way of eating is natural and healthier, but we wouldn’t be able to live across the globe is we weren’t extremely adaptable to our environments. What we are ‘meant’ to eat is not able to be answered when what we can eat to thrive varies so much.
I believe in the circle of life, but not that humans are on the top of it. Many cultures eat meat, and do it without the animals’ unnecessary suffering, or large and unethical factory farming. It is possible to raise animals to live happy lives, and still eat meat. I do not wish to do it personally, and I think that anyone who takes enjoyment in killing those animals is not very well mentally. But the people who do it quickly and humanely and only take as much as they need for their families are not psychopaths; they are just people doing what other animals do to provide for their own offspring.
So, what I focus on educating people about is how to reduce meat consumption, how to find more sustainable options, and why it is important for their health and the planet to eat less meat. I talk about how it is healthy to eat less processed food and less animal fat, how many cultures thrive only eating a little meat rather than whole steaks every day, and how many other options are available. And I discuss how great those meat-replacement products are now, how much money can be saved by eating less meat, and how much smaller their carbon footprint will be.
I don’t touch on cruelty to animals in regards to eating meat, because it shuts people down too quickly. Not many people want to admit that they are part of a system that is cruel, so they put their heads on the sand about it. I did the same thing so that I could continue doing what I thought I had to do, and it made it more difficult for me because inside I knew it wasn’t right. But my core belief was that I needed to eat meat to be healthy – and until I challenged that belief myself, with my own learnings and real-life examples – the cruelty broke my heart but not my habits.
It does no good to tell people that their beliefs are wrong. Starting a fight by going head-to-head will just provoke them and make them clamp down harder onto their beliefs. When their core beliefs are challenged, people are not in an open-minded state. They prepare to defend themselves even when it’s not logical; even if we provided irrefutable evidence it would make no difference.
I believe that free choice that is informed is the key, and I don’t believe that inciting guilt, horror or shame is helpful to anyone. Modern parents are educated about shame not being a helpful parenting tool, so why would it be a helpful tool for adults? Shame doesn’t motivate anyone to change for the better, only to feel bad about themselves and hide the parts of their life which are not suitable for the public to see.
Instead, I believe that listening, respectful discussion and, most importantly, being a non-judgemental example of living a vegan lifestyle, has the best results. Leading the way and being open to many different ways of living and eating is respectful to all people, all cultures and all beliefs. We know that plant-based is better for animals, the environment and our health, but we can’t know what is best for every single person on the planet. Educating others about the benefits of eating less meat and focussing on more ethical and sustainable production methods seems like the best compromise to me.