28 Feb 2015

How Veganism Improved My Life

Let's start off with a short back-story. Prior to becoming vegan, I was vegetarian for twelve years, and 'omnivorous' for six years prior to that (from birth). I grew up as an adamant animal lover, which naturally led me to my decision to become vegetarian once I discovered where meat comes from. I was six years old when I made the choice, and was lucky enough to have a supportive family. You can read more about my transition to vegetarianism here.

My switch from vegetarian to veganism was ignited by a short YouTube video I watched about meat, dairy and egg production. Previously, I'd never put much thought into what egg and dairy production could involve - like many others, I naively thought eggs and dairy came from happy chickens and cows on happy farms. I never considered the idea that animals are not ours to use or exploit. I was a pretty awful vegetarian anyway, occasionally consuming gelatine and other 'sneaky' animal by-products. I was under the impression that the animals were going to die anyway, so not eating them wasn't going to change anything (silly, I know). I was very naive then, but I know better now. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the video that inspired my transition to veganism, so I can't link it here - but there are various other similar videos available around the web. Earthlings is a popular (and very effective) example.

As a vegetarian, I cared deeply about animals, but was completely disconnected from reality. I knew the very basics - meat comes from dead animals; but I didn't think about the consequences of supporting egg, dairy and other animal by-product industries. All I knew was that I didn't want to eat dead animals, because to me, eating living beings was wrong - and it still is. Now, however, I know that exploiting animals in any way, shape or form is wrong as well. I'm very thankful for that initial YouTube video I watched, because it pointed me in the right direction. It led me towards a world of wonderful vegan resources and information I'd never seen before... the sort of information you'd rarely find in mainstream media.

"Veganism has opened me up to a whole world of new information, possibilities, opportunities and knowledge."

Now that I'm vegan, my life has changed in many ways - 95% of which are very positive. The only negative aspect stems from my heightened awareness. I now know of horrors I could previously never have imagined, and that's sad as hell. Sometimes I can't help but cry and mourn the lives of the millions of animals who lose their lives each day. At least now I know I'm no longer directly contributing to this horror.

But let's focus on the positives - of which there are plenty. Veganism has opened me up to a whole world of new information, possibilities, opportunities and knowledge. Stuff I'd never thought or known about before.

Here are just a few of the many ways my life has improved since becoming vegan.

I found a new love for cooking

As a vegetarian, I never cooked. Ever! Since I was a high school student living with my family at the time, I suppose that isn't all too surprising... but I simply had no interest in cooking at all. In fact, I despised it. Any food I did prepare was either microwaved or toasted, and it was always really basic, bland stuff.

As a vegan, my outlook towards cooking has completely changed. I love it now! I've only just emerged into the wonderful world of food preparation, but I've already made everything from pasta bake to mac 'n' cheese to enchiladas. They're not the fanciest meals, I know, but I think it's pretty good for someone who was previously limited to making toast and peanut butter sandwiches.

"Since becoming vegan, I've also discovered a wide variety of new foods that I never even considered eating before."

Since becoming vegan, I've also discovered a wide variety of new foods that I never even considered eating before. I appreciate food and enjoy eating it much more than I used to. Eating out at vegan restaurants is always an amazing experience - there are so many different and interesting foods to try. As a vegetarian, I would always pick the same basic meal (usually only hot chips or wedges) whenever I ate out, but now I'm always keen to try new things and customise meals to suit my taste.

My health improved

As a vegetarian, I never had any serious health problems. I ate relatively well, but never made any particular effort to be especially healthy. I was incredibly unfit, constantly lethargic and suffered from regular migraines (which is a genetic issue that can't be cured completely through diet, but becoming vegan has definitely helped). I ate way too much crappy snack food and drank way too much crappy soft drink. I lived a very sedentary lifestyle, rarely went out in the sun, and slept for most of the afternoon.

Now, as a vegan, I'm still not the healthiest person in the world, but I've experienced vast improvements. I wake up earlier, I make a greater effort to ensure I'm getting all the vitamins and minerals I need, and I've started exercising regularly. Now that I'm making a real effort to eat healthily, I feel much more motivated and inspired in general. I'm eager to prove to my non-vegan family and friends that a compassionate lifestyle is a healthy lifestyle.

When you think about beautiful beings like this little one being harmed, it's much harder not to be vegan

I realised how easy veganism is

Like many others, I used to think I could never be vegan. As a lover of flavoured milk, chocolate, cake, ice-cream and other dairy-laden desserts, I couldn't imagine living a plant-based lifestyle. I thought vegan eating was really difficult and that you'd need terribly strong willpower in order to eat such a 'restricted' diet. How wrong I was!

"As a vegetarian, I thought vegan eating was really difficult and that you'd need terribly strong willpower in order to eat such a 'restricted' diet. How wrong I was!"

Since becoming vegan, I've realised just how easy it is. There are vegan substitutes for absolutely everything - even foods you totally wouldn't expect, like shrimp, oysters and calamari. There are several 100% vegan restaurants in my area selling burgers, pasta, noodles, rice dishes - anything I could ever want! There's even a fully vegan grocery store, as well as several online stores providing cheap and easy delivery.

In fact, I find veganism even easier than vegetarianism ever was. With vegetarianism, blurred lines lie between which food products are acceptable and which aren't. Some vegetarians eat animal by-products such as gelatine, carmine and insect-derived shellac; some don't. With veganism, there are no blurred lines. It's simple - if a product contains animal-derived ingredients of any kind, don't eat it. Easy!

I developed a positive outlook on life

Despite now knowing about the horror that goes on behind the scenes every day in the world of food production, I now have a more positive outlook on life than ever before. That's because I know I'm doing good. I know that change is coming. More and more people are becoming vegan. Vegan restaurants, cafes and stores are popping up all over my city and around the world. More vegan substitutes are available than ever before. Animal rights awareness is growing rapidly. Mainstream media is starting to promote veganism. Times are a-changin'!

Now that I'm vegan, I feel like I have a purpose in life - and that purpose is to do the very best I can to make the world a better place for whoever's left behind when I'm gone. People, animals, the environment - veganism does good for everyone and everything. Through my blog, I'm spreading the word about our movement so more and more people can get on board.

"Vegan restaurants, cafes and stores are popping up all over my city and around the world. More vegan substitutes are available than ever before. Animal rights awareness is growing rapidly. Mainstream media is starting to promote veganism."

If you're not vegan and you're looking for a way to improve your life and the lives of others, you should definitely consider making the switch. This post barely begins to describe the hundreds of ways that veganism has changed my life for the better. If you want to find out, try it for yourself. If you're vegan already, spread this message - spread positivity. Everyone deserves to reap the benefits of the vegan lifestyle; for the sake of humankind, the animals and our world.


22 Feb 2015

Opinion: Should Vegans Feed Their Cats Meat?

One of the largest ongoing debates within the vegan community regards the question of whether or not vegans should feed meat to their feline companions. There are a plethora of arguments originating from both sides of the field, so it can be extremely difficult to know what (or who) to believe. Opponents of a plant-based diet for cats argue that cats are obligate carnivores, meaning meat consumption is essential for their health. Proponents of the idea argue that cats can live healthily on a plant-based diet, and that synthetic taurine (an essential dietary requirement for cat health - found naturally in animal products) can be used in place of standard taurine.

I am by no means an expert in the field of feline health, nor have I conducted any extensive research on the subject. Several followers of my blog, however, have suggested that I tackle the issue of vegan cats; so I will do my best to provide an informed opinion.

It's a matter of necessity

To determine whether or not it's morally acceptable for vegans to feed meat to cats, we must take the matter of necessity into account. At the very least, we can be one-hundred percent certain that meat consumption is not necessary for human health. Necessity forms the very basis of veganism - that is, unnecessary killing goes against our moral code. If, however, it is necessary for cats to eat meat, this wouldn't break the vegan moral code, as necessary killing (such as when lions hunt their prey) is acceptable.

Of course, whether or not it's necessary for cats to eat meat is a much debated topic. Since I'm not formally educated on the subject, I choose to sit on the fence - although I tend to lean towards the belief that meat is essential for cat health, as all other members of the feline family (tigers, lions, leopards) are famously carnivorous.

To sum up:
  • If meat-eating is essential for feline health, it does not break vegan code
  • The general consensus seems to be that cats are obligate carnivores, therefore they must eat meat
Cats are typically seen as carnivorous animals
Cat food comes from factory farms

This is an understandable concern to have. The majority of store-bought cat food is produced through incredibly inhumane, unethical and horrific practices. As vegans, we are overwhelmingly opposed to this kind of behaviour, which is a significant part of the reason why we don't purchase meat, dairy or eggs. However, can we except ourselves from this rule if we are buying meat for a cat rather than for ourselves?

At least to some degree, I don't think so. If we choose to feed animal products to our cats, we should try our very best to source the animal products from more "reputable" businesses. It can be difficult to think of any meat-producing business as reputable or ethical, but it's at least true that some are much better than others. I think the best choice is to source cat food from local fisherman rather than from large-scale factory farms or corporations.

To sum up:
  • Mainstream, store-bought cat food is sourced from inhumane and unethical factory farms
  • Cat food should be sourced from more reputable businesses if possible
  • Try buying from local fisherman or butchers
Should we only adopt herbivorous animals?

In order to avoid this problem all together, vegans could simply choose not to adopt cats, and to only adopt herbivorous or omnivorous animals that can healthily subsist on a plant-based diet. Unfortunately, this option has its downfalls. Thousands of cats are dropped in shelters each and every day; and many of which will be immediately killed. Through adopting these helpless animals, we save lives. In order to save the lives of these animals, however, we (if cats need meat to survive) must support the killing of other animals (mainly fish, to feed the cats). It's a difficult and confusing choice to make.

If we adopt cats and feed them meat, animals will die. If we don't adopt cats at all, animals will die. If we adopt cats and feed them plant-based food fortified with taurine, are we really doing what's best for them? Or will it harm - and eventually kill - them in the long run?

To sum up:
  • Vegans could choose to only adopt herbivorous animals
  • If we choose not to adopt cats at all, thousands will die in shelters
  • If we feed cats plant-based diets, their health may suffer
  • It's difficult and confusing to know the right thing to do
In conclusion...

Since there are so many conflicting opinions and arguments regarding the issue of cats eating meat, it can be extremely difficult to figure out what's right. In this case, I think it all comes down to a matter of personal choice. Do what feels right to you. If you have cats and believe meat is necessary for their health, that's fine - it doesn't make you any less vegan. Just try your best to avoid purchasing cat food sourced from factory farms. If you have cats and choose not to feed them meat - that's your choice as well, and it doesn't make you any less vegan - but please make sure your decision is based on a lot of research, and that you're certain you're doing what's right for your feline friend. If you choose only to adopt herbivorous animals - such as rabbits, mice and rats - that's fine too.

14 Feb 2015

5 Beautiful Friendships Between Humans and Non-Humans

Sometimes, the bond between humans and animals goes far beyond the conventional relationship of a man and his dog. Although kittens, puppies, bunnies and birds make excellent companions, the list doesn't stop there. For some, the comfort of a loving friendship with a pig, a cow or a chicken is just as wonderful, unforgettable and unbreakable. Farm animals are highly intelligent, loyal and loving - just as much as the dogs and cats we know so well.

Here are some examples of beautiful friendships between humans and non-humans. These animals exist as unmistakable proof that all life deserves love.

Esther the Wonder Pig and her dads

Esther is one inspirational pig. Alone, she helped her human companions not only to discover veganism, but also to open up their very own sanctuary for rescued farm animals. Originally thought to be a 'mini pig', Esther shocked her companions as she continued to grow to an enormous size! She has a strong social media presence and, with her beautiful smile and loving disposition, Esther the Wonder Pig has influenced people around the world to become vegan.

The unbreakable bond between Esther and her dads is often expressed through warm cuddles and heartwarming smiles, as demonstrated in the photo below. Esther also has an amiable relationship with her feline and canine companions - they're all just as enthusiastic about cuddles as her human friends!

Esther with her loving family

"The unbreakable bond between Esther and her dads is often expressed through warm cuddles and heartwarming smiles."

Gevan and Sharon

Gevan is a beautiful highland heifer with fur of ginger and spun gold. Her companion, Sharon, is the highly dedicated and loving owner-operator of C-A-L-F Sanctuary. Gevan is one of many beloved rescues. Together, the two make an inseparable pair. Gevan's name, an anagram of vegan, is fitting - she's a compassionate and loving girl who adores the company of her human and non-human companions.

Sharon first discovered Gevan alone in a field and was heart-wrenched with sadness and despair. She promised she'd do whatever she could to help the poor girl - and that she did. Sharon saved Gevan from a life of loneliness and suffering, and the adorable, fluffy cow is clearly grateful. Every time Sharon visits Gevan in her field, she raises her head in anticipation, and she gazes longingly after her friend every time she leaves.

Sharon and Gevan

Milkshake and Beth

Milkshake, a 544kg cow, spent almost the entirety of her life cruelly confined within a pen no wider than three metres long and three metres wide from only two weeks of age. Unlike the majority of these wonderful animals, Milkshake was lucky - she was rescued by the Grace Foundation, an organisation dedicated to saving the lives of abused and neglected farm animals.

Beth DiCaprio and Milkshake have an enviable friendship built on a strong foundation of love, trust and gratitude. Milkshake is eternally grateful for Beth's gentle care - she is known for following her all around the ranch! In a YouTube video by the Grace Foundation, Milkshake can be seen jovially skipping along, never straying far from her beloved caretaker and friend.

"Beth DiCaprio and Milkshake have an enviable friendship built on a strong foundation of love, trust and gratitude."

Beth and Milkshake

Opie and Gene

Opie was a treasured member of the Farm Sanctuary family for 18 years. Over twenty years ago, in 1990, Opie was saved from a short lifetime of commodification and suffering. When Gene Baur found Opie left for dead, shivering in the wintry breeze, he chose to save the innocent baby's life. Opie was treated by a veterinarian and went on to make a full recovery. Opie's peaceful spirit radiated around the sanctuary, bringing joy to all - especially Gene.

The time of Opie's passing was difficult for Gene, but his lasting impact and memories he left behind will live on forever. Their friendship remains strong despite Opie's absence in the living world. The love shared between these two kindred spirits is demonstrated perfectly in the image below.

Gene and Opie share a memorable moment
Hank and Jenn

Hank, a 15-pound broiler rooster, was loved by all at Catskill Farm Sanctuary. His calming demeanor and loving attitude was infectious, and all who met him fell in love. Hank's love, however, was directed primarily towards one woman - Jenn Mackey, Catskill's Animal Care Coordinator.

Although Hank is no longer with us, his relationship with Jenn Mackey lives on through memories, photos and beautiful words. Every morning, Jenn would warmly greet the majestic bird, and he would call back every time without fail. Hank would softly bury his head in Jenn's arms, or rest his head on her chest and wrap his feathery wings protectively around her.

Here's a wonderful quote from Jenn:
"Hank has taught me so much more than any book or study ever could about the emotional capacity of chickens. I can't really find the words to express how much I love him."

Despite common belief, farm animals are just as capable of love and complex emotion as any other animal on Earth - including humans. As demonstrated in the above photographs, the friendships formed between humans and farm animals can be just as strong as the relationship you may have with your feline or canine companion. Cats, dogs, chickens, cows, humans, sheep, pigs and all the rest are all deserving of respect, freedom and love. 

And how can we give these innocent, benevolent beings the happiness they deserve?

The answer's simple - by going vegan.


6 Feb 2015

How To Eat Vegan at Non-Vegan Restaurants

Over recent years, veganism has gradually begun to sneak its way into mainstream life and culture. Vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants are popping up all over the place in most major cities, and even in some small towns. Eating out as a vegan is, thankfully, becoming easier and easier. Sometimes, however,  we have to visit a non-vegan restaurant for whatever reason - perhaps we're out for a family dinner, maybe there aren't any vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants near-by. When this happens, we need to know how to score a little more than a slice of bread or a lettuce leaf!

For experienced and reputable chefs, veganising any meal on the standard menu shouldn't be difficult - but most won't go this far. Unfortunately, many non-vegan restaurants, pubs and cafes use pre-cooked or pre-prepared foods in several of their menu items. This means that they're probably not willing or able to make these items up from scratch in a veganised form - so we'll have to compromise. Here are some simple, easy ways to make sure you're served a delicious vegan meal the next time you visit a non-vegan restaurant.

Look for Vegetarian Options

Most modern restaurants, pubs and cafes offer at least one or two vegetarian options on their menu - if they don't, they're missing out on loads of potential customers. Usually the vegetarian options are limited to pasta and salad, but that's not all bad. Pasta is generally delicious, and salad can be just as good if made correctly! Some restaurants may go a little further, offering veggie burgers, rice dishes and soups.

Many of these vegetarian options may already be vegan - check with the chef to make sure. If, however, the vego options contain egg or dairy, a hospitable chef should be happy to work with you to veganise your meal. If you're uncomfortable mentioning your veganism (perhaps you'd like to avoid the 'drama' this can ignite), tell them you're allergic to egg and dairy, or tell them your doctor advised you against eating animal products for health reasons. The cooks will be more likely to be careful with your meal if you order this way.

If removing cheese, egg or milk from your order takes away some of the flavour, request some alternative seasoning or condiments. Rich, flavorsome vegetables - such as olives, avocado or spinach, spices and/or herbs are recommended.

Prioritise Asian, Mexican & Indian Restaurants

If you're going out for dinner with non-vegan family and friends and they're not willing to go to an all-vegan or vegetarian restaurant, suggest Asian, Mexican or Indian cuisine. Or, if you don't have any vegan or vegetarian restaurants in your area but do have access to this kind of cuisine, prioritise it. Many such restaurants offer a variety of traditionally vegan or vegetarian options. Asian food, for example, consists predominantly of rice, noodles and seasonal vegetables - all delicious vegan staples. Tofu is also easy to come by.

Mexican restaurants, such as my local Montezuma's and Zambero, offer several vegetarian options that can be veganised by ordering without cheese. My favourite Mexican restaurant, for example, offers delicious vegetarian salads, dips, tacos, burritos and enchiladas. The tacos, burritos and enchiladas are made with re-fried beans and are usually topped with cheese - I just ask for them to veganise the meal and I've never had any issues.

As India's population is approximately 40% vegetarian, their traditional cuisine is bound to be largely suitable for them. Most Indian restaurants offer many vegan and vegetarian options along with meat-based meals, so all members of the family should be satisfied. Popular vegan meals at Indian restaurants include aloo gobi, dal, spring rolls and chickpea curry.

Asian dishes can usually be easily veganised

Customise Your Own Meal

If the restaurant, bar or cafe's chef is friendly and hospitable (and has fresh food available rather than pre-packaged) they may be willing to prepare a fully customised meal to suit your needs - or, at least, a significantly altered version of a standard menu option. If there's a non-vegan and non-vegetarian pasta option on the menu, for example, first make sure that the pasta itself doesn't contain egg, as it sometimes does. Once you've confirmed the pasta itself is vegan, ask for a different, vegan-appropriate sauce such as napoletana. Request whatever vegetables and extra condiments you desire, and be sure to ask for no cheese.

Many rice dishes could also be customised to suit your needs - ask for a rice-based meal with seasonal vegetables and a sauce of your choice.

If All Else Fails, Settle for a Salad

Sometimes, you may find yourself in a situation where the chef isn't willing to prepare a fully customised or even slightly altered meal for you. I mean - I've been to restaurants where my requests for a small bowl instead of a large plate were denied! In this case, a simple salad may be your only option - or, perhaps, a simple bowl of hot chips (provided they're not cooked in animal fat). If the restaurant you're visiting doesn't offer salad of any kind - well, your family probably needs to find a better place to eat!
The right kind of salad can be just as delicious as any other meal