Even as a vegetarian, I did not see myself going vegan. I’m Italian-Canadian, culturally. I was used to the charcuterie boards for most of my life, and I thought it wasn’t Italian to stop eating cheese. And I am obsessed with carne asada tacos.
Also, I’ve inherited Thalassemia, a hereditary type of anemia. I struggle with food-related anxiety. I have a hard time deciding what to eat at every meal and am tempted to just skip the meal. The anti-vegans use people like me as an example of people who can’t go vegan and still be healthy.
But I know the risks of going vegan and which supplements I need to take. I am also fortunate enough to have a dietician guiding me in weekly Zoom meetings. I mainly became vegan for the ethical reasons. However, it has been a fascinating experiment, at the same time.
As a stepping-stone to being vegan, it’s good to start out as a vegetarian, but I wouldn’t advocate being lacto-ovo-vegetarian if you want to make an ethical choice. Dairy cows are often forced to be impregnated for 6 years straight until their bodies give out, and then off to become beef afterward, anyways. As for eggs, male chicks routinely get killed because they don’t lay eggs.
So, I think veganism should be the end goal. You can eat all your favourite foods, still. There are so many substitutes for cheese and eggs. There are dairy-free cheeses! Cheese can be made of nuts—cashews are the most popular to make a cheese. And for my tacos, a company called Gardein makes excellent fake beef.
Also, people from all demographics can be vegan, even Italians.
Nutrients can be a problem. You can help by taking iron and B12. I am diagnosed with Thalassemia, as I mentioned earlier, but I feel less anemic as a vegan since I started eating beans and lentils. Of course, the first few days of being vegan, I felt groggy. Not ideal to start when you have an exam that week.
The standard North American diet typically has too much protein in it, and not enough fibre. You cannot get fibre from any animal products, but you can get protein and iron from plants. You cannot get B12 from plants, though, so I would recommend that you invest in a bottle of these vitamins. Omega 3s will keep you from getting groggy, as well. You can get vegan Omega 3s from algae.
Some argue that vegans need supplements, so their lifestyle is not healthy, but that is not necessarily fair. Over half of all omnivores take supplements, even if it is just a Vitamin C tablet.
But what if being vegan is not possible? I would recommend a transition of some sort to more plant-based foods. Make swaps gradually. Dairy-free milks of your choice (such as oat or almond) are a good start.
I would also recommend a Mediterranean lifestyle as your guide, if you don’t really feel you can be vegan. The Mediterranean lifestyle encourages eating socially, though that might be difficult in these times for people who aren’t fortunate enough to live with anyone else. If you can help it, no phones or TV at the dinner table. They also recommend being somewhat active, and the vast majority of their food intake comes from plants. Then they have fish and seafood, then cheese and yoghurt, then poultry and eggs. Meats and sweets are the least common in this lifestyle. Wine is also a big deal in the Mediterranean, but usually not more than 175 ml of wine per day.
Bottom Line Since Going Vegan?
The Good: I have noticed that I have a floating sensation, like I don’t merely tread on the ground—I feel like I float. I feel lighter. I don’t miss meat, cheese, or eggs (but maybe chocolate). I have clearer skin. I am making new vegan friends. I am learning new recipes. I feel closer to my pets and every animal I see.
The Bad: I have been sobbing ever since I went vegan over all of the animals I cannot save, and everything I ate before I went vegan, not just in this lifetime, but in all of my lifetimes.
The Ugly: I stayed awake all night the first night with one of the worst stomach aches of this lifetime.