Eating a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners (and Curious Omnivores) – Part 4

Plant-based diet - Part 4

Ed: This is the fourth installment in our five-part series on eating a plant-based diet. Be sure to check out parts one, two, three and five as well.

More and more of our readers have been asking us what eating a plant-based diet entails. While we try our best not to be militant when talking about our food choices, we love it when people express an interest in moving away from meat, eggs and dairy. So, it gives us a ridiculous amount of pleasure to present: Eating a Plant-Based Diet for Beginners (and Curious Omnivores). Enjoy!

Couple of notes before we dive in. When I set out to tackle the topic I had no idea it would unravel into something in excess of 4000 words (in blogosphere terms that’s like the extended version of War and Peace).  I’ve therefore decided to break it up into installments (probably four five) to avoid the risk of information overwhelm. Plus, it’ll give you guys the opportunity to weigh in with questions and observations along the way. (Because, collaboration.)

What About the Animals?

Plant-Based Diet - What about the animals

Sporty and I try our damnedest not to be those hardcore vegans (you know, the ones wearing T-shirts with ‘not your mom, not your milk’ slogans or hurling red paint on models in fur coats).

It’s not that we don’t feel just as strongly about animal rights. We do.

We just don’t think that kind of in your face approach always has the desired effect. Very often it only serves to get people’s backs up, which in turn drives them even further away from the cause.

Instead, we try to walk our talk and act as an example. We’ve found most folks are more open to hearing what we have to say when they engage with us on the topic first, rather than the other way around.

But the thing is, while we’re still all about being a lighthouse as opposed to a loud hailer, after watching movies like What The Health and The True Cost (although the latter is about fast fashion and not veganism) it’s reached a point where we also believe we have a responsibility to speak out on behalf of those who can’t.

We won’t ever resort to shock tactics, but we will be making more of a concerted effort to encourage people to inform themselves. It’s no longer okay to hide behind our hands and say we can’t make a difference.

While not always easy to watch, it is incumbent upon all of us to watch these movies anyway. And make no mistake, you can make a difference. Every time you take out your wallet to make a purchase, you’re voting one way or the other.

Factory farming, pigs that can’t move, chickens cooped up in cages the size of an iPad, these things are happening every single day and they’ll continue to happen so long as there’s a market for it.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. —Mahatma Gandhi

What About Free-Range and Organic?

Plant-based diet - Free range Free-range might conjure up images from The Sound of Music, but that doesn’t mean it’s how it is

Of course, this raises the question of free-range and organic farming, which you’d think would be healthier and more humane.

Unfortunately the laws work in favour of the farmer and not the animal in these situations, so free range doesn’t necessarily mean romping through the meadows all day and then traipsing back to a spacious barn in the evening.

I used to assume that organic farming meant ethical farming, but sadly, this isn’t necessarily the case either. Organic simply means there are no pesticides used in making their feed, it doesn’t speak to how an organically raised animal is treated.

We need to make it our mission and responsibility to find out exactly where our food comes from and how it got to our table. The big chains aren’t going to tell us and nor are the labels on our food. We need to channel our inner Sherlock Holmes and figure it out for ourselves.

What If I Milk My Own Cows?

Plant-based diet - Off the grid Dave lived out his years milking Mabel, Clarabelle and camer-shy Daisy, it was so much fun

It’s a valid question. I mean, if you’re living off the grid in a symbiotic relationship with your cows, pigs and chickens, surely it’s okay to feast on the spoils? Well, I guess it’s better than factory-farming (heck, anything is better than factory-farming), but Sporty and I still see it as taking from another living being without their consent.

A lot of people might find our views a little extreme. After all, it’s not like you can enter into a contractual agreement with an animal (not least of all because they lack opposable thumbs). We just feel that if humans can thrive on a plant-based diet, what reason is there to eat animal products?

That being said, if we were ever to make a case for eating meat, eggs or dairy, it would only ever be in an off-the-grid situation, where you’re entirely responsible for getting the product from the animal all the way to your plate.

Going to Woolworths and piling our shopping cart high with everything from steak and lean chicken breasts to yoghurt, ice-cream, cheese and eggs simply isn’t okay. There’s no way we’re being mindful in that situation. All we’re thinking about are the dinner guests we’re going to impress, the school lunches we’ll be making and the breakfasts we’ll be whipping up.

Is There Such a Thing as Humane Slaughter?

Plant-based diet - Human slaughter

Let’s not kid ourselves, humane slaughter is an oxymoron. When it comes to animals and their wellbeing the laws put in place to protect them are not only negligible, but barely enforced (if at all).

Humane Facts has a glut of information on the subject, do yourself a favour and visit their website to find out more about what the meat you see on supermarket shelves goes through before it actually gets there.

These things aren’t easy to learn about, but I’d urge you to put on your big girl panties (or Superman undies) and do it anyway. Think about it this way: if it’s hard for you, just imagine what it’s like for the animal.

A Case for Carnism

Plant-based diet - A Case for Carnism Why are some animals seen as food and others as friends?

Have you ever wondered why you we, as humans, are perfectly happy to eat pigs and cows, yet balk at the idea of eating, say, a fluffy white kitten or a Golden Retriever? Carnism is the invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals.

In her TEDx talk: Beyond Carnism and Toward Rational, Authentic Food Choices, Dr Melanie Joy explains why it is impossible to make our food choices freely without awareness. That awareness that she’s referring to is one of the reasons for writing this series of posts.

Animals Have a Right to Live a Good Life

Plant-based diet - Animals have a right to live The sheep’s life is a good life, as is a dog’s life or a cat’s life or even a teeny tiny lady bug’s life

Animals are living, breathing sentient beings with distinct personalities and complex social structures. They want to live just as much as we do. Yet, for whatever reason, we’ve decided that we’re better than them, that our life is worth more than theirs.

Somewhere along the line we lost the ability to view these creatures as anything other than our possessions. For some people, even their pets fall into this ‘stuff’ category. Dogs are forced to spend their days crated in an apartment, cats are declawed so they don’t ruin the furniture, birds are caged, fish live out their solitary lives in a tiny bowl, entirely devoid of company.

We’re the ones with the biggest brains, you’d think we’d know better. Animals are way smarter than us, perhaps it’s high time we took our cues from them.

[Tweet ““Start with your heart, and only good can follow!” —Anonymous”]

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  1. Thanks for another great read! I have been thinking a lot about the concept of keeping pets…I know hard core vegans say you shouldn’t have pets. And while I am totally against keeping birds in cages or fish in tiny bowls…I can’t imagine my life without my dogs. But I feel the responsibility also lies with the human to make sure that if they keep pets, they ensure their pets have a good life. For instance, I rescued all three my dogs from shelters, they have a garden to spend their days in and they have each other for company when I’m not there. So I feel they have a better life than they would have had in a shelter. I would be interested to hear more thoughts around the concept of keeping pets as a vegan?

    1. Hi Tania

      Yay, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was a tricky one to write because it’s something we feel strongly about, but at the same time want to avoid coming across as preachy.

      Okay, so with regards to pets…let me start by saying that I am far from perfect. I was that kid (and young adult) who had budgies, mice, hamsters, dogs, cats, silkworms, etc. So I’m definitely not in a position to shout too loudly on the subject.

      I’m definitely not against having pets (we really need a better word), especially if they’re rescue cases like yours, where their life is so much better than before.

      I think what bugs me so much is how people buy animals almost as an accessory and then, when they realise they’re actually a living, breathing being with needs, they almost resent the intrusion. I see so many people dragging their dogs along the promenade because they’re clearly in a hurry.

      We, as humans, need to recognise that if we choose to get a pet we’re essentially gaining a family member and not another appliance or piece of furniture. It’s a tricky subject and definitely needs it’s own blog post, however, for now I’ll ask Sporty to weigh in as she’s more practical and will probably have a far better worded response than me. 😉

    2. Hi Tania
      Thanks so much for weighing in on this rather contentious issue 😉 I agree with what both you and Angela have said. Rescuing animals is a rather different matter than breeding them for selling.
      Modern society has developed some strange habits over the years regarding “owning” animals and these are very telling about how we view ourselves in relation to them. A lot of people keep dogs in small flats, some of them even crate them at night or during the day when they are away at work. There are countless other unnatural practices that humans indulge in around their animals which results in an unnatural or unhealthy life for them.

  2. Hi Ang and Sporty 🙂

    Thanks for the replies, I enjoy having the platform to engage around debates going on. As a relatively new vegan (just about 2 months now – yay!), I’ve been doing a lot of reading and just seeing what’s out there. One of my new favourite quotes is: “Being vegan doesn’t mean I am perfect. It means that I am doing the best I can to cause the least harm.” And that definitely applies when deciding to add an animal to your living space – if having that animal in your space means you are doing your best to give them a life that is good for them, then great. But if it means you are confining them to a small space or harming them mentally by not giving them any stimulation, then perhaps you should think twice about it. I also think we need a rethink of the word “pets”! 🙂

    1. Hi Tania, yip, having a platform to engage and talk about issues is awesome, we love it as well. We still need to hook up for a smoothie or meal sometime, let us know when you’re keen. The Oranjezicht Market has awesome smoothies, so maybe one Saturday morning? That way you can bring your pooches, ‘cos it’s doggies friendly. 😉

  3. Hi Ang, yes I would love that! I’m dying to try the vegan sushi at the Oranjezicht Market too. Will message you to set something up!

  4. My favourite post in the series so far. It’s all about the animals for me, however, my improved health has been an extra bonus.

    I’m not sure if you’ve ever watched some of James Aspey’s talks on YouTube but he is an Aussie vegan and has been a huge inspiration for me. His own story is quite amazing.

    Thanks for putting this wonderful series together.

    “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?” — Edgar’s Mission

    1. Really love that quote you included at the end of your comment. In my mind it’s as simple as that!

      This evening we are going to make some popcorn and scootch in with some James Aspey.

      Thank you for that 😉

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