It is no secret that diets and lifestyles free from animal products have become all the rage over the past couple of years. Of course, meatless diets have been around for thousands of years- important reasons including the lack of access to animal products and religious ideology. Yet, as with any trend, these diets come with a lot of misconceptions. Let’s start with some easy definitions:
- Vegetarian diet (or lifestyle): excludes all meat and fish, but includes eggs and dairy. Some vegetarians also choose to refrain from wearing of leather, wool etc.
- Vegan lifestyle: excludes all animal products (e.g. eggs, dairy, honey, wool, and leather) and allows only for the consumption/use of plant-based foods and products.
- Plant-based diet: consists mainly of plants such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and grain-based foods such as pasta or cereal and generally excludes animal products. Contrary to the ‘vegan’ label, the ‘plant-based’ label is used to describe a spectrum of diets that use mainly plants. For many, it refers to a diet that consists of about 70-80% plants, and 20-30% animal products.
Reasons for the above diets/lifestyles include:
- Environment (🌍)
- Ethics (🐷)
- Health (🥕)
Labels do more harm than good
Vegan, vegetarian, meat-eater, plant-eater, tree-hugger. Each and every one of us probably has a different interpretation of these labels; shaped by personal experience and deeply-rooted convictions.
Many of you are likely to find people using any of the above-mentioned labels to describe themselves rather irritating, and I must admit that in some cases, often involving smug vegans and die-hard meat-eaters, this tends to be justified. Yet, I do believe that your reaction to someone telling you they are a ‘meat-eater’ or a ‘vegan’ says a lot about you, too- please don’t get annoyed and let it go #nonattachment.
Over time I have come to understand the danger of labels for the following reasons:
- For many, the decision to refrain from eating any animal products for health reasons is rarely founded on anything other than a handful of (carefully-selected) studies and testimonials of happy, healthy vegans/vegetarians on the internet.
- What ‘works’ for one person may not work for you! This cannot be stressed enough. A mistake I made when first experimenting with a plant-based diet is to trust that going fully plant-based would do my body good, and it did, at first. I did not consider the possibility that beyond the (temporary) increase in energy/immediate improvements I experienced, a diet free from animal products was harming the proper functioning of my body (more on this later!).
- Things change, you change, your views WILL change. Although refraining from eating animal products for whatever reason is likely to impact your beliefs about issues such as animal slaughter and the environment, the decisions you come to as a young adult are not likely to be permanent. Trust your parents on this one 😉
- Avoid labelling your dietary or lifestyle choices- it’s annoying. Instead, when asked about them, kindly (and quickly) explain your reasoning and be ready to defend them with logical and evidence-based arguments (e.g. environmental benefits, cheaper lifestyle, ethics, or food intolerances🥛🍳).
- Make well-informed choices and consider discussing the above-mentioned diets with your doctor (e.g. have your blood, hormone levels, food allergies, and intolerances checked).
- Be ready and willing to change your views, I had to!
- Finally, avoid listening to anyone trying to convince you with emotionally laden statements and arguments such as:
- Eating meat makes you a murderer.
- All vegans/vegetarians are annoying haters, don’t be like them.