One year as a vegan … the end of the road

Today marks day 364 of my one year as a vegan experiment. When I started out, the ambition was to do a weekly post. Turns out writing a blog each week is hard (kudos to all the bloggers out there), and life has a habit of getting in the way (full time work, travel, teething baby, man flu – the suffering is real people). 

One of the original intentions though was not to take life too seriously, and if stuff happens, move on and post whenever I can to help share learnings. So apologies to those who got used to the regular blogs, this was the best I could do. To those who read the blog and supported me throughout the year, a huge thankyou.

There are lots of great resources out there for those of you considering turning vegan in 2020 as part of your New Year’s Resolutions. Below is a brief summary of some of my key takeaways from one year as a vegan. 

The numbers

According to calculations presented in Kip Anderson’s documentary Cowspiracy, through dietary choice alone (and assuming an average western diet) in 2019 I have saved:

  • 400,400 gallons (~1,515,678 litres) of water;
  • 16,380 pounds (~7,430kgs) of grain;
  • 10,920 sqft of deforestation;
  • 7,280 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions; and
  • 364 animal lives spared.

To put the water statistic in perspective, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Water Accounts state that residential households in Australia directly consumed on average ~209,000 litres of water per annum over the period 2008 to 2017. That means through diet alone, in one year I have indirectly saved over seven times the annual water consumption of the average Australian household. I find that statistic mind blowing, particularly given Australia is currently being ravaged by bushfires and suffering from severe drought where so many of us are looking for ways to reduce our water footprint.

Energised (pun intended), I tried to interpret what the CO2 equivalent emissions statistic translated into, so I used a Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator produced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to translate the 7,280 pounds number into something a little more intuitive. Turns out this equates to the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the average passenger vehicle in driving 8,194 miles (~13,100kms) or through the power consumed to charge a smart phone 421,131 times (over 1,150 years of phone charging).

If you had told me some of these statistics a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. It is proof to me that even through the small actions of an individual such as modifying what we eat, we all have the ability to make positive environmental impacts.

The Good

Living one year as a vegan had a number of positives for me. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • 364 lives saved: I’d never really thought about where the food on my plate came from and what was needed to produce it. This year, the comfort of knowing that my consumption choices helped save 364 animals was the biggest highlight by far and reason enough for undertaking the challenge.
  • Vegan food is delicious: Going into the year I was afraid there would be 364 tasteless days ahead filled with cravings for the ‘real food’ I was used to eating. That was so far from the truth. I have never eaten better than this year and had my eyes opened to many delicious new ingredients and foods. Fear not gastronomers! Vegan does not mean taste free.
  • Conversation starter: Your friends won’t abandon you because of dietary choice. In fact, my friends and family were a huge source of information and recipes throughout the year and were curious what living vegan was like. Going into the year I was petrified of being an outsider at social BBQ catch ups. Not so as it turns out (well not because of dietary choice anyway…)
  • Beer is vegan (mostly): While a lot of wines use a product called isinglass (fish bladder) to clarify the wine, most beer producers instead use Irish moss or carrageenan which is a marine algae (seaweed) to aid with clarification and prevent beer haze. Even Guinness which traditionally used isinglass turned vegan friendly back in 2016. So, unless you opt for the hazy milkshake IPA or honey amber ale, beer is your vegan friend.

The Bad

Not everything in 2019 was unicorns and rainbows when it came to living vegan. Here are a few of my lowlights:

  • Lysine to Arginine ratio: I had no idea what either of these were 12 months ago. Turns out vegans need to ensure they get sufficient levels of Lysine in their diet. The only reason I discovered the importance of this was after a monthlong painful bout of shingles. During a shingles outbreak, doctors recommend you eat Lysine rich foods and avoid Arginine. Only problem is a lot of Lysine rich foods are not vegan (meat, cheese, fish, eggs) so you do need to put in a bit more work to find vegan alternatives and avoid vegan staples high in Arginine (grains, nuts, seeds, and beer!).
  • Clothing: Vegan diet is one thing, vegan clothing is another. I hadn’t really thought about how pervasive leather or other animal products are in clothing (and car seats, couches etc). I haven’t had to make any major wardrobe or furniture purchases this year so wasn’t confronted with a decision but am sure in the years ahead it will be tricky. Fun fact – Birkenstock now have a line of vegan sandals so you can get your Hacky Sack on comfortable in the knowledge that your sandals are animal friendly.
  • Sneaky animal products: It is hard to be strictly vegan and not get caught out every now and then. Try as you might to ask for a dish to be made vegan at a restaurant, sometimes it finds its way onto your plate. Similarly, at the supermarket some days you don’t have 15 extra minutes to read all the labels and ingredients lists to decipher between ‘Contains’ and ‘May contain’. Once you find products that are vegan friendly it is easier, but at the beginning supermarket shopping can be painful…

The Verdict

Now the one year as a vegan experiment has come to an end, I’ve decided to keep going as a vegan. Turns out I feel a lot better and no longer miss meat and dairy products. To those of you about to embark on Veganuary, I wish you well and hope you enjoy the challenge as much as I did. If you need any pointers or resources, feel free to reach out.

Happy 2020 all!

Resources

Cowspiracy website http://www.cowspiracy.com/

Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas emissions calculator – https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator

Australian Bureau of Statistics Water Accounts – http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4610.0Main+Features22016-17?OpenDocument

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