As Winnie the Pooh said: “It’s so much friendlier with two”

 
 
 

 

I was chatting to a friend recently who was a committed vegan for several years until she started dating a guy who had zero interest in veganism and zero tolerance or appetite for vegan living.  It was really tedious cooking separate meals and felt like a big rusty nail in their relationship and eventually she gave up and started eating meat and dairy again.  Now you could say that he probably wasn’t be the right guy for her if he didn’t respect her ethical beliefs and whilst there may be some truth in that it’s also an overly simplistic attitude.  I have no doubt in my mind that I would never have had the courage to go vegan if it hadn’t been for having Ed there doing it with me every step of the way.  I would have given up at the first dinner party/Spanish Inquisition or the first time a tub of Haagen-Dazs Cookies and Cream winked at me from the frozen aisle…

I take my hat off to anyone who manages to go it alone as I imagine it is half the fun and twice the aggro.  A lot of what I love about being vegan and what keeps me focused and inspired is sharing it with Ed; forwarding on interesting articles to him; debating the ethics of eating animals with him; asking him to explain how govt subsidies affect the price of milk; laughing about obnoxious dinner guests who’ve come out with some twaddle about humans’ teeth being designed to tear animal flesh off the bone etc

So my advice to anyone considering going it alone would be to find a wingman. Read as widely as you can around veganism.  Sign up to blogs – there are so many good ones out there.  And don’t be upset if someone you start dating doesn’t immediately agree with you and convert to veganism over night.  The only reason any of us started eating animal products at all is that our parents and everyone around us acted as though it was ok.  Many many years of not questioning something is very hard to suddenly undo so let people come at it in their own ways and at their own pace.  Even if people appear to disapprove and disagree with you wholeheartedly to your face, you will be surprised what seeds of questioning and doubt you may have planted in their minds which given time and the right amount of space to breathe will slowly grow into a curiosity which once addressed will open their Pandora’s box, just as it did yours, and before you know it they’ll be asking you more and more questions.  But don’t rush people – no one likes being told what to think, let alone what to eat and why.

 

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Autumn crumble!

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Gutted that summer is nearing it’s end already but picking berries and making a hearty crumble makes it a little easier to bear. This is a spiced plum and blackberry crumble which was devoured with glee! Vegan of course – just replace the butter with sunflower spread.  Here’s the recipe.

Advice From a Vegan Cardiologist

This article was published in The New York Times this week.  I thought it was worth sharing as although the arguments surrounding animal welfare and the environment are pretty unequivocal when it comes to veganism, I’m always hesitant to argue it from a health perspective as I know you can eat an incredibly healthy omnivorous diet and an unhealthy vegan diet so it really depends on how sensible and knowledgeable the individual is.  However, given that a vegan diet basically consists of vegetables, fruits, beans, seed and nuts – you’d be pretty hard pressed to eat too unhealthily – unless you were living on peanut butter bagels and crisps alone. 

Overall, the health benefits of a vegan diet are enormous.  Especially from a cholesterol perspective as there is no cholesterol whatsoever in a vegan diet.  All cholesterol comes from animal products.  Cholesterol is what leads to heart disease which is currently the number one killer in the Unites States and the UK appears to be heading in the same direction… So hearing it from a cardiologists” perspective is interesting:  

Dr. Kim A. Williams, the president-elect of the American College of Cardiology, often sees patients who are overweight and struggling with hypertension, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. One of the things he advises them to do is to change their diets.

Dr. Williams said that his switch to veganism was prompted by a routine blood test about 10 years ago.Dr Kim A Williams

Specifically, he tells them to go vegan.

Dr. Williams became a vegan in 2003 because he was concerned that his LDL cholesterol — the kind associated with an increased risk of heart disease — was too high. Dr. Williams wrote about his reasons for going vegan and his belief in the cardiovascular benefits of a plant-based diet in a recent essay at MedPage Today.

Veganism has grown in popularity in recent years, reflected by the explosion of meat-free cookbooks and restaurants, and vegan-friendly products in grocery stores. But the endorsement by the man who is set to become the president of one of the country’s leading cardiology associations, which helps formulate health policies and guidelines, did not strike a totally positive chord.

“I didn’t know it would create such a firestorm of everything from accolades to protests,” said Dr. Williams, who is also the chairman of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “The response was really loud, and much of it diametrically opposed.”

One person suggested he was promoting a radical diet to his patients based on the experience of a single person: himself. Others accused him of trying to get the college of cardiology to encourage everyone to go vegan, which he dismissed. And some critics suggested that Dr. Williams and the college were “unduly influenced by industry,” which baffled him.

“Who is the industry that promotes vegan dieting?” he asked. “Maybe the people who publish books on it. But that wouldn’t be considered industry, I don’t think.”

Dr. Williams said that his switch to veganism was prompted by a routine blood test about 10 years ago.

The test showed that his LDL cholesterol, which had been 110 a couple years earlier, had climbed to 170. Dr. Williams, who was about 49 at the time, said he assumed that age and physical activity had played a role; his once frequent levels of exercise had fallen, and cholesterol tends to rise as people get older. But he also suspected that his diet was not as healthy as he had thought.

“I was basically eating chicken and fish, no skin, no fried food and no red meat,” he said. “I thought it was healthy. But it was low fat instead of low cholesterol, which is what I needed.”

Researchers have long known that the relationship between the dietary cholesterol found in food and the cholesterol that circulates in the blood is complicated, varying greatly from one person to the next. In many people, the cholesterol in food has only a minor or negligible effect on blood cholesterol levels. But in some people, the effect can be more pronounced, which Dr. Williams said was probably the case with him.

He eliminated cholesterol from his diet by avoiding dairy and animal protein to see if there would be any effect. Instead of eating chicken and fish, he started eating vegetable-based meat substitutes like veggie burgers and sausages made from soy and other plant proteins and nuts. He also switched to almond milk from cow’s milk.

Six weeks later, his LDL had fallen to 90.

“It seems that the response to dietary cholesterol and other changes in diet are all genetically determined and quite variable,” he said. “One person might go from 170 to 150 by going to a plant-based diet. Another person might go from 170 to 90.”

Although LDL plays a role in heart disease, it is not the only factor. The plaque that accumulates in arteries consists not only of cholesterol, but immune cells that invade the artery walls as a result of chronic inflammation. Some researchers argue that this inflammation is the underlying problem in coronary artery disease. But Dr. Williams says he believes that being vegan can lower inflammation, too.

He said his enthusiasm for plant-based diets was based on his interpretation of medical literature. He cited observational studies of tens of thousands of members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that found that people following vegetarian diets lived longer than meat eaters and had lower rates of death from heart disease, diabetes and kidney problems. And he pointed to research carried out by Dr. Dean Ornish, who found that patients who were put on a program that included a vegetarian diet had less coronary plaque and fewer cardiac events.

But Dr. Williams said he readily acknowledged that such studies were not conclusive.

Observational studies like those carried out on the Seventh-day Adventists show correlations, but they cannot establish cause and effect. And the study by Dr. Ornish was a small, randomized trial that, in addition to diet, included a number of interventions. Besides becoming vegetarians, the patients also gave up smoking, started exercising and had stress-management training. The extent to which diet played a role in the outcome is difficult to know.

Critics also point out that the Ornish diet restricts not only meat, but refined carbohydrates like added sugars and white flour, which have been implicated in cardiovascular disease in many studies.

Dr. Williams said he thought the research on the benefits of substituting nuts, beans and plant protein for meat was strong, but largely observational. But he was not arguing that the college of cardiology should promote veganism in its dietary guidelines. He said he would like to see large, extensive clinical trials of such diets “that pass muster” first.

Plenty of things that looked promising based on correlations that were identified in observational studies were later found to be problematic, he said, like vitamin E, hormone-replacement therapy, folic acid and, most recently, the HDL-raising drug niacin.

“There is a long list of things that, based on observational trials, we thought were beneficial, and then a randomized trial done for a long period of time showed that it wasn’t,” he said. “So I approach all of this with a sense of humility and an open mind.”

In the meantime, he said, he has made a habit of telling patients who are obese and plagued by metabolic problems like Type 2 diabetes to try exercising and eating less meat. And he discusses some of his favorite vegan foods with them.

“I recommend a plant-based diet because I know it’s going to lower their blood pressure, improve their insulin sensitivity and decrease their cholesterol,” he said. “And so I recommend it in all those conditions. Some patients are able to do it, and some are not.”

Vegan Food Magazine…?

I just googled ‘Vegan Food Magazine’ and got very excited when I was headed to this website and what looked like a beautifully put together and thought through eco-friendly, digital, vegan food magazine – but then I noticed the date – October 2013 and realised that they hadn’t managed a second yet…

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If anyone knows of any good vegan food magazines then do please let me know.  My lovely mother-in-law used to buy me an annual subscription to ‘Delicious’ Food Magazine and I loved it.  Since going vegan I haven’t been getting it and I really miss my monthly treat – sinking into a deep bubble bath and burying myself in new recipe ideas.  Cook books aren’t quite the same hit as a monthly fix from a magazine.   Perhaps we should all get together and start an online digital magazine…? hmmmm….. vegan food for thought… 

 

Why so angry…?

Most friends who respect you as a person will ask lots of questions about why you’ve switched to a vegan lifestyle and either agree with your reasoning or agree to disagree and move on.  But there will always be some that struggle to accept it and can neither brush it aside nor feel satisfied enough to leave it be.

I’ve got several friends who, nearly two years on from my switch to veganism, are still really quite angry about it. Just as I think everyone’s accepted it, you’ll get a sarcastic comment or a mocking glance and realise that some people are still really bothered by it, despite endless attempts to accept it and move on. There are various similarities in their behaviours and attitudes which help explain why certain people are more accepting than others.  What they have in common is that none of them can quite explain what it is that makes them so angry – no amount of logical, well reasoned, well researched arguments can persuade them to at least accept my reasons for making these choices even if it doesn’t affect their way of thinking.  And we keep ending up where we began – fists clenched, brows furrowed, check mate!

So here’s a typical profile of these types of friends – very traditional values, conservative outlook, relatively right wing, very proud of their ‘British’ heritage and way of life, not particularly comfortable with change, risk-averse, quite cynical of anything ‘newfangled’ or ‘progressive’ etc. They’re the ones who are very happy living within their comfort zones and are very wary of anything that lies outside of it.

The problem with this mind set is that it leaves very little room for intelligent debate, personal growth or fundamental change.   Of all the choices I’ve made in my life, nothing has made it more glaringly obvious which friends fall into which camp more unforgivingly than veganism.

So what are the similarities in attitudes towards veganism I’ve noticed amongst these friends:    

– Questions without any real curiosity.  Asking lots of questions which have nothing to do with the question being asked and are meant purely to demonstrate their disapproval of vegan attitudes.  For example, yesterday I was asked whether or not I am careful about where I buy my coconut oil from.  This would ordinarily be an interesting question as it does pose lots of environmental problems, but the problem with this question was that the person asking had no interest in the answer and was purely trying to pick holes in the vegan diet.  So they are already decided that veganism is a nonsense without actually having looked into it in any detail whatsoever.

Ignorance about veganism.  One particularly disapproving friend has a mother who has been vegan/vegetarian for years and admits that she’s never asked her why and she doesn’t actually know what veganism is.  She regularly offers me cows milk, yoghurt, cakes etc and  clearly doesn’t know what a vegan diet includes or excludes at all.  Which only frustrates me because without even knowing what it is she has such feelings about it – which makes no sense at all and hints at the real underlying issue here.  It’s nothing to do with ones choice to eschew all animal products and everything to do with ones decision to live via a different set of principles to the opens you’re been bought up by.

How dare you change your mind!  One friend said to me ‘I just can’t understand how you can have grown up hunting, shooting and fishing and suddenly change your mind’.  Well of course I can – you grow up doing what you’re told and you only know what you experience.  It’s not until you develop your own thoughts about the world that you discover what your values are and of course sometimes these will be different to your parents.  What on earth is the point of having a brain if not to question things, to learn, develop and grow as a person?  That should be the ultimate aim of a parent should it not?  To raise a child who is confident and curious enough to question, thoughtful enough to think, brave enough to explore, courageous enough to change?

– Another newfangled fad?  Another friend recently made a very sarcastic comment, saying ‘Oh sorry, I forgot, now you don’t like hunting – I really must try harder to keep up’.  The implication being that I am someone who chops and changes and is fickle-minded on these matters which is entirely unfair and untrue.  This demonstrates her discomfort with my changing values and she has somehow taken it personally that I no longer feel the way I used to about certain things we used to share.  I think this is at the crux of a lot of this ‘angry reaction’ – people who you have grown up with and with whom you’ve shared so much, find it particularly difficult to accept your changing values.  They feel that you are somehow rejecting the past and disrespecting everything that you once held in such high regard.  Which really isn’t true.  I understand entirely why I felt the way I did – just as I understand entirely why I feel the way I do about things now.  All of my thoughts, views, opinions are shaped by what I’ve seen, learned and experienced.  Nothing more and nothing less than that.  And to suggest that it is anything personal is just total toffee!

So how best to handle these firendships as they struggle to find their feet again on new ground? 

The impossible thing is that you can’t discuss the real issue here because that would involve admitting that it actually has nothing to do with veganism and everything to do with you growing as people in different directions and not knowing what that means for the future of your friendship.  Friendships are built on shared experiences, shared values, understanding and loyalty.  Some will weather many a storm and some will sink.  Perhaps only time will really tell but in the meantime there are several things we can do to try and maintain as strong a foothold as possible:

– Reassure these friends that you are still the same person – you just make slightly different choices when it comes to what you consume now.

Reassure these friends that you really are not judging them.  These are your choices and yours alone and you only arrived at these choices after carrying out a huge amount of research and finding out things that you’d never even suspected.  So why would anyone else feel the same way you did if they hadn’t read/seen/learned what you have?  You certainly don’t expect anyone else to change over night just because you have.  Remind them that you ate exactly what they are eating very happily for 30 odd years (or whatever it was!) so you are in no place to cast judgement on anyone else.

– If they do ask questions, show that you appreciate their curiosity and try to engage with them and answer without being patronising, dismissive or emotional.  Keep it light and if it looks like it’s getting heavy, suggest that you ping them some links to documentaries, books, websites etc that will explain it far better than you can!

– Remember that this is their issue and not yours.  Their anger at your decision to be vegan has nothing to do with the reasons why you’ve decided to be a vegan and everything to do with their struggle to accept that it is nothing personal – it is not an indictment of your friendship or a judgement on them as a person.  Hopefully once they see that you still value their opinion, respect their views and cherish their friendship, they will be able to accept your choices without feeling threatened or judged by them.

– Give it time. The first few times you hang out together are always the hardest.  Once your friends can see that this isn’t a passing fad or some pretentious thing you like the look of but don’t really understand, they will slowly begin to accept it whether they agree with it or not.  The trick is not to let it derail your friendship in the interim!

Who says plants aren’t cool?!

Watch this great little talk about a guerrilla gardener is South Central LA. 

Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where “the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.”

Watch here!

 

The Other Inconvenient Truth: How Agriculture is Changing the Face of Our Planet

This is Jonathan Foley’s Ted Talk – The Other Inconvenient Truth.  The winner of the Environment award, Dr. Foley serves as an important voice on the study of complex environmental systems, and as a pioneer in understanding global ecosystems, land use, and the environmental implications of modern agriculture. His recent work has focused on reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture worldwide while simultaneously feeding a growing population. 

In this lecture, he looks at how we typically think of climate change as the biggest environmental issue we face today. But maybe it’s not? Here he shows how agriculture and land use are maybe a bigger culprit in the global environment, and could grow even larger as we look to feed over 9 billion people in the future.

Watch here!

Portrait: Jon Foley