Once in a while, Perdeby, sends their journalists to experience something truly different and outside of their comfort zone. This month, Shaun Sproule became Vegan for a month.
Every year around the Lent period, I give up something I really like in memory of my grandparents. Usually it’s something small, like sweets or bread, but this year I decided I would do something much more difficult and get an article out of it along the way. Little did I know it would be a bit more than that.
I have never understood vegans. Why do they have to rub it in everyone’s noses and why is it such a big deal. I mean bacon! So, I decided I would not only become a vegan for a little over a month, I would also try to learn as much about veganism as possible.
The day before Lent started (on 14 February), I organised to go with a group of friends to a popular all-you-can-eat sushi bar where I ate more than my moneys worth of fashion sandwiches, fried dumplings and prawn spring rolls. The next morning was my first day and I had all my meals planned and prepped. I had done quite a bit of research before the change to make sure I got enough protein in my diet.
Sadly, the abrupt change to my diet made me quite sick for the first few days, but I pushed through and came out unscathed. Now the hard times started, and I began to understand the struggles a vegan has to face on the daily.
First off, I eat on campus every day. A sandwich or a pie and a cooldrink is usually what I have for lunch, but when pressed to find foods without any animal products in, I really struggled. Apart from chips from the various food vendors on campus, there is nothing to eat without confusing the kitchen staff with ingredients that I can’t have. I even made friends with some of the kitchen staff at my favourite campus restaurants who kindly allow me to look at the ingredients in some of their products. I got used to reading every label before putting something in my mouth and I made many mistakes by eating things I would never have thought contain animal products. Eventually I gave up and started bringing my own chickpea salads or beans and rice to campus.
People were curious about the experience, and the same questions and comments came up all the time. Friends would often make excuses for why they wouldn’t become vegan as well. “I need my protein, what about the gym gains”, “I would become vegan if I could only afford it”, “But bacon and steak, how could you live without it?” and “Don’t you just want to go and eat meat sometimes”. Eventually I could answer all these questions, they were questions and comments I had thought before as well.
My response to these questions now that I have been there: there are many other ways to get protein, you really don’t have to eat meat; if you make your own food instead of buying meat imitation products, being vegan can actually be cheaper; bacon and steak are good, but to be honest, I have always preferred mushrooms, brinjal and broccoli more than the meat on my plate; and yes, I always wanted to eat meat and I have to admit that I cheated once or twice.
Many people were worried about the effects to my body that such a wild change would have. I did do some research and stocked up on strange beans, a variety of nuts and seeds and went hunting for obscure vegetables to make up for the lost nutrients. I did a test at my gym at the start and end of my experience to see what these effects would be. In total, I lost seven kilograms over the duration of the experience. A lot of this was fat, but there was some muscle that I lost. I don’t think that it is anything to worry about though. My metabolic age (whatever that means) went down by three years and my overall health score out of 100 improved by just under ten points. This was all according to a test, I’m not sure what all these mean, but I’m sure the changes are for the better.
Given all of this, I also found myself telling people more and more about me being a vegan, as you do when you’re a vegan. I understand why now too. Firstly, if you don’t constantly remind people, you are given foods that you can’t eat and it feels like such a shame letting it go to waste. So, I tried to make sure that when someone made me a coffee or gave me a bite of their lunch, they wouldn’t accidentally give me something with milk or eggs. But secondly, the things I learned while being vegan really opened my eyes to what I was putting into my body and where these foods have come from. I don’t want to be too pushy in this piece, but meat is an alarming product that I feel more people need to look into. For example, I have gone my whole life without knowing that livestock agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change, that the damage done to the environment from the by-products of animal agriculture has created large dead zones in the world’s oceans and that the chemicals and antibiotics given to these animals can really damage our bodies. Branching from this I learned about how animals are treated before they end up as that delicious chicken stew or juicy rump steak on you plate. Did you know cows have best friends? Google it.
I learned a lot through the experience and I have since decided that I will stay a lenient vegan. Lenient simply because it is unrealistic to eat at a restaurant and have a purely vegan meal. Other than such times when I have no choice to eat cheese or some other mild animal product (or when I need to have a sneaky cheat day) I will try to be as vegan as I can, and proud of it.
Photo: Shaun Sproule