I am 33 years old, 80% vegan, and not trying to be cool or hipster. Veganism still seems widely misunderstood even though interest and awareness in ‘veganism’ increased sevenfold in the five years between 2014 and 2019, according to Google trends.
The reaction I get when people discover my dietary requirements says it all.
Me: “Do you have any vegan options?”
Waiter: “You want vegan?” — queue sarcastic laugh and Mr. Bean facial expressions.
Yeah, I eat vegan 80% of the time and wouldn’t be surprised if that becomes a full-time diet very soon. My reasons have nothing to do with climate change or animal cruelty or trying to be cool or to follow the latest Instagram Trend.
I embraced veganism for a different reason. Let me explain why (no preaching I promise!), as it might be helpful when thinking about veganism and even the food you choose to eat.
It all started in 2014. I attended a personal development seminar because my life was a mess. Upon arrival at the venue that would hold more than five thousand people, I nearly bailed and took the plane back home.
The first half of the day was terrible and involved lots of music and jumping around. By night time, there was a requirement to ‘walk on fire’ and I agreed and did the preparation, while never intending on actually following through and exiting through the side door that led out onto a courtyard that I’d discovered and marked as my escape route during lunchtime.
It got to 9 pm (we’d been going since 9 am) and it was nearly time to walk on fire. For a little boy living in an adult’s body that was terrified of fire, due to an incident with a stove as a kid, there were a lot of mind games going on. Thankfully a fellow Aussie at the event who also worked in finance took my mind off it.
We decided like World War 2 soldiers that we were going to walk together and go at the same time. As we got closer to the front of the line and the giant man in front of us — that led us to do something so crazy — got closer, the anxiety was crippling. There were paramedics standing next to the scene of the carnage, which only made the fear worse.
If that wasn’t bad enough, one of the dudes shoveling hot coals announced he was putting a fresh batch on that were extra hot. Our time was up!
“5–4–3–2–1” the crew member said loudly over a megaphone.
We both walked across the burning hot coals.
Once on the other side, we rejoiced like cheerleaders out of high school musical. As we both looked at the bottom of our bare-feet, the burn marks were visible. That was day one.
On day four of this grueling seminar, it was time to talk about diet. Naively, I assumed I knew everything already about food and had already concocted a plan to leave early and take a flight that left soon, back to Melbourne. The original intention was to stay for an hour, ensure there were no other non-diet related topics and sail off into the sunset. Life changed? Tick!
It was all great until the key speaker began to torment us with the idea of having more energy. As a young millennial with a Santa List full of goals a mile long, he got my attention and that was all it took. The first exercise we completed was a food test. We had to list down everything we had eaten in the last twenty-four hours and put each item in either the alkaline or acid category. I wrote down my list and about 80% of the items turned out to be in the acid category.
We were then taught what it meant to have more than 50% of what you eat in the acid category. Basically, it was a fate worse than death. Actually, sorry, it was exactly that: early death.
The idea of having more energy tormented me and there was no longer a desire to leave the seminar and fly home.
As the minutes turned into hours, we sat there and watched the big screen with images of pig farms, cows being mistreated, and people dying from food-related diseases. The speaker fired arguments at us for not eating meat like a machine gun, directly into our innocent, sweet, little faces.
By the end of it all, the torture worked. From that day on I became vegetarian and ate seafood occasionally (please don’t call me a pescatarian as it makes me sound and feel like a pest).
It wasn’t just the seminar, though — that would be giving you half the story. For many years prior, I was battling mental illness and that led me to a bit of an Oprah Health Revolution.
Feeling ill from a sick mind makes you search the web every night looking for answers. Every bit of information becomes a piece of evidence in the case against your mind. As well as the mental challenges, alcoholism had entered my life. My drinking was out of control and so were my actions, including jumping in front of cars doing 40 Kmph one night outside a nightclub.
In Australia, alcohol is a currency and a display of your Aussieness.
When you say no to a beer, people think there is something wrong with you. “Are you sure you are okay darling” they joke. Then there are the innocent people who continually forget and keep asking you if you needed another beer. Your glass being empty from alcohol is like a sign of table manners. No one wants to be the person that forgot to fill up your beer. Not even God can help that poor person.
Needless to say, the alcohol hurt my liver and mental illness hurt my mind to the point where it felt beyond repair, even with drugs. It was exhausting and tiring. In 2015, I went to see my doctor and complained of stomach pains. He told me I was fine and recommended a few vitamins to take. It seemed like great advice and so I did my best and ignored it. The symptoms continued until my girlfriend, at the time, held me to ransom and forced me to see her family’s doctor who was a hero in their eyes for finding her dad’s cancer.
I rolled up to the docs office, ego in hand, and told my story.
“So what you got for me doc? Pills perhaps?” I said in a smart-ass tone.
“As a precaution, it’s probably nothing as your last doctor said, but I’d like you to scoot down to the hospital and have a few tests. Just precautionary.”
The quote came in for the tests and it was going to creep into the thousands of dollars. My mind told me I was being scammed and my body told me to do it. For once in my life, I listened to my body and got the tests done.
After waking up in the hospital from being put to sleep by the anesthetist, the results, or should I say, the photos were in. The doctor handed the photo to me.
“We found a lump the size of a golf ball in your guts. It has been there for about two years and only a short time away from turning cancerous. You’re one of the lucky ones.”
My life was forever changed that day and my diet was now going to become a huge focus — probably for the rest of my life.
Veganism was always hiding in every corner of my life. First it was my mentor from the huge American Software giant that was vegan and made out like it was no big deal at restaurants and couldn’t be talked out of it, let alone embarrassed by his decision. His wife and three kids all did it and they don’t worship trees or care about animals.
Then my former boss and friend announced proudly, “I’m doing a marathon in my 40’s” followed in the same breath by “And becoming vegan.”
He was always the one at client functions eating steak and finding my vegetarianism weird, and even defending my choice in front of clients so it wouldn’t sabotage a sales opportunity in front of our clients that would visit from Asia, who we’d seek to impress with Wagyu steak as a status symbol for yet more Aussieness and a glimpse into our super relaxed lifestyle.
A new job then found its way into my life. On day one I noticed the receptionist drinking Berocca poison tablets.
“Why you drinking that rat poison?”
“Low on energy.”
A few weeks later she proudly told me that our conversation led her to the rabbit hole of google. She explained she was becoming vegan and had a documentary recommendation for me. We barely knew each other.
She asked me to watch “The Game Changers.” One night, my girlfriend and I did watch it and it was a very interesting movie.
Trying out veganism
My girlfriend is the least likely person I have ever met to become vegan. She loves meat the way cowboys love guns. After reading a book called “The China Study,” she changed her mind. She began cooking vegan food and as a hopeless chef myself, I ate it and shut my mouth.
As part of the change, we also began taking B12 vitamins as suggested by so many people. I expected the food to be hard to eat and the diet to be even more limiting than the vegetarian one I’d been following for five years. A vegan diet wasn’t limiting at all. The food tasted just as good and we even had nachos that were better than the real deal right out of Mexico.
Once the diet was implemented, we both decided to go 80% and have 1–2 days a week where we would eat vegetarian with a touch of dairy. We’ve been at it a while now and the results are pleasantly surprising.
Eating vegan makes me feel energetic
That has been the best part. I’m not here to save the animals or reverse climate change with my diet choices.
Selfishly as it may sound, all I wanted was a bit more energy. I wanted to wake up and be less tired. I wanted to know what it was like not to be so tired in the afternoons. I wanted to experience energy again to experience life in a new way.
Veganism so far has been the one experiment that has brought me closest to that dream.
A reason to need more energy
What I learned in the process is you need a compelling reason to crave more energy in your life. For me, it was to write more.
The one thing that holds me back from writing more is the game of energy levels. Finding a way to have more energy means getting to write more and that dream drives all of my eating options and keeps me, most of the time, from doing something stupid and binge eating a block of cheese with crackers like a crack addict on the side of the road.
Knocking veganism is immature and ignorant
That’s the truth. There is so much hate on the internet about veganism. There is an assumption that people who experiment with or adopt a vegan lifestyle are some sort of trailer park hippies that want to save the planet and shove climate change brochures down your mouth until you vomit.
Acting like veganism is stupid is both immature and ignorant.
There is now more and more evidence that plant-based diets can prevent and even cure common diseases. We all have our own reasons for eating what we do and all I am saying is have an open mind.
Open-mindedness will get you further than being a critic who refuses to listen to anything but the sound of their own voice.
There you have it folks. It has been one hell of a ride so far and many lessons have been learned from the art of being an 80% vegan. Let’s summarize the key takeaways before I go drink my overpriced green juice and fist bump the next person to buy a vegan protein ball.
Veganism doesn’t have to be about climate change, saving the lives of animals, or being cool in front of your friends by selecting the vegan option at a cafe.
Eating a plant-based diet can help unlock new levels of energy, and that is the best reason I have found not to ignore the huge shift in thinking that both humans and the food industry are going through right now.