On the 25th of January 2016 I did something that would change my life forever. I became vegan. This decision was not based off some moral or profound inclination to save the animals. Nor was it to be more environmentally friendly. It was not even a choice I made because I wanted to be healthier. On the contrary, I actually believed vegans were incredibly unhealthy. No. My reason for becoming vegan was purely for fun and out of sheer curiosity. I wanted to see how people in my life would respond to it and to feel what it was like. For a very long time before this lifestyle change I looked at vegans and thought, “What even are you? Why do you do this? Why!? Meat is delicious. Bacon is life. And cheese is everything. What are you trying to achieve here?” I was so baffled by vegans yet so intrigued. I wanted to study them, to understand them, I wanted to get inside the mind of a vegan and understand why they did what they did. Why did they not eat meat!? Fried chicken is delicious goddammit!!
I figured the only way I would get the most accurate and in depth understanding of vegans was to become one. I thought of being vegan for only one month but could tell I wouldn’t get the full vegan experience in 31 days. It would be too short and I would only experience a fraction of what it would be like to be vegan. Additionally, the full effect the lifestyle has on one’s body would not be felt in just one month. So I went big, because I didn’t want to go home. I thought a year is long enough. That way I can fully be faced with the pros and cons of what it’s like to be vegan socially, emotionally, and physically.
My initial plan was to become vegan on the 1st of January 2016 but truthfully, I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for it. During the first few days of 2016 I kept talking myself in and out of doing it making excuses like, “It’s not natural” or “It’s unhealthy” or “But what about yogurt and sushi? I can’t live without those. I eat yogurt every day for breakfast.” Then, one afternoon after school, I was watching videos on YouTube and found one on Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube channel by the guys from The Happy Pear and they were making a vegan and sugar free cheesecake. I watched it and I thought it was the most interesting video I had ever watched in my life. How they could turn a dessert made out of all the dairy and gelatin in the world into that same dessert but without any animal products whatsoever? I was shook. So I went on their channel and watched more of their videos and in one of them they mentioned coconut yogurt. Once I discovered that there is a vegan alternative to yogurt I had no mitigating reason not to go vegan. That was the day, January 25th 2016, I decided I was going to be vegan for a year.
The first few months were great. I was having the time of my life. During those months I lost tonnes of weight, I had more energy, more stamina, and I generally felt better. I won’t lie though, I had cravings for meat. Oddly enough I was desperately craving KFC which is weird because before I became vegan I never liked KFC. In fact, I hated it. Nevertheless, I had an insatiable craving for it. At that time I promised myself that as soon as the year was over my first meal post vegan was going to be a full meal from KFC. Now that the time has come, I will not be feasting on some dunked wings as I have no desire to because vegan food is tasty as *swearword*.
In the beginning I thought being vegan meant not eating any meat or animal byproduct and that was it. Done. You’re vegan. Then I educated myself by watching the first of The Holy Trinity of Documentaries That Will Make You Go Vegan, Earthlings. After watching it I found that veganism is actually a lifestyle that entails boycotting the use or suffering of animals not only in food consumption but in all aspects of life including, fashion and cosmetics. That meant not buying clothing, shoes, and accessories made out of leather, suede, silk, wool, or cashmere. It also meant not buying any cosmetics that were tested on animals. This meant if the product did not directly state that it was not tested on animals, I couldn’t buy it. That meant goodbye to Dove antiperspirant, Nivea body lotion, and Colgate toothpaste. I realised that for the first couple of months of the experiment I was not actually vegan, I was only plant-based meaning I was not eating any animal products but I was still exploiting animals in the clothes and beauty products I bought. Because, you see, being vegan is a lifestyle, but not eating animals i.e. being plant-based is just a diet.
After that great realisation I realised, “Oh shit, being vegan is not a joke. This shit is real! I gotta step up my game!” As a result, I ditched all my cosmetics by using them all up and only buying cruelty free soaps, lotions etc. For the longest time I couldn’t find cruelty free deodorant or toothpaste. That being the case, I had to make my own. They worked but were honestly quite a nuisance. The deodorant irritated my skin and the toothpaste was just annoying to use because it came from a jar and was a different consistency to the commercial toothpaste I was used to. I finally found a cruelty free toothpaste at about the 5th month mark but only found a deodorant in November. However, I discontinued use of the homemade deodorant months before and basically went full hippy and applied a mixture of tea tree and coconut oil under my arms. It seems the oils got the job done because I never received any complaints on my body odor. Unless of course, the people in my life are just too polite or awkward to say anything. If it’s the latter then… well… it’s life.
Since my mission was to find out why vegans are vegan I watched the other two documentaries of The Holy Trinity of Documentaries That Will Make You Vegan; Cowspiracy and Forks Over Knives which explained the environmental and health consequences of the meat industry respectively. After watching those documentaries in about the first 4 months of the journey I understood why vegans exist. I could’ve ended the experiment there because I understood what I wanted to understand but I wanted to go deeper. I wanted to know what it would do to my body. How the world around me would respond. I wanted to live the life vegans live because I knew for a fact that it’s completely different to a meat eater’s life. And that’s exactly what I did.
Socially, being vegan was surprisingly fun. People were so incredibly intrigued and fascinated by it and would ask loads of questions. I never really received any negativity from anyone telling me how bad or stupid it was to be vegan. Literally everyone who found out about it was generally supportive and incredibly interested. Of course I got made fun of but never in a malicious manner. It was friendly banter. People made jokes and asked stupid questions but I never took offence because nobody was being serious and nobody said anything with the direct intent to hurt my feelings. The one thing I absolutely loved and thought so endearing and sweet was when someone would forget my diet and offer me a piece of chocolate or whatever food containing animal products and naturally, I would reject the offer. Then there would be a pause and their eyes would widen as they remember why I said no to which they would loudly respond “Oh yeah!! You’re vegan. I’m so sorry!! I totally forgot.” And I loved that. I found the apology so sweet because it was never their fault but for some or another reason they would feel guilty for offering it to me and feel guilty for eating it in front of me as if it brought me tremendous pain or suffering but 99% of the time I couldn’t be bothered.
Whenever I was invited to an event or party someone was hosting they would be so accommodating and would always prepare something special for me. I greatly appreciated the gesture because I never expected anyone to care and provide for me like that. In the beginning I thought the social aspect of being vegan would be the hardest. I thought I would receive a lot of hate and opposition because on the internet I found vegans to be one of the least liked people out there which is true, we’re not liked on the internet. But I found that most vegans bashed on online are never trying to offend anybody or make people feel bad at all. It will be a meat eater who will do the terrorizing by commenting “bacon” on a picture of a smoothie bowl with the caption describing how dope it is to eat a plant based diet. There are of course vegans out there being utter pricks and enormously preachy but those ones are definitely the minority. Most vegans are trying to be as polite and as politically correct as possible because of the stereotype that vegans are preachy assholes. In reality however, they are one of the most positive people on the internet.
While all my friends and family were supportive, going to restaurants would constantly prove to be troublesome. In Namibia 99% of restaurants do not have vegan options on their menus. (I am not including salad, roasted/boiled veggies, or chips as meal options as they are sides) This makes things rather difficult when trying to find something to eat because even though they have a vegetarian option or two you can’t exactly veganise it. What’s a creamy mushroom pasta dish without the cream? And if you remove cheese from a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich well then, what do you have left? Sadness. That’s what.
Of course it’s not all bad. What I often did was order a vegetarian pizza without the cheese but with extra toppings like avocado and mushrooms and I would end up with a pretty tasty meal. There are a couple of restaurants in Namibia that have legitimate vegan options and they are highly appreciated. But that’s maybe one or two meals on the entire menu which doesn’t leave you much variety to choose from. The biggest problem with being vegan and eating out is by far the lack of variety and options you have available to you. I do feel, however, that this is a problem characteristic of a small underdeveloped country like Namibia. Our population is just not large enough to accommodate many specific niche lifestyles. In a bigger city like Cape Town I did not have that problem as much as there is a substantial amount of vegan restaurants and vegan options to choose from in the big city.
For the most part physically, I was having the time of my life. Like I said for the first few months my body was looking and feeling better and better each day. It took me a very long time before I experienced any negative side effect of going vegan. I was losing a lot of weight naturally just by cutting out the calorie dense dairy, eggs, and meat which was great because I had gained about 8kg when I went to Germany at the end of 2014 and although I had lost some of it in 2015 I lost most of that weight in the first 6 months of being vegan. This was all weight loss caused exclusively by diet because I’m not gonna lie, I’m lazy and I don’t work out. However, when I randomly decided to go jogging one day, I noticed an improvement in my stamina. I had more energy and could jog for a longer period of time before getting tired. That discovery completely blew my mind. It’s honestly incredible what happens when you start putting healthy ingredients into your body. In addition, eating cleaner was a major contributor to my weight loss. Most junk, fast, and processed food is not vegan so I couldn’t easily eat that milk chocolate or those gummy bears or that cupcake which obviously contributed to the weight loss.
In the Laws of Being Vegan (that I just made up) there’s fine print at the bottom of the terms and conditions page that one often overlooks in a state of arrogance because clearly vegans are superior human beings because they eat kale salad and love animals. This means they can never get sick and are the picture of health. In addition, they most definitely do not need to take supplements of any kind unlike meat eating folk with their shelves and shelves of medication and supplements at Clicks and Dis-Chem. Let me tell you something, if you’re thinking this as a vegan, you’re wrong, son! Unless you pay strict attention to what you eat every single day of your life with the use of nutrient tracking apps like CRON-O-Meter, you cannot live without at least one supplement, namely vitamin B12 because that’s the only vitamin you cannot naturally find in any plant-based food. Nonetheless, as the stubborn stupid, curious person I am I thought I’d take this crazy experiment one step further by promising not to take any supplements or medication for any ailment or problem for the duration of the year. That did not work.
It was not till the 7th month mark that I experienced the possible unpleasantries that come with being vegan. I remember it was after my matric farewell, otherwise known as prom, when I had removed all the make up, acrylic nails, and weave and I saw the state my hair skin and nails were in. My skin was so dry it itched. My arms and legs were perpetually ashy no matter the amount of body lotion I used. My nails were incredibly brittle and could break with a single touch. If I had a dollar for every time a nail of mine broke during this period of time I would be able to buy myself a pack of gum, which doesn’t sound like much, but if you consider the price of chewing gum and consider the amount of times a healthy nail breaks on average per month, it’s a fuck load. Luckily for most of this dark time my hair was in a weave so it was mostly protected but my scalp was dry, flaky and itchy. Now, I’m only slightly exaggerating the extent of my problems but it’s only to emphasize my point: my body was not in a good state. The pathetic state of my body at that time was mostly caused by diet but was also heavily influenced by environmental and personal factors.
Firstly, yes, my diet was lacking in essential nutrients, namely, essential fatty acids. Something I’ve learnt since being vegan is that if you do not pay ultimate close attention to what you eat you can very easily not meet the daily requirements for a certain nutrient. I stopped adding seeds to my smoothies and would not use much oil in my daily cooking. I would eat avocado but not often enough and not quantitatively enough to be meeting my fatty acid requirements hence the brittle hair and nails and the unbelievably dry skin. Secondly, a large contributor to my dry skin was the skin products I was using. My body lotion was inefficient in moisturising my skin. As soon as I switched out my body lotion for a thicker and more heavy cream my skin had no problems. My skin usually does become drier in the winter months but in 2016 it was 10 times worse than usual because of diet and the inadequate skin care products.
I then realised that it is difficult to live a healthy balanced vegan life without some extra help in the form of a multivitamin. But honestly the only vitamin supplement you need is B12. So to any newbie vegans or people considering this lifestyle please buy vitamin B12 pills and please don’t forget to eat your healthy fats.
Since I discovered where I went wrong I swiftly corrected my mistake and downloaded an app that helps me track my daily nutrient intake. About 6 weeks later my body was in tip top shape once again. Another thing vegans with a superiority complex should learn is that sometimes its good to take medication. Although I told myself I wouldn’t take supplements or medication last year, by October I found myself taking a little vitamin B complex pill every couple of weeks. Then I had surgery on my jaw in December and said “fuck it!” to my rule of no medication and took my antibiotics in obedience to the doctor’s orders. While in hospital I couldn’t exactly stop the nurses from putting me on a drip and injecting me with morphine because,well, I couldn’t speak and also they made me feel really really good. I researched ways to heal injuries sustained from jaw surgery quickly and found that protein and sleep would do the trick. After that I bought vegan protein powder and went to bed earlier. I would drink a little protein shake every day and found myself healing relatively quickly. Now that I am fully healed I still have a protein drink every couple of days because I generally feel and look better when I have a little extra protein from time to time.
I came into this challenge thinking vegans were stupid. Thinking that caring for cows and chickens was stupid. Thinking that not eating meat was stupid. Thinking that being vegan was unhealthy. Thinking vegans were self righteous assholes. Thinking being vegan is difficult and unnecessary. Thinking that being vegan sucks. I came into this challenge an ignorant fool. After being vegan for 365 days I have come to the conclusion that vegans are not dumb, caring about animals is a sign of compassion and love, not eating meat equals decreasing your risk of acquiring gout, cancer, and heart disease, a plant-based diet is one of the healthiest diets in the world, being vegan is easy and difficult and it definitely is necessary (watch Cowspiracy), and that vegans are just regular guys trying to take care of their bodies and the environment in the most humane way possible. I come out of this challenge educated, healthy, happy, and determined to live a vegan or at least mostly plant-based life indefinitely because I don’t want to say forever, because commitment scares me and you can never know with life, it likes throwing citrus fruit at you.