Published on 01 November 2018
Thursday is World Vegan Day and University of Sunderland academic Dr Alex Lockwood is keen to convert you.
Here he outlines the reasons why he decided to change his diet and just how the move has revolutionised his life.
“I turned vegan nine years ago—or thereabouts. It isn’t an anniversary I have in my diary. But World Vegan Day on November 1st is as good a day as any to mark the celebration.
The fact the day I went vegan isn’t in my diary is important. Adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle can be gradual, filled with experiments: achievements and failures. So sometimes it isn’t a day. Sometimes it’s a process.
Like most of us, I’d grown up with animals as pets - or, as I prefer the term now, companion animals. They were the characters in my children’s books; they were the cuddly toys in my bed.
I didn’t know the links between animals and the food I ate. Everyone around me told me that eating animals was natural, normal, and necessary. And, of course, for the taste buds, often nice.
But as an adult I understand that eating other animals, and exploiting sentient beings for entertainment or clothing, just isn’t part of who I am. Millions of others are realising the same. Whether it be for environmental reasons: a plant-based diet is the single biggest impact you can have in reversing climate breakdown; or health benefits: the longest living communities around the world eat the least animal products; or for a respect for the animals themselves, veganism has become mainstream. It’s even had its own week on Great British Bake Off.
Being vegan for nine years now, and researching veganism as part of my job at the University of Sunderland, I’ve discovered a number of less well known reasons to practice veganism.
Having done dozens of talks at vegan festivals, book events and given university lectures, I know different reasons resonate with different people. What means something to me, may not mean the same to you. But there may just be a small seed that connects with your values—maybe to adopt a vegan lifestyle, or maybe just to have a bit less meat in your diet.
So on World Vegan Day, celebrating my nine years with some vegan vanilla and passionfruit cupcakes from Supernatural café on Grainger Street in Newcastle, here’s my nine unexpected reasons for why I’m vegan—and why you should be too.
It’s improved my mental health
One in six people will report a common mental health problem every week. I’ve often felt anxiety and stress, particularly at work. As a lecturer, I’ve see a huge increase in mental health stresses amongst my students, too. Vegan foods such as plants, nuts, grains and vegetables have been found, in a meta-analysis of 41 studies on the topic, have been found to fight depression. If you want to be happy, the studies say, avoid meat and dairy.
It’s made me kinder to other people
Veganism is not only a diet that changes from animal to plant-based foods. It’s about making choices based on compassion for others. And that’s good news, because the more compassionate we behave in one area of life, the more compassionate we can become in all areas of our life. A new study, released just this year from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, suggests that as little as two weeks of compassion meditation training—intentionally cultivating positive wishes to understand and relieve the suffering of others—may reduce the distress a person feels when witnessing another's suffering.
It helps me do my duty to people less well off
It’s often said that veganism is a middle class thing, too expensive for people on low wages, and without the skills to cook fancy meals. That’s only partly true—as the famous working class chef Jack Monroe has shown, you can follow a vegan diet more cheaply than a meat-based diet, although she also insists that, yes, veganism can be a privilege for some. But look outside our borders and see the global good that a vegan diet has for people in countries far less wealthy than ours. A vast amount of global crops are grown to feed animals that people in poor countries cannot afford; it’s made for us, in rich Western countries. And this is while a billion people go hungry every day. So if you care about child hunger and want to help feed the world, eat less meat.
It helps me create a healthier workplace
Being vegan means that at work I can have a big impact on the amount of healthy foods available for my fellow staff and students. Because veganism is protected as a belief under 2012 Workplace Legislation and the Equality Act 2010, I can ask for—and get—healthy vegan food on the menus much more easily than you’d think. This usually knocks one of the unhealthier meals off the menu. So if your canteen is purely pie and chips, go vegan and use the law to get some veg on the plate!
I have better climate karma
As Aussie good guy and physical trainer James Aspey says, “eating animals is bad karma”. Have I won the lottery since going vegan? No. But when my nephews, nieces and the children of friends ask me why I’m not eating meat at the summer BBQ, I can look them in the eye and tell them it’s because I love them and want to protect their future. Knowing that animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate breakdown, how could I not be vegan?
I have less nightmares
Do vegans sleep better? Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that people who eat the widest variety of foods, high in carbs and low in fats, and with a good range of nutrition often found in leafy greens, nuts and pulses, really did have the healthiest sleep patterns. I know my sleep is best when I’m eating healthily—and that goes beyond just cutting out the caffeine.
It makes me more attractive
Don’t take my word for it. Ask the researchers at Australia’s Macquarie University why my healthy glow and sweeter smelling sweat has crowds following me all over town. (Okay, not ‘crowds’.)
I can study better
In my job it’s important I can focus concentration for long periods of time and think deeply about social issues. And apparently, I can do that better on a plant-based diet than I can if I am eating a standard omnivore diet. And good nutrition aids good mental health. A number of studies suggest that vegans suffer less stress and anxiety than meat and dairy-eaters, with all the mood benefits that entails.
Being vegan does mean I get better nutrients
And that’s because when you think carefully about your diet, you tend to have a better diet overall. Of course, you can still be vegan and unhealthy. But it’s very likely, as researchers have found, that if you start to ask questions such as “Where does my B12 come from?” you’re more likely to get that B12 in your diet than if you never ask, and just rely on what you’re being fed by others.