Is vegan always the answer?
We’ve all seen the headlines. The Instagram posts. The blogs.
The ones that tell us going vegan can help us save the world. That it’s the lowest carbon diet available. That we need to make a change if we really care.
The science seems legit. And it aligns with my values. But somehow the narrative always makes me feel like I’m letting down my fellow eco advocates because I haven’t gone vegan.
For some people, it’s simply not an option. Physically, financially and sometimes even emotionally. But that also doesn’t mean that they don’t care or can’t take action.
I’m one of those people.
My autoimmune disease
In 2011, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) – a debilitating form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Not to be confused with IBS – this disease has led me to be on medication for the past ten years, and given me a compromised immune system resulting in several other diagnoses, as well as an increased risk of hospitalisation and bowel cancer.
But what does this have to do with diet? Or climate change?
Well. My illness is in my gut. Essentially, whenever I eat, my body views it as a threat and triggers an immune response often leaving me unable to absorb any nutrients and resulting in unhealthy weight loss and weakness.
When I first asked my doctor about the impact diet may have on my illness, I was told that there wasn’t enough evidence suggesting that diet could manage let alone alleviate my symptoms. So much so, that I was told the only adaptation to my diet I could make would be to stop eating altogether.
But after one unfortunate week-long stay in hospital following a trip to India, I decided I had to do my own research.
The power of diet
Enter Paleo Diet. The evidence was outstanding. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there, treating their autoimmune conditions with a plethora of anti-inflammatory diets. I read about all of them: Gut And Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP), Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). Believe me, if there was an anti-inflammatory diet out there with an acronym, I knew about it.
Ultimately I landed on trialing a Whole30 which is based on the Paleo principles of eating anti-inflammatory foods so as not to aggravate one’s gut.
Within 6 months, my body had fully adapted. And in the end, I found that a paleo diet helped me to manage my symptoms in a way that greatly improved my quality of life. And sure enough, for years I managed to keep myself in remission and my symptoms at bay through a paleo diet.
And then I became a climate activist. With which comes another boatload of research to make sure I’m informed about issues I want to be able to hold a conversation on. And suddenly, the research was telling me that eating meat was no longer the right choice for me.
Now – firstly – I want to set the record straight. Paleo people don’t rely primarily on meat as people think. But they do eat a small amount of animal protein for most meals – balanced by a load of vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy fats.
Regardless, it was now more protein than I wanted to consume. But I’d trained my body to rely on this complement to my diet and I didn’t want to upset the balance I’d created by introducing grains, legumes and removing animal protein.
So how was I able to alter my footprint?
I decided to find balance. I did the research. And found my happy place.
- Did you know that red meat produces the highest carbon of any protein?
- Did you know that poultry, pork, milk and eggs follow with 84% fewer emissions?
- Did you know that grains, legumes and pulses have the lowest emissions with 96% that of beef?
Well, I didn’t. But slowly and surely, I started making conscious choices about which proteins I was eating and how often I was consuming them.
Goodbye red meat and chicken, hello seafood.
I went from eating fish, chicken and beef in 90% of my meals – to eating fish, eggs and crustaceans 60% of the time. Not only did I still feel healthy and had my illness under control, but I was able to feel good about the choices I was making on behalf of the planet.
At first, my body missed the iron and B12 from the meat. But a daily multivitamin and careful attention to the balance of my veggies and pulses sorted that out. It’s been a year. And I’m fortunate to still be in remission. So I’d say I’m pretty lucky.
But I took it slow. I listened to my body. And you’re damn well sure I ate chicken once or twice in that year when I felt my body needed it.
So here’s a few easy choices you can make each day to help minimise the impact of your diet
You can reduce your emissions by:
- 88% every time you choose chicken over beef
- 64% every time you substitute veggies for chicken or fish
- 67% when choosing fish over crustaceans (ie shrimp)
This isn’t all or nothing. And you don’t have to do it every meal. But if you make just one of these substitutions a day, you’re going to immediately reduce your impact by at least 10%. So make the choices that work for you.
And remember: don’t try to be perfect, just make conscious choices.
It’s ok if you have meat once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up. Listen to your body. Do what’s right 90% of the time. Take baby steps. I assure you, those mindful actions you’re taking the majority of the time are adding up. And they are making a difference.
|Please note: I am a firm believer that every person’s body is different and everyone needs to find the right diet and exercise for their own bodies, in consultation with their medical professionals. If you’d like to experiment with diet, do the research and test out what works for your body. It’s not one size fits all. This blog is proof of that.