Updated: Apr 11
Challenge yourself to 30 days of veganism! No animal protein just pure plants, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Veganism! Isn’t that a fanatical cult – like Scientology and Freemasonry? No, it isn’t. But don’t vegans wear hemp clothing, cotton sandals and lurk in the shadows of damp caves? Not all of them. Well don’t they roam the streets bare-footed begging for alms? Only when times are hard. Listen, let me just dispel a couple of myths right now. Veganism isn’t a form of religious fundamentalism, nor is it a clandestine group of anti-capitalistic, militant socialists conspiring to bring down the ‘system’ – and not all vegans are hippies!
Vegans are actually a peaceable bunch (and that’s not because, like Koala bears, they derive insufficient energy from their nutrient deficient diet, and so can be anything but peaceable) who care passionately for three things: 1) their health – meat consumption is irrefutably linked to diminished health, though we’ll come to that shortly; 2) animal welfare – contrary to the theories of Rene Descartes and those with vested interests in the animal butchery industry, animals DO feel pain and killing them for their flesh is immoral; 3) the environment – yes, the rumours are true, cows and other livestock collectively contribute more ozone-depleting, air-polluting, environmentally-damaging gasses than all automotive transportation combined.
Ok, ok, you’ve told me what a vegan isn’t and what they’re passionate about – which is all very good by the way. But I’m still none the wise about what a vegan is. A vegan, quite simply, is someone who chooses not to consume any food that is derived from an animal – meaning no eggs, milk, cheese, chicken, fish, pork, lamb or beef. What in the hell do they eat then – dust? Vegans enjoy a varied and diverse diet comprised of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds. Sounds boring and tasteless! It is, if you’re bereft of imagination.
Though, in all seriousness, irrespective of the many, many, positives attributed to the vegan diet, it is still considered by many as extreme. Dr. Cladwell B. Esselystyn, probably the foremost authority on cardiovascular health, says, ‘Some people think the ‘plant based whole foods diet’ is extreme. Half a million a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn into their coronary artery. Some people would call that extreme.’ It is somewhat ironical that a health promoting diet, the benefits of which were expounded by a Greek who lived over 2500 years ago, is viewed with incredulity and scepticism – in some circles outright abhorrence. Yet the disastrous state of Western health (to which Dr Esselystyn was alluding), the millions dying each year of wholly preventable dietary related diseases, the disgusting abuses to animals and the natural world, all of this is not only not considered as extreme but the norm!
The link between CHD, Type-2 diabetes, many cancers and osteoarthritis have all been directly linked to the consumption of animal foods. The death knell in this debate has long since sounded. What remains is nasty corporate and agribusiness propaganda which aims to daze and confuse the distracted multitude – and they are succeeding, spectacularly so. Sadly, the older generation, indoctrinated into primitive dietary practices, dogmatically inculcate these pernicious practices into the new generation with fervent fanaticism.
I remember when I first told my parents that I was taking the next step from vegetarianism to a vegan diet. They were shocked and appalled. Mum scoffed, ‘But Adam, you’ll starve to death!’ Dad couldn’t bear to look me in the eyes. I later discovered that dad had been telling his chums down the local boozer that his son had chosen to become a ‘vagrant’. Clearly it’s more preferable to have a son who is a homeless bum than a vegetable eating, meat abstaining hippy! I tried to smooth things over by pointing out that I would only be doing it for 30 days but to no avail.
I’m not going to attempt a detailed, citation-riddled discussion on the negative impacts of animal foods on human health. What would be the point? Today we have at our disposal more knowledge on diet and disease than at any other point in human history; and as each day goes by the edifice of information gets ever bigger. Yet, paradoxically, we have never been in such a grave state of ill-health. I don’t mean to get nihilistic here but, the majority of people quite simply don’t give a shit. If, however, you do not comprise part of that majority, I have here compiled a list of excellent books which will adequately induct you into the world of health and nutrition. The list includes:
How Not to Die
The China Study
The Starch Solution
Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program For Reversing Heart Disease
Veganism and the Environment
I’ve chosen not to expatiate on the detrimental impacts animal-agribusiness has on the natural ecology and the environment. Why? Well, apart from the fact that I’ve waffled on long enough as is, and there’s still quite a bit to go, who am I to talk about such things? I’m not an environmental research scientist, ecologist or climatologist. I have no degree or qualifications that qualify me to talk about such things. Recognising my intellectual inadequacies and absent subject specialism, I have instead quoted a number of eminent scientist, researches and journalists. I implore the reader to find for themselves these publications and get thoroughly acquainted with what our species is doing to the only home we’ll ever know.
The globalization of agriculture systems over recent decades is likely to have been one of the most important causes of overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions (Klein 2014).
The MEA [Millennium Ecosystem Assessment] report noted that 60 percent of the world’s ecosystems have now been degraded; more land was converted to agriculture since 1945 than the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries combined; between 10 and 30 percent of the mammal, bird, and amphibian species on earth are currently threatened with extinction (Friedman 2008).
Forest clearing for new pastureland is a major source of deforestation. In Latin America, 70 percent of former Amazon rainforests has been given over to grazing. As the “lungs of the Earth,” these forests are vital to removing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere (McDougal 2016).
The most startling revelation in the report, however, is the number of fish on which humans inflict these deaths. By using the reported tonnages of the various species of fish caught, and dividing by the estimated average weight for each species, Alison Mood, the report’s author, has put together what may well be the first-ever systematic estimate of the size of the annual global capture of wild fish. It is, she calculates, in the order of one trillion, although it could be as high as 2.7 trillion.
To put this in perspective, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 60 billion vertebrate land animals are killed each year for human consumption – the equivelant of about nine animals for each human being on the planet (Ethics in the Real World, Peter Singer).
(I strongly urge the reader to seek out Singer’s essays A Case for Veganism and Consider the Turkey: Thoughts for Thanksgiving. Both provide an excellent insight into the multifaceted, Hydra-headed problem that is the animal butchery industry. If you can read these essays without feeling compelled to make some simple changes to your diet then, truly, you dwell beyond the reach of reason.)
Human-induced degradation of ecosystem states (e.g., overfishing, land degradation) and increase N [Nitrogen] and P [Phosphorous] flows at regional to global scales may cause undesired non-linear change in terrestrial, aquatic, and marine systems, while simultaneously functioning as a slow driver influencing anthropogenic climate change at the planetary level (Rockström et al 2009).
Now it’s over to you.
No food which contains either the flesh, fat or . . . fur? of an animal, may pass your lips for 30 days.
When I told a few friends I was embarking on a 30 day vegan diet they said, after they’d finished laughing and wiping away their tears, ‘With the amount of exercise you do you’ll waste away to nothing’. Clearly they were concerned for my well-being; I was touched. But it got me thinking. So, before I entered the dietary jungle, I decided to do some pre/post physical and physiological tests/examinations. The reasons for this were twofold: 1) I wanted to prove my alleged friends wrong and 2) because I myself was curious as to what impacts a strict vegan diet would have on my physical fitness and body composition.
The physical tests, though quite simple, would provide an outline of my cardiovascular capacity and muscular endurance. They included:
- 1.5 mile run – which I completed (on an indoor treadmill) in 8.20
- Single arm alternate dumbbell snatch (25kg) – I managed 52 in 5 minutes.
The basic body composition/physiological biomarker measured were:
- Body weight – 89.5kg
- Body fat percentage on a bio-impedance machine – 5.7% body fat
Prior to completing the four assessments I made detailed notes of exactly how, when, where, what state I was in, what I’d eaten, how much I’d drank, time of day, etc. etc., in order to adhere as closely as possible to the principals of validity. Of course, if I performed the pre- challenge tests on a Monday morning, after a relaxing weekend, the outcome measures might be significantly different to the post- challenge measures of, say, Friday evening following a full week of work and exercise.
The pre/post challenge results have been compared and contrasted in the Outcome section; have a look if you are interested.
Because I am a vegetarian the step to veganism is a relatively short one. Whenever I got to talking to someone about this challenge they would invariably say, ‘I don’t know how you can do it – I just couldn’t give up meat.’ I didn’t have to ‘give up meat’ as I’d done that a long while back which, I must admit, made the dietary transition much easier. However, what I did find enormously difficult, and this has given me a greater understanding of the challenges full-time vegans face, was trying to navigate through the minefield of animal-laden food products. As a vegan you have to check the ingredients list for everything – and I mean everything!
I love pesto mixed into pasta – but to my dismay, when I bothered to scrutinize the small print, I discovered pesto has egg enzyme in it. Egg enzyme! That sounds disgusting – doesn’t it? A work colleague brought in some marshmallows for celebratory reasons – an odd choice I agree. Marshmallows, if you didn’t know, are made with beef fat. Almost all confectionaries have some species of animal derivative in them. Therefore, for the 30 days, I enforced a strict prohibition on all goodies.
Achieving a semblance of satiation was practically impossible. I found that, as a vegan, filling one’s belly is a full-time occupation. Though I imagine this to be less problematic for some as it was for me. Let me explain why. I have a fairly substantial appetite as is, coupled with a 6, 4” frame, a ten hour weekly high intensity exercise regime, and all the walking, cycling and complaining I generally do, I found it neigh on impossible to satisfy my perpetually hungry stomach.
Cooking, chopping and preparing food became a predominate activity and as the challenge progressed my lunchbox got bigger and bigger. Lucky me right? Wrong! Half of the office’s communal fridge was taken up by a various assortment of multi-coloured Tupperware boxes, which elicited numerous complaints; each morning we fought for fridge space in what became a vicious game of tetras. Furthermore, I often felt like a walking botanical garden – or more accurately a mobile green grocer – and I knew things were getting out of hand when I had to employ the use of another bag just to fit in all of my food.
And because of the sheer volume of vegetables I had to consume I sometimes felt like a human composter. Rampant flatulence forced me to flee, for fear of losing all of my social standing, many a crowded room: the unpleasant by-product of all those digesting veggies, fruits and beans. My visits to the toilet increased threefold and I swear, as a consequence of all that extra wiping, I developed blisters and sores on that sacred brown patch of ground where the sun rarely shines.
Below I have provided you with a list of a single day’s dietary intake to illustrate exactly how much food I had to consume in order to achieve satiation. Prepare to feast your eyes on the one man banquet!
- Large bowl of porridge
- 50g of raspberries
- 50g of blueberries
- 1 dried fig
- 2 heaped tablespoon of flax seeds
- 2 table spoons of homemade granola
- An indeterminate number of walnuts
Snack No. 1
- 1 fresh fig
- 1 apple
- 1 orange
- Handful of nuts (almonds and walnuts)
- Cup of turmeric-infused brown rice
- Half a cup of peas
- 3 asparagus spears
- 1 portion of broccoli
- Leftover butternut squash wedges with dates
Snack No. 2
- 1 pot of humus (I was only supposed to eat half the pot but devoured it all)
- 1 carrot
- 1 bag of quinoa crisps
- Mixed bean salad: cup full of beans, portion of beetroot, lettuce, red cabbage slices, tomatoes and olives.
Cupped raid No. 1
- 3 Figs
- Handful of nuts
- Fruit – various assortment
- Whole wheat pasta
- Bag of fresh basil
- Pine nuts
- 4 asparagus spears
- Half a red pepper
- Green olives
- 1 avocado
- Handful of rocket
Cupped raid No. 2
- 1 Fig
- Handful of nuts
- Vegetarian calzone pizza
- Chips with garlic mayo dip
- Three scoops of Gelato (Italian ice cream) on a warm waffle!
- Double-shot cappuccino
Of course I didn’t consume this volume of food every day, only from Monday to Friday. When I was less active over the weekend and whilst enjoying diminished work commitments, I didn’t need to eat quite so much. I invariable snaked less, had one lunch, as opposed to two, and ate a smaller dinner.
Post challenge outcomes
I am now 50% vegan 50% vegetarian. Yes I know you can only truly be one or the other. However, I have decided to intersperse vegan days with vegetarian days which will significantly reduce my participation in the animal butchery/cruelty/exploitation industry. Actually, it would be true to say that I have completely removed myself from the animal butchery/cruelty/exploitation industry because any animal product that I eat, such as, say, the occasional egg or slice of cheese, I ensure that it is locally sourced. I also now absolutely refuse to hand my money over to companies that engage in the slaughter of animals.
I certainly got more cognitively capable. I typically devote about three hours a day to the acquisition of knowledge; that is, reading scientific, economic, philosophical literature (not trashy novels). Towards the end of an evening of reading I’d usually be fending off failing eyelids whilst struggling to keep a leash on my wandering focus. This grew less of a problem as I ventured deeper into the world of veganism. After a mere week I was able to sustain longer uninterrupted intervals of attention and the quality of my focus was noticeable sharper.
My energy levels went through the roof! Seriously, I cannot stress enough the significance of this. One problem that I started to experience, a first for me, was the inability to tire myself out. Can you believe that? Here is an example of one of my exercise sessions: I’d go to the gym and after ten minutes of high intensity skipping, ten minutes of shadowboxing with 4kg dumbbells, 20 X 1.5min rounds of boxing, with more shadowboxing as rest, 25 X 100 metre sprints at 20kph (10 seconds of shadowboxing as a rest period), after all that I was still eager to do more (and may I include, I also went running in the morning prior to this session).
I saved quite a lot more money over the 30 days than perhaps I normally would have done; though, I must confess, this fiscal frigidity was not consciously driven but a consequence of the limited food options available in the majority of restaurants that I habitually frequent. Truth is, there’s only so much you can do with quinoa and vegetables to justify restaurant price tags – and to be honest, I’m loath to spend pounds on what can be purchased for a pittance. I therefore didn’t dine out as much – a good thing.
My muscular tonality began to rival that of Bruce Lee’s – seriously! I noticed, around week two of the challenge, improved definition across my entire body. Normally I can usually see six abdominal muscles, the bottom two remaining hidden behind a thin veil of fat. But two weeks a vegan and these elusive muscles decided to make a rare appearance. Also, whilst we’re on the subject of my anatomy, the striations in my shoulders began more closely to represent crevasses.
Pre-challenge fitness test results were:
1.5 mile run – which I completed (on an indoor treadmill) in 8.20
Single arm alternate dumbbell snatch (25kg) – I managed 52 in 5 minutes.
Post-challenge tests are:
1.5 mile run – which I completed (on an indoor treadmill) in 8.06
Single arm alternate dumbbell snatch (25kg – but after 3 minutes I increased the weight to 30kg because it was too easy) – I managed 64 in 5 minutes.
On comparing the pre/post fitness results, we can see that my cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength increased significantly. I was especially pleased that my strength had not declined as I thought it might due the deficiency in protein of the vegan diet. I was frustrated with my run performance because, though I improved on my initial time by 14 seconds, when I’d finished I knew I had enough in the tank for a sub 8 minute finish.
The pre challenge body composition/physiological biomarkers measured were:
Body weight – 89.5kg
Body fat percentage on a bio-impedance machine – 5.7% body fat
Post challenge outcomes are:
Body weight – 88.7kg (a negligible deviation – the difference you might expect to see after a good poo)
Body fat percentage on a bio-impedance machine – 5.2% body fat (again, a negligible result which could be attributed to being better hydrated)
This Concludes the Challenge: 30 Days a Vegan
Friedman. L. T (2008). Hot, Flat & Crowded. United States. Penguin.
McDougal. J (2016). The Starch Solution.
N. Klein (2014). This Changes Everything. United States. Penguin.
P. Singer (2016). Ethics in the Real World. United Kingdom. Princeton.
Rockström, J., et al (2009). Planetary boundaries:exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society 14(2): 32. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/)