If you missed my post a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to switch to a plant based lifestyle and I’m loving it. I won’t go into my decision too much in this post but you can read about it here if you want. The whole idea can seem a little abstract if you’re new to it, and it can seem even more daunting if you’re considering taking the leap. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by some amazing people (in real life and on the internet) through my journey and I thought it would be awesome to share their stories with you too.

What I love most about everyone’s stories is that they’re all ‘normal’ people from really different backgrounds, some are Vegan, some are plant based, and some are making an active and educated effort to drastically reduce their intake of animal products.  I really hope that these stories resonate with you! I’d love to hear what you’re going through or your story, leave a comment below and let’s chat.

P.S. Craig aka Instagram Husband of the year 2016 and 2017 is first up, I honestly can’t express how incredible he has been through this entire experience, he’s literally cooing us beans for dinner as I type, now that’s true love.

Craig Durrant – @craigycraig

I’m not labelling myself as anything but I can’t remember the last time I ate meat, I’m consuming WAY less meat and dairy products than before. The less I eat it, the less I miss it and I am really enjoying experimenting more with ‘animal-less’ foods and flavours.
More than anything, I see the impact eating less animal products has had on my wife, who is more sensitive to certain foods than I am, and it’s rad to see. No more feeling sluggish after eating red meat, no more cramps after eating dairy and just general improvement in her energy levels.

Nicole Van den Berg – @nic_and_cole

I didn’t have one of those magical vegan ‘ah ha’ moments. To be honest, I avoided all those ‘meat is bad for you‘, ‘pink sludge burger patties‘ and ‘these mutant chickens have three heads‘ kind of videos. I played the ignorance card pretty hard…until I ended up in hospital. Doctors found that certain foods had started poisoning my system and changing my diet was recovery step 1.

I now follow a strict plant based, sugar, gluten and soy free diet. This change has meant pretty much shopping 95% in the fresh produce aisle. I don’t eat store bought sauces, dressings or pre-made meals anymore, and although that sounds nuts, it’s actually been pretty rad. I’ve found loads of super quick, healthy and delicious recipes. And there’s a plant based substitute for everything these days (like when baking, eggs = ground flax seeds + water). You’ve just got to educate yourself.

Health wise, I feel mentally and physically restored. I am far less depressed, my anxiety levels have dropped significantly, I can sleep through the night and my body feels way more trim (super bonus points for that).

Although the plant based lifestyle was not really a choice for me, I’d highly recommend it to everyone (I promised myself that I would never be that ‘ra-ra’ veggie person…but here I am). And, if you’re not keen on going full plant based, start slow. Try out Meat Free Monday’s and Vegan Wednesday’s and moving forward from there.

Danielle and Warren Desouza – @danielle.desouza & @wardogsaccount

I grew up in a household of contrasts; with a health-conscious, vegetarian mother and a meat-loving, braai-master of a father. When I started taking my health seriously at about 21 I read a book called ‘Eat Right For Your Blood Type’ and although I don’t follow that anymore it got me onto the meat-free train. After about 2 years of being vegetarian, in 2012, I watched the documentary called ‘Earthlings’ and by the end of it, I was completely convinced that I will no longer participate in anything that harms animals.

Warren is allergic to whey (found in dairy) and eats completely plant-based about 80% of the time. He eats what I eat at home and loves to cook. So we spend a lot of our time eating, making, and talking about food! He’ll eat some meat every now and then when he’s out but tries to maintain a diet of plants for health and well-being reasons. So even though Warren doesn’t follow a strictly vegan diet, we make it work pretty effortlessly.Our baby girl, Georgia Luna, is vegan too and has been since conception. She is currently still breastfeeding but LOVES her 3 solid meals a day. She eats everything we do, just without salt and sugar.

It really is about doing what makes us feel good on a daily basis, both physically and emotionally.

Talya Goldberg – @talyagoldberg

I’ve been vegan (prefer the term plant-based) for 2.5 years, before that I was vehemently against any sort of vegetarian diet, I really thought vegans were crazy, which set me up nicely when dealing with people who now have that opinion of me! I didn’t have a long transition to a plant based diet, I went ‘cold turkey’ minus the turkey in under a week.
My main reason for becoming vegan was mostly environmental, as animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of global climate change – highly recommend reading the UN’s report ‘Livestocks Long Shadow’ or watching the documentary Cowspiracy for more information.
I’ve loved the experience of becoming vegan, I was lucky as I already had quite a healthy diet, so it wasn’t a huge or shocking change, and there are also many vegan junk foods and easy to make junk food substitutes. If you’re looking to eat a more plant-based diet I would really recommend focusing on what you can consume, rather than what you cannot consume, this isn’t about deprivation at all.  From humus to sweet potato chips, to vegan cheese burgers at Royale, hummus toasties (minus the poached eggs) at Tasha’s, vegan ice-cream from Unframed & Caralicious, flapjacks at Scheckters, almond milk cappuccinos at Seattle, vegan cheese margherita at Col’Cacchio’s – almost every new place opening in the Cape Town have a few options and most restaurants will happily swop and change up menu items to make it fit your dietary requirements. Its never been easier to be vegan.
If you’re looking for amazing food inspiration my favourite blogs are My New Roots, The Minimalist Baker and Deliciously Ella, there is also so much inspo on Instagram!

Linda Engelbrecht – @thehonestgrazer

I have always been fascinated by food, so naturally a love for cooking and experimenting with food quickly followed. But as my fondness for food grew, so did my consciousness of where it came from and how it was affecting my body did as well.

For a long time, I had a very unhealthy relationship with food – because I fixated on the negative aspects of our food sources, I developed a form of Orthorexia (an obsessive behaviour in pursuit of a healthy diet). Counter-intuitively, I became very unhealthy. After a lot of therapy and a pretty firm intervention from my family, I rebounded and went back to eating junk food and yo-yo dieting and almost completely forgot that food was actually fuel for my body and well-being. This was roughly a five-year long struggle.

A part of me always knew that eating animals was kind of weird, but I loved the taste and versatility of animal protein, and to be honest, I was still under the guise that we ‘needed’ animal protein to survive. It was only after meeting a few vegetarians and being exposed to a vegan culture, that I really started to question what I was really consuming and putting in my body. So, I started doing my research again, and honestly, I just experimented. I wanted to see if I could function the same with less animal products in my diet. I eventually got to a point where I had given up almost all dairy and meat, with my only animal intake being eggs.

After moving back to Johannesburg I started a new job where a wonderful human who would change my life, Nicole Olwagen, convinced me to try going vegan. I started a 30-day plant-based/vegan challenge and I felt amazing! After two weeks almost all my digestive issues had disappeared, goodbye IBS, goodbye distended stomach, goodbye belly fat, goodbye animal products! After 30 days I felt lighter and happier than I had in almost the last decade. I had boundless amounts of energy, and I truly felt good about myself,  I was comfortable in my body and probably most importantly, I felt like I was alive.

Nicole Olwagen – @nicoleoh

My journey to living a more plant-based life started over 4 years ago. My motivation for cutting out red meat and poultry was initially for health reasons and to try and test myself (when I was younger I told my mom I would be a vegetarian except for biltong and ribs). There were unfamiliar ingredients in our fridge at home for my vegan sister that I started experimenting with and had been eating vegetarian/vegan meals 3+ times a week before I made the commitment. I lost weight and kept it off, had more energy and generally felt lighter after meals. I stayed a pescatarian through most of my journey and became more aware of dairy-free recipes when I had an awful stint with candida and lactose-intolerance.

I became friends with a vegan colleague and she mentored me to her way of living and I strived to live the same way. In the last year I gave up seafood and the last half a year, eggs.

At the moment I choose to use the “plant-based” label as it allows me that bit of flexibility (with minimal dairy and “hidden” eggs) while still maintaining that 95% that I am comfortable with. It’s always up to each person to choose their level of comfortability.

What I’ve loved about this journey is exploring all the amazing vegan recipes, restaurants and products that exist. I’m super happy with this lifestyle and I love sharing the knowledge I’ve gained with others.

I’m really lucky that my fiancé is totally on board with my way of eating and joins me for delicious plant-based dinners during the week and exploring vegan spots whenever we can. He has been a ‘reducetarian’ (someone who reduces the amount of meat they consume) for way longer than that word has been around!

Melissa Delport – @trufflejournal 

I decided to go full on flexitarian two years ago. What this means is that I don’t buy meat for the house anymore and I eat 80% vegetarian. I basically only eat meat if it is for work and is free range. I also don’t buy milk and yoghurt anymore and I have drastically reduced my cheese consumption. It started with my cooking and seeing how easy and delicious it is to make nourishing meals that are vegetarian. Lauren (my girlfriend) decided to go vegetarian for Lent and just never stopped. So that is how we became a vegetarian household.

After watching What The Health and doing my cookbook (which is largely plant based and is refined sugar and processed food free) I realised that we mindlessly consume animal products on a scale that is killing us, them and the planet. So this further reduced my animal product consumption. The reality is that mass production and quality do not go hand in hand. We can no longer deny what these animal products that are pumped full of antibiotics etc are doing to our health and the environment.

I feel more energetic since the change and I feel lighter in my digestion. I realised rather than inheriting my beliefs about food or reading what my nutrition should be from a book like Banting, that I wanted to really give it thought, see what was better for me on a moral and health level and to give that a go! I am loving it and can never go back to pretending that a high protein diet of meat and fat is good for my body. Because it is not. I feel sluggish and heavy after eating it and food shouldn’t do that. It should fuel us. I think that the glorification of the protein along with fad diets is creating a generation of people who have a broken relationship with food, their bodies and bad health problems. So many people think that thin and healthy are one in the same. They are not! Starving your body of real food and whole food groups is unhealthy. Then to top it off we are pumping in animal products that are no longer good for us.

Inviting fresh vegetables, loads of greens and whole grains into my diet has changed my life. I feel better in my own skin. Becoming a mindful eater combined with my food philosophy has freed me from anxiety around food and allowed me to let love in for myself and the food I am eating.

In the end, my food philosophy is this, eat real food, mostly greens and not too much.

 

Last but definitely not least is Emma’s story, it’s a little longer than the rest but one of the most interesting to me because it parallels my story! She’s started posting more and more about it on her Instagram account so make sure to check it out below. 

Emma Jane Harbour – @emmajanenation

I think I’d always been open to the idea of giving up meat, but had never actually taken it seriously. I was an eggs every morning girl, salami stick addict, drum-stick lover and cheese board delighter! I judged vegans and vegetarians harshly, always feeling a little weird about their choices and why they made them. They were definitely not normal, ‘other’, and their food definitely didn’t appeal to me.

I’m sure I said this countless times, but I was fully convinced I could never ever be a vegetarian, never mind a vegan. When I felt a bit guilty about the impact of eating meat on the environment I would attempt a meatless Monday, and then actually think this could maybe be a thing, but all my reasons to keep eating meat dominated my reasons to give it up.

It’s so inconvenient, Dylan (my husband) would never stand for it! What would we eat every day? Meat (bacon) is so tasty… so is cheese. I need protein! I need eggs. I love eggs. It’s way too much effort. Meat is healthy.

Then What The Health happened.

Keri Bainborough, my fellow blogger friend recommended this documentary to me earlier this year after I wrote my first health post about how I’d “figured out this healthy life and way of eating” and I was over the moon about it. My world and my perception of meat, dairy and eggs got shaken up in 90 minutes! Meat would have probably been okay but not my precious eggs, not that irresistible cheese and butter and ice cream I loved so much.

Listen it’s quite a hectic documentary, and there were a few things like the doctor conspiracies, and the whole “sugar is not bad you now”, that I didn’t agree with, but the parts that exposed the reality of the animal product industries and the effects of these ‘products’ on our health made me sick to my stomach. We are so used to seeing our meat, eggs and dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt) in such a clean way. Perfectly packaged on a shelf, not piled too high, with a reinforced illustration of some happy cows and chickens free in a green field with a blue sky.

But man, oh man I can never look at meat (dead animals), or eggs and milk in the same way again. What we don’t see (what the big guys who sell these products don’t want us to see) is that it’s all just a massive supply chain of slavery and abuse.

Raising animals quickly, efficiently (it’s all about money), solely for the purpose of slaughter. They’re confined, injected, sometimes develop diseases and die, and our chopped up for our chops.

I think I’d always (kind of) known this. Obviously my chicken breast on my plate came from somewhere, but seeing the reality of those factory farms made me feel sick at the thought of all those bulk chicken breast packs i’ve always bought (because they’re healthy of course)… but those 12 breasts sat next to 6 beating hearts until a few days ago.

I had this image of 6 live chickens running around me and then being slaughtered so I could buy my healthy protein for the week for R120, and then multiplied it by the amount of times i’ve bought those packs. I know again… these are obvious facts but the true awareness of all of this was sinking in.

The next truth bomb was how these animals (which have been a part of our western diet for jonks) are now linked to the development of many illness and diseases. What can we really expect though? We’re chomping down on dead flesh, probably injected with hormones, ripped, sliced and harvested from a living warm body with blood flowing through it’s veins.I know it’s not a pretty picture, but we’ve been conditioned to think that this is ‘normal’, and that we have a right to let this happen, and fry up that animal in oil to satisfy our hunger.

Well Karma is real.

Humans made killing animals into an industry (and a successful one at that!) we’re eating them at a rapid pace, at every meal, and now it’s literally killing us. Our bodies don’t digest this stuff well, and by eating it we’re creating a toxic environment where systems get thrown off balance, and where diseases and illness can develop. Guys where do you honestly think diseases come from? You can’t just ‘catch’ cancer, or diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

I know it’s not this simple. There are environmental factors and genetic factors, and everyone’s make up and ability to handle different foods and environments are different, but doesn’t it seem obvious that if we’re putting trash and death into our system as daily fuel it’s eventually going to have an effect? In the documentary they interview a handful of people (fat, sick and nearly dying) taking trays full of pills for all their problems. They’re tired, weak and desperate for healing.

I’ve seen it first hand with my sister who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis years ago. MS is a horrible auto-immune disease, and it doesn’t kill you like cancer does but it affects the way you move, see and think for life. She refused to be sentenced to a life dependent on pills, and through a lot of research she changed her diet to a plant based diet to see if it would make a difference, and just through her diet she’s living completely symptom free (and still eating a lot of delicious food!).

Everything didn’t magically change overnight (like they make it out to be in the documentary), and it took her a lot of trial and error, relapses and numbness episodes to become fully committed but seeing her now, and the way she is thriving inspires me daily.

I’m not sick, but I want to thrive too (!) and the evidence of a plant based diet is all there if we take the time to educate ourselves and become more aware. I can’t unseen what I’ve seen, and I can’t forget about what I now know. I’ve taken the red pill and there’s no going back.

This little clip was the cherry on the top, it’s a brilliant explanation from a Harvard-educated UMass Boston psychology and sociology professor Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Ed.M. on WHY we eat animals, and why we think it’s okay to eat 3 or 4 kinds of animals but not the rest (say dogs and cats). It was an interesting watch straight after What The Health, and confirmed everything I was feeling and thinking, but it also seemed to come with a warning tag, “be warned, just because you ‘get it’ and ‘see it’ now, doesn’t mean everyone else will, now or ever”.

It was also a reminder that I had also been clueless and trapped in that mindset literally a week before, and no ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ was going to say anything to convince me to give up my eggs and bacon.Our brains are complex man, and we HAVE been conditioned to think a certain way of life is ‘normal’, natural and necessary… just like back in the day they thought that slavery was normal, natural and necessary.

Yes it as scary and consequential as that (!), and it took a long time and a lot of people seeing the truth and changing their minds to change that, and to challenge those belief systems.But i’m fully aware now, and that’s a problem. I can’t go back to the way I was living before and just go along with what everyone else thinks is right and ‘normal’.

I feel a huge responsibility to myself, my family and the time I’m on this planet for.

I love this quote by Nelson Henderson, and it’s how I’ve been feeling more and more as I hit the inevitable existential crisis of the late 20’s. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. In other words, we don’t own this planet, to rape it and use it how we wish. We’re just borrowing a tiny bit of time on it, and the question of how we use this time is important. What are we leaving for future generations to clean up?

I’m not going to go on and on about the cruelty of the milk industry or list the health benefits, because I know I can’t convince you to give up meat, eggs and dairy products in one blog post. Much smarter and more talented people have created incredible documentaries for that. It’s really is something that has to ‘click’ for you.

Something I realised VERY quickly is that people are emotional about their food, and it’s not helpful to try convince people to stop what they’ve been doing their whole lives unless they’re open to the idea, or are asking questions. I also always have to remind myself how I acted around vegans and the weird questions I would ask, and i’m truly sorry to all the veggies I’ve judged! Yikes. But I’m here now, and i’m figuring it out one step at a time.

I won’t lie I was (and still am) pretty bummed about it all on many levels. From my previous health posts I genuinely believed I’d finally figured it all out. Eggs and chicken, and all the green things were the answer! Now i’m just left with the green part. Help!

I’ve had moments of panic around what to eat, moments of crying my eyes out for days because of the animals and the planet, and evil in the world. It’s been real and emotional, and then there’s still the back lash, comments and judgement from people which is hard too, especially when you’re still figuring things out.

It’s actually been really tough to navigate, even in my own relationship where the person I’m living with isn’t on the same page. Food used to be something we really bonded over and enjoyed together. My husband cooks amazing food. The best roast chicken, slow cooked lamb curries, ox tail and bacon fry ups on the weekend. It’s sad, for both of us, to let that part of our relationship go. As I said before food is emotional!

But i’m learning how to cook differently, change my mindset about the dinner plate, and I’m experimenting with tons of new dishes and ingredients I’ve never cooked before and I’m navigating this new journey as best as I can. I’m enjoying the process and really loving the food I’m eating but it is taking a while to re-learn how to shop, prep, cook and eat. It’s definitely an effort, I’m not going to deny it.

So, how do I feel?

Initially I didn’t feel great (gassy and my stomach felt weird) but after a good couple of weeks in I started feeling amazing. Lighter, more energetic and my digestive system has never worked better! I thought it was normal to only ‘go’ to the loo every 2 – 3 days, I now go regularly once or even twice a day! My system is digesting the food I eat SO efficiently, extracting what it needs and moving the rest out. This is how it’s supposed to work!

Gut health and digestion is the core of our health. It’s the system that keeps us going, takes the good things to the body parts that need them, and flushes the rest out. It’s a complex, beautifully designed system that I’m loving learning about it.

Why are people suddenly drinking kombucha and eating kimchi? It’s not just a health trend, these fermented goods make our system (and the lovely bacteria) do it’s job more efficiently and as all our stomachs and micro biomes are different, some people need a little more help than others.

You know what the real secret and fascinating thing is: If this system isn’t thriving we get sick – gut health is linked to our immune system, and this is how auto-immune diseases start to develop. I’ve learnt that sometimes our guts are so damaged by the way we eat that it’s not even able to absorb the good things we put in it, or the medicine we take to make ourselves better.

Our bodies don’t handle dead flesh and dairy so well. Meat in particular takes more than 24 hours to digest and leave your system, and I don’t know about you but I don’t really want things to be hanging about in my body for that long, especially if that ‘trash’ part is supposed to be making it’s way to the exit.

But continuing in my health journey there is a lot to learn about the human body, and it is actually our own responsibility to get educated on our own individual bodies and how we work! We’re in the information age, and there’s more transparency than ever on all these matters.

We can choose to be a drone, and just go along with the mindless hoards listening to advertising or the next trend, following what everyone else is doing or we can take the red pill, ask questions and be open to hearing ‘another truth’, and educating ourselves along the way.

Sincerely Yours,

Emma-Jane Harbour

(Recovering carnivore, salami stick addict, eggs every morning girl, drumstick lover and cheese board delighter.)

Newly kale loving, kinder, more compassionate herbivore.