Paula Lyne's getting her teeth into the trend.
“It’s my reward,” rationalises Sarah Hannon, 27, who’s just pressed ‘Confirm and Pay’ on her order for a large Dominos Pepperoni Passion. Sarah’s been on a strict eating plan for the last three weeks, and she’s finally allowing herself a cheat meal. Her diet of choice? Not paleo, not 5:2, but veganism.
Sarah’s just one of many health-conscious Irish people who are turning to a plant-based diet as a more socially acceptable way of cutting out certain high-fat, high-carb elements from their daily menu. Sure, there are plenty of vegan options available when it comes to pizza, but in Sarah’s opinion, that’s not the point.
“If I’m doing a plant-based stint I automatically make healthier choices, and most of the time I do it without even thinking. I keep my Dominos and Ben & Jerry’s for non-vegan days,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll go vegan for a few weeks at a time, or other times I’ll go plant-based on weekdays and eat what I like on Saturday and Sunday.”
She’s not the only one giving part-time veganism a shot. With the help of trainer Marco Borges, Beyoncé and Jay-Z famously ditched animal products for 22 days last year, under the principle that most habits take 21 days to break. Nowadays, the singer says she still eats meat – her Croke Park rider included buckets of heavily seasoned roast chicken, FYI – but makes “healthier choices” all round.
According to PETA, vegans weigh an average of 20lbs less than meat-eaters do, which is good odds if you’re looking for a quick fix before that looming trip to Marbs. Couple that with the fact that many clean diet plans are often already almost wholly plant-based, and it’s no surprise that veganism has become something of a temporary fix for many.
Cutting out entire food groups without the proper education does have its risks though, as nutritionist and founder of healthie.ie, Helen Corrigan warns. “It’s possible to have a healthy carnivorous diet, vegetarian diet or vegan diet, but if you’re going to change from one to the other, then you need to be careful,” she says.
Take lack of protein, which is often touted by the meat-eating masses as one of the reasons a plant-based diet is a bad idea. “It’s absolutely possible to get enough protein as long as you eat pulses, nuts and seeds,” confirms Helen. “But if you’re only trying out veganism on a temporary basis and haven’t done your research, you might not know that plant-based sources of protein even exist.”
Then there are vitamin like B12 and D, plentiful in a carnivorous diet but a little harder to come by if you ditch meat, fish, eggs and dairy. “My biggest piece of advice to someone restricting their diet of any food group is to look at what nutrients those foods were originally giving you, and to find a way to replace them,” says Helen. “Most full-time vegans know what to eat to counteract any lack of nutrients – mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin D, for example – but if you haven’t done your research you could miss out.”
For many longterm vegans out there, the healthy eating aspects of their diet are a secondary concern. Forget #plantbased meals and filtered Instagram shots of acai smoothie bowls: hardcore vegans will remind you that your top priorities should be to live sustainably and eat a cruelty-free menu.
Animal-based agriculture is responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions and a staggering 95 percent of Amazon jungle depletion. That’s not to mention the millions of animal lives lost every day. In Ireland alone, we consume the meat of around 45,000 chickens every three hours, making us one of the top consumers of poultry in Europe.
“Veganism, by definition, is about opposing all forms of cruelty to animals. It’s not a dietary choice, it’s a philosophy,” says Edmund Long of the Irish Vegan Society (vegan.ie). “If you’re going to be vegan on a part-time basis, does that mean you also only oppose animal cruelty on a part-time basis,” he questions.
As with any lifestyle choice, there are different stages at which you can jump on the bandwagon. Campaigns like Veganuary, which encourage participants to go plant-based for the month of January, have had huge success based solely on their simplicity. Then there are Meat-Free Mondays, which many of the #fitfam have adopted as a way to cut down on animal products in the short-term.
“For anyone considering overhauling their diet, I always suggest starting with smaller changes and gradually expanding on them,” advises Helen. “It’s less overwhelming, easier to do from day one, and it’s far more sustainable in the long run.”
Whether your idea of a small change is going plant-based for one day, one week, one month or forever, the benefits of a vegan diet, both for you and the world around you, can’t be sniffed at. Plus, if it’s good enough for Queen Bey, well, it’s surely good enough for us…
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s October issue. Our December issue is on shelves now!