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Originally written – 7 2019; Revised 1 2020
Since 2002, I have been involved in the vegetarian movement in Singapore and beyond. But I became vegetarian much earlier, back on 1 January, 1980, due to two influences. First, I had read a book called “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins. The book’s main thesis is that meat production is inefficient, as we have to feed many kgs of plants to animals in order to produce just one kg of meat. Thus, if we stop or reduce the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods, such as dairy and eggs, we will have enough food to feed the 100s of million of people without enough food. It’s simple – we have to feed the animals many kilos of food for them to gain just one kilo of weight. It’s the same for human children.
Diet for a Small Planet was a little simplistic – solving world hunger is more complicated – distribution factors in too, as being hungry doesn’t count as demand unless people have the $$ to buy food, what is called effective demand. But the inefficiency of meat is still valid 40+ years later, and hunger / malnutrition still kills thousands every week, not to mentioning stunting children’s physical growth and reduced their brain development. Furthermore, we now recognize that meat’s inefficiency plays a major role not only in world hunger but also in climate change and other environmental woes.
The other influence on my change to a vegetarian diet was a cousin who became vegetarian before me: the same cousin the same age as me who had to go into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and became a medic. He was knowledgeable about food and health generally, and I respected his opinion, and I still do, even though he’s more of a flexitarian these days.
My veg journey started off with me thinking that I’d try it for a year, and probably go back to meat. Prior to the beginning of 1980, I had gradually reduced my meat consumption. Although I don’t for sure remember my last meat meal, it might have been while I was hitchhiking in a big 18-wheel truck in Honduras in Central America. The truck was old and slow (most trucks in Central America had seen better days in the U.S.), and the driver and I seemed to be taking forever to reach our destination. Along the way, we stopped to eat, and the only dish on the menu seemed to be small, thin, chewy, dry pieces of beef.
My decision to go vegetarian was made and executed all on my own. It wasn’t so common back then, but my family and friends were okay with it, although none of them joined me, and my veg cousin was living in a different part of the US. I was lacto-ovo when I went veg in 1980, meaning that I sometimes ate eggs and dairy. I rationalized that at least the hens and cows weren’t being killed. Of course, that view was a case of wilful blindness on my part, as given the reality of modern animal agriculture, the hens and cows are crowded together in miserable conditions and sent for slaughter once their production declines.
The reality experienced by hens and cows became increasingly difficult for me to ignore, and sometime in the mid-2000s, I evolved to a vegan diet. People ask if I’m healthier due to my diet. It’s difficult to know, and I don’t like to deal in anecdotal evidence. That said, my sinus problems have disappeared. But, mainly, I feel proud of myself, and a positive attitude is supposed to boost health. I feel proud, as with every meal, I’m doing something for the animals and the environment, which means doing something for humans, too. Plus, I’m exerting control over my life, taking a path less travelled, despite the mild amount of inconvenience and social isolation incurred.
Eliminating animal-based ingredients 100% is probably impossible; so, I don’t claim to be pure. Plus, my diet could be improved in other ways, too, such as eating less. I used to be renowned among friends and family for my large appetite. Fortunately, it’s been many years since anyone called me “hollow leg.”
Some people think it takes a lot of determination to be vegan, but I’m lucky; since childhood, I’ve always liked fruits and vegetables. Yes, I liked meat, too, but it’s no sacrifice eating plant food, as there are so many great choices. Another thing that has made vegan easy for me over the years is that I’m easy to please; I’m far from gourmet. Lots of what I’ve eaten all these years is food that I whip up at home in 15 minutes or less, such as steaming some veggies and opening a can of beans and a small can of tomato paste, and mixing it all together with some spices, such as curry powder or ginger, Even simpler is when I boil water in an electric kettle and use the water to heat up tempeh, which I then add to grains and veggies, with fruit for dessert. To me, the toughest thing when I eat out is not to find food with no animal ingredients, but to find whole plant food, such as without oil, sugar, salt, and with whole grains, not processed. Last, but not least, is that 10+ years ago, I discovered I was B12 deficient, a problem to which vegans of any age (along with older people regardless of diet) are especially prone. Since then, about three days I week, I have been reminding myself to pop a B12 supplement, and the problem has disappeared.