The Revolving Vegan by Joshua Pivato, Toronto
It was nearly four years ago, this September, that I dove headfirst into the world of Veganism. Off the bat, it became a passion that consumed me. See, for me, the transition to veganism wasn’t a gradual one at all – it was quite literally overnight. Sure, I’d heard of it over the years, and yes, I’d known plenty of people who’d adopted the title of vegan (or more commonly, vegetarian), but what I didn’t know, were the reasons why. I can probably attribute that to the fact that I honestly didn’t really care to know why. An omnivorous diet was by far the majority diet – culturally and fundamentally so. It was also a staple of my Italian background’s cuisine and culture and it later became a principle in my notion of fitness.
For the former part of my young adult life, I participated in Natural Bodybuilding. It was both a hobby and a passion. I competed once. That world introduced me to the concept of dieting and let me tell you – and I’m sure you know this if you know any bodybuilders – that “when you’re pumping iron, you’d better get that protein!” I’d basically force-feed myself ground beef, chicken, egg whites, you name it, all in the vein of a better body and good health. It kind of became sickening and I found myself looking at vegetarianism as a potential “cleanse” so to speak. Research ensues. In the process of this, it was one particular train of thought, and even perhaps one particular video, that really took my mind for a twirl...
I stumbled on American animal rights activist and lecturer, Gary Yourofsky, and his now famous video lecture at Georgia Tech. The video is over an hour long, and at the time I had no plans to watch the whole thing, but I gave it a minute. I was instantly pulled in by his articulation, his candor, his passion. I kept watching. He was suddenly appealing to a part of my psyche I never realized existed; a deep-rooted empathy for the suffering of the very animals I was consuming. Yes, it was the aspect of Ethics that opened the flood-gates and sent me surfing towards a life where I would soon call myself Vegan.
It was the catalyst. A deep guilt snuggled up to me, and the very next day I went cold-turkey. No more meat. No more dairy. The research went on. Ok, no more leather – an animal product. And on. Okay, certain coats contain animal feathers or fur – no more of that. The thought of making a creature suffer for my pleasure no longer sat right with my consciousness. It suddenly seemed like something so obvious, but that I’d been blatantly blind to for so long. Then came what I call The Trifecta of Vegan Reasoning; three avenues of reason or consequence that should be considered when adopting or not adopting a vegan lifestyle: Ethics, health and environment (The latter two not necessarily being the reasons why I personally adopted the lifestyle, but perhaps the most globally important reasons that I became aware of thereafter.)
I’d watched hours of videos, read dozens of personal accounts, and looked at every bit of data offered to the public in regards to animal agriculture. The Vegan Trifecta became topics I tried desperately to impart on my friends, family and anyone who’d lend an ear. I didn’t want to become one of those fanaticized Vegans that everyone soon came to know in their circle, but it was so damn hard not share this frightening and to me seemingly revolutionary info with people as rapidly as possible. It did become a lifestyle and a passion. It appealed greatly to my sense of justice. And then too came the health benefits. For the first year of stripping animal products from my diet, I felt like I turned from a rusty ol’ plane to a space-age rocket ship. I shed excess body-weight, gained energy, and felt good inside and out overall. I knew a lot of people in fear of losing muscle or having the expected lack of protein impact their fitness regime – I didn’t much care because the ethics were my driving point – but in truth, it didn’t affect my fitness one bit. I was even more so concentrated on fitness. I had sustainable energy to work and workout and my attention to nutrition became heightened. Because of my background in bodybuilding I was already accustomed to dieting and nutritional detail, so I applied it to my new vegan diet, ensuring that I ate adequate protein, covered my macronutrients, as well as cover a sufficient percentage of my vitamins and minerals daily. It was difficult, I won’t lie. But the way I looked at it is, “well, we put so much attention to numbers when it comes to paying our bills and budgeting, why not attribute some time to the numbers that dictate the function of our own damn bodies.”
I enjoyed the food. Luckily for me, I became vegan at a time when veganism was spreading like wildfire. It had me in awe, the amount of people I saw adopting the vegan lifestyle in the proceeding years. It was awesome. And as a result, the demand for quality vegan products increased. Fantastic tasting meat alternatives came out, vegan desserts, new restaurants, you name it. It was easy to enjoy eating and still do it in a nutritious way, and in a way that was in alignment with my determination to contribute to bettering the world (by not contributing to its degradation.)
After just over three years of being a Vegan, things went down-hill for my health – and quite rapidly too. In the span of a month or so, I began to lose sleep. The weights I was lifting were heavier than ever, and I could barely muster the energy to run. Diet was the same, I thought, what the heck’s going on? I thought maybe it was just a phase and waited for it to pass. But it got increasingly more worrisome. I felt anxiety running through me, and an immense amount of brain-fog, forgetfulness and confusion. Not good. Enough time passed for me to ensure it wasn’t the flu, and I decided it was time to get blood-work done. I did. To my absolute disappointment, I came to the realization I was living a Vegan’s worst fear. My blood results mocked me. They told me the exact same things every meat eater, grandmother and guy on the bus tells you when you mention you’re vegan: “You’re gonna get Iron deficient! How do Vegans get B12, eh?”And this was the case. I was alarmingly low in my B12 and Iron levels, and according to Doc, that’s a big, BIG no-no.
I was really disappointed and to be honest felt like an absolute failure. It made no sense to me because I was specifically careful to get adequate amounts of these vitamins in my diet. After some research and speaking to different doctors I came to a confusing conclusion that perhaps it had something to do with my blood type, or my genetic capacity for living on a plant-based diet. I didn’t want to believe it because everything I’d read on veganism had specified otherwise – I didn’t want to believe it because of my ethical standpoint on it either. I was told I should start consuming meat right away. I didn’t at first, but my symptoms persisted. This sucked. I re-introduced meat in to my diet. I was horrified at first. It wasn’t weird or a hard transition to eat again though. Guess I could attribute that to well over twenty years of eating it. I felt like an absolute failure to my friends and to veganism, and was so worried of a backlash or accusations that I “gave up” or “did it wrong”, especially because of how vocal I was about veganism to everyone who knew me – but, health first. Within two weeks I felt much better, and from then on I only got better and better. Months and months later I am still eating this way – the omnivorous way – and I am no doubt stronger than before. My brain is also running much, much better. I feel effective again. Some days I still eat vegan. The amount of meat I do eat is much less than before; about a portion a day. And the meat that I do eat, I opt only for organic (for my health and environmental factors). I avoid factory farmed for the same reasons I did when I avoided animal product all together. I also eat eggs and dairy. At first I felt like a hypocrite and I had so many conflicting thoughts bouncing around in my noggin, but at the end of the day I did what restored my personal health. It was the way my ancestors ate and evolved after all. I suppose that’s an interesting way to look at it – through evolution. Some people have lived Vegan a whole life time – maybe it’s a genetic adaptation. Maybe someone like me can adapt to a vegan diet in a healthy way. Maybe it simply takes time, as all evolutions do.
It was one hell of a journey, I’ll say that much. But I take away very strong points and lessons from this experience of mine. First point: You can cut back on the animal products you purchase or consume. You can. And I do. If I could survive three years without a morsel of meat, I could, and anyone could, most certainly cut back their intake exponentially. And because of my extended research, now I know that doing so would most absolutely help reduce the negative impact of global animal agriculture. Second point: Extremism leads to catastrophe. This works both ways. In the same way that my diet lead to my health’s demise, a heavy animal-based diet just may do the same. In the end I think that it’s about balance. I don’t claim to have it all figured out, to have all the answers – in fact I’m more confused than ever – but I take away from this experience the idea that things aren’t as black and white as we paint them to be, I’m still learning, and there is still a lot to learn about ourselves and how we interact with nature, and furthermore how we can live symbiotically with it, while not just surviving, but thriving. The Modern-Day’s rapidly changing world is the new regular for both society and the individual. We are looking ahead to a future that will be heavily influenced by the individual’s capacity to evolve. The main hope and tip I’d like to now impart to anyone reading, is this: We are human and we are immensely adaptable. Be prepared to learn and to evolve with the world. Put your health first so you can be as strong as you can be to face the coming changes, but remember, that there must be a balance that can be achieved that favors us, the planet and the creatures that inhabit it with us. Thanks for reading.
- Josh P, Toronto Canada.