Why people choose to give up meat can be a mystery for many. After all, most of us are brought up to seek meat to get protein. Not to mention, when cooked right, our steaks, fried chickens, and many more can be quite the irresistible savoury delight. Despite all that, however, more and more are turning to plant-based diets, with some becoming vegetarians who abstain from eating meat, and with others transitioning to veganism, a stricter form of vegetarianism that also gives up animal by-products like eggs, dairy, and more. It's a difficult decision to make, but why do they find vegetarian and vegan diets necessary? Ahead, three women share what made them shift to greener diets, and how this choice changed their lives.
For a healthier body
Some go for a plant-based diet in pursuit of better health. Celebrity raw chef Boey Yin Yin, simply called as Raw Chef Yin, cites that as her main reason. "In the early 1990s, I became aware of how meat wasn’t good for our bodies — I read about this in books, magazines and newspaper articles so I started cutting out on chicken, beef, lamb," she recounted. Raw Chef Yin initially started with a pescetarian diet, still eating some seafood to get some protein, but she found she can still get all the nutrients her body really needs even if she totally gave up all animal products. This finally led her to slowly transition to a vegetarian and finally to a vegan diet around the mid-2010s. Being a chef, she has found incredibly delicious ways to reinvent vegan food that's totally palatable for all. In making the shift, she exclaimed, "Seriously, one doesn’t need a “cheat day” at all!"
Caring for the environment
Meanwhile, Christina Talosig, a pre-school teacher and a pediatric nurse who shares her vegan life on her Instagram @bonitapeteat, went vegan after considering a lot of factors. After becoming a nurse, she became conscious of her health and what she consumed. She reflected on all the food-related choices she made, considering whether they helped her keep sickness at bay or not. This prompted her to watch a number of documentaries like Netflix's Food Choices, Forks Over Knives, and What the Health, which totally enlightened her. "[They] were my real eye-openers to what food can do to your body and then that’s it, I’ve decided to become a vegan right away," she said.
These health concerns were enough to push her, but what really secured her decision was when she learned eating meat impacts the environment as well. After watching another documentary entitled Earthlings, Christina realised that "animals aren’t here to be served to us to have functions for us but rather, they deserve to have a normal life without conditions and without fear that they’ll be used or eaten by humans."
Standing by our beliefs
Similarly, Joslyn Lim, the woman behind @lovekindeat, an Instagram food account about comforting vegetarian recipes, shared that her choice to be a vegetarian was inspired by her beliefs and morals. She has been on a plant-based diet ever since she was a kid. "My entire family is vegetarian," she shared, but noting, "my parents did not force their kids to be vegetarian, but I still chose to be one." One of the main driving forces to her decision was her religion. "I love all living souls on earth," she professed, and as a Buddhist, she believes "we should not kill any of them" to lead a peaceful life without violence. Perhaps inspired by her and his love for her, she says her husband also turned to a vegetarian diet eight years ago.
While there are a number of perfectly valid reasons that prompt people to commit to vegetarianism, there are also a few reasons that stop people from doing so. It's a common misconception that a plant-based lifestyle can be an expensive one to maintain. And it can be a reality, depending on where you live. Christina confessed, "Truth be told, [it can really get pricey], but only if you’re going to buy all the substitutes especially those kinds that are not locally made." However, if you stick to basics and simple veggie meals, she reassures you that you won't break the bank. "I am guilty of purchasing quite expensive vegan food items because I love junk food and just because I wanted to try it too [but] there are a lot of cheaper substitutes available out there," she pointed out.
Take it from Raw Chef Yin, who suggested filling your meals with fruits and vegetables that are readily accessible for cheap in your local market. "I spend about USD100 on my groceries per month. That’s not expensive at all," she added, saying, "It only gets expensive if you’re eating gourmet vegan food all the time or you’re eating pre-packaged vegan food, which is most probably not healthy anyway because most of it is highly processed."
If you're wondering, living a meatless life without relying on substitutes is totally achievable. "Speaking from experience," Joslyn shared, "I do not have vegan food substitutes since the first day I became a vegetarian. For over 30 years, most of my food is plant-based, vegetables, greens, fruits, tofu. It is simple, inexpensive, and nutritious." Eating all those don't have to be boring and bland either, as there are a ton of vegetarian recipes out there that are easy to cook.
The balancing act
Another concern for those hesitating is the fear that transitioning to a completely meatless diet could leave you without some of the nutrients your body needs. Still, without a doubt, greens are quite healthy too, supplying us with a rich amount of fibre, antioxidants, potassium, and Vitamins A, C, and E, among others. Raw Chef Yin explained that you'll get all that you need as long as you eat a well-balanced meal. She recommended, "Eat a rainbow, rotate your greens and choose a variety of fresh, wholesome vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains and you’ll be fine." She also noted that some "vegan doctors recommend supplementing with vitamin D (if you don’t have access to the daily sun) and vitamin B12."
More are softening up to the idea of meatless diets, but a lot are still definitely apprehensive about it. When Christina started advocating for the cruelty-free lifestyle online, she was met with a lot of criticisms. There were people that unfollowed her and she even got messages like, "I’ll never survive on veggies alone and don’t brainwash your followers." But since they were absolute strangers and her family and friends are quite supportive despite their initial criticism, she didn't mind such negativity at all. What matters is, "I was able to impart the information I have based on what I’ve watched and learned so [her loved ones] got convinced with benefits of veganism," she said, happily noting that some turned vegan and included more greens in their meals.
Likewise, Raw Chef Yin initially experienced the same negativity. Some of her friends objected and judged her decision to go vegan. "I got snarky remarks like, 'So you eat grass?' or things like, "I see you're eating bird-food. Chirp chirp.'" Thankfully, a lot of people remained curious about the food she made and ate. "When the movie The Game Changers came out, many wrote to me saying they've watched the film and now they finally understand what I've been advocating," Raw Chef Yin said. With that, she gained more vegan friends, and a lot of her students turned vegan after attending her cooking classes.
Living the best life
Joslyn can't say for sure how vegetarianism changed her life, as she has basically been at it ever since, but it definitely helped her lead a life of peace. Her newly converted husband, though, gladly shared he felt lighter and more energetic a few months into his journey. For anyone wanting to stay fit without breaking the bank, she says eating greens can greatly help, noting that "in the first three months, [my husband lost] about 6 kg without any extreme exercise, and his waist [was reduced] to 28 inches from 32 inches."
Meanwhile, becoming a vegan definitely turned Raw Chef Yin's life for the better. She continues to advocate for it on her blog and her books, as she had in her TEDx talk a year back. Aside from getting better sleep, digestion, and more, going meatless helped her recover from 30 years of suffering from eczema, and it protected her from common colds that used to plague her almost every month.
And more than enjoying all the health benefits of a plant-based diet, Christina is completely happy with her choice. "Veganism has literally changed my whole perspective in life," she explained, "I [became] more aware of how the animal industry is truly damaging. I am more aware that animals are not food." With this, vegetarianism and veganism aren't just diets — they become an ethical way of living for people as well.