Food

All the reasons people initially turned vegan – that didn’t involve animals

All the reasons people initially turned vegan - that didn't involve animals
(Picture: Getty/ Dean Noroozi)

Veganism is a lifestyle – it encompasses plant-based eating, minimal animal products in your life whatsoever (you can complain, but ultimately can’t do much about leather seats on public transport etc) and making sure you swerve toiletries, cosmetics and household products that contain animal products/have been tested on animals.

The majority of vegans are ‘in it for the animals’, but you’d be surprised how many people first got into veganism for other reasons.

Whether the initial reason is health, environmental ethics or to prove a point, the end result is consistent – people usually end up doing their research and staying vegan, for the animals.

‘I hate it when some vegans ridicule those who are “vegan for health reasons”,’ says Leanne, who initially went vegan for health reasons.

‘To me, in order to encourage behaviour change, the person must be hooked in through their personal interests – whether that be health, fitness, environmental concerns, animal welfare, etc.

‘Often people aren’t going to listen until they overhear something that interests them personally, as self-centered as that may sound.’

She’s right – if you start shunning animal products for your own gain, and happen to help some animals in the process, that can only be a good thing, right?

This Veganuary, thousands of omnivores and vegetarians will be giving a plant-based diet/vegan lifestyle a go, and their reasons will vary – some are doing it as a challenge for a month with every intention of going back to eating animal products, while others are looking for the supported nudge they need in making the first steps towards veganism.

Of course, there’ll always be naysayers who say you’re not vegan if you’re not doing it for the animals, but from the evidence below, exploring a plant-based diet seems like a pretty good stepping stone towards living a totally vegan lifestyle, one that may just stick for life.

I heard that cutting out dairy was good for clearing acne

‘I’ve had terrible acne since I was 21 and couldn’t figure out why. The stuff the doctor was giving me was useless, so I looked into what I was putting into my body and read that dairy can be bad for skin, due to all the hormones that can be in it.

‘I was already vegetarian so thought I’d give a vegan diet a go to see if it would help my spot situation.

‘While cutting out dairy didn’t help my skin, a couple of vegans I knew were helping me out with food inspiration, and one suggested I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, then started reading more about the egg and dairy industry and was horrified.

‘I thought I was being kind to animals by not eating meat, but I was wrong – it just wasn’t enough. Also, I realised it’s actually really weird to drink another animal’s milk.

‘It took me a good few years of trying and failing at full-on veganism but I eventually got there, proving that slow and steady can indeed win the race.’

Lisa, 31

Collage of fresh fruit and vegetables, a face with acne, facial cleanser, a pimple, and a person washing face
People often ditch animal products to try and clear up skin issues (Picture: Getty)

I did it for the environment

‘Animals is also a huge part of it but for me, the environmental aspect is huge.

The amount of damage agricultural farming is doing to the planet is phenomenal. So much deforestation has happened to make room for more cattle, and indeed the food to feed the cattle rather than humans.

‘All the methane that is produced by the animals, all the water that is used, the land. It’s just an environmental disaster in my eyes!

‘I watched a few documentaries on Netflix – Vegucated, Food Inc, Forks over Knives – then read up on ethics and animal testing, and went from omnivore to vegetarian for a month or so then straight to vegan.

‘That was three years ago and I’ve ever looked back.’

Mica, 27 (who is a cruelty-free blogger at Mica Day).

I did it to try to prove to my pal that you can’t be physically fit and vegan

‘I went vegan to prove my friend that his decision to follow a plant-based diet was wrong.

‘He’s a marathon runner and bragged about how great he felt and how freeing it was to stick to a whole food plant-based diet. I’m into strength training and thought if I went on a vegan diet, I’d lose my strength and walk around hungry.

‘Before going vegan, I’d have a three egg omelette with veg for breakfast, because, you know, protein and all that… I’d mock vegans and I was actually very judgmental towards them, without knowing a single one. There was a complete disconnection in my head between the meat I ate and the animals.

‘The main reason I stuck to a plant-based diet was that I let myself eat more carbohydrates. It was before an exam period that I switched, so having more brain power (it runs mostly on glucose) was definitely useful!

‘When academic year finished and summer holiday started, barbecue season came. I remember I had a [meat] burger or two then, but they weren’t as satisfying as I thought they would be, and stopped eating animal products completely.

‘As I immersed myself into veganism more – watched movies, read articles, followed vegan athletes on YouTube – I learnt about ethical and environmental issues associated with eating animals and am now not just a follower of a vegan lifestyle, but also a promoter of it!’

Marta, 24

metro illustrations
One girl went vegan to prove you couldn’t be fit and vegan… (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

I was having digestive issues with animal products

‘I wasn’t feeling well (digestive issues and run down) and heard that animal products are harder to digest, so cut out all animal products as part of a temporary food elimination diet, and started feeling better.

‘I told my partner at the time that I wanted to continue eating that way indeterminately. He was supportive because he wanted me to feel better, but was concerned what this might mean for my health in the long run, so he asked that I read up on nutrition.

‘I did and discovered the other health benefits of veganism beyond digestion and energy. In the course of my reading I found out about environmental upsides that blew me away (this was many years before Cowspiracy).

‘Finally, I let myself learn about the animal cruelty involved in egg and milk production (obviously animals are happier if you don’t eat them, but I had never thought about ovo-lacto vegetarian being equally or more cruel).

‘With all of those reasons I switched from plant-based diet to fully vegan and never looked back.’

Cheryl, 42

I was studying nutrition and happened to read about the health benefits

‘I was actually raised as a lacto-vegetarian – being of Indian heritage my diet included plenty of milk, cheese, Indian sweets etc.

‘A huge reason I went vegan was due to doing lots of research within the field of nutrition. I’m a clinical nutritionist and am doing my MSc dissertation on vegan nutrition and health – I wanted to understand the effects of dairy/meat consumption on the body.

‘The trigger for me was finding that the risk of developing metabolic diseases when adopting a vegan diet reduces dramatically!

‘Considering both of my parents suffer from type 2 diabetes and hypercholestrol (which is fairly common to see in Indian populations) and learning about the implications of such disorders on health whilst studying for my degrees, I knew I had to make some changes!

‘I started to change my diet around six months ago and finally went fully vegan in December.’

Riya, 24

It's okay if your end of year achievement list doesn't look like everyone else's
One person happened to read about nutrition benefits of going vegan (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Cutting out dairy cleared up my eczema

‘It started back in 2012 when I was super stressed and living on a diet of takeaways, processed foods and coffee.

‘My body just started giving up and I had terrible eczema – I couldn’t cover it up and people kept asking what had happened to my face.

‘The steroid creams the GP gave me just made it worse so I did my own research and read lots of stories from people who had cleared theirs up by going vegan, so I gave it a go.

‘I went from being an omnivore to eating a plant-based diet, and my eczema started disappearing within a week. After three to four weeks, it was completely gone!

‘The more I researched the more I realised what is really happening with the food industry and I came across Cowspiracy, [animal rights activist] Gary Yourofsky’s talk and Earthlings. It went from being a health choice to an ethical choice.’

Dominica, 36 (who blogs at Vegerasta).

I wanted to know what was in my food

‘Weirdly, I found my way to veganism via the horse meat scandal.

‘I was a total meat junkie, and I’d ordered horse in restaurants before, I had no problem with eating it (or ‘weirder’ animals). However, realising I basically had no idea what was in the packaged food I was buying, or the processes behind them, was really unsettling to me.

‘I remember standing paralysed in Tesco, thinking, “What the hell is in my food? Do I even know what I’m putting in my body?” From there I decided to do research into food production, and after watching a couple of documentaries I realised how cruel and environmentally unfriendly animal agriculture is. That’s when I became vegan.

‘But ultimately, it didn’t start because of ethics – it was about wanting to understand how food gets to my plate, and have control over exactly what goes into my body. It’s hard to hide horse in rice!

Molly, 24

More: Food

I did it to annoy my parents

‘I first went veggie in 1981, purely as an act of rebellion – anything to upset Mum and Dad – let’s just say Johnny Rotten wasn’t the best role model growing up in the late 70’s.

‘In 1984, I went vegan, mainly because of Live Aid. When I realised that Europeans were using Ethiopian land and water to grow cattle fodder to put a bit of milk in our tea, that was it, I was out.

‘Literally the price of a child’s life was the price of a pint of milk. So originally I went veggie on ‘political’ grounds, and vegan on humanitarian grounds. It was only later that animals came into the picture.’

Tim Barford, 54, founder of VegfestUK

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