Ever wondered how hard it is to be vegan? If you’re trying to minimise the amount of animal products you use, here’s what you need to know…
Did you know? “Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life.” Considering the sheer amount of food Hongkongers consumes, it’s no surprise that our diet is one of the most impactful parts of our lives. The difference it makes externally (to the future of our planet) and internally (to our health and how we feel) is undeniable.
Why do people choose to become vegan?
The reasons people choose a vegan diet and lifestyle span from sustainability and animal rights to health reasons, religious reasons, personal taste preferences and beyond. Here are some thoughts that may make you think twice about what you put in your body…
Ultimately, our ability to disassociate the animal from the end product can work against what feels “naturally” aligned with our core values.
For animal rights:
Most people agree that all living creatures have a right to life and freedom. In principle, this is an easy opinion to get on board with…but the smell of bacon, the sight of a steaming char sui bao, or the birthday party planned at La Vache! can be enough to convince the majority otherwise. Whilst we all look at a puppy and know we’d never eat it, the same doesn’t seem to apply to a pig or a lamb. Ultimately, our ability to disassociate the animal from the end product can work against what feels “naturally” aligned with our core values.
Whatever small steps you’re taking, refusing to consume or use animal products is one of the most impactful ways you can take a stand against animal cruelty. Vegans take the vegetarian diet up a notch, recognising that animal cruelty applies to more than meat products, as the dairy and egg industries are in the same realm of animal agriculture. Whilst not everyone is willing to (or wants to) make a connection between animals and food, it’s worth questioning where your food comes from, if you believe we have an obligation to minimise the pain and suffering we inflict on other living beings.
If we take “living sustainably” to mean working to maintain the collective life across our planet, the amount of meat we eat is irreversibly unsustainable. Animal agriculture is accountable for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions (more than the combined exhaust from all transportation) and up to 91% of Amazon destruction, resulting in 1-2 acres of rainforest cut down every second.
It’s common knowledge that land, water, and animal feed are jeopardised resources, but hearing that the water impact of one burger is equal to two months of showering can really give you some perspective. If you’re considering going vegan for sustainability reasons, even ethically-farmed animals don’t fit the bill, as they often result in more wasted resources. However, if sustainability is your main reason, you may see nothing wrong with getting alternative protein from insects (2020 trends see everything from crickets to mealworms starting to become more mainstream).
With the global population predicted to hit over 9 billion by 2050, and densely inhabited developing countries like India and China eating more meat, chances are, we’re only going to see an increase in the haemorrhaging of resources. This level of consumption is already bringing about catastrophic issues and matters aren’t going to rectify themselves. Change is needed on every level and, thankfully, individuals, companies and industries are beginning to develop sustainable habits. It’s nowhere near perfect, but it’s a step in the right (and worryingly necessary) direction.
For your health:
The health benefits of minimising your animal product intake have been researched – and debated – time and time again. From sustainably overcoming obesity, lowering your risk for heart disease, preventing or managing type 2 diabetes, monitoring high blood pressure, aiding digestion and even improving your mood and mental health. Though meat, dairy and eggs all offer nutritious value, it’s argued that none are really “necessary” for a healthy person and alternatives can be used in many cases. Regularly, you’ll see people moving towards a vegan diet for animal rights or sustainability and then noticing the health benefits and limitations along the way.
When making your day-to-day decisions, it’s worth looking at more than socially-accepted norms, and basing your choices on what is in the best interest of the environment, animals and the next generation.
Establishing your personal “why”:
As an avid chocolate and cheese consumer, knowing my reasons for exploring plant-based options was my first step. I’ve been actively eating less meat for the past 3 years, and now stick to a vegetarian/pescatarian diet. It began when I started trying to appreciate my food a bit more (it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to get three meals a day), which in turn, led me to think about the way in which the food got to my plate. I’m still learning how to balance it all, but starting with something seems like the best way to begin. I’ve found people afraid to hold strong opinions in this area, with a fear of coming across as “preaching”, but establishing your personal “why” gives you a reason to make a change and stick to that change. Whether you’re trying to completely remove beef from your diet, are ready to limit meat consumption to outside the house, are tempted by being a weekend pescatarian, or already completely refusing any animal products – it’s your decision. So, when making your day-to-day decisions, it’s worth looking at more than socially-accepted norms and basing your choice on what is in the best interest of the environment, animals and the next generation.
How does it make you feel?
Being more aware of what you’re eating can make you better at checking in with yourself on how your body is feeling. It’s impossible to truly monitor how you feel after a couple of months of being vegetarian/vegan. Mainly because it’s such a short time frame, but also because you’re not in a controlled environment, with no other external factors. Some days, you may have more energy, some days you may have less. Diet is a part of that, but sleep, exercise and stress are also key factors. There is always a way to eat a healthy, balanced diet – whether you choose for it to be plant-based or not.
What to keep in mind about a vegan diet:
It pays to be cautious when making sudden changes to your diet, but it’s incredible to see how quickly our bodies adapt (and, even, thrive when fed the right stuff). Whilst craving avocado and salmon after a workout is my body’s way of saying “feed me healthy fats, quick”, I’ve found that there are plenty of veggie and vegan options that really do silence those gurgling rumbles. One major thing I noticed was how rarely I read the label of ingredients for my food – it’s something you have to get used to with a vegan diet.
Where to eat:
We’ve put together a handy list of vegan and vegetarian restaurants worth trying in Hong Kong. I’d suggest taking visiting vegan (and non-vegan) guests to Lok Cha tea House for dim sum, or to any of the spots on our vegan and vegetarian burgers roundup for a hearty alternative to a meat burger. Whilst some restaurants are confused by vegan requests, I’ve found more places happy to accommodate. If nothing else, it sparks a conversation when you ask for no fish sauce at your local Thai restaurant.
Where to shop:
Here are a few great supermarkets and health stores in Hong Kong to pick up plant-based essentials:
- Green Common: Hong Kong’s only plant-based retail chain, boasting a wide selection of groceries. Stocking everything from fake eggs, Beyond Burger meat, oatly milk and (arguably) the best vegan cheese, it’s a Hong Kong favourite.
- Just Green: Some of our favourite treats include Happy Cow’s non-dairy ice-cream, Coconut Grove’s coconut milk yogurt and the wide selection of healthy, raw snacks.
- SpiceBox Organics: This USDA certified organic store is an easy place to find health food, environmentally-friendly household products and natural body care products. The socially conscious company ensures that products available are sourced from sustainable organisations, and you can even find traditional medicine and Ayurveda products here.
- Corner Block: Corner Block stocks a whole range of certified organic produce, including organic baking brand Arrowhead Mills and gluten-free snacks from Dr. Schaer.
- Supermarkets like ParknShop and citysuper also offer corn, soy, tofu and tempe; and places like Yata have started supplying beyond meat and Gardein alternatives.
Read more: Top Health Food Stores In Hong Kong
Cooking vegan food at home:
If you’re looking to start cooking more vegan food at home, there are countless recipes out there. From easy breakfast recipes, to quick packed lunch ideas, to fancy dinner party dishes, you won’t be left hungry. Avocado and pesto pasta, puff pastry dishes, and pumpkin, pomegranate salads are personal favourites of mine.
Nutritional yeast, nuts, seeds, quinoa, beans and greens are all things you want to stock up on. You need to make sure your body is getting enough protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega–3 fatty acids.
The choices you make, the conversations you have and, ultimately, where you invest your money are all ways you can vote for what you want and what you stand for.
Don’t undermine the impact consumers have on the bigger picture. The choices you make, the conversations you have and, ultimately, where you invest your money are all ways you can vote for what you want and what you stand for. There’s remarkable power for change.
Whilst it may not be feasible for everyone to move towards a fully plant-based diet, it’s a conversation worth having with yourself. I’m the first to put my hand up and say it’s harder than it should be to align your moral compass with your actions (I still can’t say no to chocolate or cheese), but I will hold myself accountable for consciously continuing to cut out animal products where I can. Whilst it’s an incredibly personal choice, we all have some part to play in looking after the place we call home.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in April 2018 and was updated in January 2020.