By Mark D Pritchard
My first steps into a plant-based diet in April 2018 were not your typical ones. It was a dark time; darker than many could imagine. Having separated from my wife only two days after my mother died in December 2017, my world had been ripped apart. I was unable to function as a normal human being. An attempt at some sort of reconciliation in the New Year eventually resulted in my moving out for good at the end of March 2018. Feeling completely destroyed and isolated can sometimes result in the odd spell of random motivation to do something completely different. You can either curl up in a corner, or search for distractions. Doing a mixture of these, one momentary flash of inspiration altered my eating habits, possibly for life. I often flippantly claim that one day I was eating food, the next day I started eating vegetables. Of course, that’s just my humour, and there is more to a plant-based diet than just eating vegetables. But nonetheless, that is how suddenly and drastically it all changed. One day I woke up, pondered over what to eat for breakfast and decided to experiment with a plant-based diet. I won’t say that I picked up the ball and ran with it there and then. No, I picked up the ball and looked at it for a while… then I took a few small steps… then a few more… until eventually, I picked up momentum and then started running with it. I’ve not looked back since.
At the time, my principle motivation was health-related. Having had a close brush with death in 2009 after suffering a brain haemorrhage, I have since become very health conscious. But I have had a bit of a battle with my cholesterol. Statins, in recent times, have been the only medication that I’ve been using. I wanted to reach a point where I was medication-free. Saturated fats are the biggest cause of cholesterol in the body, and I figured that a plant-based diet could easily reduce my fat intake significantly.
I guess I’m still transitioning to some extent. My own world has been a topsy-turvy one in recent times, and going on a plant-based diet on my own has been a new challenge, alongside the many other things that I have had to cope with alone. I also have a very busy life. In between working full-time, I also spend two evenings a week lindy hop dancing, I work out at the gym, and I’m currently training for the London Marathon on April 28th 2019; this is to celebrate the tenth anniversary of my brain haemorrhage. All this, plus other family commitments, means that planning meals isn’t always at the very top of my list. I still haven’t quite mastered the art of vegan alcohol, but alcohol was my crutch for much of 2018, so it’s not something I have not focused on as much as my diet. However, things must be getting better because I began writing this late on the 8th evening of me doing #GoSoberForOctober – I must be honest, I found it very easy indeed. Who knows, I may even give up alcohol too.
If there is one thing that I have missed, it’s butter. In fact, one of the first things that vegans ask me is which butter alternative do I use. This must be a common experience. I’m experimenting, but I’ve not found anything yet that doesn’t taste a little “flat” on my toast and crumpets. I miss nothing else…absolutely nothing! My meals are generally satisfying and fulfilling, and I now know exactly what is going into my body.
You don’t have to love or even like someone to hate cruelty towards them…
I’m not an animal rights activist. I’m not even an animal lover (other than as a wildlife spectator), I don’t live with any animals and have no intention of living with any in the future. However, I hate cruelty of any description – towards people or towards animals. You don’t have to be a particular lover of any living thing to be able to hate cruelty towards it. But here is the interesting thing – the more you begin to realise just how easy it is to live a vegan life and how easy it is to remove yourself from a lifestyle that depends on animal abuse, the more you begin to feel that it is right to do so. Then it spirals…
The more you realise how easy it is, the more you begin to feel that it is right to do so…
The more you begin to feel that it is right to do so, the more you search for options…
The more your search for options, the more you realise how easy it is… and so on.
I’m slowly, but surely, finding out more options. Week by week it’s all getting easier.
Another driving force behind the changes is that I have a milk intolerance. Not only have I never particularly liked the stuff, other than in small quantities such as in a cup of tea, milk makes me feel lethargic and drowsy. In the past, whilst driving, I have had to pull over in a lay by to rest after nearly falling asleep at the wheel as a result of drinking about half a litre of it. At the time, I didn’t know why it was happening, but I have since worked out the cause by processes of elimination.
But why on earth do we drink the stuff anyway? What other animals drink the milk of another animal apart from humans? Ok, cats… given to them by… oh yeah… humans. Oh… and hedgehogs… we sometimes leave milk out for hedgehogs. They love it, but it makes them sick. So don’t do it. It’s effectively poisonous for them. It is certainly not designed for us. It’s little wonder that so many of us (maybe more than we realise) have a milk intolerance. Arguably, it’s to be expected.
If you gave human breast milk to your pet cat, people would consider it bizarre. Well, the act of humans drinking cow’s milk is no different.
We don’t need it. If you think about it logically, it’s bordering on insanity. But we have been conditioned into believing that it’s normal, and human conditioning is a difficult thing to reverse. There are many milk alternatives in the shops these days. Soya milk, almond milk, oat milk, cashew milk, hazelnut milk and coconut milk can all be found in most major supermarkets. My favourite is oat milk (my computer is autocorrecting it to “goat milk” – even Microsoft Word is a victim of dairy conditioning!). It’s a delicious drink on its own. I find that it is a tastier alternative in coffee to cow’s milk (I was going to say “normal” milk, but it is becoming more and more clear to me that cow’s milk is abnormal – unless, of course, you’re a calf!). In tea I find it as tasty as cow’s milk. But I also make a lot of fruit smoothies with oat milk or hazelnut milk. They are delicious and full of goodness. My life is actually better without cow’s milk, and given that the dairy industry is arguably more cruel than the meat industry, it becomes a no-brainer.
So how much of a hardship is it to exist on a plant-based diet? Let me put this into perspective. There is basically a vegan alternative to every kind of non-vegan food out there, and now they are all available in the shops and supermarkets. It is easier to eat vegan in the UK right now than it was to actually eat in the UK one hundred years ago. It is easier to eat vegan in the UK than it is to actually eat in many parts of the world right now. So why not give it a try? Experiment, just as I did, and see where it takes you. I’ve enjoyed my journey enormously. I love my new diet and way of life. Six months ago, I had no idea that this is where I would be. It was a complete surprise to me. There is no pressure. Enjoy the journey.
On April 28th 2019 Mark will do the London Marathon in aid of the Brain & Spine Foundation
Here’s the link to support him – https://www.justgiving.com/MarkDPritchard