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Opinion: 'I went vegan... because quite simply the way I had been eating no longer made sense at all'

As more people start moving towards a vegan diet in Ireland and beyond, cookbook author Holly White writes about why she went vegan.

Holly White

AS SOMEONE WHO has eaten their share of steaks, burgers and processed junk food over the years, writing about how I went vegan naturally brings up some nerves. But the reality is we all have a journey and a story to tell – so this is mine. 

Currently, around 2% of people in Ireland are vegan, and 8% are vegetarian, and a new report from the UK showed that the number of vegans has quadrupled  in the past four years – from 150,000 to 600,000.

Here’s where it began with me. When I was about 19 I read a book titled Eat Right 4 Your Type, The Blood Type Diet. This book stated that being a blood type ‘O’ I should base my diet around lean beef, high protein and low dairy and grain.

This became the ethos of how I thought I should eat for the best part of 10 years and I cut out dairy and lowered gluten based products in my diet. I knew where the best burgers could be found and felt somewhat hearty tucking into steak. Initially, I felt my diet guidelines were very beneficial and as if I had something that suited me.

‘Raw and vegan diets seemed strange’

I live in Dublin now, but when I was in LA I lived with people eating raw and vegan diets. At the time I thought this was unbelievably strange and limited, but I couldn’t deny I adored vegan cheesecakes, which I first tasted there, and liked that you could get all the texture and taste of cheesecake without dairy. Also shakes made with almond milk, dates and raw cacao were equally incredible and I didn’t feel bloated and ill like I would with dairy.

I was intrigued but quite steadfast in believing that following a traditional diet was perhaps more important than following my intuition at the time.

With the arrival of Netflix over the past few years I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, Vegucated, Earthlings, and Forks Over Knives and most importantly Leonardo DiCaprio’s film Cowspiracy (all are on Netflix and most on YouTube) and within those hours my mind was opened and also changed.

However – I am aware documentaries are dramatised, and the ones I watched were US-based where different food production methods are different to here in Ireland. But it had an effect on me that’s stuck.

‘It made no sense’

A holiday in Portugal where I completed a week’s juice fast cemented the decision. My skin was clearer than it had been in months and contrary to what I might have assumed I was full of energy, both mental and physical, by the fourth day.

Quite simply, the way I had been eating no longer made sense at all and post detox I lost a taste for red meat and chicken. I hadn’t been eating it much, maybe two – three times a week, but assumed that it was somewhat essential for me to maintain my health.

But instead, I decided to trust my instincts based upon how I felt after watching all those films and educating myself. It sounds naive but I hadn’t really thought about the process that led to my being able to pick up meat in a supermarket. 

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‘I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen’

Initially I was so enthusiastic and full of curiosity trying out new recipes and my energy stayed the same, but after a few months when I got lazy I noticed a massive drop in my energy levels.

I enrolled in cooking classes and had to learn how to make the kinds of foods that now form the backbone of my diet: plant-based milks, hearty main courses, dairy-free yogurts, delicious desserts and tasty snacks.

I now cook about 85% of the food I eat every week at home. Naturally I love cooking but I don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen so when it came time to creating my first book, which came out this summer, I wanted to ensure that everything was practical and that all ingredients could be easily sourced. 

At times it feels like being vegan is more work because it’s not always convenient, but overall it’s not that much extra effort. I get my bloods tested annually by my GP and all my iron levels are always perfect. 

The reality is that things change. There was a time I loved chicken fillet burgers washed down with a fizzy drink, but I’m much happier with how I am eating now.

Maybe things will evolve in a few years to come, but I feel above all else I will trust my instincts over any advertising campaigns. I feel my skin looks better at 35 than it did a decade ago and my weight maintains itself evenly. Most importantly, I have a mental clarity that I never had before. 

Holly White’s Vegan-ish: A Gentle Introduction to a Plant- Based Diet is published by Gill Books priced €22.99.  

About the author:

Holly White

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