Veganism doesn’t always get the best PR.
Plagued by hackneyed preconceptions that all vegans have bad breath and a penchant for tie-dye, it’s only recently that vegans have started to shed their stereotypes for a more accurate and mainstream image.
Debunking the myth that today’s vegans are all lithe-limbed bloggers with perfect skin and flowery aesthetics are brothers Matt and Phil Letten, whose book, Vodka is Vegan: A manifesto for better living and not being an a**hole, is the antithesis to the evangelical narrative that isolates so many people from a plant-based lifestyle.
Not quite a recipe book nor a diet book, Vodka is Vegan is the ultimate go-to guide and includes chapters on the myriad environmental and health benefits of veganism in addition to a 14-week guide on getting started without alienating your friends in the process.
The LA-based duo stopped eating animal products in their early 20s - they are both now in their early 30s - after uncovering some uncomfortable truths about the ethics involved in meat and dairy production.
Both credit the diet to transforming their lives physically and personally: “We’re both literally in the best shape of our lives,” they told The Independent via email, adding that friends and family frequently compliment them on their youthful glows.
“It actually seems like we’re de-ageing lately. We like that. So we’re going to keep it up.”
While there are endless reasons why someone would want to go vegan, for the Letten brothers, the primary motivation was animal welfare.
“Most people are opposed to animal abuse. And when they learn about the insane abuses animals endure before becoming meat, they freak out for a second and then move towards a vegan diet. And that’s what we did too,” they explained.
“If you’re opposed to animal cruelty, you’re already 90 per cent vegan. Your diet is just the last 10 per cent.”
In the book, the brothers delve deep into the harsh realities of meat and dairy production in the US, explaining that in some environments, animals can be subjected to intensive confinement, mutilations without painkillers and brutal slaughter.
“If you ditch those ingredients, you’ll ditch supporting 99 per cent of animal cruelty,” they said.
Both were heavy meat and fast food-eaters prior to going vegan and making the switch proved hugely beneficial to their overall health, particularly for Matt, whose severe asthma began to ease up just three days after eliminating all animal products from his diet. Both also lost significant amounts of weight after going vegan.
“It’s not about perfection,” they said. “There is no way to be 100 per cent vegan in today’s world.
“If you focus on being 100 per cent vegan, you’ll inevitably get bogged down in the minutiae.
“Allow yourself to make mistakes. Failure is part of the process.”
They also explain that veganism is by no means an “all-or-nothing” proposition and that every effort counts, depending on what your motivation is.
"All you need to do is look at the billionaires of the world like Richard Branson and Bill Gates, both of whom have advocated plant-based diets, to see the writing on the wall," they said.
“Even meat giants, Tyson Foods and Cargill, have begun investing heavily in plant-based protein.”
So, if veganism is something you're considering, here are the brothers' three top tips to getting started:
1. Find your ‘why?’
Realising why you want to make this change is crucial to maintaining motivation, the brothers said, not least because it will also give you a response to hostile friends and family members who will inevitably probe you on your new dietary choice.
Whether you're exploring a vegan diet because you don’t like the way animals are treated, are trying to shed some extra weight or are doing it to help the environment, find your reason and stay focused on it, they said.
2. Swap it out
With vegan menus popping up at more high street restaurant chains than ever before, and plant-based alternatives lining supermarket shelves, it's arguably never been easier to give veganism a try.
"Day to day, your quest to eat vegan merely entails finding the plant-based versions of the foods you currently enjoy," the brothers advised.
"Love bacon and eggs? Try scrambled tofu and tempeh bacon. Craving burgers? Ice cream? Cheese? There are vegan replacements for all of it.
"We promise that you’ll be surprised at how delicious it tastes. And, just like with all food, if you don’t like it, just try a different brand."
3. Focus on progress over perfection.
The key is to not get bogged down on being all vegan all of the time, unless of course, that's a feasible goal for you.
"In life, stepping out is what helps us grow as human beings. But if we step out too much too soon, it can actually causes us to feel like failures, and contract rather than grow," they said.
"The goal here is to help you feel more alive, more in line with who you are, and more on fire about life. No one decides to climb Mt. Everest in one day with no training. Why? Because you’ll die.
"Set a goal that seems challenging for you but is still doable. Maybe try Meatless Mondays for a few weeks. Celebrate every small victory. And every couple weeks, level yourself up. Our book gives everyone the tools to figure out their path, and to stick to it for life."
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