No matter your dietary preferences, it is difficult to ignore the ongoing animal cruelty in the meat industry. Vegans and vegetarians take a stand against these practices by choosing not to eat meat (and therefore stopping support of said cruel practices), as well as eggs and dairy — the latter are products of animals after all, and the high demand encourages farmers to cruelly speed up the process of supply. Yup, being vegan is not just about leading a healthier lifestyle.
To know more about the vegan lifestyle and beliefs, as well as the food options a vegan has, we speak to Ashley Chow, a full-time lawyer and an executive committee member of the non-profit Vegetarian Society (Singapore).
Ashley was a carnivore up until the age of 20, when she stumbled upon Meet Your Meat, a short documentary created by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that exposes the shocking reality of where most meat consumed comes from – factory farms. The documentary had a large impact on her life, and soon after, she eliminated all meat, fish and seafood from her diet. Ashley then began reading up on ethical philosophy and animal rights, as well as health and nutrition, and felt that becoming vegan was the next logical step.
What have you learnt about food so far?
Other than learning about the significant amounts of chemicals and processed ingredients that go into most foodstuffs we consume — including those marketed as being “healthy” or “organic” — the vegan lifestyle has also introduced a whole new world of plant-based foods to me.
In a short amount of time, I’ve discovered what most meat-eaters may find curious and unheard-of, such as chia seeds, freekeh, tiger nuts, aquafaba, raw food and all the different types of non-dairy milk out there that aren’t soy-based (such as almond milk, hazelnut milk, rice milk, and quinoa milk – just to name a few).
Becoming vegan also encouraged me to explore previously unfamiliar types of cuisine with greater fervour – for example, Middle Eastern cuisine is inherently veg-friendly, while Shojin Ryori (a Buddhist temple cuisine that originated from Japanese Zen Buddhist temples) is an elaborate and inspiring sub-class of Japanese cuisine.
The ingenuity of vegan chefs also constantly teaches me how plant-based ingredients can be used in innovative ways that are much more interesting than how they are employed in mainstream food culture.
How do you get a balanced diet while being a vegan?
I personally find that the simplest way of having and thriving on a nutritious, well-balanced diet as a vegan is to eat a whole-food, plant-based diet — this is centered on a diverse range of whole, unrefined or minimally refined plant foods, encompassing fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes, and excludes highly refined foods such as refined sugar, oil and bleached flour. There are lots of resources out there on various aspects of vegan nutrition, and NutritionFacts.org in particular is a veritable source of information on this subject.
Have you been tempted to revert to a meat-eating lifestyle?
To be honest, no. I think this can be attributed to two main factors (which should be helpful for people who are considering making the switch) –
First, actively researching and understanding what the consumption of animal products
truly means (be it ethically, environmentally or nutritionally, for instance) and
the immense benefits that a vegan lifestyle will bring to yourself and planet Earth. I found the 2011 documentary film Forks Over Knives to be a great introduction to the health and nutritional aspects of a plant-based diet. It examines the claim that most, if not all, degenerative diseases can be controlled, or even reversed, by eliminating animal-based and processed foods.
Second, discovering all the wonderful plant-based foods and vegetarian/vegan eateries and restaurants locally and elsewhere. It makes cutting out animal products from one’s diet fun and effortless. A particular shift in mindset is helpful here – it is not just about eliminating what is bad for you, but on including many tasty yet nutritious foods that most of us were not introduced to while growing up.
Share with us some of your favourite vegan/vegetarian places.
My favourite vegetarian spot (which is almost entirely vegan) would probably be Whole Earth. The menu boasts an expert use of spices to bring out the Peranakan-Thai flavours and a creative adaptation of soy and mushroom products to produce deceptively genuine “meat” dishes. It is definitely the place you have to go to if you’re a vegetarian who is craving for the texture of meat or a non-vegetarian worried about leaving hungry and dissatisfied – I can’t remember how many times I’ve been there, but it’s impossible to tire of it!
Lovers of ice cream should head over to BrownIce for freshly made vegan ice cream in
a multitude of flavours.
When I eat out, I often seek non-vegetarian eateries or restaurants with great vegetarian options. It’s a more interesting approach, especially since there are more non-vegetarian spots than there are vegetarian/vegan ones. It’s also more helpful since most of us have non-vegetarian/vegan friends and family!
What’s one documentary a to-be vegan should watch?
Regardless of whether you’re a meat-eater or vegan or somewhere in between, watch Earthlings. It is a 2005 American documentary film narrated by the excellent Joaquin Phoenix, and it is about humanity’s use of other animals as pets, food, clothing, entertainment and for scientific research, using hidden cameras and significant never-before-seen footage. I watched it when I was already a vegan, but it nonetheless had a life-changing impact on me.
Want to surround yourself with the thriving vegan community, to make the transition an easy, fun and inspiring process? Check out Animal Allies (Singapore), The Singapore Vegetarian MeetUp Group, and Chicks Eat Vegan!