Why I became vegan

by Rayna van Aalst May 28, 2017

Why I became vegan

... well, this and because I'm happily married. 

Jokes aside, I recently went to Bulgaria for a 15-year high school reunion. 15 years! Can you imagine? I definitely don’t have problems with my age but 15 years…

15 year high school reunion

During my short visit the most popular subject was me being vegan. I hadn’t seen most of my classmates for at least 10 years so naturally they didn’t know anything. As for my friends in Bulgaria, although I keep regular contact with them, they were also surprised that I’ve been eating plant based for over a year now.

The opinions about me being vegan varied – from open-mindedness, through genuine concern about my health to few people who couldn’t get over my decision and avoided talking to me altogether. True story.

I also realized that although veganism is quite trendy these days (“it too shall pass” as a friend of mine jokingly said), most people don’t know much about it.

Before you read what my reasons are, I ask you to keep an open mind. I’m not trying to convert you, nor is my intention to force my views on you.

It’s healthier

Going vegan for me was part of a bigger plan to eat healthier and fuel my body with more energy. I didn’t just drop animal ingredients to replace them with plant based alternatives such as vegan sausages, vegan meat or vegan cheese. If you read the labels of these products, you would see that they are usually loaded with sugar in all its names, preservatives, etc making them in general just as unhealthy as other processed food, vegan or not.

I am not just vegan. I strive at eating whole food, plant-based diet, avoiding as much as possible refined carbohydrates. Mind you this is not a low carb diet but I didn’t just remove animal ingredients from my menu to fill up my plate with more potatoes, bread, pasta, either. I'm very careful to make sure I get vitamins, minerals and other nutrients through my food.

One of my most important rules when eating is to make sure that around 70% of what I eat is water-rich food. To give you an example, stir fry would be ¾ of my plate and the rest would be quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat noodles, etc.

Another big thing for me is avoiding processed food. I’m OK with eating pretty much anything as long as it is homemade. I love cakes and I still eat them but after making them myself and seeing the cups of sugar which go in just one cake, even if it’s vegan, you naturally start to look for less sugar-loaded options. I still enjoy cakes but I make them way less often and I look for recipes with less sugar such as my favorite brownie or this beyond delicious chocolate cake which is also gluten free.

Now to the part of why vegan. Apart from plant-based, my diet is also alkaline diet. Very simply said animal ingredients – meat, milk, cheese, etc are acidic and when you eat too much of these, your body’s alkaline reserve is depleted and your cells begin to weaken and eventually break down. More information on your body’s pH balance and health here and here. What really struck me was that most of the conversation about me being vegan were at a table and because I made a point of observing what everyone was eating and I couldn’t help noticing that while I was enjoying my veggies, sadly my friends’ dishes were some sort of meat with literally traces of vegetables, loads of cream and cheese, potatoes or bread.

In general, I don’t like the word “diet” as it has a negative image of restraining yourself. Funnily enough, since I started my alkaline diet and became vegan I don’t have the feeling of limiting myself in any way. Probably because I never said to myself that I won’t eat meat or animal ingredients ever again. To this day when choosing food, I always say to myself that “if I have a choice, I’d go for a plant based option” and I’ve always had that option, even at airports. As for restaurants, much to my surprise, as a vegan I’m usually treated much better than the rest of the guests and the food I’m served is simply too delicious to resist. It’s interesting how once you start looking for options instead of telling yourself none are available, you find plethora of them.

I sincerely invite you to read the China Study by Colin Campbell, a best-seller in nutrition. This book is an eye opener and if the studies showing a link between (animal) food we eat and diseases like cancer, diabetes, and so on are too much for you to read all of them, you can easily skip to the chapter where the author explains how the food industry in US (and I’m sure anywhere in the world) is involved in education, health system, etc, etc literally raising us to believe “melk is goed voor elk” (a Dutch saying “milk is good for everyone”.

If we take the Dairy Campus in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands as an example which is described as a meeting point for “dairy stakeholders in search of research, teaching and innovation”. Dairy stakeholders or partners on the website of the Dairy Campus are Wageningen University, University of Groningen, government institutions such as municipalities and Campina Friesland, one of the largest dairy producers in the Netherlands. What are the chances that the researchers conducted on dairy in the Dairy Campus would show any objective results when the sponsor of the research about daity is Campina Friesland and the banner during the opening ceremony of the Dairy Campus is “Dairy is our future”?

As for the argument that there are no final studies showing the benefits of whole plan-based diet, again as Colin Campbell states in his book and I’m paraphrasing here - there are also no studies showing that if you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day you WILL die from cancer. The chances are very high but there’s no guarantee. Yet, we all agree that smoking is bad for our health.

It’s better for the environment

If you haven’t seen Cowspiracy yet I highly recommend you make hour and a half time for it. Contrary to what I expected when I first saw the cover of the movie, the movie shows mainly cows grazing in green pastures. There’s only one "disturbing" scene.


The disturbing part are the numbers:

  • The water it takes for the animal agriculture to “raise” the meet for a quarter-pounder burger is enough water to shower two whole months;
  • The animal industry is responsible for between 18 and 51% of the greenhouse gas emissions. The numbers vary depending on the source but even if you take the most conservative one, i.e. 18% it’s still more than the exhaust from ALL transport industries – 13%;
  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction;
  • And the list goes on.

I understand that this all is confronting and that it makes you feel uncomfortable but pretending you didn’t hear it, won’t make it disappear. I remember when during a vegan dinner at home my husband was sharing his take-aways from watching Cowspiracy and the fact which disturbed him the most that there are children starving in order for the countries in the US and Western Europe to have enough meat to eat, his aunt said "Nonsense. Of course there is enough food, just go to the supermarket".

Keep an open mind.

Because of how food industry treats animals

I grew up in a town. We bought food from a store or the market. My grandparents had a small area in their yard where they had a few chickens for eggs and sometimes a few rabbits. Thinking about it now, I doubt that the space they had (especially the rabbits) was what they really needed but what I know for sure is that my grandparents took care of the animals and respected them.

I also spent a few summer holidays at my uncle’s villa which is in a picturesque village in Northeast Bulgaria. Every morning a shepherd would walk past all houses and collect all the goats and walk with them all day long so they can graze grass. I vividly remember the evenings when the goats would come back and how they were greeted by their owners. The sun going down, the chat between the shepherd and the people waiting for their goats, a summary of where they had been and the cordial greeting of the owner to the goat. Can you imagine that every goat had its own name? While it’s true that these goats were raised for food and milk, until that day came they were taken care of and respected. And when they were killed, nothing went to waste. Call it barbaric but even parts like tongues, intestines, etc were eaten.

This rather naive idea of  mine about the relationship between humans and animals made me easily discard all the attempts of people around me to point out that what the reality to happens to the food prior it hits the shelves in the store is very different.

Moving to the Netherlands was a turning point for me where I adopted quite a lot of the local eating habits and my meat consumption increased significantly. I’m not arguing whether humans should or should not eat animals. As a matter of fact, I don't know. Maybe we are indeed made to eat animals. I simply disagree with the way it is been done nowadays and I don't want to pretend anymore that I don’t know about the animal cruelty in the food industry (and not only), also in the organic farming. Not convinced yourself? Just check PETA website or Instagram feed.

I believe that regardless of what we are supposed to eat, we can’t continue living as if we’re superior creatures. We are part of an ecosystem and if we want to continue to enjoy our stay on Planet Earth, we need to respect the nature.

As I said, I know this is confronting, it probably makes you uncomfortable. It will probably make you angry, you most likely feel like arguing right now. I understand completely and I’m more than happy to hear you out, just like you just read my opinion. Leave a comment below or even drop me a message.

xo Rayna 

Top image by Rocio Vita. Second image a dear classmate of mine and me during our 15 year high school reunion.

Rayna van Aalst
Rayna van Aalst


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