I've been a vegetarian for over seven years. In the past three of those, I tried going vegan twice. This is my third attempt, I'm five months in and feeling pretty great about it.
In all honesty, it's been a pretty smooth switch for me. I didn't have any crazy cravings and my body didn't reject the new diet in a massive way. To this day, I still have a pair of legs and a pair of arms.
But things did happen. In the end, even if you were vegetarian for a while, going cold turkey is a big change in one's diet, especially if said 'one' eats unfathomable amounts of daily cheese.
Here are the three of those 'things' that feel the most important to me. Maybe just maybe they'll help you through your own journey of becoming vegan or consuming very little animal products.
1. A switch not a transition
I know a lot of people ease into veganism by slowly reducing the amount of animal products they eat. And I understand intellectually that this works for many people and even if you don't cut out animal products completely, it's better than nothing.
But I am not one of those people. In my previous attempts, I tried to reduce my dairy and egg consumption by being a 'house vegan' and not buying any animal products for the house. It didn't work. I slowly slipped back into my twice-a-day cheese habits.
To me, "eating very little animal products" was an excuse to relieve my guilty conscience and a bad one at that because it didn't work. I still felt like a hypocrite talking about the massive role the meat industry plays in climate destruction but still eating cubes of cheese for lunch.
This time I cut off everything cold turkey and realised a 'transition' into veganism is a slippery slope for me. I'm not saying I whip myself anytime an animal product touches my lips, I accidentally ate a can of tuna stuffed olives recently, but I also don't give myself an easy way out.
2. Food is... important
Within three weeks of switching to veganism, I lost quite a bit of weight, at least quite a bit for someone who wasn't trying to lose any.
This weight loss was purely based on laziness. My eating habits are much like a rabbit's, I eat small portions but I eat constantly. Which means my diet is mostly snacks, and in my previous non-vegan life snacks almost always contained animal products. So when I switched and couldn't find any easily available vegan snacks I just stopped eating snacks.
Cue the weight loss and lethargy that follows not eating well. I realised in my annual visit to the gym that I had lost weight and connected the dots like a home detective finding a serial killer with the help of red string.
After my ground-breaking discovery, recovering was easy. I did some research (read five labels) and discovered the wonderfully rich world of snacks vegans can have. Most bread is vegan! And hummus! You can even put your hummus on your bread.
3. Travelling while vegan can be a little annoying if you're lazy
My first attempt at veganism failed because four months into my new diet, I went on a trip to Italy. The sheer amount of fresh burrata blinded me and I caved, thinking I wouldn't be able to find anything both vegan and delicious.
Again, this was mostly laziness. I was travelling and staying with friends, friends who already knew great restaurants in cities we were visiting, so I just didn't want to do the work. And admittedly, I also wanted to eat the cheese.
This time, I went on a five day trip to Belgium by myself and being vegan while travelling was mostly a piece of cake. The main difference was that I did a little research and jotted down some cafe names before the trip. Ok, maybe it was more than 'a little' research and maybe I made maps marking all the places I found; nevertheless, I've never eaten better on a trip.
Whether you do the switch or a slow transition, I believe a plant-based diet is the way to go. The meat and dairy industries are not just cruel to animals but also to the living planet and to our fellow humans.
If you ever find yourself in Belgium and in search of vegan food, hit me up for some maps and don't forget: there's always hummus.
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In this time of religious tensions, a small piece of good news can go a long way in restoring your faith in humanity. This positive bit, for example, comes all the way from the United States. Northeast Ohio, to be precise.
👉 In Parma, a small city close to Cleveland, a group of Muslim doctors decided to convert some of the local mosque's spare rooms into a free health clinic where everybody is welcomed, no matter if uninsured or not Muslim.
As reported by local media outlet News5 Cleveland, The Cleveland Ibn Sina Clinic opened just a few weekends ago but more than 30 patients have already received treatment.
"We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the resources,” said Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, who is one of the 20 doctors that committed to volunteering their expertise. "Giving a little bit of your time, I think, goes a long way in making a difference in people's lives," he added.
“A lot of the doctors came here from foreign countries outside the United States looking for better opportunities. Now that they are established, some of them are practicing with hospitals, some of them have their own practice, now they want to come together and give back to the community,” commented Hala Sanyurah, who is the clinic's Communication Director.
The clinic — that will not just focus on primary health issues but also on more specific diseases like asthma, diabetes, and mental illness — is the first free medical facility in the region.
Credit header image: Stu Spivack
The mere mention of the term “polar vortex” elicits thoughts of bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Most people are aware that the frigid air in the Northern Hemisphere is coming directly from the Arctic region, yet they don’t know why polar vortexes happen.
Not surprisingly, this has led to some rather heated debate. One side of the argument claims that the polar vortex is a result of climate change and human activity. The other side suggests this is a natural phenomenon that proves global warming is false and that humans are not involved in altering our climate.
The truth is the former is correct. But trying to convince someone to accept this reality might be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, when it comes to the cause of the polar vortex, there is a relatively easy — and for some, relatable — explanation. Quite simply, the polar vortex gets drunk.
My research expertise is in microbiology, immunology and chemical mechanisms of molecular interaction (think antibiotics).
As a science communicator, one of my greatest hurdles is defining the intricacies of research into language with which people can understand. This means going deep into the literature and finding the mechanism behind the result. It also means having a deep level of knowledge in a variety of different science branches.
In some cases, the information can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But when it comes to the polar vortex, it’s not difficult at all.
A close examination of the chemistry associated with the onset of these cold snaps reveals a near-perfect resemblance to a chemical shift our bodies encounter during alcohol consumption. The results reveal that both humans and the planet are similarly susceptible to unexpected and unwanted movements.
Most of us can recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Their speech is slurred and they have troubles with their balance. This latter symptom is why the walk-and-turn sobriety test is effective — an inebriated person has trouble moving in a straight line.
Maintaining posture and balance is a complicated neurological process. Research has revealed that one molecule, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), is necessary for us to achieve this goal. Our brains use this neurotransmitter to help control the signals to our muscles, particularly when we feel the effects of gravity or being pushed by another person.
When we drink alcohol, GABA helps us preserve our balance and posture. But once we end up losing the necessary levels of GABA needed to keep us upright, we sway, stagger and stumble. Only when we’ve sobered up and increased our GABA levels are we able to regain our balance.
A similar process occurs in the Arctic.
The polar vortex, officially known as the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV), is a stable air mass that tends to stay put when it’s cold sober. In the same way we feel an internal heat during alcohol consumption, the region can warm up with an infiltration of air from the south, better known as a sudden stratospheric warming. When this happens, the steadiness of the vortex is challenged.
Much like our brains have GABA to maintain stability, the SPV also has a chemical that helps to maintain stability. It’s ozone.
When levels remain high, the vortex stays in place. But should the levels drop, then the vortex starts to sway, stagger and then stumble southward, a process known as outward eddy transport. Depending on how low the ozone levels drop, the vortex can stretch well into the southern United States and Europe. Eventually, the SPV sobers up, the ozone levels recover, and the air mass stays up north. But this recovery can be slow and leave those affected freezing for weeks instead of days.
As to what causes the ozone loss, it’s a reaction with a variety of chemicals in the air. Researchers can observe the process in real time and have found that the offenders are not alcoholic in nature but happen to be compounds that contain nitrogen and chlorine. The Earth produces these chemicals in the form of volcanic output and forest fire emissions, and this can lead to a drunk polar region.
Thanks to real-time examinations of polar vortex movements over the last 20 years, we can easily finger the culprit: industrial air pollution. These commercial activities produce more than enough of the nitrogen and chlorine chemicals to reduce ozone levels and cause those drunken staggers. The data clearly shows that the blame for the rise in those cold blasts falls squarely on us.
As this winter’s supply of polar vortex events comes to an end, so should the debate over whether the polar vortex is real — it is — and whether these movements are due to human activity — they are. Until we find ways to reduce our dependence on ozone-removing chemicals, all we can do is hope for the best and brace for the worst.
Here at Kinder, we're often busy thinking about the future of philanthropy and how charitable organizations will look like 100 years from now.
However, every now and then, it's also helpful to look back at history and realize that there's a handful of charities that have been around for so long that there's certainly something we can learn from them.
One of them is the Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester England, that actually prides itself to be the UK's oldest charitable institution.
Founded around the year 1132, the almshouse was initiated by Bishop Henry of Blois to support thirteen poor men who were unable to work and to feed some 100 people who showed up at the gates every day.
The thirteen men became known as the "Brothers of St. Cross". Despite the religious connotations of the term "brother", the Brothers of St. Cross were not and are not monks, therefore St. Cross is not a monastery.
The Wayfarer's Dole
The Hospital of St. Cross' most unique and famous charitable endeavor is surely the so-called "Wayfarer's dole".
According to this delightful tradition, every visitor of the almshouse can ask for a free horn of beer and a morsel of bread. As recalled by the organization's website, the custom was started by a monk from Cluny, in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travelers.
After so many centuries, this tradition still continues nowadays as seen in the BBC's program Songs of Praise👇
The Hospital of St. Cross, which is hosted in a beautiful medieval building immersed in the British countryside, is regularly open for visits. Head to the organization's website for additional information.