As I mentioned in my first “Why Vegan?” post, my recent trip back home to Bahrain was filled with a lot of questions from friends and family about my new (to them) eating habits and lifestyle, so naturally an FAQ post was forthcoming.
Just a forewarning – the answers to some of these may seem fairly obvious, but these are genuinely all things I’ve been asked. I’ve also taken the liberty of answering some reader questions – but if there’s something you want to know that I didn’t touch on leave me a comment and I’ll happily respond. I’m also considering making this a separate page for the blog, so I’ll append any additional questions if I do. Happy reading!
I thought you were a vegetarian – what exactly is a veganism and how is it different?
Veganism is diet and lifestyle which excludes all animal products. This means meat, eggs, dairy fish, poultry and any other animal-derived ingredients. Some people go vegan purely for health/diet reasons, but ethical vegans also avoid using any animal-derived non-food products such as leather and fur.
A vegetarian diet typically excludes all meat, poultry and fish but may include products like dairy and eggs.
Why are you a vegan?
Being mostly vegetarian from a young age, discovering a hidden sensitivity to dairy, and a general desire to eat healthier led me to evolve into eating a vegan diet. Recently however, ethics have become a bigger part of why I choose to stay vegan and eschew certain animal products I previously had no qualms consuming (like fish and eggs). You can read more about my journey towards a plant-based diet here.
So you don’t buy leather/any animal products?
No. Again, because living a cruelty-free lifestyle is new to me – I’m still in the process of “vegan-ising” my wardrobe and making sure I buy the right cosmetics/products. It’s definitely a learning curve – but I’m learning to pick my battles.
For instance, I was recently gifted a beautiful handmade leather iPhone case/wallet for my birthday. I could’ve made a huge deal about how it wasn’t “vegan” and refused to use it, but I appreciate the thought that went into that gift and didn’t want to hurt my friends’ feelings who had no previous knowledge of the fact that I have issues with buying leather. Does it make me a bad vegan if I continue to use it? Possibly – but I know where my intentions are at, and personally don’t think so.
Don’t you find it really hard to be vegan in the Middle East?
No, I don’t. I’ll admit – the meat-loving culture isn’t exactly the most welcoming of plant-based diets. I get my fair share of weird looks and comments, but skeptics and critics will always be there, no matter what part of the world you’re from. That said, due to rising health problems in the region, healthy and plant-based diets like vegetarianism are much more widely accepted nowadays.
But how do you find vegan food in Bahrain/Egypt? There’s meat and dairy in everything!
People have this idea that vegan food has to be some sort of obscure combination of ingredients that you can only find in health food stores – it’s far simpler than that. Vegan food is just as accesible in the Middle East as it is in the UK – fresh fruit and vegetable vendors are a dime a dozen and can be found on pretty much every street corner. Any typical cafeteria or grills takeaway place in Bahrain offers fresh juice (at a fraction of the price of fancy shmancy juice bars by the way), and any place worth it’s while will also offer falafel, hummus, babaghanoush, and tabbouleh or green salad. As for Egypt, most people are often surprised when I point out that both national dishes, Foul Mudammas and Koshary – are both naturally vegan.
So what vegan options do you typically go for when you eat out?
Dining at a non-vegan establishment is always a challenge, but it’s usually the case so I’ve learned to deal. Most restaurants are happy to cater to special dietary needs if you inform the server, and I can almost always find a tweakable option on a menu. At the very least, any place worth it’s while will offer a decent salad – if it has chicken/cheese I ask for avocado instead. Other typical options would be a grilled vegetable sandwhich sans fromage + avocado and/or hummus, or veggie nori rolls, edamame and seaweed salad if I’m at a sushi place.
Okay, but where do you get your protein from?
Ah – the all elusive protein question. I could rave on and on about all the vegan protein sources out there – (because trust me there are a boatload) but instead I’ll just share the ones I consume the most:
- Beans, lentils and pulses – have you seen how much chickpeas I consume?
- Lots of nuts and seeds – (hemp seeds in smoothies, flaxseeds in baking, almonds in nut milk, peanuts in PB, you get the picture.)
- Cereals and grains like quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth (all of which are complete proteins meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids) as well as oats.
- Soy milk/yoghurts and other dairy imitation products.
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
Really the question should be where don’t you get your protein from. If someone is still skeptical about my protein consumption after I list some of the above, I ask them to compare biceps.
Let’s just say the conversation usually ends there.
Hummus – practically a food group where I’m concerned.
As a vegan athlete – how do you deal with crazy hunger days?
Bottomless-pit stomach days are not uncommon, especially if I’ve been doing strength training or HIIT workouts like bodyrock. I don’t necessarily eat anything different on days like that, I just naturally eat more than I would as a result of the intense calorie burn. I have found however that starchy carbs like potatoes and wholemeal bread help keep me fuller for longer so I’ll throw together a hearty hummus, avocado, tomato, lettuce and curried carrot sandwich in lieu of a monster salad bowl for example.
What’s the deal with B12? What supplements do you take?
B12 is an essential b-complex vitamin that aids in the production of red blood cells and maintaining a healthy nervous system among other things. Scientific evidence shows that although the daily recommended dosage is very low, there are no adequate plant-based sources of B12 – so it’s the one vitamin that must be supplemented. Now just so were clear – neither plants nor animals can synthesize it, all of the vitamin B12 in the world comes from bacteria. Animal foods are only rich in B12 because animals eat foods that are contaminated with it or because bacteria living in an animal’s intestines make it, and modern sanitisation methods make sure that all B12 producing bacteria is washed off of fruits and vegetables.
I currently don’t take any supplements other than B12 – I get regular blood work done and my B12 levels are fine. I also make sure to consume more fortified foods like non-dairy milk and nutritional yeast.
How will you deal with being vegan when it comes to getting married and having kids?
Only an Arab vegan would get asked this at the age of 21. Funnily enough – I get asked variations of this question a lot. “What are you going to do if your husband isn’t vegan?” “Won’t it be really difficult to date a non-vegan?” “Would you cook meat for your family?” “Would you raise your kids vegan?”
I’d love to answer all of those questions – but the truth is I won’t know for sure until I go through it all. Ultimately, being vegan is a lifestyle choice I intend to firmly stand by for the rest of my life – and with all due respect, no carnivorous man is going to change that. If and when I get married – I’ll be sure to choose a partner who accepts me for who I am, eating choices included. Similarly, I would accept and respect his eating choices – whatever they may be. Would it be easier to date a vegan/vegetarian? Of course, but the odds are, I’ll most likely end up with someone Arab/Middle Eastern, and pickers can’t be choosers. All jokes aside though – diet will never be a precursor for me when it comes to “choosing a mate” so to speak. At present I would never cook meat for anyone and I can’t see that changing. If my future husband can’t go without his daily fix of dead animal carcass he’s going to have to roll up his sleeves and fire up the grill, otherwise it’s a lifetime of hummus, quinoa and kale till death do us part.
Now where can I find me a man like that?