By Nigel Oakins
June 15, 2020
The head of Blue Mango Publishing, Tatler Thailand’s publisher, went vegan “by accident” exactly one year ago; here’s his reflection on his experience and whether or not there will be a year two…
I would like to be fully vegan in dining choice but confess I have turned the occasional blind eye to traces of animal product in my food and drink consumption, mostly out of laziness and a love of red wine and beer (I know there are vegan wines and beers but not on most restaurants wine lists in Bangkok). And there’s other stuff too I may have failed on if I took the time to look more closely at labels! But in my eyes at least I have given it a good shot.
I got started on the journey by mistake and coincidence. A year ago, in June, I was invited to the Edipresse/Asia Tatler regional conference. Also attending was my colleague Mika, who is and was then vegan, and who had requested plant-based catering for each of the event meal-times. For convenience at the first evening dinner, the organiser placed Mika at the same table with the other two delegates requesting vegan meals. I joined their table. Somehow I was served the vegan meal, as one person did not show up. I thought nothing much of it until late in the service when I noticed most of the others were having either chicken or fish. I was too busy chatting to notice the lack of meat and dairy. Sean, one of Tatler’s senior executives in HK, took the trouble to educate me on the benefits, and the cautions, of a plant-based diet and I was mildly interested.
Early next morning, ahead of the conference start, I popped down to the fitness centre to help shake off the after-effects of the previous evening’s wine; Edipresse were good hosts! Sean and Mika and the other vegan meal eater were the only three others working out and they were lifting and running at very energetic levels. And they all looked pretty fit and in excellent shape. The connection was made in my mind. Plant-based = healthy attitude. With some further instructions from Sean, I decided to start there and then. My lunch the day before was to be my final non-plant only meal.
Sean kindly gifted me the How Not To Die cookbook, by Dr Michael Greger, and I vowed to just throw myself into a new regime. I admit the first night was tough. Three friends (Peter, Tim and Mark who drink a lot of wine and eat a lot of steak) had invited me to join them for a steak and wine dinner at the American Club Hong Kong. The chef was a little surprised but kind enough to cater outside the steak-based menu and prepare a pasta and tomato dish. I was on my way.
I liken the first weeks of eating plant-based meals to the first weeks of not having sugar in tea and coffee. The first time you taste unsweetened coffee, after years of adding two spoonfuls, the taste is ghastly. But gradually you start to appreciate the aroma of the tea and coffee and the variety of the flavours, until within two weeks you could never dream of adding sugar again. Well for me it was the same with vegetables. At first, I would struggle to eat anything on the plate. But again, within two weeks, even raw vegetables began to take on new textures and tastes that had been hidden to me for decades by overcooking, gravies and sauces. Over time I have learned where to get the best vegan meals. I now cook for myself many days of the week, and I have discovered dozens of new plants, herbs, fruits, nuts and legumes that previously had never crossed my mind to eat. I genuinely do not miss meat at all, I have no intention of eating processed animal products ever again. I know for sure that some egg and dairy product has crept on to my plate hidden in the form of some bread or pastries, and perhaps more, but it is miniscule and I do not seek after it.
I have lost weight, about 12kg in total over the year without ever eating less than normal or being hungry. I have dropped a much needed four inches around the waist and very few of my old clothes fit. I run for up to 30 minutes three times a week but other than a few daily stretches and back exercises (for herniated lower back discs while canoeing on the Yukon River last summer but that’s a story for another time), I have cut back on my previous gym routines.
As people seem strangely concerned about my vitamin intake and that I may have no access to protein, I had a complete blood checkup to coincide with this first anniversary to see what damage may have been done in that area. All seems fine and frankly better than I had hoped for—although I need to keep myself better hydrated. I sleep seven to eight hours straight through most nights, and my arthritic hands can hold a golf club and tennis racket without pain for the first time in two decades. Somehow, I feel younger and fancy that perhaps I look younger too (wishful thinking?).
I sleep seven to eight hours straight through most nights, and my arthritic hands can hold a golf club and tennis racket without pain for the first time in two decades.
In the past, I turned a blind eye to the atrocious farming practices that led to the bacon, sausages and eggs on my breakfast plate. I no longer need to be a hypocrite about that. I have become more militantly opposed to the animal food processing industries. I see that poverty and starvation are in part caused by the enormous amounts of planet Earth’s land that is swallowed up in producing animal feed. That the impact on the environment from this farming is a horribly negative one and needs to change dramatically, if not end. I know there is no place in humanity for the illegal trade in wild animals.
At sixty-six years of age I am very much looking forward to my next business venture and to re-imagining those businesses I am currently working with so they stay relevant. I want to be around like-minded people and to enjoy new challenges. I want to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible.
I often wondered if I was asked what my preferred last meal might be how I would answer. Now I know. I would start with a tofu and wakame seaweed miso soup followed by two (it is my last meal) Impossible meat burgers and then a cherries, strawberries and peach fruit cocktail dusted with icing sugar and a scoop of vegan lime sorbet. That would be washed down with a bottle (or two) of 2014 Chateau Larose Haut Medoc. Apart from the great taste of my chosen last meal I would not want to go to my grave with indigestion.
So, in summary, I feel so much better health-wise, I still enjoy eating a varied diet and I do not miss meat, poultry, fish and dairy produce. Freed of guilt I am taking a far more active part in the narratives around the need for change. I am looking forward to year two of this latish-in-life journey.