Project Update: Veg*anism and Happiness Part 1

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Could veg*anism become the pathway towards human well-being? In this Project Update, Researcher Network member, Jana Krizanova explores how this question provides the foundation to her research in the area of conscious human nutrition and its relationship with psychological outcomes.

 

During my work I came across many findings, which, unexpectedly offer contradictory statements. This fact was a wake up call to a deeper need for understanding why veg*ans experience different levels of happiness when committed to a plant-based diet.

As an old saying points out, “we are what we eat”, but this can be also perceived from a transformational perspective “we become what we eat”.

Every day we make hundreds of decisions, from the clothes we put on, the transport we use, and the breakfast, lunch or dinner we eat. All of them contribute to build a bit more of our personality and identity and modify our cells with every energy intake. Yet sometimes we do not appreciate the impact of all of this daily routine has on our overall well-being. And we continue in our life project searching for a piece of long-lasting happiness. Some will succeed, others not.

But could what we do and who we are bring more happiness to our lives? Here veg*anism is the perfect tool for materialization of the above-mentioned questions to contrast my hypothesis. The veg*an way of being not only encloses answers to the questions “who we are” and “what we do” but also provides the very important answer of “why we do what we do”.

Generally, omnivore mainstream culture explains why people eat animals with statements such as "it is a natural thing to do"; "animals serve us"; "meat is a tasty protein source"; "we need to eat meat to be strong"; "real men eat meat"...to name but a few. But if we look deeper at these reasons, we only find a reflection of a strongly rooted dominance culture that had been installed in our education systems for many years for some hidden profitable reasons of a few giant food companies.

On the other hand, some of us at a certain point in our lives receive a wake up call and ask ourselves why we do what we do and if this action really makes our life more meaningful and then, we discover a new reality and a new truth about who we really are or who we want to be. Consequently, we start to live the veg*an transformation. This change of our personal identity through the means of daily food choices becomes a basic pillar of our philosophy, which evolves our belief systems into a new way of life that is more compassionate and gives more value to our own life and the life of other living beings.

In this vein, I develop my PhD research about veg*anism (vegan & vegetarian synergy) from the perspective of its relationship with human happiness because each one of us needs to be happy and each one of us needs to eat.

In my research I define subjective well-being as a multifaceted field of study, widely applied in different areas such as economics, social science and general social discourse. It embraces physical, psychological and emotional health and also aspects of life satisfaction such as human happiness (McMahon, Williams & Tapsell, 2010).

Recently, research about veg*anism is on the rise since it connects food choices with emotional and planetary well-being. Therefore, by the means of veg*anism we could contribute to preserve our identity, environment and achieve the pillars of sustainability (Ruby, 2012).

From an environmental perspective, the positive relationship of veg*anism and collective well-being is clear to appreciate. According to much research, what a person decides to eat at an individual level makes a big difference to the environment and other living beings (Marlow et al., 2009). Consequently, a dietary change would achieve the environmental goals with efficiency of 50% in GHG emissions reduction and extensive land use demand affecting biodiversity, all related to a current omnivore diet. In this vein, veg*anism becomes a feasible solution for a human sustainable diet due to its lack of meat intake (Hallström, Röös & Börjesson, 2015).

On the other hand, from a happiness perspective, the relationship of veg*anism and individual well-being is not that clear to see as recent studies provide contradictory evidence (Rosenfeld, 2018).

As a result, there is a call to investigate veg*anism from a more holistic angle so that it can become not only a sustainable human diet but also the pathway towards increased levels of human happiness and thus, achieve a better introduction among wider spheres of our society.

I differentiate between the effect of veg*an dietary lifestyle on physical and psychological health, and focus on the latter.

 

My research therefore suggests that as well as connecting to nature we also require a veg*an commitment philosophy so that an individual may experience even higher levels of subjective well-being. Therefore, embracing our connection with nature makes our lives more meaningful (Nisbet, Zelenski & Murphy, 2011) and committing to veg*anism makes our lives even more happier.

This perspective sheds more light onto the current understanding of the complex relationship veg*anism performs on human happiness since it may bring positive and negative effects on subjective well-being. By connecting to nature,however, veg*ans are able to trade off the initial lower subjective well-being and reach even higher levels of happiness than their omnivore counterparts.

In conclusion, these findings suggest that veg*ans may be happier than omnivores and that veg*anism might constitute a feasible path towards human happiness as long as it is embraced as a way of being connected to others.

‘True happiness is impossible without true health, and true health is impossible without a rigid control of the palate. All the other senses will automatically come under control. And he who has conquered his senses has already conquered the whole world’.

Mahatma Gandhi 

References

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Marlow, H. J., Hayes, W. K., Soret, S., Carter, R. L., Schwab, E. R., & Sabate, J. (2009). Diet and the environment: does what you eat matter?. The American journal of clinical nutrition89(5), 1699S-1703S.

Hallström, E., Carlsson-Kanyama, A., & Börjesson, P. (2015). Environmental impact of dietary change: a systematic review. Journal of Cleaner Production91, 1-11.

Rosenfeld, D. L. (2018). The psychology of vegetarianism: Recent advances and future directions. Appetite.

Rothgerber, H. (2013). Real men don’t eat (vegetable) quiche: Masculinity and the justification of meat consumption. Psychology of Men & Masculinity14(4), 363.

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Forestell, C. A., & Nezlek, J. B. (2018). Vegetarianism, depression, and the five factor model of personality. Ecology of food and nutrition57(3), 246-259.

Conner, T. S., Brookie, K. L., Carr, A. C., Mainvil, L. A., & Vissers, M. C. (2017). Let them eat fruit! The effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on psychological well-being in young adults: A randomized controlled trial. PloS one12(2), e0171206.

Michalak, J., Zhang, X. C., & Jacobi, F. (2012). Vegetarian diet and mental disorders: results from a representative community survey. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity9(1), 67.

Lavallee, K., Zhang, X. C., Michalak, J., Schneider, S., & Margraf, J. (2019). Vegetarian diet and mental health: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses in culturally diverse samples. Journal of affective disorders248, 147-154.

Link, L. B., Hussaini, N. S., & Jacobson, J. S. (2008). Change in quality of life and immune markers after a stay at a raw vegan institute: a pilot study. Complementary therapies in medicine16(3), 124-130.

Beezhold, B. L., & Johnston, C. S. (2012). Restriction of meat, fish, and poultry in omnivores improves mood: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Nutrition journal11(1), 9.

Worsley, A., & Skrzypiec, G. (1997). Teenage vegetarianism: Beauty or the beast?. Nutrition Research17(3), 391-404.

Lindeman, M. (2002). The state of mind of vegetarians: Psychological well-being or distress?. Ecology of food and nutrition41(1), 75-86.

Timko, C. A., Hormes, J. M., & Chubski, J. (2012). Will the real vegetarian please stand up? An investigation of dietary restraint and eating disorder symptoms in vegetarians versus non-vegetarians. Appetite58(3), 982-990.

Zuromski, K. L., Witte, T. K., Smith, A. R., Goodwin, N., Bodell, L. P., Bartlett, M., & Siegfried, N. (2015). Increased prevalence of vegetarianism among women with eating pathology. Eating behaviors19, 24-27.

Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Murphy, S. A. (2011). Happiness is in our nature: Exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies12(2), 303-322.

Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M., & Murphy, S. A. (2009). The nature relatedness scale: Linking individuals' connection with nature to environmental concern and behavior. Environment and behavior41(5), 715-740.

Twigg, J. (1979). Food for thought: purity and vegetarianism. Religion9(1), 13-35.

Gandhi, M. (1923). A guide to health. Prabhat Prakashan.

 

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