When I went vegan in April 2011, I began the most joyfully creative phase of my life so far. I’m a novelist, and I used to have frustrating “trough periods” in between books—but since that spring I’ve written three novels in three years and the ideas (great ideas!) keep on coming. So if a fellow artist talks about feeling blocked, I share my “vegan conversion” story and ask if they’ve ever considered a connection between diet and creative output.
There is significant scientific research to indicate that a diet heavy in animal protein contributes to plaque buildup in the brain—read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, if you haven’t already—but the psychological changes that occur after switching to a plant-based diet are much more immediate and recognizable. Here are some thoughts on how and why going vegan can make you more creative.
Like many new vegans, I got adventurous in the kitchen. How can I come up with vegan brownies that don’t taste like sidewalk chalk? Ooh, Brussels sprouts are AMAZING when roasted at 375º for 45 minutes with olive oil, salt and pepper! Nutritional yeast? Why not! Your food is alive, and you’re always tinkering with recipes to come up with something even more satisfying. This is just one way to stay mentally flexible—by seeing challenges as fun instead of frustrating, and playing “what if?” That renewed sense of curiosity, open mindedness, and innovation benefits all creative endeavor.
You might be familiar with PETA’s classic adage: “Don’t look away.” It takes courage to watch undercover footage from slaughterhouses, hatcheries, and fur farms and resolve to change our actions and habits, even though our family and friends may initially react with derision or resentment. It would be so much easier to pretend we don’t see it, that the abuse, exploitation, and overwhelming cruelty aren’t really happening. Making life changes in accordance with our ethical beliefs is definitely risky, but all change entails risk. Now that I’ve taken those risks in my personal life I feel prepared (even eager!) to make creative choices that frighten me—and will yield much sweeter fruit.
Anyone who’s watched Brené Brown’s popular TED talks knows that vulnerability isn’t something to be ashamed of. In any creative act—be it a three-course dinner or a 300-page novel—you are essentially saying, “Here is the best that is in me.” There’s always the possibility that someone will tell you your best isn’t good enough for them, but you are willing to take that risk—willing to hear that your vegan mac ‘n cheese doesn’t taste enough like “the real thing,” or that your short story didn’t blow them away—because withholding your creativity amounts to living in fear, and there are too many billions of sentient beings on this planet living in fear already!
Introspection and Cognitive Resonance
Recently I read a blog post in which a popular novelist wrote, “I like animals. I still eat them, but whatever.” If this writer had made such a patently illogical statement on any other topic, his readers would have called him on it! Most of us begin life mired in that intellectual inertia—that place of turn off that footage, I don’t want to see it so I can go on living as I always have—but there’s no room for baloney in a vegan lifestyle. You need to face yourself—your own inconsistencies and hypocrisies, all the times when you did look away—and that unflinching honesty will lead you to a greater sense of compassion, for yourself and everyone else (and that includes people who exist only in your head and on the page). In art, this translates as “getting out of your own way.”
Mindfulness and Connectedness
Going vegan has had a profound impact on my spiritual life. I feel intimately connected to my food, my dining companions, and the animals I am no longer exploiting, and I also see the connection between my diet and mind and how each affects my perception of the world around me. I trust my creative process more than I ever did before—recognizing that much of the “work” actually happens on a subconscious level—and, buoyed by that confidence, I’m able to work without any of the doubts and fears that plagued me as a younger writer. I’m also using my energy in a much more mindful way. When I catch myself brooding over something upsetting or pointless, I say, “do I really want to spend my energy here?”, and this practice has no doubt contributed to my enhanced productivity.
Will going vegan really make you a better artist? Well, Leonardo da Vinci didn’t eat animals. Neither did Tolstoy, the Shelleys, or George Bernard Shaw. While that seems like a paltry list compared to all the luminaries of history who did eat meat, who’s to say what else they might have accomplished during longer, healthier lives with clearer minds and more compassionate hearts?
Camille DeAngelis, VLCE is the author of the novels Mary Modern, Petty Magic, and the forthcoming Bones & All, a novel about cannibals that somewhat sneakily asks readers to rethink the practice of flesh eating. She is currently working on veganizing an 18th-century Scottish cookbook, and blogs about her culinary adventures at Cometparty.com. You can also connect with her on Twitter at @cometparty.