We at Shaman like to get curious around the topics that are being spoken about and that are gaining momentum for advocating a more conscious and healthier lifestyle. We also just love talking to people, so we caught up with Rachel Rebibo, a wildlife and conservation photographer on something that is close to our heart.
January is often linked to cutting out certain items from your diet like alcohol for Dry January and more recently, animal-derived products for Veganuary. According to Google trends, searches for “veganism” have been rising steadily since 2012 and now, almost a decade later more than 3.5 million Brits identify as vegan (Independent).
Rachel told us about her own journey to becoming vegan, how this lifestyle can significantly reduce your environmental impact on the Earth and her tips to slowly integrate it into your everyday life. You will also catch a glimpse of some of her phenomenal work. Happy Veganuary and enjoy the read!
SHAMAN: WHEN AND WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO GO VEGAN?
Rachel Rebibo: It wasn’t an overnight thing for me, it took me about a year to transition into being fully vegan and that wasn’t even necessarily my intention at the beginning – it just sort of happened naturally. The trigger that got me asking myself real questions about eating animals was my very first African safari, when I photographed a beautiful antelope and then went back to the lodge to see they were serving it on the menu. From there I began researching, learning and eliminating.
S: WHEN WE THINK ABOUT REDUCING OUR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT ON THE EARTH WE USUALLY JUMP TO THINK OF FOSSIL FUELS, RIDING A BIKE TO WORK OR ELIMINATING SINGLE USE PLASTIC. HOW CAN A VEGAN DIET REDUCE THE IMPACT HUMANS HAVE ON THE PLANET?
RR: While fossil fuels definitely dominate in terms of emissions, most of us have to use them in some form or another in order to exist and operate in the world today. Food, on the other hand, is an area where the majority of people living in developed nations have a choice. Data is ever changing, and industry special interest groups often finance studies that contradict reports which point the finger at animal agriculture. Regardless of these details, one thing the no experts are debating is the fact that animal agriculture creates a massive amount of emissions and waste, while also using massive quantities of resources like water, land and grain. Recent research from 2020 states that in the European Union, cows create more emissions than cars and vans combined. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/22/eu-farm-animals-produce-more-emissions-than-cars-and-vans-combined-greenpeace.) The ways in which animal agriculture affects the environment are vast, all encompassing, highly complex and hotly debated, but the primary areas of focus from environmentalists are: emissions, land usage, resource usage and waste. Waste is a nice way of saying poop. We farm and kill over 70 billion land animals a year and those animals all have to poop. So yeah, it’s a lot. We also chop down rainforest to graze cattle or grow soy and corn to feed to livestock. At this point it’s a highly inefficient system to nourish the Earth’s 7+ billion people. The study Grazed and Confused from the Food Climate Research Network at Oxford University has some great insight on the environmental impact of animal agriculture: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/publications/grazed-and-confused/
Just consider: the majority of citizens of developed nations eat animal products everyday, three times a day. Making minor changes can drastically reduce your emissions and water consumption.
S: WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 TIPS ON GOING VEGAN?
RR: Go slow! If you see, hear or learn something that strikes you with such conviction you feel compelled to completely change your diet overnight, I admire and applaud you. For the majority of people, that’s not going to happen. Cutting one food group out at a time, and replacing it with something plant based is a slow and steady way to make real progress.
Follow vegan food bloggers/websites/accounts for inspiration. If you’re constantly seeing delicious looking vegan food throughout your day, you’re more likely to be inspired to try new things. There are vegan foodies for everyone, whether you want 5 ingredients and 30 minutes or to spend your day creating a masterpiece.
Research: Start doing your own research on where your food comes from and what happens to it before it gets to your plate. We are so disconnected from our food, the average person has absolutely no idea what goes into raising an animal, slaughtering and packaging it for consumption. Seek out knowledge, watch videos that make you uncomfortable and don’t turn away from things that you “don’t want to see.” Instead, explore the feeling that makes you want to turn away. And if you don’t have that feeling, that’s okay too. Seek out different sources on environmental impact and health, and always check who is funding a study – never take the data at face value.
S: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS LINE OF WORK AND WHAT DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GET OUT OF IT ON A DAILY BASIS?
RR: I’ve been a photographer my whole life, but I’ve had a few “specialities” over the years. I was in fashion and advertising for over a decade, and I’ve now been shooting wildlife for about 4 years seriously. It was a slow transition, but one that really felt right. As a vegan, on a daily basis I would say that I feel a sort of inner peace and tranquility that I never had before. That may sound crazy cheesy and very new-age heady, but it’s true. I have always considered myself as an animal lover and I was living with an internal conflict that came from eating them, I just didn’t know it until I woke up. I also feel good about being able to say, “I don’t participate in that” when I see horrible videos of animal abuse, documentaries about environmental impact and studies about health and meat consumption. Working as a wildlife advocate and photographer, I hope that I can draw attention to animals, areas, projects and people that need and deserve it. Photographic tourism is integral to wildlife conservation, it’s not reasonable to expect countries and communities to protect so much land (and the wildlife within it) if it’s not economically viable and produces no revenue. Sharing those stories can engage people to care more about our wild spaces.
S: WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO VEGAN RECIPES THAT PEOPLE COULD TRY AT HOME?
RR: I am obsessed with this vegan pizza from the Buddhist Chef! I’ve made it for many non-vegan people and ALL approve: https://www.thebuddhistchef.com/recipe/ultimate-vegan-pizza/
Also this pan-seared garlic kale is amazing: https://healthyhappylife.com/go-to-garlicky-kale/
Sweet potato chickpea buddha bowl: https://minimalistbaker.com/sweet-potato-chickpea-buddha-bowl/
And I love these veggie chickpea “meatballs” which do not at all taste like meat, but rather taste like something else altogether different but super delicious: https://www.theglowingfridge.com/veggie-chickpea-meatballs/
S: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE VEGAN BRANDS THAT YOU BELIEVE ARE ALSO DOING THEIR PART TO REDUCE THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT?
RR: Embassy of Bricks and Logs is a very cool brand from Germany that makes warm puffy coats from recycled plastic bottles and a sustainable cotton interior. If you actually watch a video of what they do to geese to manufacture down coats, it’s the stuff of nightmares. https://embassyofbricksandlogs.com/
I love Fantome, a brand that makes bags out of recycled bicycle tires. I have the weekender bag, it definitely has a leather vibe to it. https://www.maison-fantome.fr/
Then on a less niche scale and not technically vegan, I think it’s cool that Arket offers both recycled and sustainable pieces, including fabrics like Lyocell (made from sustainable tree pulp and recycled cotton scraps) and Viscose. They have recycled wool over coats, puffy coats, sweaters, pants and just lots of options. https://www.arket.com/en_eur/search.html?q=recycled
S: ARE THERE ANY OTHER HEALTH TRENDS YOU HAVE NOTICED THAT HAVE A POSITIVE ON THE HUMAN BODY AND BY DEFAULT HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE PLANET?
RR: Just eating whole foods and learning to cook and meal prep as much as possible. As a society we are so dependent on prepared or partially prepared foods, and a lot of synthetic ingredients plus added sugar and sodium come with that. But more importantly, plastic also comes with that. So. Much. Plastic. Imagine if when you went to your grocery store, you only bought foods that didn’t come wrapped in plastic. That seems really challenging doesn’t it? That’s because it is. It’s almost impossible to go completely plastic free with food, but transitioning to a diet that consists primarily of whole ingredients which you then prepare yourself reduces your plastic waste drastically. The bulk food aisle can play a big role in this transition!