Green Party MP Gareth Hughes is tackling a challenge of his own this April. Beginning on April 1, Hughes and his family have taken on the NZ Vegan Society’s 21 Day Vegan Challenge. Three weeks of no meat or animal by-products like cheese, cow’s milk, eggs and honey.
By Makayla Wallace-Tidd
Growing up was a meat and three vegetables lifestyle each night for the Hughes’ household. This changed when Gareth was 18 years old and trying to impress his girlfriend at the time, who now happens to be his wife, Meghan, a pescatarian.
They now have two children of their own. Their son Arlo, 11, loves to eat red meat and was the most reluctant about the challenge. However their daughter Zoe, 8, was more open to the idea as she usually only eat chicken. “I don’t like to push my beliefs onto my kids, I want them to make their own choices… diet options are quite personal,” says Hughes.
The family so far has tried a lot of vegan alternatives available in their local supermarkets including cheeses, chorizo, chicken and one of their favourites, vegan butter.
“You couldn’t even tell the difference with the vegan butter,” says Gareth.
He believes that the families biggest struggles will be cheese, milk and ice-cream. The kids are big fans of cow’s milk and traditional ice-cream so making the switch could be interesting. While cheese is Hughes “Kryptonite”. “I think if I can cut that out, I might lose some weight,” he says.
Meal planning and prepping will be a key component to sticking to the challenge. Parliament offers very minimal vegan options on the menu and travelling through small towns you will be lucky if you find a vegetarian sandwich let alone a vegan one.
Gareth has a busy period ahead, meaning lunch and dinner will be eaten on the road or at parliament, so being prepared is crucial.
His big motivators for participating in the challenge are the environmental factors involved with the animal product industry as well as animal welfare.
Gareth noted that the milk and egg production industry in New Zealand involves poor animal living conditions and that it’s troubling. Arguments have previously been made that the meat export industry is a huge part of the New Zealand economy, while this isn’t a lie the horticulture production is very close in comparison. $5.9 billion worth of meat was exported in 2018 whereas in 2017 the horticulture exports were at $5.1 billion.
Eating a plant-based diet means reducing your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015, the agriculture sector was responsible for approximately 48 per cent of the gross total emissions.
Since being a vegetarian, Gareth said he has had a world of food opportunities open up to him. “There’s a sort of concern that if you were to go vegetarian, the food would be tasteless and bland.”
He said he is thankful that he removed himself from the meat and three vegetable lifestyle as he now loves Mexican, Asian and Indian cuisine.
The Hughes family hopes to move to a “flexitarian” diet once the challenge is over.
If you wish to take part in the NZ Vegan Society’s 21 Day Vegan Challenge, head to tryvegan.org.nz for more info.