Vegetables CREDIT  Megan Hodges - Unsplash.jpg
Health and Fitness

Can You Be Vegan In The Military?

November is World Vegan Month, but it is it possible to service in the military while maintaining a vegan diet?

Vegetables CREDIT  Megan Hodges - Unsplash.jpg

Picture courtesy of Megan Hodges.

Seven per cent of people in the UK are vegan, according to a study by Compare the Market earlier this year, while a study by the Vegan Society suggests the number of vegans in Britain could rise over the next few years.

November is World Vegan Month, but is it possible to serve in the military while maintaining a vegan diet?

Vegan trainer, nutritionist and 'Hench Herbivore' Youtuber Paul Kerton is a firm believer that it is possible.

Mr Kerton has previously trained vegan soldiers, and emphasises the benefits of a whole foods-based vegan diet, warning against processed products. 

He claims to have more energy on the diet and says he recovers more quickly after training than when he was on a diet including animal products.

He puts this down to animal products being vasoconstrictors, meaning they shut down the blood flow, while a whole foods vegan diet contains nitrate-rich foods such as leafy greens.

"We make nitric oxide from these foods, which is a vasodilator, so it delivers oxygen and nutrients to working muscles, helps to eliminate waste products and it’s anti-inflammatory so helps with recovery a lot."

He claimed that while training, you can "go harder for longer" on a whole foods vegan diet than on an omnivorous diet, as animal products create acid, while a vegan diet is more alkaline and decreases delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), associated with training.

According to Mr Kerton, another benefit of the whole foods vegan diet is the cost: "If you went to a budget supermarket and based your food around a big sack of rice, dried lentils, some frozen spinach, frozen berries, bananas, I believe it would be the cheapest diet in the world and it would be the most healthful diet in the world."

He did admit that you need to eat more on a vegan diet, but added: "Who doesn't like eating?"

Green vegetables CREDIT Lou Lieabu - Unsplash
According to Paul Kerton, a whole foods vegan diet contains nitrate-rich foods, such as leafy greens (Picture: Lou Lieabu).

However, what about the practicality of maintaining a vegan diet while serving in the armed forces?

Chief Petty Officer Chris Oliver has been in the Royal Navy for 17 years and a vegan for five.

He found there have been changes to catering to accommodate a vegan diet, if possible: "There are vegetarian operational ration packs now but in order to have a fully vegan one I would have to through a few and pick things out. 

"Since becoming vegan, I have found that most establishments will cater for me given notice.

"Failing that, there is always plenty of rice, potatoes, beans and veg on offer. Additionally, I have attended functions where I have been catered for really well."

CPO Oliver says that veganism fits well with the military ethos and in no ways compromises it: "I see veganism as a positive movement; limiting our affecting the environment, reducing waste, reducing pollution and not causing unnecessary harm to both humans and animal.

"I have always tried to be the best person I can and so this way of life has not impacted on the way I do my job.

"I'm still proud of the work we do, still happy to protect our waterways, provide disaster relief and support our people all over the globe."

He still dislikes wearing leather, but says it's 'part of the uniform he's paid to wear'.

A Royal Navy spokesperson said that they have started to "investigate sourcing alternative materials for elements of the uniform, such as safety boots, that still give the appropriate protection”.   

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) says all dietary requirements are catered for, including vegan meals. An MOD spokesperson told Forces News:

“Healthy living and fitness in the Armed Forces is of vital importance and we encourage a balanced and nutritious diet across the military.

“As part of this we work with our partners to ensure that all dietary requirements are catered for, including providing vegan meals when they are requested.”

The Royal Navy is also trialling a new range of vegan menus on a ship in 2019, with the intention of rolling them out across the fleet.

Forces News and BFBS reporter Rob Olver has been vegan for 22 years and been on two tours with the forces.

He says he has not had as much trouble as one might expect: "Military chefs are incredibly versatile.

“It could be that I have been privileged on tour and been given special treatment because I have always been really well looked after."

He has also found ration pack meals that are suitable for vegans: "Thai coconut vegetable curry, I think was one."

Watch how the thousands of troops deployed in Oman on Exercise Saif Sareea 3 have been fed, including those with specific dietary requirements:

Rob also says as the majority of serving personnel meat-eaters, he is often able to eat up their leftovers: "I have been to quite a few remote bases littered with unopened veggie meals, so no problem for me at all!

"It was the same with the packs of nuts and dried fruit that nobody else wanted."

But he wasn't sure how easy it was based on his first-hand experience of vegan soldiers:

"I've only ever met one and he lived on pot noodles - not so good."

Rob says he has not always been met with great acceptance around the forces community: "Years ago, I was in a field kitchen and the military press officer had mentioned my dietary requirements to the chefs.

"In the lunch queue all eyes turned to me when someone shouted from the hotplate 'Oi! Who's the vegan? And where is he?'"

Personnel working on Exercise Trident Juncture in Norway were catered for by the same team of chefs:

In August 2018, a decision in Finland to serve two vegetarian meals every week to troops was criticised by a defence minister.

Jussi Niinisto told the Finnish Aamulehti newspaper: "This forced feeding seems to be an ideological decision.

"As the old saying goes, an army marches on its stomach.

"No army can fight on lentil soup or cauliflower shakes."