Unlike vegetarianism, which relates solely to one’s diet, Veganism is a philosophical decision about how to live the good life. Vegans avoid either consuming or using animal products. In dietary terms, they do not eat any meat, poultry, fish or dairy. Nor do they imbibe anything which contains an animal by-product such as gelatin or rennet. Moreover, all materials derived from animals, be it leather, fur, wool, silk, honey or beeswax, are strictly off-limits.
Vegans are motivated by compassion for animal welfare and a general reverence for life. They also share a concern for the environment. The American Vegan Society promotes the philosophy of ‘Ahimsa’, a Sanskrit term which envisages a life in which the default position is not to do harm and from there one sets out to be a force for good.
The health benefits of a vegan diet are there for all to see. By steering clear of diets high in fats and sugars, Vegans reduce the risk of the many ailments with which such diets are associated. Namely, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. The principal foodstuffs that they eat are fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, pulses and soya.
The crucial consideration for Vegans is that they get the required amount of proteins and nutrients. The vast majority of us obtain all that we need in that respect from meat, fish and dairy, but vegans have to do their homework due to the fact that their diet is not as Protein or Vitamin rich. Specifically, they must ensure that they have enough Protein, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. This entails adding some fortified foodstuffs and supplements to their diet.
My friend Josh has been a vegan for 4 years and he tells me that the supplements vegans have to pay particularly close attention to are vitamin B12 – which is the hardest to come by – and the fatty acids, Omega 3 and Omega 6. You can get B12 from nutritional yeast or enriched soya milk and Omega 3’s from tofu, walnuts and flaxseeds. Omega 6’s are relatively common in vegetable oils. He also points out that supplements are often problematic as many of them are gelcaps that are made with gelatin (animal bones).
Josh strives for purity as a vegan but he is realistic enough to appreciate that it is not possible to be 100% vegan in our society. He says that the use of animals in our society is pretty much ubiquitous: ‘From asphalt and windshield washer fluid, to beer, wine and sugar,’ is how he puts it.
Vegan Idealists are denigrated by society’s hard-nosed cynics who portray them as weak, head-in-the-clouds, do-gooders. Similar charges might well be leveled at others who believe in a high-minded doctrine, cause or an ethos; it could just as easily be pacifists or proponents of the electric car.
To my mind, Vegans can be proud of the lifestyle choices they have made. They pursue wholesome, ethical and essentially healthy lives. The fact is that their carbon footprint is considerably less than the rest of us – the average American diet produces 1485 kg more per year in C0 2 emissions than a Vegan diet.
The meat and dairy industries spend millions on conditioning humanity to believe that there is no alternative to their products if we want to sustain ourselves. Vegans are living, breathing proof that there is still a choice to be made. The individual still has the strength of character to resist the monoliths on our planet.
Browsing on-line I stumbled upon a site at www.theveganchef.com which belongs to Chef Beverly. She has some fabulous sounding recipes, one example being a soy and fruit based dish called ‘Cheese quesadillas with berry and peach fruit salsa.’
I am off to have a go at cooking my first ever vegan dish….Check back with me soon for the results.