So ve­gan is the new black on the foodie front. But what does it ac­tu­ally mean to be ve­gan? finds out

The Star Early Edition - - FOOD VERVE -

ADOPT­ING a ve­gan life­style seems to be a grow­ing trend world­wide and in South Africa, but there can be con­fu­sion over a ve­gan diet and be­ing ve­gan.

Joanne Fair­brother, the spokesman for the SA Ve­gan So­ci­ety, helped break it down for us: “Firstly, let’s take look at the def­i­ni­tion of ve­gan­ism: a phi­los­o­phy and way of liv­ing which seeks to ex­clude – as far as is pos­si­ble and prac­ti­cal – all forms of ex­ploita­tion of, and cru­elty to, an­i­mals for food, cloth­ing or any other pur­pose,” she says.

“A per­son could be a di­etary-only ve­gan and still wear leather or fur, but then that def­i­ni­tion can be­come di­luted and con­fus­ing. It’s for this rea­son that some have pref­er­ence to rather re­fer to di­etary-only ve­g­ans as ‘plant-based’. Ve­gan­ism is a so­cial jus­tice move­ment, so the ve­gan life­style ex­tends far be­yond than just what we eat as we try and live in ac­cor­dance to the prin­ci­ple of ‘do the least harm’.

“For ex­am­ple ve­g­ans try and avoid sup­port­ing any kind of in­dus­try which causes di­rect an­i­mal suf­fer­ing – this in­cludes boy­cotting an­i­mals used for en­ter­tain­ment, like wild-an­i­mal cir­cuses and seaworld, along with avoid­ing house­hold and beauty prod­ucts that have been tested on an­i­mals.”

Fair­brother says there has been a mas­sive spike in in­ter­est in ve­gan­ism in South Africa. “It’s for this rea­son we’re cur­rently in the process of com­pil­ing a for­mal sur­vey due out some time this year. If we use on­line tools like Google Trends, we can de­duce that in­ter­est in ve­gan­ism in South Africa has eas­ily more than dou­bled over the last two years.”

The rise, it is be­lieved, is mainly be­cause of South Africans be­com­ing more aware of where their food and prod­ucts comes from. “Grow­ing con­cerns over cli­mate change, the ex­ploita­tion of an­i­mals as com­modi­ties, pol­lu­tion, species ex­tinc­tion, as well as South Africa’s se­vere wa­ter short­ages are all con­trib­u­tors to the growth of the ve­gan move­ment.

“Health is also a big fac­tor, with the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s 2015 re­port list­ing pro­cessed meat such as ba­con and sausages as a dan­ger­ous can­cer-caus­ing car­cino­gen.”

But do we have suf­fi­cient prod­ucts in our su­per­mar­kets, ve­gan restau­rants, bars and the like – com­pared with our global coun­ter­parts?

“With­out a doubt, the mar­ket for ve­gan prod­ucts has ex­ploded over the last few years. This ex­tends to prod­ucts rang­ing from new ve­gan al­ter­na­tives like sei­tan, meat al­ter­na­tives, de­li­cious nut cheeses, milk al­ter­na­tives and yo­ghurts; to re­tail­ers tak­ing ve­gan la­belling a lot more se­ri­ously.

Fresh fruits, veg­eta­bles and ve­gan sta­ples (beans, legumes and nuts) are read­ily avail­able in most places, but we’ve also seen an in­crease of spe­cialised ve­gan prod­ucts hit­ting the shelves of ma­jor re­tail­ers.”

While some sci­en­tific stud­ies and di­eti­tians have said that while a ve­gan diet def­i­nitely has ma­jor ben­e­fits for the body, there is also the neg­a­tive side to it – like a risk of some nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies.

Fair­brother says ve­gan di­ets have long been sup­ported and en­dorsed by or­gan­i­sa­tions like the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion, the Academy of Nu­tri­tion and Di­etet­ics, the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, the Bri­tish Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, Di­eti­cians of Canada and the Amer­i­can Di­a­betes As­so­ci­a­tion.

“While a poorly planned ve­gan diet can cer­tainly lead to health prob­lems (highly pro­cessed foods, re­fined carbs and chips can be ve­gan), a bal­anced ve­gan diet can of­ten be far health­ier than a tra­di­tional Western diet. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion, an ap­pro­pri­ately planned ve­gan diet is suit­able for all stages of the life cy­cle, in­clud­ing preg­nancy, lac­ta­tion, in­fancy, child­hood and ado­les­cence, and for ath­letes.

“A bal­anced ve­gan diet pro­vides all the protein, cal­cium, iron and io­dine re­quired by our bod­ies. There are a few key things to look out for – ve­g­ans need to be ex­tra-sure they get enough es­sen­tial fatty acids in the right ra­tios, enough iron and, most im­por­tantly, enough B12. Vi­ta­min B12 can be found in for­ti­fied foods, or can be ob­tained through sup­ple­men­ta­tion.”

She says ve­gan di­ets are quickly be­ing adopted by high-per­for­mance ath­letes, with some say­ing the change could lead to faster re­cov­ery times and in­creased en­ergy.

“Just a few no-meat ath­letes in­clude Olympic-medal win­ning track star Carl Lewis, body­builder and strong­man Pa­trik Baboumian who has bro­ken sev­eral world records, and the fa­mous ten­nis sis­ters, Venus and Ser­ena Wil­liams.” For more info on the so­ci­ety and a ve­gan life­style, you can visit

LIFE­STYLE: Joanne Fair­brother, the spokesper­son for the SA Ve­gan So­ci­ety.

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