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