Know a thing or two... VEGANISM


The Simple Things - - THINK BELONGINGS -

Il­lus­tra­tions: CLARE OWEN Words: FRANCESCA RYAN

“Eat­ing a ve­gan diet is the sin­gle big­gest thing you can do to re­duce your environmental im­pact”

Once seen as an ex­treme and re­stric­tive lifestyle choice, veganism is now fash­ion­able, thanks to high-pro­file fol­low­ers, aware­ness of the health ben­e­fits, and con­cerns about environmental and wel­fare is­sues. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey from The Ve­gan So­ci­ety, there are now record num­bers of ve­g­ans in Bri­tain. In the past decade, num­bers have more than tre­bled, driven mostly by the young (al­most half of ve­g­ans are un­der 35).

Its growth is also due in part to the in­crease in pos­i­tive me­dia around veganism. “Jay-Z and Bey­oncé were widely re­ported as fol­low­ing plant-based di­ets,” says Sa­man­tha Calvert at the Ve­gan So­ci­ety. “When peo­ple who have the great­est choice and the most money choose it, peo­ple who aren’t ve­gan think there must be some­thing about this – if this beau­ti­ful, suc­cess­ful per­son is ve­gan, it can’t re­ally be a weird, cranky, san­dal-wear­ing thing.”

Es­tab­lished in 1994, World Ve­gan Day on 1 Novem­ber marks the start of World Ve­gan Month, with fes­ti­vals, fairs, and bake sales around the world. Re­cently, veganism has been em­braced by the main­stream, with high-street restau­rant chains and su­per­mar­kets of­fer­ing myr­iad ve­gan op­tions. M&S has just launched the high street’s first ve­gan wrap, a mix of squash, tab­bouleh and sumac (af­ter re­search showed that 63% of their cus­tomers want to re­duce their red meat in­take), Pret A Manger has opened two veggie stores, with veg­e­tar­ian and ve­gan choices, and Lon­don has its first all-ve­gan su­per­mar­ket, Green Bay in Ful­ham.


The term ‘ve­gan’ was coined in 1944 by Don­ald Wat­son when he founded the Ve­gan So­ci­ety (whose aim was to end the suf­fer­ing and killing of an­i­mals). Ini­tially he used it to mean ‘non-dairy veg­e­tar­ian’, but from 1979 the so­ci­ety de­fined veganism as “a way of liv­ing which seeks to ex­clude, as far as pos­si­ble, all forms of ex­ploita­tion of, and cru­elty to, an­i­mals for food, cloth­ing or any other pur­pose”.

In prac­tice, veganism is a type of veg­e­tar­ian diet that is plant-based (veg­eta­bles, fruit, nuts and grains) and ex­cludes all animal foods, in­clud­ing meat, fish, dairy, eggs and honey (which is mostly pro­duced from farmed bees). Even wine (red wine is of­ten fil­tered us­ing egg whites to re­duce harsh tan­nins), beer (widely clar­i­fied us­ing isin­glass, a col­la­gen made from dried swim blad­ders of fish), and cider (clar­i­fied us­ing non-ve­gan in­gre­di­ents in­clud­ing gelatin from an animal-de­rived source) are off lim­its.

Eat­ing a ve­gan diet is the sin­gle big­gest thing you can do to re­duce your environmental im­pact. With the world’s pop­u­la­tion pre­dicted to reach 9.7 bil­lion by 2050, global food short­ages will be­come an is­sue as we run out of land to feed a pop­u­la­tion on an animal-based diet. Grow­ing ve­gan food uses 50% less land than animal agriculture, while pro­duc­ing a kilo of beef re­quires about 15,000 litres of wa­ter, as op­posed to just 180 litres for the equiv­a­lent amount of toma­toes.

Plant-based di­ets tend to be low in sat­u­rated fat, high in fi­bre and full of an­tiox­i­dants, all help­ing to re­duce the risk of heart dis­ease, type 2 di­a­betes and cancer. Al­though, con­versely, one of the most com­mon ar­gu­ments against veganism is the in­creased chance of nu­tri­tional de­fi­cien­cies, such as vi­ta­mins B (found in meat, fish, dairy) and D (found in oily fish, egg yolk, meat of­fal), of which ve­g­ans are ad­vised to take sup­ple­ments.

Look­ing at non-dairy op­tions, at first glance al­mond milk seems an ex­cel­lent al­ter­na­tive – it’s low in calo­ries, free of choles­terol and a source of vi­ta­mins B2, B12 and D. But it is much lower in pro­tein than dairy, and then there’s the environmental im­pact of al­mond farm­ing: it takes around 1 gal­lon of wa­ter to pro­duce just one al­mond, and the ma­jor­ity of al­monds come from drought-rid­den Cal­i­for­nia. There is no clear-cut choice that’s wholly eco-friendly.

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