By Dee Pfeiffer
It’s hardly surprising that veganism is on the increase. It’s a diet that can be extremely healthy, beneficial to the environment and it’s a compassionate way of living that refrains from killing simply for the sake of food when there are alternatives.
The number of vegans has risen by an astonishing 200 per cent over the past decade. There are now over 300,000 vegans in the UK alone, including famous figures such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Heather Mills and Morissey.
What is a vegan?
Becoming a vegan is a positive step, but many find it difficult to make that transition. Unlike vegetarians (who simply avoid eating meat, fish and poultry) or lacto-veggies (who avoid the same but also refrain from eating eggs) vegans avoid all animal products including milk, cheese, cream, eggs and even honey. Why honey? Well, according to the Vegan Society, bees undergo treatments similar to farmed animals, such as artificial feeding routines and drug and pesticide treatments.
Vegans also steer clear of ‘hidden’ animal products such as gelatine, which is added to many foods – and also rennet, the enzyme used in making cheese. Some wines and beers are also out since their production involves finishing and clarifying; to do this they use ‘fining’ agents, commonly made of egg albumen or fish bladder.
Vegans will not wear leather
Also, whilst some vegetarians will wear leather shoes or clothing, especially those who adopt the diet due to health reasons alone, vegans will not wear leather, and dedicated vegans will refrain from wearing silk and wool, as well as refusing to use products that have been tested on animals.
Why be a vegan?
So what encourages someone to go vegan when at first sight it seems that vegetarianism already covers the killing of animals? There are various reasons. Firstly, the treatment of farmed animals (including bees) is often cruel. For example, hens are often kept in cramped and unhygienic conditions with little room to move. Beaks are clipped which sometimes leaves their faces maimed. Also, egg and dairy production requires only the female of the species, so surplus males, deemed unnecessary, are killed at birth or at best when very young. Such killing is sometimes done in a most inhumane way– by putting the young male chicks into a huge ‘mixer’ similar to a kitchen mixer but big enough to kill thousands of chicks in a most horrific manner.
Are vegans healthy?
Since many vegans eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, they are naturally healthier than the general population. In general, they also tend to be better cooks, since they have had to learn to cook from scratch rather than exist on ready meals, which often contain diary derivatives. For those who are willing to experiment in the kitchen and have the willpower to stick to a vegan diet, the rewards can be immense. On the downside, even the most strong willed vegan can sometimes be up against difficulties in a society that rarely caters for such a diet.
Vegans on the move
For example, it is very rare to find a fast food eatery that caters for vegans. Likewise, if you enjoy having a cuppa in a cafe during the daytime, it’s unlikely that the café will have soya milk available unless it is a vegan or vegetarian outlet, although Costa Coffee have a soya milk option. Vegans who travel have many setbacks unless they go prepared. As a vegetarian who prefers to avoid eggs and who dislikes mayonnaise, I have sympathy for the vegan traveller looking for a sandwich whilst on the road. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve looked for something suitable for vegetarians, only to find either cheese (high in saturated fat), egg or various ingredients with the seemingly staple mayonnaise mashed into the said sandwich.
As for supermarkets, whilst some are now doing halal and kosher meats, it seems that vegans are a forgotten minority. Already, lacto vegetarians (who refrain from eggs) find it difficult to find meals at the supermarket. Imagine having to find meals that are also devoid of dairy. Of course, all supermarkets have their tubs of houmous and sticks of broccoli, but who wants to exist on that?
The health food shops are a good alternative and a haven for vegans. GoodnessDirect allow you to choose vegan as an option and then everything that appears on your shopping pages is suitable for vegans. Also, Planet Organic food emporium in London has a whole wealth of vegan foodstuffs. Marks & Spencers and Boots have aduki bean and other vegan wraps, salads and alternatives. Tesco sell Naked chocolate bars and Humdinger non-diary chocolate bars, both suitable for vegans. If in any doubt, The Vegan society have a up-to-date booklet for finding places that cater for vegans while travelling or eating out. They also sell The Animal Free Shopper, a must for every vegan and small enough to fit in a handbag.
What does a vegan eat?
Whilst at first sight it seems that there is relatively little a vegan can eat, the truth is that there is a whole array of different products that are suitable for vegans, and tasty and nutritious as well. Some of these include:
Japanese seaweed (full of antioxidants and amino acids)
Cheezly (Vegan cheese)
What should vegans avoid?
Other than the most obvious things a vegan can’t use or eat, here are some less obvious products that you must refrain from on becoming a vegan:
Guacamole – a Mexican dip that is sometimes, but not always, made with double cream
Beeswax candles – made from wax secreted by bees
Silk garments – involves the killing of the silk worm
Quorn – a meat substitute that is partly egg based
Margarine – often made using whey powder which is a by-product of cheese making. Look for non-dairy spreads.
Crisps – some flavourings contain lactose which is a form of sugar found in milk
Some beers – its production often involves using fining agents commonly made of egg albumen or fish bladder
Beauty creams and moisturisers – many contain lanolin, a by-product of beeswax, look for toiletries without lanolin.
Condoms – they’re often made with latex derived from the milk protein casein
Being a vegan doesn’t mean hardship
Remember, a vegan diet doesn’t mean hardship or that you’ll never be able to eat much again. In fact, most vegans tend to eat more than the average person, but because it’s healthier and more nutritious, they don’t put on weight as easily. For many people, just increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in the diet will improve health and energy levels, and the increase in fibre will produce a full up feeling so that you’re less inclined to snack on unhealthy foods. Instead of looking upon becoming vegan as being about what you can’t eat, think about it in terms of what you can eat. One look at the ‘allowed’ list above will prove that there are countless tasty and nutritious options, some of which you might never have tried before. Learn to experiment with different products and new recipes, read up about veganism so that you become passionate about why you have made such a choice, but most of all, enjoy your new compassionate and healthy diet!