Veganism is a hot topic these days. Chances are you have heard the term before or know somebody that is vegan. Blogs about veganism pop up everywhere and restaurants offer more and more vegan options on their menu. There are even cafes and meal services that are completely focused on vegan food. If you are not too familiar with veganism, you might be wondering what exactly veganism is and why it is such a hot topic these days. Or you already know something about it and would like to know more or consider going vegan yourself. If any of these is the case, this article is for you. It provides you with everything you should know about veganism: what being vegan means, the history of veganism, what the difference from vegetarianism is, reasons there are for going vegan and how you can go vegan yourself.
Veganism is a philosophy and way of living that abstains from all sorts of animal products. This applies mainly to diet, but it also applies to clothing and cosmetics for example. While excluding animal products, it promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives.
People that follow this philosophy are known as vegans. In the simplest terms, being vegan means that you do not eat, drink or in any way consume or use animal products. This includes not eating a hamburger, not drinking milk, not wearing a fur coat and restraining from many of the shampoos and cosmetics. Many vegans also choose to avoid animal-derived additives, such as gelatin and casein, which is often included in products such as wine, gummy candies, marshmallows and chewing gum.
Being vegan is not as straightforward as you might think, since there are a lot of ways to be vegan, especially when it comes to diet. Therefore, different types of vegans are distinguished.
· Dietary vegans do not consume any animal products or by-products but might use products that contain animal (by)products. So, eating a portion of mutton is not okay, but wearing a woollen sweater is.
· Raw-food vegans do not cook any of their food and stick to raw vegetables and legumes.
· Whole-food vegans do not eat any processed foods, so no plant-based burgers or frozen meals.
· Low-fat vegans focus on reducing fat intake and therefore avoid high-fat vegetables and fruits such as avocados.
Although the term veganism was established less than a century ago, people choosing to avoid animal products can be traced back over 2000 years. In 500 BCE, none other than the Greek philosopher Pythagoras promoted benevolence among all species. He also followed a particular diet that could be described as a raw vegan and his students followed a plant-based diet in his school.
Donald Watson played a big role in the emergence and early development of veganism. In 1924, he became a vegetarian after he realized that his uncle’s farm was a death row for animals that would be killed if they were no longer of service to humans. He joined the Vegetarian Society in Leicester, England. More than a year later, he came to believe that vegetarianism had to be reformed. Together with a small group, Watson’s group asked the Vegetarian Society’s newsletter to include a section devoted to non-dairy vegetarianism. The request was turned down. After this, the group started their own newsletter called ‘The Vegan News’. The word ‘vegan’ was constructed from the first three and last two letters of the word ‘vegetarian’. It became a success. November 1st is now known as World Vegan Day, marking the founding of the Vegan Society.
In the following decades, the vegan movement emerged in other countries as well. The vegan diet became mainstream in the 2010s. The meaning of vegan for food labels was defined by the European Parliament in 2010. Supermarkets and restaurants started to expand their selection of vegan food and articles about veganism became increasingly popular. Today, the vegan movement is still growing and is more popular than ever as more and more people get into it for either themselves or the world (or both). In another section, we will go into detail on why people go vegan.
Something that you are probably aware of now is that vegetarianism and veganism are not the same thing. Just like vegans, vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry, but there are definitely differences between the two. The biggest difference is that vegetarians tend to consume dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt) and eggs, whereas vegans do not eat any animal-based products, including dairy products and animal-derived additives. But there are, just like with veganism, different types of vegetarians. since there are different types of vegetarians. For example, Lacto-vegetarians consume dairy products but not eggs, and for ovo-vegetarians, it is the other way around.
In essence, the vegan diet is much stricter than the diets of most vegetarians. This often extends to other categories such as medicines and clothing in which animals or animal products are used. A vegan would not use cosmetics that have been tested on animals, wear a leather belt or take medicine capsules containing gelatin. Vegetarians are less strict when it comes to these categories.
There are many different motives and reasons for becoming vegan, which vary from person to person. However, there are three very common reasons why people become vegans. Most vegans can resonate with at least one of them.
The first common reason for people to become vegan is because they strongly believe that all animals have the right to live their lives free of cruelty, preferably freely in their natural habitats. These people are ‘ethical vegans’. They oppose ending an animal’s life for the sake of consuming its meat, wearing its skin or drinking its milk. Ethical vegans also oppose the psychological and physical stress that the animals endure as a result of the practices of modern farming. The animals barely leave the space that they live in between birth and slaughter. These are often mega stables in which the animals live crammed together. Ethical vegans speak out against the practices of the farming industry by raising awareness, protesting and opting for products free of animals and animal products.
Another reason for people to go vegan is because of the potential health benefits that it has for your body. Just to name a few: your skin becomes clearer, you will experience fewer stomach aches, your energy levels will increase while your stress levels will be reduced. Here is a list of the most significant health benefits of a vegan diet:
– Your energy levels are likely to increase. Eating foods that spike your blood sugar will lead to sluggishness and an unfocused mind. Healthy foods are what our bodies need in order to have higher energy levels and clarity of mind. A vegan, plant-based diet can help with that as it generally contains healthy foods.
– Your immune system will be better. Plants contain essential nutrients that you cannot get from any other foods. The antioxidants, minerals and vitamins in the plants keep your cells healthy, which helps to fight off infections. This makes sure that your immune system can function at its best, reducing the risk for heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
– You gain or maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight causes inflammation and hormonal imbalance. It also significantly increases your risk of getting cancer. A vegan diet removes many of the foods that lead to weight gain.
– It promotes psychological health. Besides benefits for your physique, a vegan diet also has benefits for your mental state. A stable mental condition is key for a high quality of life. Studies have shown that the sources of a vegan diet, such as grains, citrus fruits and leafy green, have positive effects on your psychological health.
– You might live longer. Longer life is actually the result of all the other benefits. The risk of all causes of mortality is lowered by about 25 per cent when following a vegan diet.
The third most common reason for people to become vegan is to protect the environment. Animal agriculture is arguably the largest drain on our natural sources and therefore the biggest threat to the climate, nature and biodiversity. Climate change, nature loss and animal species on the verge of extinction are all effects of human activity. We emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, which causes the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming, wildfires and unpredictable extreme weather. Big areas of rainforest are being cut down at a high rate, which destroys the home of countless wild animal species. We kill animals for their meat and body parts, driving species to extinction and causing disruption of the ecosystems.
These are all huge concerns for the future of all life on earth. More people, especially the younger generations, want to do something about this. The best possible thing that a person can do to make a difference is going vegan. As a vegan, you do not contribute to the demand of the biggest threat to our environment: animal agriculture. Out of all sectors and industries, the animal agriculture sector emits by far the most greenhouse gases: more than 85 percent. In addition, the sector tends to be very water-intensive. For example, about 500-5000 gallons / 1700 – 20.000 litres of water are needed to produce just 1 pound of beef. Being aware of how long you shower does not matter that much when you eat meat, because eating just one hamburger is equivalent to roughly 2 months of showering. Animal agriculture in the United States has a share of more than 50% of the entire water consumption of the United States. Furthermore, animal agriculture is the main cause of deforestation. Many people think that the forests are being cut down in order to plant soybean plants, meanwhile, only a fraction of the areas being cut down is used for that. The rest is all used for keeping livestock.
Vegans also don’t eat fish because they do not want to contribute another big threat to our planet, especially the oceans: the fishing industry. Fish are being caught with gigantic nets that scrape the ocean floor and destroy the coral. When catching fish, other animals like sharks and dolphins are caught as well. They are ‘bycatch’. After getting the fish on board, most of the bycatch is thrown back into the ocean, but the majority has already died by then.
If you consider going vegan for any reason, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. First of all, it is something that you probably have to get used to. If you are eating meat on a daily basis, it would be best to slowly but surely phase out of eating meat and start eating vegan. There are numerous approaches that you can take, so take your time and slowly move towards veganism. For example, start by making small changes to your everyday meals by increasing the amount of plant-based foods in your diet and eating meat less often. It is important that you take an approach that you feel is best for you.
Also very important is that you do your research on which essential nutrients you might be missing out on when you stop eating meat and what foods you should supplement you diet with to get those nutrients elsewhere. There are more than enough guides and blogs out there that provide you with the right information, give tips or share recipes.
And last but not least: keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. A vegan lifestyle is not always easy. It has many benefits, but also some things that you have to deal with. For example, not every restaurant or shop offers a wide range of vegan options. You might experience social pressure when you are at a barbecue or get criticized by people you know. When your vegan journey gets hard: don’t give up. Soon it will be your second nature. Remember why you are doing this and that you are not the only one. There are lots of vegan chat groups out there that you can join to get support from others and motivate each other.