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#017 - World Vegan Day

I recently did an article regarding the benefits of vegetarian diets for World Vegetarian Day, but as you may have noticed I didn’t touch upon veganism at all. There’s a good reason for that – because today is World Vegan Day! This article will be taking a proper look at veganism – that is, a diet completely free from animal products – busting some common myths on the matter and hopefully giving you a more comprehensive understanding of how a vegan diet can benefit the body, mind and environment. Perhaps you don’t want to adopt such a diet yourself – and I’m certainly not here trying to pressure anybody into it (whilst I have been vegan in the past and it’s something I intend to get back into, I’m currently a vegetarian). Considering, however, it’s a topic that seems to provoke very strong reactions within the social discourse, it’s only fair to try and develop a rounded awareness of the fact and fiction behind the vegan lifestyle. So read on to see if you’ve got the right or the wrong end of the stick… don’t worry, you won’t have to eat it or anything.

“It’s not healthy… being green.”

No, this isn’t the sad serenade of a critically-ill Kermit the Frog. It’s actually what a large number of people – including certain areas of the food industry – believe, or at least claim, about vegan diets. The argument tends to be that vegans can’t get all of the nutrients their bodies need from a diet including no animal products at all. Perhaps in the past that might have been the case - in the days when there were few specifically-tailored vegan products - but the world we live in now is vastly different; especially in the UK. Not only can you find numerous vegan meat, cheese and even egg substitutes on supermarket shelves that contain most (if not all) of the nutrients you’d gain from eating the substance they’re trying to mimic, many restaurants are now offering creative, expansive vegan menus in an effort to cater to the ever-growing number of animal free consumers. Veganism is on the rise, as is likely obvious in most parts of the country, and the market has met its demands: most people reasonably could have access to vegan products that provide the same nutritional content as a carnivorous or vegetarian diet.

But there are other health perks to veganism, too. Because they do need to branch out a little to get their required range of nutrients, vegans are much more likely to hit their 5 portions of fruit and veg a day. Statistically such diets are also much less likely to result in obesity, and even lower the risk of prostate and colorectal cancer. At the end of the day, though, just as with carnivorous and vegetarian diets, it’s all about what you put into your body that defines whether it’s healthy enough. Can vegans be unhealthy? Of course. They could eat five packs of Oreos every night if they so desired. But are they less likely to be? It certainly seems so.

“Vegan diets break the bank.”

Have you seen the price of that 16 oz rump steak on supermarket shelves? Meat is expensive, and whilst dairy and eggs are somewhat more affordable they still aren’t the cheapest. The myth about veganism being much more expensive comes, if you ask me, from the proliferation of organic stores that are often most likely to sell a large range of vegan products. Ideologically, veganism is fairly closely tied with shopping organic, and so the two naturally gravitate towards one another. But considering a large proportion of organic brands are smaller, independent retailers, they naturally have to charge more for their products to remain afloat.

Certainly, those stores can be pretty expensive, but most chain supermarkets now offer a pretty meaty (wait, no…) range of vegan products that isn’t priced any higher than most meat or dairy offerings. And you don’t have to buy the more expensive meat substitutes if you want to get a balanced diet anyway – they’re great for people who miss the taste and texture of meat, and speaking from experience many of them very closely resemble the product they’re imitating, but they aren’t essential to getting everything your body needs. Many people are already treating meat as a rare treat rather than an integral part of most meals, so if the price of vegan meat substitutes bothers you then you can always try and adopt that attitude.

“They don’t make you feel full.”

Really? Try eating a whole block of tofu and tell me you don’t feel completely stuffed (and quite sick… actually, don’t try this). In all seriousness, research has shown that soy-based diets are just as satiating as meat-based ones. Plenty of other vegan foods are also very filling: potatoes, along with various other tubers and root vegetables, for example. But perhaps you’ve dabbled in the world of veganism – dipped your toe in the water for a week or so, perhaps – and then decided from personal experience that it doesn’t fill you up. Hard to argue with that evidence, right?

Well, actually, it can take up to thirty days for your body to adjust sufficiently to a dramatically different diet. If you’ve been used to eating meat, cheese and eggs and suddenly you’re eating only fruit, vegetables and soy-based products, your body may take some time to feel fully satisfied with the diet. If a part of you is keen to adopt veganism but you just found it hard to feel entirely satiated, why not try The Vegan Society’s 30-Day Pledge? After a whole month, if you still feel that plant-based eating leaves you feeling discontent, then at least you gave it the fairest chance.

“How do you know if someone’s vegan? Just wait, they’ll let you know.”

As with any cause that provokes passion – of which animal welfare is most certainly one, and has been for a long time – you’ll find that there are followers who speak with a lot of energy on the matter. Sometimes, this can become patronising and preachy, certainly. But there are plenty of obnoxious people on the other side of the argument out there also (if you want evidence, check out Facebook comment threads on vegan news articles and see how many meat-eaters seem to seek out such articles simply to rail against the lifestyle). It goes without saying that most vegans are perfectly measured and sympathetic people who have their own reasons for adopting the plant-based life. Not all of them have topknots and live in Shoreditch. They couldn’t all fit.

“But it’s just really dull.”

Restrictions upon what you can work with naturally breeds creativity. Why does The Lord of the Rings trilogy still not look particularly dated despite being filmed over twenty years ago? Because they couldn’t CGI a lot of the scenery and set pieces, so were forced to use scale models and real people in costume – and such things don’t age in the way that CGI would have. There's a similar scenario going on with veganism. If you’re a Londoner like me, I urge you to visit Mildred’s – a vegan restaurant chain with four locations around the city (in Soho, Camden, King’s Cross and Dalston). Look over their menu, taste some of the food and then try and claim that vegan diets are boring. Some of the creative ways that people are combining flavour and texture in plant-based dishes at present are truly impressive, and (as stated before) it’s remarkable how close some meat, cheese and egg substitutes come to their inspirations.

What seems more boring - to me, anyway - is restaurants continuously serving the same traditional dishes with little to no innovation because they’re tried-and-tested. Understandably not everyone can be content with a diet of unadulterated fruits and vegetables, but they don’t have to be – because the food industry is rising to the challenge of creating interesting and delicious vegan meals that feel like so much more than just a bowl of salad. Not that there’s anything wrong with salad.

I hope this has made you think a little more about veganism, and may perhaps have even done a little to change your perspective on it. It truly is a healthy lifestyle choice if considered well enough. Of course, along with all of the great things it does for your body, it’s also scientifically-proven to have a great impact upon the environment. I touched upon this in my article for World Vegetarian Day too, but it’s even more worth considering when it comes to veganism. You may well have heard the weighty statement that plant-based living is the single biggest way we can reduce our carbon footprint from food. Cattle grazing produces huge amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases that are a leading cause of climate change, so the less demand for it there is (which naturally decreases further when you take dairy farming out of the equation) the healthier our planet becomes. The manner in which the agricultural industries work in most of the world’s wealthier countries is incredibly out-of-tune with the natural world and the balance that exists within it. If everyone shifted to veganism, though, this could change dramatically. But don’t just trust me – do your own research on the subject; you’ll find that there’s a fair bit of misinformation out there, both on veganism’s impact on human health and environmental science, but it’s not tremendously hard to find trustworthy sources that show it’s a hugely-positive force for change within the world that shouldn’t be shunned.

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