10 Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Being Vegan
What exactly is Vegan? Some people think of them as ultra-strict vegetarians but that is not quite true. Many vegetarians allow themselves to eat animal products such as dairy and even eggs (which, strictly should be considered as meat as it is an animal cell). Vegans, on the other hand do not allow themselves to consume any animal products at all. That means no milk, no butter or yogurt; it is a very restricted diet. Nevertheless, if followed properly, it can be healthy and provide most (but not all) of the nutrients human beings need in order to be healthy. If the correct supplements are taken a vegan diet can even help, so it is claimed, to protect against chronic conditions such as heart disease.
Some vegans go even further than those that simply eliminate animal products from their diet and refrain from using any animal products at all, avoiding leather shoes and handbags etc.
Even though veganism has become more popular and a more mainstream dietary choice for many people there are still a number of misconceptions that survive with a lot of vegans having to explain their dietary restrictions over and over again whether in restaurants or when invited to eat at another person’s house.
We don’t think that we will be able to educate you about all the ins and outs of veganism in this one article but here are the top 10 things you did not know about being vegan!
10. The term ‘Vegan’ was first used in 1944
Interest in a vegetarian diet had been growing since the 1800s both in the US and in Europe. Many of the people involved in vegetarian societies were interested in trying to eliminate all animal products from their diet but this strict stance was not well supported by many mainstream vegetarians.
In 1944, as the rest of the world was battling the Nazis and Japanese, striving to liberate those countries struggling under the terror of occupation and free the millions of people kept in death, labor and concentration camps around the world; six nondairy vegetarians in Britain had more important things on their mind! Donald Watson and his five friends wanted to found a new movement of vegetarians that would eliminate all animal products from their diet. They found the name nondairy vegetarians to be too cumbersome to describe their new movement. They looked at a number of alternative names including ‘benevore’ and ‘vitan’ before setting on removing the ‘etari’ from vegetarian to get their new name.
A few years later, the movement decided to adopt a definition to help explain what they were doing to bemused friends and acquaintances (many of whom were still struggling with the rationing that was prevalent in Europe at the time and who struggled to afford adequate meat in their diets). The slogan the Vegan Society finally settled on ‘to seek an end to the use of animals by man for food, commodities, work, hunting, vivisection, and by all other uses involving exploitation of animal life by man’.
9. Veganism did not become a mainstream practice until the turn of the millennium
Since those early days the Vegan Society has gone from strength to strength, it has grown beyond its original home of the United Kingdom and Vegans can now be found worldwide. Veganism is even a protected belief under the European Convention of Human Rights!
In 1948 the first vegan society in the US was founded in California, this lasted as an independent entity until 1960 when it became part of the American Vegan Society. Around the same time the British and American Vegan Societies joined the International Vegetarian Union.
The first International Vegan Festival was held in 1981 in Denmark, these festivals have continued to be held every two years at a variety of locations world-wide. Due to the growing influence of the Vegan Societies and interest in the vegan way of life there are now Vegan societies in most countries around the world.
From the 1970s onwards, a significant amount of medical research showed that a meat and animal product heavy diet could lead to health problems and posited that a plant based diet would be healthier, particularly for people with chronic problems such as heart disease and diabetes. In 2005 Colin Campbell published a book called the China Study, a culmination of 20 years research on the topic. This book promoted a vegan diet and brought the concept of elimination of animal products in the diet to a mainstream audience.
These days many restaurants offer vegan compliant meals and vegan supermarkets are opening around the world in order to support those who wish to live a vegan lifestyle.
8. Around 2% of the population of Western countries follow a vegan diet
Polls and surveys have been taken in various countries around the world which allow us to estimate how many people are vegan. The surveys might be skewed, however, as it relies on people self-identifying. The requirements of the various vegan societies are strict and many dietary vegans might self-identify as vegan even though they might not meet the stringent ethical criteria established by the Vegan Society.
Gallup polls taken in 2012 show that 2% of the US population self-identify as vegan, a similar percentage to the UK. Even in meat loving Germany 800,000 people or 1% of the population are now vegan, so many that the Oktoberfest has arranged for vegan options to be available alongside the traditional sausages. Vegan diets have proved extremely popular in Israel where between 4 and 5% of the population are Vegan, making it the country with the highest per-capita vegan population in the world. It has also been designated one of the most vegan friendly countries to visit with over 250 restaurants certified as vegan friendly. Interest in vegan diets is evident in both the religious and secular populations.
7. Honey is a hot topic in the vegan world
Honey is one of nature’s superfoods. It is a completely natural product packed full with nutrients, antioxidants and provides a slow and sustained release of energy throughout the day. It is an extremely versatile food that can be used in a variety of ways, as a salad dressing, marinade, a sweetener, a sauce for fruit or dissolved in hot water to make a tasty and soothing drink. With all these benefits it would be thought that honey would be a staple of a vegan diet.
There is one problem, however, honey is an animal (or at least insect) product, made by bees and then harvested by man. Some vegans will allow themselves to eat honey on the basis that it is a byproduct of bees who are free to leave their hive at any time. They are not harmed in the production of the honey.
Hard line vegans, as represented by the vegan societies around the world, do not believe that it is ever acceptable to eat honey which they characterize as ‘bee vomit’. They feel that the production exploits the bees and that the removal of the honey is, in fact, theft from the bees themselves. Eating honey while eschewing milk is, these hardline vegans claim, a compromise that places the rights of bees below the rights of cows.
For these reasons honey is not regarded as vegan. Other products, that at first glance seem acceptable, are also banned from a strict ethical vegan way of life, include pearls (production kills the oyster), silk (poor silkworms) and some lipsticks (the product of ground up cochineal bugs).
6. A lot of alcohol fails the vegan test
A lot of alcoholic drinks use animal byproducts either as an ingredient or in the production process. Where the product is listed as an ingredient it is relatively easy for vegans to avoid. The difficulty, for vegans, comes where products are used in the manufacture but do not make it in to the final drink. Even though they will not be consuming any animal products the simple fact that they have been used to make the drink means that a vegan (at least an ethical vegan) will not be able to drink it.
For this reason many vegans have to carry a list of alcoholic beverages around with them which they can then check to see if the drink they want to try is vegan compliant or not. Some of the drinks are obviously off limits – Baileys, the after dinner liqueur is made with cream, Campari and many red drinks and cocktails are colored with cochineal, made from crushed beetles.
Other potential problems are raised with liqueurs that use sugars that are refined in bone char and wines and beers that are fined through blood.
5. Vegans have to be careful about what sugar they eat
Sugar would seem, to most people, to be a fairly innocuous food (if one that should be used for a treat rather than consumed in huge amounts). Not so to vegans, however! The sugar sold in stores comes from plants (sugar beets or sugar cane) and should, therefore, be vegan compliant. The problem, however, is that sugar needs to be filtered and refined. Sugar made from beets does not need to be filtered through charcoal. Cane sugar, however, does and the source of charcoal is, in many refineries, charred animal bone.
The bone charcoal is not considered an animal product from a Jewish perspective (sugar is deemed kosher pareve, i.e. it contains no meat or milk) but many vegans disagree with this interpretation feeling that, from an ethical point of view, it is not acceptable to eat sugar that has been processed with the aid of animal products. Because it can be difficult to distinguish between beet sugar (which is often not labeled as such) and cane sugar, many vegans choose to avoid white sugar, confectioners’ sugar and brown sugar all together.
A suitable alternative for many vegans is unbleached cane sugar or syrups such as agave or maple syrup or even commercial sweeteners such as stevia.
4. A vegan diet can make you fat
Many people automatically correlate the word vegan with a healthy lifestyle. Cutting out meat and cheese and all the associated fats must surely be healthy and help to kick start a weight loss regime – right? Well not always. Turning to a vegan diet might help you to be healthy but it does not guarantee that you will not pile on the pounds. Many people find, as they look at the scales, they have expanded rather than shed the pounds they were hoping to. Vegans have to watch the calories every bit as much as those who follow a more traditional diet.
The modern vegan diet relies very heavily on soy and dairy replacement products. Many diet books are packed with recipes for healthy fruit smoothies made with lashings of soy or almond milk and a scoop or two of protein powder. While healthy each of these smoothies pack enough calories to make them a full size meal so it is easy to overindulge. Add in other calorie heavy foods over the day such as coconut based products which are full of calories or nuts which are also calorie rich and should be eaten in moderation and a vegan can find themselves eating far more than the recommended number of calories in one day.
3. A vegan diet can cause cavities and contribute to bone problems
A vegan diet can be healthy for a while as it helps the body get rid of many toxins. Where it falls down, however, is that it can be deficient in the essential fats and amino acids that are only available from animal products. For this reason many vegans need to take supplements in order to ensure that their bodies remain healthy and are able to repair themselves.
Recent research has shown that arginine, an amino acid found in meat, helps to break down plaque and therefore helps to promote good oral health. Vegans, however, have no natural source for arginine in their diet and are therefore have to rely on supplemented toothpaste to help prevent decay. Common vegan foods such as soy and almond milk, agave syrup, granola and tofu are particularly heavy in sugar and therefore very punishing on the teeth leading to cavities and decay.
A vegan diet can also lead to problems with childhood development. The Vegan Society claims that a vegan diet is suitable for every stage of life but children on vegan diets have been known to develop rickets and other problems resulting from a lack of proper vitamins and minerals in their restricted diet. Other potential problems for vegans include anemia from lack of iron (leafy green vegetables may be rich in iron but the body finds it much harder to absorb than the iron in red meat), B12 which helps keep the nervous system healthy and calcium for bone strength.
2. Following a vegan diet can make a person sick
Soy is a popular component of vegan diets. It is particularly useful because while most people get their protein from meat this is not an available source for vegans. While proteins are available from vegetable products many of them do not provide the full range of amino acids (the building blocks for proteins) needed for a healthy diet. Soy is different, it is a complete protein source and therefore it has become a staple of big business with health food producers turning it into a $4billion industry. What many vegans do not realize, however, is that soy, when eaten in excess, can make them sick. Unprocessed soy is extremely toxic to humans; indeed it is so toxic that soy bean fields typically do not need to be treated with pesticides as insects avoid them like the plague!
Asian diets, that traditionally incorporate soy products, have been shown to have health benefits but they typically consume no more than 9g (0.3oz) a day, compared with the health food snacks on sale in the US and other western countries that can contain up to 20g (0.7oz) in a single serving. It is easy for western vegans to eat huge amounts of soy in one day. Too much soy can play havoc with the human endocrine system leading to hormone imbalances that impact on sex drive and can cause certain cancers; soy consumption might even be linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. For this reason vegan parents are advised to either breastfeed their babies (although breastmilk is, of course, an animal product), or if that is not possible, feed them cow’s milk based formula instead of soy formula.
Soy is a useful source of protein for vegans but they should not seek to rely on it too heavily.
1. Vegans are destroying the rainforests
Many people turn to a vegan diet in order to live a sustainable, ecologically friendly life. They believe it is one of many ways that they can help to save plant earth from the depredations of evil humans. Vegans have been sold a pup! Many vegans rely on soy protein to help them eat a complete diet. This can have health problems (see 2 above). The problems of soy, however, go even further. Not only can soy harm our health but it is also bad for the environment.
Brazil is of the largest producers of soy beans in the world. The Brazilian rainforest is one of the most ecologically diverse locations in the world, full of many species that have not yet been discovered and one of the vital natural carbon sinks of our world, this rainforest is a precious resource. Soy farms, however, are, in many parts of Brazil, replacing rainforest. For the Brazilian farmers this makes a lot of sense, bigger farms give economy of scale and brings prosperity to the farmers and their workers. These huge farms, however, destroy the rainforests and pollute the nearby river systems.
The hypocrisy of vegans is clear as environmental organizations like to accuse the meat industry of destroying the rainforests (much of the soybean crop is used to feed cattle reared for slaughter) but fail to acknowledge that a significant percentage of this production ends up in vegan friendly soy products, a percentage that will only grow as a vegan diet becomes ever more popular.
As a vegan lifestyle becomes more common it will become important to know how to cater for vegan guests – we hope that this list will help you.
Being a vegan is not a diet that you follow, it is a lifestyle choice that restricts so much more than whether or not you can eat eggs and drink milk. While a vegan lifestyle was a niche choice for many years it has become more and more mainstream. Vegan societies around the world tout the health benefits of a plant based diet and the ethical superiority of refusing to wear leather and many people in our weight and eco obsessed society are flirting with the idea of turning to veganism as a way to solve what they perceive as problems in their life. The statements are nothing more than hype, however. A vegan diet is bad for your health with the overreliance on soy products leading to hormone imbalances. Not only that but it is bad for your teeth and bones, can make you fat and is bad for the rainforests to boot!
A vegan lifestyle must be pretty miserable as it forces its adherents to cut out a lot of really lovely tasty foods and some of life’s real pleasures. If your son announces that he is going to marry a vegan do not buy your new daughter in law a string of pearls to welcome her to the family and don’t even think of serving food garnished with honey. Not only that but you can bet your bottom dollar that her wedding dress won’t be made of silk and leather shoes will be a no-no.
If you are a vegan and manage to make the diet and lifestyle work for you, well done! All power to you! We are off to eat a cheeseburger and get the benefit of all those lovely amino acids and fat soluble minerals that help to keep us healthy!