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.