Veganism: the myths

This is a little article I wrote years ago on veganism. It’s a bit different to my other blog posts but I’m fond of it anyway and I think it’s worth saying. Hope you enjoy it!

Fruits and vegetables
photo credit: nutrilover

On the scale of exciting lifestyle choices, veganism doesn’t rank very highly. Even the nicest people can see vegans as relentlessly fussy individuals, who survive on lentils, preach about the evils of a cheese toastie and make life difficult in restaurants.

So why subject yourself to this way of life? Surely a vegan diet is nutritionally lacking, expensive, pointless and, let’s face it, boring?

Right?

Wrong. Whether you’re a bacon addict, or a vegetarian wondering whether to make the leap, we can all learn from vegans if we rid our minds of prejudice and separate fact from fiction.

MYTH NO. 1: IT MUST BE ALL OR NOTHING

Most of the time, I don’t mind tofu, chickpeas and soya milk. But occasionally, I have a cheese burger with all the trimmings.

Some people believe you can’t be a partial vegan any more than you can be partially pregnant or partially dead. Of course there are those hardy souls who never have a moment of weakness, and I applaud them. On the other hand, I don’t believe the odd drunken trip to a kebab van means there’s no value in making ethical choices the rest of the time.

Thornbury Kebabs

photo credit: ♫ Rum Rhythms ♫

The fact is, we can all cut down. Why not try substituting meat for tofu once a week? Or try using vegan spread instead of butter? It seems that more could be achieved if many people cut down, than if a few become strict vegans.

But what, I hear you ask, can be achieved by swapping steak for tofu? Life’s short, and surely there are worse things than eating meat and dairy products?
This leads me on quite nicely to my next point…

MYTH NO. 2: VEGANISM IS POINTLESS

If you picture a cow being milked, you might see a contented cow and a milkmaid, complete with bucket. What’s wrong with it? Surely dairy production keeps farm animals around without the cruelty of killing them.

Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Animals reared for dairy suffer premature death in the same way as animals reared for meat. Dairy cows, for example, are normally slaughtered after only five years (their natural lifespan is 20-25 years). Egg-laying hens, which can live up to seven years, are usually slaughtered after twelve months when their egg production starts to wane.

Dairy cows are kept in an almost constant state of pregnancy. They are separated from their calves after 24-48 hours, which is highly distressing to cows as they form a close bond with their young. Not only this, but male calves – born to maintain the lactation process – are usually shot soon after birth.

The same goes for egg-laying hens. Male chicks are usually killed soon after birth by one of a number of methods, including gassing, strangulation and live shredding.
If you’re not convinced by animal welfare arguments, think about the environment. Worldwide, agricultural livestock produces 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – significantly more than the world’s entire transport system including aviation. If we are concerned by how much we drive or fly, then we should certainly be concerned about our meat and dairy consumption.

Why free range eggs are not as ethical as you think

If that isn’t enough, consider that farmed animals currently cover over 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, and it has been estimated that an average diet requires five times as much land as a vegan diet.

In a world where populations are growing and resources are scarce, this is certainly food for thought.

MYTH NO. 3: VEGANISM IS BORING

2009-05-24 - Vegan Ice Cream Books - 0008
Photo credit: smiteme

I won’t lie: veganism can be boring. Who would prefer a bowl of lentils over a bacon sarnie? But with a little imagination, this doesn’t have to be the case. Indeed, experimenting with veganism can lead you to exciting dishes you would have never previously considered.

According to a friend of miny who is a strict vegan: ‘The trick is not to think how you can recreate your favourite dishes without the meat or dairy, but create new ones, like spinach and chickpea curry. Nuts add a lot of flavour and roasting makes most things yummy, like mushrooms or peppers.’

She also says there are a number of cheats available. ‘When you’re feeling nostalgic for your pre-vegan days, Holland and Barrett are great – they have vegan jelly beans, chocolate, etc. There are also lots of meat and cheese substitutes available.’

So if you really can’t do without your bolognaise or burger then take heart: there is an enormous variety of vegan ‘cheats’ around, which means you can recreate virtually any meal and still leave your conscience intact.

MYTH NO. 4: VEGANISM IS NUTRITIONALLY DEFICIENT

A balanced approach to veganism is actually extremely healthy. Red and processed meat, in particular, have been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. Additionally, saturated fat is mainly found in meat and dairy products, and this is the main dietary cause of high cholesterol.

Some claim that a vegan diet is lacking in protein and calcium, but it is easy to obtain these nutrients. Soya milk has added calcium, as do many cereals. Protein can be found in chickpeas, beans, lentils, tofu, wholewheat pasta and brown rice. Many vegans also eat more fruit and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, in order to add variety to their favourite dishes.

According to my vegan friend, she has eaten more healthily since becoming a vegan, mainly because she cooks most things from scratch. She therefore manages to avoid the pitfalls of pre-packaged food, namely artificial ingredients, sweeteners and salt.

While we might not have the time or inclination to do this for every meal, it is simple enough to prepare a batch of food and then freeze several portions.

MYTH NO. 5: EATING OUT IS TRICKY

Restaurant La Boheme
photo credit: Unique Hotels Group

I’m sure most vegans would agree: eating in restaurants can be a challenge. But again, a little forethought can go a long way. You don’t have to find vegan-only places to eat – Chinese, Thai, Indian and Middle-Eastern places usually have a good selection of vegan food.

There are also a number of good vegetarian restaurants around the country which cater for vegans as well. You can find information about these in the guidebook The Vegetarian Visitor or on the Vegetarian Society webpage (www.vegsoc.org) and the vegan society webpage (www.vegansociety.com).

The number of vegans – and consequently the number of vegan outlets – is constantly growing. In fact, becoming a vegan has never been easier.

MYTH NO 6: VEGANISM IS EXPENSIVE

I recently went vegan for a week and I discovered it’s much cheaper than you might expect. Compare the price of a standard tin of chickpeas with the price of decent lamb or beef – you’ll find it’s a lot cheaper. If you add them to one of the many vegan curry sauces available, some rice and vegetables, you immediately have a delicious meal that’s quick to prepare and very cheap.

Shop around. The price of vegan goods, such as tofu, has come down drastically. Lentils, beans, chickpeas and other pulses all come cheaply in a tin and can be used as a meat substitute in almost any dish. Not only are they cheap, but they can help with weight loss. What more could we ask for?

SO WHY NOT?

All in all, there are plenty of reasons for becoming a vegan and few for not doing so. Except, of course, the obvious: we’re all human, and while some of us have admirable strength of character, most of us cave in from time to time.

That’s why I’m advocating a cutting down approach. The principles of veganism are easy to follow most of the time, and there will be greater benefits if more people cut down, than if a few people become hardcore vegans.

Try it: live like a vegan when you can. See the benefits to your health, your conscience and your wallet. And live the rest of the time without guilt.
Now, about that cheese burger…

Cheeseburger
photo credit: TheCulinaryGeek

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