What is a Vegan?

I decided to write this blog post after a couple of issues that people have found confusing. My aim is to explain what a vegan is, so that if a friend or family member tells you that they’re vegan, you know what it means and how to cater for them! Or if you’re vegan you can share this post with friends who are not sure how to cater for you!

According to a June 2016 article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia is the third fastest growing vegan market in the world, after the United Arab Emirates and China. So the chances are, you will probably know somebody who follows a vegan lifestyle. It was also reported this year that Australia topped the google searches for the word ‘vegan’ so it seems many people are curious about this lifestyle.

According to the Vegan Society veganism is defined as the following:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.

Donald Watson, who was the founder of the Vegan Society first used the term in 1944 as a statement against vegetarians who ate dairy products. He took the first and last letters of the word vegetarian to create the word vegan. Other words which were considered but thankfully not used were ‘dairyban’, ‘vitan’ and ‘benevore’. Donald Watson felt that this new era ‘marked the beginning and end of vegetarian’

In 1949 the term was updated to the following, ‘“[t]he principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man”. And then later further clarified to read “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”.

Veganism is so much more than what a person eats, but during this blog post I will be focusing on the food side of things. In summary a vegan does not consume white and red meat, fish (including shellfish), eggs, dairy or honey.

A common mis-conception I have heard lately is that vegans consume eggs if they come from your (friend or family’s) backyard chickens. This is not the case as there is still exploitation involved.

As a point of difference a vegetarian does not eat any red or white meat or fish but does consume eggs and dairy. This is also known as lacto-ovo vegetarian.

A pescatarian is someone that does not eat red or white meat but does eat fish.

Is there anything else I need to be aware of?

Yes! But don’t panic, you will learn this on the vegan journey. Vegans don’t consume gelatine that can be found in confectionery and wine/beer that has been fined with milk or eggs. Other things to consider are E-numbers that can often be animal derived.

So what do vegans eat?

Anything that a non-vegan can eat! As well as fruit, vegetables, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh, vegans are now also able to consume anything from burgers, to sausages, pizza, cheese and ice cream. That’s right, how far veganism has come even in the last few years!

There are many different types of vegans:

Junk Food Vegans: The main reason for being vegan is for the animals so as long as a food does not contain animal products, it is acceptable to eat. This means a lot of fake meats, cheeses, ice-cream etc. is consumed.

Whole Food Plant Based Vegans: Eat whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and legumes. No oil is used and nuts and seeds are kept to a minimum. Sugar and salt is also very limited.

Plant Based:  Eat a whole food diet but do not follow a vegan lifestyle i.e. still wear leather, wool etc.

Raw Vegans:  Eat raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and anything that is not cooked over 48 degrees Centigrade

80/10/10 Vegans: This group contains 80% of their calories from carbohydrates, 10% from protein and 10% from fat. They tend to be a very healthy group and will consume a lot of fruit (can also be called fruitarians)

Raw Till 4: Raw all day (see above) with a cooked dinner usually consisting of lots of rice and potatoes.

At the end of the day, they are all labels and I really don’t like labels and putting someone in a box. It is important to remember that none of the above categories consume animals.

Why does somebody become vegan?

There are several different reasons that someone may choose to become a vegan:

1. For the Animals/Ethics:

All creatures have the right to life and freedom

Documentary to watch to find out more: Earthlings

2. For their Health:

Plant based eaters have been shown to have lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancers

Documentary to watch to find out more: Forks Over Knives

3. For the Environment:

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Not only this but animal agriculture water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually.

Documentary to watch to find out more: Cowspiracy

Will I get all my nutrients on a vegan diet?

You will be able to get all the required daily intake of protein, iron, zinc, calcium and omega 3’s on a vegan diet. These seem to be most people’s concern (well-being friends who suddenly become nutritionists when you announce that you have become vegan). It is important to ensure you get out in the sun to get your Vitamin D intake but this also applies to people who are not vegan.

The only nutrient that vegans are not able to get on their diet is Vitamin B12. But don’t be fooled.  Vitamin B12 does not come from animals. Vitamin B12 is made from bacteria and is found in soil, dirt and faeces. Ruminant animals (such as cows, goats, sheep etc.) can absorb Vitamin B12 that is produced in their gut. Humans however need an external source of Vitamin B12 as they are not able to absorb the Vitamin B12 that is produced in the gut. It isn’t just vegans that need to supplement. If you are over 50 or have gut issues you should also supplement with Vitamin B12.

At the end of the day, it is possible to live a healthy, cruelty free lifestyle by becoming a vegan. So next time you invite a friend round and they say that they’re vegan, you’ll know exactly what you can and can’t feed them. Drop me a line if you have any further questions as this is a huge topic and this is only an introduction into veganism!

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