Editorial for October, 2011

What is Vegan?

What does “Vegan” mean?

Many would be surprised to learn that the term Vegan and the practice of veganism is not new.

It was during World War II that the word Vegan was first coined. An English woodworker by the name of Donald Watson created the word when he founded the Vegan Society. Watson decided that there needed to be a term to describe the practice and philosophy of abstaining from using all animal products.

Some may ask, “What’s the difference between Vegan and Vegetarian?”

Vegetarian describes a diet in which a person does not eat the flesh of other creatures. One can still eat other products that come from animals including milk, eggs, honey etc.

Vegan on the other hand  refers to a practice of avoiding the use of all products that contain animal ingredients. You will hear the term “vegan diet” but simply eating an entirely plant based diet does not make one a vegan. Leather, soaps, cosmetics, textiles and many other products contain animal ingredients or use animal ingredients as part of the manufacturing process so a true vegan will avoid these products as well.

Vegetarianism is a diet, veganism is a lifestyle and a philosophy.

There are three major arguments for adopting a vegan lifestyle – compassion, health and environment.

Compassion: Using animal products or products with animal derived ingredients causes immeasurable suffering for billions of earthlings. Animals feel, fear and suffer and the industries that exploit animals are desensitized to the horrors of the slaughterhouse, dairy and egg farm. This is not the forum to expand on this but I encourage everyone to do the research. Enlighten yourself. Enlightenment is what makes people vegan.

Health: It is a statistical fact that people who adopt an entirely plant-based (vegan) diet are significantly healthier than those who do not – life expectancy is longer, disease rates are lower. This does not mean that a diet is healthy just because it is plant-based. There are many vegans who eat unhealthy diets. If you look at the statistics for those who adopt not just a plant-based diet but a low-fat, whole-foods plant-based diet, the differences are no longer significant, they are profound.

The concept is simple. The greater the percentage of your diet that is low-fat, whole-foods and plant-based the healthier you will be. This is true whether you are vegan, vegetarian or omnivore.

Switching to a diet that is entirely low-fat, whole-foods and plant-based can prevent, reverse and even cure most of societies major chronic health issues including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Environment: This is a tough one for many people to grasp so we will keep it really simple. Animal industries pollute and destroy the environment. It takes a fraction of the arable land, fossil fuels and fresh water to produce plant-based foods when compared to the livestock industries. The raising of livestock is now recognized to be the most significant contributor to greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. You can feed 15 times more people producing plant-based foods than you can producing meat, eggs or dairy given the same amount of resources.

Be mindful of what is on your fork, spoon, plate, bowl or cup. Take control over your health. You have the power to be healthier, we all do. Talk to those whose lives have been changed by changing their eating habits. Do the research. Find out where your food comes from. Such mindfulness will reveal itself as common sense and social responsibility.

Editorial for August, 2011

Community of Compassion

Vegans get a bad rap. We are often viewed as a fringe element of society – a cult of sandal-wearing, granola-eating, animal-loving, tree-hugging hippies which, to many of us, is not an entirely unflattering description. While vegans remain widely misunderstood by the less-enlightened, society is gradually beginning to accept veganism’s virtues. The vegan diet is now recognized for its health benefits that study after study has documented as irrefutable. More and more world citizens are choosing to adopt a vegan diet for health reasons alone. Still the vegan diet is often discussed as an entity of its own, separate from veganism. The vegan diet can be considered a sub-practice of vegan philosophy. That’s fine. Having the dietary element of vegan philosophy recognized for its health merits is certainly a good thing. It leads to greater acceptance of the more broadly defined practice of veganism as a whole.

While veganism still has its own culture the vegan diet is becoming more mainstream. This in part is due to an increasing number of vegan food products and restaurants that are recognizing the market potential of introducing vegan items to their menus. An increasing percentage of the dining demographic is decidedly vegan in its eating habits. It’s dawning on restaurateurs that failing to provide vegan options not only excludes this relatively small percentage of the dining public but also dissuades any groups that have vegans or plant-based eaters in the party. It is also notable that quality rather than token vegan menu items are what draw in the business because, who’d have thought, vegans are passionate about food. Popping up all over are eateries that are entirely vegan.

Now, we know that veganism is much more than just diet. Veganism is a practice of rejecting cruelty and having compassion for all sentient beings and we vegans are as passionate about advocating compassion as we are about food. We spend a good portion of our lives trying to help those beings who cannot help themselves. Beings who are subjected to unspeakable cruelty to which the desensitize public chooses to turn a blind eye. Advocating compassion fulfills us, enriches us with virtual merit. Vegans are unconditionally supportive of each other as the common goal is clear. No one stands to benefit materialistically from furthering the cause so competition among vegan adherents is virtually non-existence, or at least it should be. Supporting each other’s vegan efforts is, simply put, supporting one’s own.

In veganism everyone is a hero. Any effort is a success no matter how small it may seem. Many small efforts become large successes. Many large successes become huge victories. There are some among us that go so far beyond small efforts that our advocacy becomes activism. Activists are the front line. We see those efforts because successful activism often requires high visibility.

There is another breed of hero whose efforts, while visible, are sometimes not as well recognized. The proprietors of vegan-based businesses support the cause in several ways. They bring veganism more toward the mainstream by providing vegan product and services to the general public. Many of us are vegan because a product or service tipped our conscience toward enlightenment, toppling us into a lifestyle of sincere compassion. Vegan businesses not only directly further the cause but also support the efforts of groups and individual to support the cause as well. These businesses in turn need the support of individuals to survive. It’s a beautiful symbiosis where everyone benefits. What could be better than that?  Vegan businesses in this time are usually small startups by people who pursue it for the same reasons we are advocates and activists. Such noble endeavors struggle to persist against the odds. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is imperative to support vegan businesses and by doing so we all benefit, in fact, it is fair to say, the world benefits.

So maybe you could buy a particular product online, and doing business online has enabled many such businesses and services to exists, but it is also very important to support the brick-and-mortar establishments in your community. Brick-and-mortar businesses are so much more than dispensaries of food, products and services. They become meeting places, both formal and informal. They are centers of communications; venues for entertainment; petri dishes of vegan culture. Let us not fail to recognize the importance of supporting the vegan establishments because doing so is supporting veganism itself. You might find vegan products for discount prices at large stores and markets but, think about it: you put so much of yourself into promoting the cause, why not get your vegan products at your local vegan shop or eatery. Even if it costs a little more, that cost is relatively insignificant in comparison to your own time and expenditures striving for the same common goal as business you just patronized.

So meet me down at the vegan cafe where we can adulate our creatively crafted lunch. Save room for dessert. We can share our plans on how to save the world. Then we can grab a soy mocha and go shop for some vegan clothing. Does that sound like a plan?