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To be vegan or not be vegan – the choice really is yours...

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

✦ November marks World Vegan Day and even though the designated date of November 1 may have passed already by the time this month’s edition of Brilliant Online goes live, we thought it would be interesting to take a deeper dive into the world of Veganism, to quash misconceptions and stigmas, provide insight and context and, ultimately, raise awareness.

Whereas veganism has become much more assimilated into our wider everyday lives, there is still much that is unknown or unclear about a vegan lifestyle, more so the motivations and principles behind it. There is also frequent confusion regarding the difference between veganism and vegetarianism, something we shed a light on here.

Vegan diets have soared in popularity over recent years as we become more conscious of our well-being, health and the welfare of animals and the environment. A Sentient Media report states that, according to the Good Food Institute, the sales of plant-based foods grew three times faster than overall food sales in 2021. It also states that the Guardian estimates there are currently 79 million vegans around the world, a figure that continues its rapid ascent each year and that the worldwide vegan food market grew from US$14.44 billion in 2020 to $15.77 billion in 2021.

Quite simply, veganism is considered a lifestyle that has its principles deeply rooted in compassion and animal rights that is far more reaching than just diet choices, encompassing morality, ethics, health, religion and culture. The Vegan Society defines veganism as thus: “Veganism is a philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

In addition to the above explanation, many vegans will also boycott companies that test their products on animals, particularly pharmaceutical or cosmetic manufacturers, ensuring they only purchase goods that are free of animal by-products. Furthermore there is a fraction of the vegan community known as “ethical vegans” who boycott any activities that use and exploit animals for entertainment values, such as zoos, aquariums, circuses, horse and dog races, etc. There are also a significant number of environmentalists who adopt a vegan diet for its reduced impact on the earth’s resources and the positives it has in relation to minimising climate change.

The ignorance of detractors!

Although some estimates suggest vegetarian diets have been around since as early as 700 B.C., it is harder to pinpoint exactly when veganism became a defined term. Probably the closest we can get is the pioneering work of Leslie Cross, the UK-based Vice-President of the very first Vegan Society. In 1949 Cross described the “principle of the emancipation of animals from exploitation by man” as the mission statement behind his charity organisation, later expanding this so as “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.”

A vegan diet is plant-based, incorporating a wide variety of vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, in addition to foods made from plants. Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products, eggs, fish or honey.

However, despite the rise in popularity, veganism has its fair share of detractors who are quick to mock or attempt to undermine the movement. The first argument that critics of veganism will raise is that one cannot compromise their diet by surviving on plants alone, that meat protein is invaluable, and so forth. Quite simply, this is an argument that is both inaccurate and usually formed by sheer ignorance!

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the facts. Plant-based foods are rich in vitamins and minerals, full of fibre, free of cholesterol and low in calories and saturated fat that provide all the protein, calcium and other essential nutrients that our bodies require. As The Vegan Society says, “A vegan diet is richly diverse and comprises all kinds of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, beans and pulses - all of which can be prepared in endless combinations that will ensure you're never bored. From curry to cake, pasties to pizzas, all your favourite things can be suitable for a vegan diet if they're made with plant-based ingredients.” They have a seemingly endless list of yummy recipes that you can access here.

Vegan versus Vegetarian?

OK, so what is the difference between veganism and vegetarianism? People often get confused but, put simply, whereas both have profound health and environmental benefits, veganism is a far more strict philosophy. According to the Vegetarian Society, “a vegetarian is someone who lives on a diet of plant-based foods and doesn’t eat meat, poultry, and seafood, but their diets may or may not include animal byproducts that do not involve animal slaughter, such as eggs, dairy, and honey.”

There are, essentially, three major definitions of a vegetarian:

1. Lacto-Ovo – the most common form of vegetarianism where plant foods and animal products like dairy, eggs and honey are consumed as part of the diet but meat, poultry and seafood are not.

2. Lacto – consuming a plant-based diet but excluding meat, poultry and seafood as well as eggs or any food containing eggs. However, they may incorporate dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter into their diets.

3. Ovo - eats plant-based foods but excludes meat, poultry and seafood in addition to dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Often will, however, consume eggs and any food containing them.

veganism and vegetarianism whereas both have profound health and environmental benefits
Veganism and vegetarianism both have profound health and environmental benefits

When it comes to the vegan versus vegetarian debate, there is a holistic viewpoint that highlights the misconception that vegetarianism positively helps animals when it actually doesn’t - it discriminates. Some of the worst forms of exploitation exist in the egg and dairy industries, for example, something that is frequently lost on vegetarians.

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Further arguments state that veganism is a moral obligation whereby proponents try to avoid practices that cause harm to sentient beings of other species. Some argue that a sentient-based scale should be adhered to where the suffering induced on products we consume is graded in line with moral obligation. In his book ‘Why Veganism Matters’, author Gary L. Francione states, “if we agree that animals have moral value and we can-not justify treating animals exclusively as resources, we must accord to them the one right - the right not to be property - that we accord to all humans as providing the minimum protection necessary to have moral value. We must stop using nonhuman animals as resources.”

veganism is a moral obligation whereby proponents try to avoid practices that cause harm to sentient beings of other species
Veganism is a moral obligation whereby proponents try to avoid practices that cause harm to sentient beings of other species

One person driving the debate on the merits of veganism over vegetarianism is Ed Winters, a vegan educator, best-selling author, public speaker and content creator, widely known for his viral debates, speeches, and video essays. Check out this debate he has with a vegetarian on YouTube which offers an educated and highly-engaging insight, typical of his wider work.

The case arguing the merits of veganism over other life choices is a fascinating one that can be analysed and studied for endless hours. There is certainly much more to the argument than many who are quick to dismiss it originally perceive or understand. Ultimately, like most things, it boils down to education and personal choice. However, in a world where suffering is rife and widespread, maybe we should all look at our role, responsibilities and options and ask whether we can consciously make a positive impact and whether that is a good choice. As we hope and strive to move into an increasingly morally conscious and responsible world the answer is obvious and, whereas it may only be a small step, great things start from small beginnings.

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