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

Updated: Nov 4

✦ 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.”

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