Veganism is HOT! It is TRENDY! In 2012, Veganism is TOTALLY HAPPENING! It’s FRESH .. It’s NEW .. It’s NOW!
(Nevermind vegetarianism and veganism have existed since ancient India and ancient Greece; those old dead guys don’t make good press.)
In many ways, this trendiness is a good thing, as there is more information and resources for vegans than ever before! More books, movies, magazines, foods, restaurants … More people are being exposed to the idea of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, as something “healthy and cool,” instead of “hippiesh and weird,” and as a result, more people are making the switch!
But in some ways the trendiness is bad, because I’ve seen a real and definite shift towards elitism. And with elitism, going veg is becoming a lot more expensive and complicated.
A whole lotta people are now making a whole lotta money off vegetarians and vegans, especially those brand new to the lifestyle.
And I know we vegetarians and vegans have a tendency to be idealistic, but some vegans are becoming soooo idealistic, and combining their veganism with soooo many other causes – in essence trying to rewrite the whole definition of vegan. And that’s scaring the sh*t out of the veg-curious – and in many cases, discouraging them from even trying.
People used to say to me, “I can’t become vegetarian because I don’t want to give up hamburgers,” or “I could never be vegan because I could never give up cheese.”
Now, people tell me they can’t/won’t become vegetarian/vegan because .. “Don’t I have to do a cleanse/detox? Vegan food is too expensive. I can’t afford to buy all organic. I could maybe give up meat and milk, but I don’t to give up bread and pasta too! I don’t want to eat raw food in the winter. I don’t have a juicer. I have a sweet tooth – I don’t want to give up sugar. I’m not good at recycling. I don’t want to attend circus protests. I have to give up Pepsi, too? OH, FORGET THAT!”
After I recover from choking and snorting my vegan Budweiser out my nose (yep, Bud is vegan), I try to explain to them what vegetarianism and veganism is and isn’t.
A vegetarian avoids eating dead flesh. “We don’t eat anything with a face, anything that had a mother,” I had to tell one member of our VegCharlotte Meetup group … a pescaterian … when she insisted on ordering fish even though there were at least 20 vegan dishes on the menu. “But a pescatarian’s a vegetarian!” she claimed. Sadly, we all had to inform this registered dietitian that a fish was NOT a vegetable. She left in a huff. Definitely one of my weirder Meetup moments.
Some vegetarians may be lacto-vegetarian – eating dairy – or ovo-vegetarian – eating eggs. Some eat both dairy and eggs. But many, I think, are falling into a new category somewhere between vegetarian and vegan. They may eat animal by-products – but they’re trying to minimize it. They’re using milk and butter alternatives at home, avoiding egg dishes – but maybe allowing for a little dairy if they eat out, or allowing for small amounts of egg in store-bought baked goods or as a binder in store-bought veggie burgers.
So that’s vegetarian. What is vegan?
Vegan = the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products. So, a vegan not only avoids eating dead flesh, but also any animal byproducts – milk, eggs, animal gelatin.
Someone who not only eats vegan but lives vegan as well avoids buying new consumer goods made from any part of animals – ivory jewelry, leather jackets, cosmetics with animal ingredients. For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll mostly focus on vegan dietary habits.
After I finish choking, and order another beer, I try to answer their questions.
Do I have to do a “cleanse/detox” to become vegan? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I guarantee you, if you give up animal products – and ESPECIALLY if you give up animal products and replace them with fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains instead of overly processed fake meats and other vegan “junk” food – you WILL detox. The people leading these cleanses are making a profit … and sometimes a pretty substantial one. And, there are usually fees on top of the sign-up fee – classes, seminars, or dinners at “discounted” rates. Keep in mind that even if rates are discounted these fees can still add up! If the idea of an intensive 3-week program appeals to you, go to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and try one of their (free) 21-day jumpstart programs instead. If you really want to take it a step farther, check out Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness Cleanse (a Kindle edition retails for $9.99.) It focuses on abstaining from animal products as well as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and gluten. (Remember, though, that being a vegan does NOT mean abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and gluten. In fact, in moderation these can all be part of a healthy vegan diet – YAY!).
I’m not saying all cleanses are bad – just unnecessary. If you are interested and have money to burn, and truly need the social support – go for it. To be safe, consult with a doctor first.
Vegan and vegetarian food is so expensive! Well, it certainly CAN be expensive … if you shop only at trendy health food stores, or buy lots of processed vegan food. (I’m the gal who shops with coupons and typically gets $100 worth of groceries at Harris Teeter for $35 …. I remember signing up for Vegan Cuts and almost fainting to see three bags of kale chips “on sale” for $16, or four chocolate bonbons for $24. Whaaaaat?) Again, elitist vegan products. But, eating a vegan diet can also be much, much cheaper than a diet filled with animal products. Check out Ellen Jaffe Jones’ Eat Vegan On $4 A Day. And Rory Freedman, the author of Skinny Bitch, recently proved you can buy a week’s worth of vegan groceries for $33!
I can’t afford to buy all organic. I hear you. But, organic produce has nothing to do with being vegetarian or vegan. Eating organic food is certainly a healthy habit, but you can still be 100% vegan eating conventional produce. (And, likewise, there are many omnivores who eat organic produce and “organic” meat.) Check out the “dirty dozen” and spend your organic dollars here, where it will make the most difference. It’s much better to buy organic apples, for example, than organic bananas (because you just peel the skin off a banana anyway). And keep in mind washing and peeling produce also helps reduce pesticides.
I don’t want to give up bread and pasta. This one truly puzzled me at first. Why on earth would anyone feel they had to give up bread and pasta? Yes, you’ll have to do some label reading, but most dried pastas are egg and dairy free. (Fresh, moist pastas tend to have egg.) And while many breads have egg or dairy, many do not. READ LABELS. I finally figured out people were referring to GLUTEN, and it was usually related to the detoxes/cleanses. Well, guess what? Gluten is a protein that comes from wheat, rye, or barley – you know, PLANTS – so it is absolutely vegan. Certainly people with celiac disease or wheat allergy should avoid it. But if you’re not sensitive to gluten you won’t experience any positive changes by cutting it out. (Exhibit A: Me. I tried cutting out gluten for a month, and noticed no effects except a deep and profound sadness upon entering Italian restaurants.) But the eating of or avoidance of gluten has absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. Pass the pasta, please.
I don’t want to eat raw food in the winter. Well, you don’t have to eat raw food at all. You can take all your vegetables and boil them in a pot until they are a lumpy, mushy goo, and you’ll still be vegan. Admittedly, a vegan who does not have friends clamoring for dinner invitations, but a vegan nonetheless! There are many omnivores that follow a raw food diet too – including raw meat – and some people also espouse a raw meat diet for dogs. So raw does not equal vegan. Many vegans and vegetarians do choose to consume large portions of uncooked, unprocessed foods, believing it has health benefits – plus, so many fruits and vegetables taste delicious raw! Think about salads, chilled fresh fruit, veggies and dip, freshly made salsa… Probably many of us naturally eat more raw foods in the summer and more cooked foods in the winter. Increasing your intake of raw foods may be something you want to consider exploring, but it’s not a requirement for being vegan.
I don’t have a juicer. Juicing is a healthy habit many people enjoy, both omnivores and vegans. It’s gained popularity from films like Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, and that’s probably where people are getting the vegan = juicing idea. Again, this might be something you want to explore – at some point – when you have a juicer or a blender – but again, it’s not a requirement for being vegan.
I have a sweet tooth – I don’t want to give up sugar. This one’s tricky. Sugar is either beet sugar or cane sugar. Before they are processed, both are vegan. Cane sugar is processed (“bleached”) with charcoal, which may be of vegetable, mineral, OR animal origin! Beet sugar is ALWAYS vegan as there is no need for it to be processed with charcoal – however, beet sugar is not usually labeled as beet sugar, but just sugar! So, it’s hard to know what is beet sugar and what is processed cane sugar – and what is or isn’t processed with bone char! There are many who claim that since sugar is not an animal product, and no charcoal (regardless of origin) remains in the product, it is vegan. Jews consider refined sugar to be kosher pareve.
If this is concerning to you, you can use a vegan sugar or sugar substitute at home. Florida Crystals is one mainstream brand of sugar that is vegan. Also Sugar In the Raw, and unbleached sugars. But when you eat something prepackaged or at a restaurant that contains sugar, there is really no way to tell. You just have to decide how crazy you’re going to let yourself get over that. Personally, I prefer to pick and choose my battles … if I’m eating out I’m much more worried about the possibility of chicken broth in my pasta sauce or stir-fry sauce than I am over a half-teaspoon of sugar from questionable origins.
Certainly there are health reasons to reduce the sugar in your diet (diabetes, for one), and ethical reasons. Jo Stepaniak, who I usually love, has this to say about sugar: “The vast majority of sugarcane is not organically grown, and most sugar plantations employ environmentally unsound agricultural methods, such as heavy insecticide and pesticide use and crop burning, which negatively impact soil, air, water, and the health of the workers. Sugarcane production is labor and energy intensive and utilizes large amounts of fossil fuels in processing, filtration, packaging, and transport. Plantation owners typically pay meager wages and provide no benefits while workers are forced to endure brutal, substandard conditions.” Well, thank you Jo, that’s certainly very honorable, but we could probably say the same thing about many other crops. And currently, I’m being paid meager wages with no benefits, too. It’s already a challenge for new veggies to take that first vegan step. Don’t make them worry about saving the whole world as well. Yikes.
I’m not good at recycling. Veganism is NOT environmentalism – although there are many vegan environmentalists! And, there is no other single step you can take to improve the environment and conserve resources so much as eliminating meat from your diet! It takes 2400 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef, but only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat! According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads! (But please do recycle – your neighbors will talk about you if you don’t. In fact, they already have been. I was just waiting for the right moment to tell you.)
I don’t want to attend circus protests. Again, you don’t have to. There are many vegan animal rights activists, but being an animal activist is NOT a requirement for being vegan. (Oddly enough, there are many animal activists who are extremely concerned about puppy mills and circus elephants, but not factory farming. And there are many so-called “animal lovers” who adore and pamper their cats or dogs, but still eat meat several times a day. Mmm….lot of people few crayons short of a box out there.) Many people do go vegan because of concern and compassion for animals (I did), but some go vegan entirely for health reasons. Protesting circuses, writing your senators, signing change.org petitions, or going naked instead of wearing fur is completely optional. (Unless you’re Ryan Gosling or Zac Efron, then you absolutely do have to go naked. Or at least shirtless. Please?)
I can’t give up Pepsi! Here’s another example of people confusing veganism with other lofty ideals. Recently Bean Vegan Cuisine, Charlotte’s first-ever, all vegan sit-down restaurant recently opened. They are doing a very creative vegan take on classic homestyle and comfort foods. Yes, they are
single-handedly (or double-handedly, since there are two of them? or – wait – they each have two hands – quadruple-handedly) bringing food like reubens, crabby patties, fried pickles and vegan ranch dressing back to the vegan masses. You’d think vegans and vegetarians in the area would be turning somersaults of joy, right? Wrong. On Bean’s Facebook page, Charlie and Roy got absolutely SLAMMED for including soda in the beverage list. I was rather confused as to why – was it the sugar thing again? But a diet Pepsi would still be vegan, right? Then I read this elitist quote someone posted, “True, sodas are vegan but for the most part, people that are vegan recognize the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship, things that ‘Pepsi’ contradicts. ” No, dear heart. People who are vegan avoid animal products. It’s called Bean Vegan Cuisine, not Bean Sustainable and Environmentally Friendly Cuisine. Although, who is doing the most for the environment? Bean, serving all-vegan meals and – hopefully – introducing omnivores to the idea that vegan cuisine can be both familiar and tasty? Or someone whining about soda? Case closed.
Another poster on Bean’s Facebook page said it best: “I’m so tired of people mucking up the definition (of vegan) and making it harder on vegans.”
I would have probably thrown an “f” in there somewhere but … Amen, sister. Amen.