Veganism is largely related to vegetarianism, though it tends to be a more restrictive diet and lifestyle. The vegan diet is categorized by not only abstaining from eating meat, but also from all other products from animals. While some only follow the diet, there are some vegans who go a step further and incorporate the principles into their entire lives, refraining from using any piece of clothing or object that is made from any animal.
Where do vegans come from?
Evidence of veganism in history has been around seemingly as long as people have been eating. Or, at least, as long as they had seen eating animal products as a form of cruelty. The origins of veganism are a bit vague, but there is evidence of lives without animal products from as early as two thousand years ago.
One of the most famous names tied to veganism is Pythagoras, famous for theorems, but also for promoting compassion between all species. He himself led a vegetarian lifestyle. In a similar timeframe, the Buddha was leading his followers to a vegetarian lifestyle.
The more modern vegan can be traced to 1944, when Donald Watson brought together a few other vegetarians who avoided dairy. Together, they formed a new movement. They chose to adopt a more succinct name than “non-dairy vegetarian” and wound up with the word vegan.
It was a few years before the vegan diet spread into the lifestyle of the members of the group. They invented the first definition of “vegan” as it is defined today. Essentially, their main goal is to free animals from being exploited by man for food or other uses.
As time went on, the interest in alternative food and diets grew in the United States. This was tied into the general distrust of the government, which in turn lead to distrust in the food industry and growing concern for the environment. Both vegetarian and vegan diets and lifestyles became popular as counterculture grew in the 1960s and 70s.
In the 1980s, veganism became associated with the punk culture movement as well. This has continued into the 2000s, and in the latter half of the 2010s, the interest and the popularity of vegan movements reached an all-time high.
What do vegans avoid?
Firstly, vegans can be categorized in two distinct groups: “ethical” and “dietary.” Dietary vegans adhere to the vegan diet of avoiding foods that are derived from animals. Ethical vegans follow the same rules as dietary vegans, but they extend the vegan definition to all areas of their lives, abstaining from all products resulting from cruelty to animals.
There is a large difference between vegans and vegetarians. The main exclusions that vegans make are dairy products, whereas vegetarians have no qualms drinking milk or eating cheese. This is largely due to the conditions that animals live in when being raised on a factory farm, which vegans would deem cruel.
There is, however, some dispute about how “vegan” some products are. Some vegans consider honey to be non-vegan, but some see it as acceptable within the vegan diet because no harm comes to the bees that make it, as it is a byproduct of their lifestyle.
Vegan lifestyles can also extend to their pets, though it has been met with some controversy. While there is nutritionally complete vegan pet food on the market for cats and dogs, some criticize this practice due to many dogs and cats being compulsory carnivores. Usually, these options are also not as well-regulated as traditional forms of pet food.
What do vegans eat?
Since vegans are taking a large portion of their nutrient sources out of their diets completely, they have to get their nutrition from other sources. These usually come in the form of grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. There are also vegan alternatives to meat specifically, usually in the form of soybeans or seitan, which are both great forms of plant proteins.
Soy is prevalent in vegan cooking because it is a complete protein, meaning that it encompasses all of the amino acids that humans need. The most common form that vegans and vegetarians enjoy soybeans is through tofu, which made from soy and a coagulant. However, it also comes in a cake-like form called tempeh which is popular for its texture, wholly different from tofu.
Milk also has a great many of vegan substitutes. Here, soy makes another appearance in the form of soy milk, but other common milk alternatives include almond, coconut, hemp, oat, and rice milks. Usually these forms also have more protein or nutritional benefit than traditional cow or goat milk.
Baking with veganism can seem tricky at first because of the lack of eggs, but the protein in eggs acts as a thickening agent when baking, which a number of alternative ingredients can do. Baking powder is occasionally used in place of eggs, as well as tofu, potato, and chickpeas.
Is veganism healthy?
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. Many studies compare omnivorous diets with those of vegetarians and vegans, but this can make it harder to isolate the differences in nutrition specifically. However, across the board, vegans tended to have the lowest BMI and cholesterol levels of all groups. This may or may not play into lessened health problems; the evidence is unclear.
The effects of an all animal diet, however, has been studied. These studies have found that these somewhat carnivorous diets are more harmful than both their omnivorous and vegetarian/vegan counterparts. They were severely lacking in many more nutritional categories, missing key vitamins and minerals in their diets.
However, vegans are also more prone to having a lower bone mineral density. This can be rectified with the use to supplements, but many vegans choose not to do so. This may be to do with the lack of regulation surrounding supplements, as well as the frequency of non-vegan ingredients not being listed.
Before you embark on any drastic lifestyle or diet change, talk to your doctor to make sure you are following healthy guidelines. They can also ensure you are getting the proper nutrition as well as if you need to take supplements.