Veganism is a lifestyle characterized by abstaining from the use or ingestion of animal products, and by avoiding the use of products that have been tested on animals. An animal product in this context refers not only to meat but to any substance derived from an animal, such as gelatin, eggs, honey, milk, other dairy products such as cheese, butter, whey, and cream, and ingredients such as casein and lactose.
Most vegans avoid the use of all animal products, including leather, silk, fur, ivory and bone, and won't use cosmetics, toiletries or household cleaners that contain animal-derived ingredients, such as beeswax or lanolin. Some vegans may avoid eating animal products, but may nevertheless wear clothes made of materials derived from animals. The latter are called "dietary vegans."
People become vegans for a number of reasons, primarily because they see it as supporting animal rights, or to try to allay their concerns for their health and the environment. A Time/CNN poll published in Time Magazine on July 7, 2002, found that 4% of American adults consider themselves vegetarians, and 5% of self-described vegetarians consider themselves vegans. This suggests that 0.2% of American adults are vegans. A 2000 poll suggested closer to 0.9% of the adult American population may be vegan. In the UK, research showed that 0.4%, approximately 250,000 people, were vegan in 2001.
The National Cattleman's Beef Association defines "animal welfare" as taking reasonable care of all animals, and good animal husbandry practices. The NCBA also defines "animal rights" as the position that animals as having legal and moral rights similar to humans. The NCBA supports the position of animal welfare.
Veganism is defined by the British Vegan Society as:
[A] philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — 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, including humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
The word vegan (pronounced vee-gun, sometimes mispronounced vay-gun) was originally derived from vegetarian in 1944 when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, frustrated that the term "vegetarianism" had come to include the eating of dairy products, founded the UK Vegan Society. The word starts and ends with the first three and last two letters of vegetarian, representing that veganism begins with vegetarianism, then takes it to its logical conclusion. Therefore the term vegan was originally coined to describe vegetarians who eliminate all animal products in their diet. Since 1944 the term veganism has been expanded to mean people who (primarily for what they see as ethical or environmental reasons) seek to eliminate all animal products in all areas of their lives from those who simply avoid eating animal products.
Although veganism as a secular movement is a 20th century idea, the principles date back to the 2nd millennium BC in Hinduism (ahimsa).
Strict dietary principles have also been followed by adherents of Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Jainism, claiming in this way to promote nonsuffering and nonviolence. Jain monks usually eat only fruits and beans so that they can avoid indirect killing of plants. They abstain from eating root plants, such as garlic, onion, carrots, and potatoes, because it requires the death of the plant. Stricter Jains also abstain from walking on grass. There are those who wear masks over their mouths and noses to avoid any possibility of breathing in tiny insects.
The term "animal product" in a vegan context refers to the use of material derived from non-human animals for human use or consumption. Human breast milk, for example, is acceptable when used for human babies, but by comparison, when a human being drinks a cow's milk, it is regarded as the consumption of an "animal product."
Animal products include meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, fur, leather, wool, and byproducts such as gelatin, rennet, and whey. The Vegan Society includes insect products such as silk, honey, and beeswax in its definition.
There is some debate on the finer points of what constitutes an animal product: strict vegans avoid cane sugar that has been filtered with bone char, and will not drink beers and wines clarified with albumen (egg white), animal blood, or isinglass, even though these are not present in the final product. They also avoid food cooked in pans if they have been used to cook non-vegan foods.
As well as avoiding animal products, most vegans claim to refrain from supporting, directly or indirectly, industries that use animals, such as circuses featuring animals, and zoos, and from using toiletries, cosmetics, or other products that are tested on animals. Most vegans agree that it is very difficult to take part in society without indirectly to some degree supporting some non-vegan activities.
Other ideals commonly held by some vegans (as well as some non-vegans) may include sustainable agricultural systems that exclude, or make use of animal by-products such as blood, fish emulsion, bone, and manures. Some vegans view the adoption of vegan organic horticultural and agricultural ("veganic") methodologies as integral to their ethical stance.
The vegan philosophy is seen by many as related to the concept of ahimsa, a Sanskrit word central to Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, originally taught by Mahavira and Buddha around 500 BCE. Ahimsa roughly means "non-killing and non-harming." The American Vegan Society website says: "It is not mere passiveness, but a positive method of meeting the dilemmas and decisions of daily life. In the western world, we call it Dynamic Harmlessness." Ahimsa is also used as a backronym: Abstinence from animal products, Harmlessness with reverence for life, Integrity of thought, word, and deed, Mastery over oneself, Service to humanity, nature and creation, and Advancement of understanding and truth.
Vegans generally oppose what they see as the violence and cruelty involved in the meat, and non-vegan cosmetics, clothing, and other industries. (See Draize test, LD50, Animal testing, Vivisection, and Factory farming.)
Utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer argue that the alleged suffering of sentient animals are relevant to ethical decisions. Though Singer's ethical theory recognizes the suffering of sentient animals, it does not rely on the concept of rights. However, philosophers such as Tom Regan and Gary L. Francione argue that some animals are sentient, and therefore are the subjects of a life which they can value. Because they can do this, they argue, these animals have the inherent right to possess their own flesh, and they claim that it is therefore unethical to treat them as property, or as a commodity.
Health and environment
Dietary vegans believe a diet consisting of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, but excluding dairy, egg and animal-derived products has health benefits. Additionally health benefits that may influence people to become dietary vegans include avoiding various artificial substances such as growth hormones and antibiotics which are routinely given to factory-farmed animals. However, these artificial substances are much less likely to be found in free range meat and won't be found in free range organic meat. Sometimes these dietary vegans go on to become full vegans.
The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada publicly state that "well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer some nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been anecdotally reported to have lower body mass indices than non-vegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease. This could also be explained by the fact that vegans in general tend to be more conscientious about diet than non-vegans. A meat-eater who is conscientious with diet to the same degree as a vegetarian will not have the same problems as one who is not. In short, the health problems don't stem from meat-eating per se, but from a poor diet in general. Vegetarians as well as prudent meat-eaters also show lower blood cholesterol levels; lower blood pressure; and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer."
As with vegetarians, vegans may be motivated by the alleged high environmental costs of producing animal products. Often cited are the pollution of local environments by animal waste, as well as the resources used to care for livestock. A commonly cited (and contested) statistic is that it takes 14 times more land area to support a meat eater than a vegetarian. This is due in part to the fact that caring for livestock requires resources to produce many inedible products (e.g., bone), although a conscientious non-vegan can sometimes find uses for these by-products. In fact, only about 10% of the energy used in livestock is available for human consumption:
[O]nly a fraction of the energy at one trophic level can be passed on to the next. This fraction varies from a high of about 35 percent for the most efficient ... to below 0.1 percent...Given the inefficiency of the energy transfer from one trophic level to the next, it might seem that the earth could support more humans if we all stopped being omnivorous, and lived on a wholly vegetable diet instead of the combined animal and vegetable diet ... (Keeton)
The result is that producing food through livestock is saqid to be much less efficient than typical harvesting of fruits and vegetables, which, in the latter case, is said to typically use most or all of the product for human consumption.
Many dishes containing animal products can be adapted by substituting vegan ingredients. Soy milk can be used to replace traditional milk in most recipes, as can a variety of nut and grain "milks"; eggs can usually be replaced by substitutes such as products made from potato starch. Artificial "meat" products, such as imitation sausages, ground beef, burgers, and chicken nuggets are available in many supermarkets, although many are only vegetarian. Some Asian cuisines contain many dishes that are naturally vegan.
Vegans have several foods that they tend to eat in larger quantities than non-vegans. Among these are the soy products tofu and tempeh, and the wheat product seitan. Many vegans express concern about reliance on soy products, and prefer to experiment with a range of foods and cuisines.
There are several diets similar to veganism, though there are significant differences, including fruitarianism, raw food diet, macrobiotic diet and Natural Hygiene. There are also numerous religious groups that regularly or occasionally practice a similar diet, including some sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, as well as some Christian sects such as the Eastern Orthodox church and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
More recently, many young people who subscribe to the anarcho-punk or straight edge punk movements have embraced veganism, and the corresponding beliefs of the animal rights movement. Straight Edge is a philosophy in which one does not partake in the drinking of alcohol, casual sex, or recreational drugs, and was born out of anger at the cultural excesses of the 1980s. Straight Veg, a term equivalent to vegan, arose as a response to the increasingly popular Straight Edge. Another recent variation of veganism is the "freegan" diet (practitioners sometimes called "opportunivores"), which essentially allows its practitioners to violate the tenets of veganism when a food item is free or of a post-consumer nature (example: discarded food).
An interesting sub-set of veganism, raw veganism, advocates the consumption only of raw foods and the elimination of processed foods from the diet. A study of raw vegans found them to be slender and healthy, but noted that they had reduced essential bone mass and lower bone mineral density. The researchers said these results are "strongly associated with increased fracture risk", but noted that the raw vegans they studied had no other biological markers to indicate higher levels of osteoporosis, and that their bone turnover rates were normal.
For many people, a properly planned vegan diet presents no significant nutritional problems, though supplementation is highly recommended; this, though, applies to non-vegans too -- as Drs Fletcher and Fairfield concluded, in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in June 2002, that "It appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements". The British government's annual survey of nutritional content of food, McCance and Widdowson's 'The Composition of Foods', notes that the 2002 nutritional profile of foods is seriously lacking in trace elements compared with their 1931 profiles; indeed, a steady decline over the past 60 years has been noted. There are several nutrients vegans should pay attention to. These include Vitamin B12, iron and iodine: deficiencies in these are more likely following a vegan diet, and deficiencies of these potentially have serious consequences, including anemia, pernicious anemia, cretinism and hyperthyroidism. Interestingly, B12 deficiency can be a problem for others, too; aging, for example, can lead to an inability to absorb B12 from food, and supplementation is recommended for those over fifty-five years of age.
Some nutritionists have expressed concerns about the potential dangers in the vegan diet. This is especially true for young children where the failure to achieve adequate nutrition can lead to permanent developmental deficits. In widely reported comments, Professor Lindsey Allen of the U.S. Agricultural Research Service declared: "There's absolutely no question that it's unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans." She later added "unless those who practiced vegan diets were well-informed about how to add back missing nutrients through supplements or fortified foods," which she claims the original reporter inappropriately dropped. Prof. Allen's comments were based on research backed by the American Cattlemen's Association in which she compared two groups of severely malnourished children in rural Africa who subsisted on only three foods, and how their extremely impoverished diets can be related to western dietary models is unclear.
In very severe cases, parents practising what they described as forms of veganism have been charged with child abuse for not providing adequate nutrition.
Dr. Per-Olaf Astrand of the Swedish Karolinska Institute conducted an informal study of diet and endurance using nine highly trained athletes, changing their diet every three days. At the end of every diet change, each athlete would pedal a bicycle until exhaustion. Those with a high protein and high fat meat (carnivore) diet averaged 57 minutes. Those that consumed a mixed (omnivore) diet, lower in meat, fat and protein averaged 1 hour and 54 minutes: twice the endurance of the meat and fat eaters. The vegetarian, high carbohydrate diet athletes lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes, triple the endurance of the high-protein group. (Source: Astrand, Per-Olaf, Nutrition Today 3:no2, 9-11, 1968)
The role of protein in the vegan diet has been the source of some dissent and misunderstanding. While all vegetable foods contain protein, few vegetable proteins contain a complete set of the essential amino acids needed by the human body, and are deficient in one or more amino acids. It has been claimed that, since vegans do not consume "complete" animal-derived proteins such as egg, milk, meat and fish, they must perform a kind of protein combining on a daily basis to avoid suffering from protein deficiency. The most current measuring system for the "completeness" of a protein's amino acid content is called PDCAAS. A value of 1.0 is deemed complete, with 0 being completely deficient. To illustrate how certain vegetable foods complement one another, consider grain protein and bean protein. Grain protein has a PDCAAS of about 0.4 to 0.5, limited by lysine. On the other hand, it contains more than enough methionine. White bean protein (and that of many other pulses) has a PDCAAS of 0.6 to 0.7, limited by methionine, and contains more than enough lysine. When both are eaten in roughly equal quantities in a diet, the PDCAAS of the combined constituent is 1.0, because each constituent's protein is complemented by the other. Of course, this "value" is not an objective measure, but is simply in comparison with a hen's egg, which was assigned as the "base" marker for protein, with a "value" of 1.0 decades ago. However, the body is perfectly able to assemble all the amino acids necessary to good health by maintainance of a sufficient variety of foods in one's diet.
Vegans also note the following with regard to protein intake:
* When a variety of plant foods is consumed, the PDCAAS of the total
diet approaches 1, even if no conscious protein combining is performed.
Residents of the UK may find themselves iodine-deficient if they rely on local produce, since in the UK iodine is usually obtained via dairy products rather than iodized salt that is more common elsewhere. The Vegan Society says, "Iodine is typically undesirably low (about 50 micrograms/day compared to a recommended level of about 150 micrograms per day) in UK vegan diets unless supplements, iodine rich seaweeds or foods containing such seaweeds (e.g. Vecon) are consumed. The low iodine levels in many plant foods reflects the low iodine levels in the UK soil, due in part to the recent ice-age." This demonstrates that location may also be a factor in what deficiencies may be present in any given diet.
Vitamin B12, a bacterial product, cannot be reliably found in plant foods, and so vegans are recommended to make sure they eat foods with B12 added (such as fortified soy milk, yeast extract, margarines, or many commercial breakfast cereals, such as Cheerios), certain brands of nutritional yeast, or take dietary supplements (a good multivitamin will likely include B12 in sufficient quantities). Tempeh, miso, and a few other fermented foods can sometimes contain B12 as well, though they can not always be considered reliable sources. Older people, vegan and non-vegan alike, may find they experience difficulties in absorbing B12 from their food, and pernicious anaemia, caused by a B12 deficiency, is not unknown amongst omnivores.
Iron is said by the Vegan Society to be present in many typically vegan foodstuffs, including grains, nuts and green leaves. However, the iron in these sources is in a less easily absorbed, non-heme form. Nevertheless, the Society quotes research to show that iron deficiency is no more prevalent in vegans than in the general population. This research did not account for the fact that many vegans take nutritional supplements that are not found in food alone, whereas other research that excludes this subset of people does indeed show a marked iron deficiency among a majority of those studied. It is important to note that iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the general population, and many nutritionists and dieticians recommend a daily multivitamin because of this. Vitamin C is necessary to the absorption of iron, and, indeed, can double or triple the amount of iron absorbed when taken with food (i.e. a glass of orange juice with a spinach salad). Vegans typically have high levels of vitamin C in their diets, which probably accounts for the rarity of anaemia amongst them.
Calcium may also be a concern if the vegan is not eating a variety of foods, especially leafy green vegetables such as spinach, fortified products, almonds, soy products, and dried fruits.
One nutrient that is sometimes overlooked when analyzing the vegan diet is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA can be synthesized from alpha linolenic fatty acids; for non-vegetarians, good sources for this omega-3 fatty acid include seafood and eggs. This healthy fat can also be found in soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and canola oil, and many vegans include these specific foods in their diets. This fatty acid is very important for brain function, eye function, and for the cellular transport of valuable nutrients. "ALA", a form of algae, can also be used as a supplementary source of DHA.
Omega-3 fatty acids must be taken into consideration for any diet, and special consideration taken for younger children and the elderly because growing and aging brains need more of these nutritious fats. There are multiple sources of omega-3 fatty acids available to vegans: flaxseed oil (sometimes called edible linseed in the UK) and hemp oil, nuts (especially walnuts), and certain green, leafy vegetables all provide omega-3s as well. However, it must be understood that these foods contain only short-chain omega-3s, while oil-rich fish contains long-chain omega-3s; about ten times as much short-chain omega-3s must be eaten to have the same effect as long-chain omega-3s.
Veganism initially requires a level of attention to the details of consumption which many non-vegans view as impractical, particularly in the area of food preparation, though, for some it becomes habitual after a transitional period, just as with any other lifestyle change. Many dishes prepared in western culture involve at least one non-vegan element — dairy, in particular, is pervasive. And while most people are accustomed to the idea of vegetarianism, it is much more difficult for vegans to simply "eat around" the non-vegan elements in a meal. Some non-vegans may resent the extra effort of accommodating the vegan diet. Certain vegan substitutions for non-vegan ingredients (such as soy milk for cow's milk) only superficially resemble their animal- or meat-based analogues. Cooking, as a chemical process, relies on properties (such as the fat content of milk) that plant- and animal-based ingredients do not always share, and so in some recipes calling for animal products, the vegan substitutions may not work well.
The lifestyle choices can be somewhat inconvenient as well. Avoiding clothing and shoes containing wool or leather, most brands of latex condoms (as latex is often produced with the milk protein casein), hygiene products such as soap, to name a few, requires serious research. Many vegans would argue that convenience is not a good basis for a lifestyle. The long-term benefits, they feel, far outweigh the initial difficulties, and soon the lifestyle changes become a matter of habit for most.
In addition, many health supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbal alternatives, etc.) are placed inside small pharmaceutical capsules made of gelatin in order to make their contents easier to swallow. Since gelatin is an animal product, many vegans find this choice rather inconvenient, with the main alternatives being limited to either abstaining from the supplement, finding supplements in cellulose capsules (a plant product), or opening the gelatin capsule and emptying the contents, as a way to avoid consuming the gelatin cap. Online retailers have emerged, selling vegan alternatives to such products.
In healthcare, vegans face other difficulties. Nearly all medication, and most dietary supplements as well, contain a number of ingredients that are derived from animal sources. The medicine itself, or inactive ingredients in the pill may be made from chemicals such as magnesium stearate, coated in gelatin, or bound together with lactose. When the medicine itself is derived from an animal source (such as birth control pills) there may not be acceptable substitute. In Western countries, over-the-counter medication is often sold in vegetarian and vegan forms, a choice that may not be available in other parts of the world.
Individuals may not be fully aware of the many products used in routine health care by their medical provider or during a hospital stay. Catgut is still used in sutures and other materials as benign as latex gloves may be used and disposed during regular treatment. In some cases, vegans may have no choice but to make use of life-saving drugs like Antivenom, which is derived from animals. All drugs sold in the United States are the result of animal testing, which is a requirement of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Most cosmetics, toiletries, household cleaners, pesticides, and other products used around the home also contain ingredients that have been tested on animals.
Some criticism is focussed on the alleged environmental impact of animal rearing. Feed for animals in an agrarian economy is seldom cultivated for purposes of animal feed and is often the by product of crops primarily grown for human consumption, thus creating a meat output from hay and other plant produce. Factory farming, thus is often limited only to poultry in many parts of Africa, Asia and South America. In these regions animals are often seen as a sustainable way of life providing much needed protein and milk.
In most Asian countries, where rice is the staple food the reverse is often true, i.e. plant cultivation can be more environmentally damaging. The cultivation of paddy requires far greater quantity of water than most crops grown in Europe/America. Cultivating a single kilo of rice requires 5,000 litres of water and thus places a huge stress on the water supply far higher than would be needed for animal husbandry. Infact rice cultivation is seen as the main culprit behind methane emissions. Furthermore the increase in soybean consumption - a product used in many vegan foods - has led to concerns over its environmental impact. Greenpeace have complained that soybean cultivation in Brazil is encouraging Amazon rainforest deforestation. The increase in soyabean cultivation has led to losing large tracts of forest land leading to ecological damage as per WWF.
While much of the literature and media used to promote veganism cites the conditions of modern factory farms, some critics of the diet note that organic and more humanely animal-derived foods, malpractices notwithstanding, are available in some countries. Milk and beef from smaller farms, for instance, may come from generally healthier and better cared-for cows. That brings the debate back to whether it is ethical for humans to make use of animals at all, which is usually the major underlying factor in a vegan's lifestyle choice.
More information (these links take you away from this site)
Vegan Society (UK)
An Animal-Friendly Life Applying vegan ethics to living
Meat Filter A vegan blog
Vegan.com Erik Marcus's website
Veganfitness.net Online community supporting vegans and would be vegans in sport and fitness
What do vegans eat? A blog of vegan foods