Now that we know the amazing side effects you’ll experience and the yummy and all time favorites you do not have to give up, let’s begin by explaining what it means to be vegan, the differences between being vegan and being vegetarian, and let’s start to understand why this is such an important and much needed change.
Here’s the problem with talking about the definition of words like vegan or vegetarian. Nowadays, there are possibly as many definitions as there are vegetarians and vegans out there which has made things a little confusing. Generally speaking and as originally defined, a vegetarian is someone who excludes meat from their diet (and this includes all aquatic and land animals), but in many cases consumes the products that come from the animals such as dairy and eggs (also called an ovo-lacto vegetarian). A vegan however excludes all animal products and in some cases goes even further. I would like to start off by letting you read the original definition of veganism as coined in 1944 by Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society:
“The word “veganism”denotes 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 humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals”
Leaving semantics and definitions aside, what does Donald Watson’s definition mean in the practical sense?
Because a vegan tries to prevent cruelty and exploitation of animals, this begins with diet but also extends even further. In the dietary sense, a vegan doesn’t consume the meat of animals (this includes all land animals and aquatic animals) or the products that come from these animals, so no milk, butter, cheese, eggs, etc. Although many vegans only focus on the dietary side of things, most try to reduce animal suffering and cruelty as much as they can by not purchasing products that are made from animals (leather, wool, down, etc), and avoiding products that have been tested on animals (for example some cosmetics and cleaning products). They also reduce or eliminate their participation and financing in situations and events that exploit animals, such as circuses, rodeos and zoos. Sounds extreme? Please don’t worry and read on.
I personally love Watson’s definition for many reasons, first, the main reason behind it is directly related to animal rights issues which was my motivation for becoming vegan so yay! Second, even though this term originated in 1944 when we didn’t know half as much of what studies have shown now, it includes what I call the three branches of veganism, or rather, the three big WHY VEGAN reasons: our health, the environment and of course the animals. He also says the little magic words “as far as is possible and practical”. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in doing as much as we can as often as we can, but it is absolutely true that there are people living in isolated parts of the world where veganism isn’t a possibility in its full form or even in any form. Fortunately, we are not those people so don’t go out and buy that block of cheese just yet! This part of Watson’s definition also serves as a reminder that the goal is not perfection but intention for those of us lucky enough to be able to make the change. You might not understand it yet, but you will soon if you’re going on this journey. Once you start looking into everything you buy and the habits you have, you start seeing animal products in everything from photography paper to cameras and even cel phones, and it starts getting harder and harder to not go crazy. This is why it’s very important to relax a little bit and look at the big picture. I can guarantee you that if you start this journey with a focus on perfection and a search for absolute purity you will fail miserably. So how about this? How about taking it one step at a time, starting with the more obvious choices and let nature take its course. Trust me your own mind and body will start becoming aware of every choice you make and will guide you through your own process.
DO WHAT YOU CAN, WHEN YOU CAN AND GREAT CHOICES WILL FOLLOW.
This is exactly how it happened for me.
I know you’re thinking I basically took away everything you buy, eat and do, but trust me when I tell you that you will be filling those holes with things that are so amazing, ethical not to mention delicious, that you’ll only look back wishing you had made the choice sooner:
You’ll be eating:
– Mouthwatering fruits: apples, tangerines, dates, apricots, strawberries, blueberries, pineapples, mangoes, coconuts, kiwis, pears, bananas, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pomegranates, blackberries, the list goes on and on.
– Delicious vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, peas, snap peas, artichokes, onions, cucumbers, a gazillion types of lettuce, kale, collard greens, green onions, sweet peppers, chilli peppers, celery, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, corn, turnips, leeks, zucchinis, eggplants, radishes, asparagus, pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, brussels sprouts, chard, string beans, avocados and tomatoes (these are technically fruits but we all think of them as veggies right?), the list goes on and on.
– Mushrooms: button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, shitake, maitake, portobellos, cremini, wild, morel, bolete, chanterelle and yes, truffles!
– Grains and grain products: wild rice, white rice, brown rice, basmati rice, arborio rice, quinoa, millet, bulgur, oats, spelt, white pasta, whole grain pasta, quinoa pasta, buckwheat pasta, rice noodles, whole grain bread, sprouted bread, Italian bread, pita bread, mochi, polenta, the list goes on and on.
– Beans!: white, black, navy, pinto, garbanzo, red kidney, white kidney, great Northern, butter, edamame, soy, lentils, split peas, black eyed peas, you name it.
– Seeds and nuts: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, macademia nuts, pecans, you get the idea…
– Herbs and spices: Parsley, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, smoked paprika, chilli powder, curry powder, marjoram, lemongrass, pepper, cilantro and quite a few more.
– Other delicious vegan treats, meats, milks, sweeteners and spreads: vegan cheeses, plant based milks, vegan sausages and hot dogs (even vegan chorizo!), tofu, seitan, tempeh, agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, barbecue sauce, mustard, relish, ketchup, vegan mayonnaise, vegan cream cheese. You can even find vegan ‘chicken tenders’, spare ‘ribs’ and ‘buffalo wings’ nowadays. Again, endless options.
If you take it up another notch, you’ll be buying:
– Unbelievable products that are not only cruelty free, but that usually take into account human issues as well such as exploitation, fair trade and fare wage. Products that are so yummy and delicious on your skin because they’ve taken the harsh chemicals away and added awesome organic fruits and oils. Bags, belts, shoes and jackets that look just like the real thing, and many of your usual favorites that don’t even contain animal products.
Two questions regarding the food: Does this look restrictive? How many of these very healthy and much needed foods are you eating right now? We’ll be looking at every single one of these yummies, at your nutritional needs, at awesome products, and at all the ethical, environmental and health issues and why they’re important, but for now, if there’s one thing you can do to start with, and with which you’ll make the most impact, it’s definitely your diet.
Many people ask why I’m simply not a vegetarian. Surely eating cheese, milk and eggs is easier than taking all of them out. What about being a vegetarian who eats fish? (This is a typical question but of course as you know, fish don’t grow from the ground and they’re animals…just saying). These are all totally valid questions from people who haven’t seen the truth about the industries that produce these products. On the animal’s side of things alone, I can tell you that for me, some the most cruel, horrifying and deplorable acts of violence I’ve seen so far occur in dairy farms (not that the meat or egg industries aren’t horrendously cruel). It turns out that because of the way the system is laid out, if you’re buying products from the dairy or egg industry, you’re participating in, and supporting the meat industry, as we’ll see when we talk about dairy. When I saw what was going on, I simply couldn’t buy or eat their products anymore. Having said that, this is about YOUR journey not mine, if you feel like the only way you’ll be able to do this is by transitioning slowly and removing these products one at a time, please do so. Please do as much as you can as often as you can and see where it takes you.
Your process might be different. Your reasons might be different. I’ll be supporting you every step of the way and I understand how daunting this change feels, but I cannot stress enough how easy and blissful it actually was for me because I had the right motivation and the right support system with all the information, books, websites, podcasts, movies and studies that are out there. There is one thing that I need to ask you though: You need to stop looking the other way. Whether or not you’re ready to make the full change, you NEED to know what is happening, you need to know about the acts of cruelty and violence imposed on the animals, you need to know about how these industries are destroying our environment, and you definitely need to know how these products are harming your health. No matter how long it takes you or whether you go through with it at all, please get informed.
To finish up this very long post (so sorry you guys but there’s so much to be said!). Now that we’ve seen what vegan means, I need to ask you to forget about the definitions and think of why you are considering this change. Is it the environment? The animals? Your health? All three? Keep that motivation clear in your mind, start reading about these issues and let your actions follow. To quote Matt Ball, the co-founder of Vegan Outreach:
“Being vegan, for me, isn’t about any definition. Rather, what is important is lessening suffering and working for animal liberation as efficiently as possible. It has nothing to do with personal purity or my ego. If, by some bizarre twist, eating a burger (or, better yet, a triple-cheese Uno’s pizza) were to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, then I would do it. It took me time to realize this, but semantics and labels and words are irrelevant. There is so much unnecessary and preventable suffering in the world that we should strenuously avoid anything that distracts from getting actual results for the animals.”
Feel free to ask me any questions below, and as from today, you can visit our brand new sections of the website ‘I feel like reading’ and ‘I feel like watching’, these will be updated constantly with resources you can find on your own time to find out more about all the topics we talk about in this blog. You can also stop by our ‘I feel like smiling’ section to feel the love when the ride gets rocky.
Good luck on your journey little activists! We’ll be with you every step of the way, and on a personal note,
I tip my hat to you in gratitude.