The term veganism has become increasingly popular in recent years but, in reality, some people are surprised to find out this term was coined decades ago by an animal rights advocate named Donald Watson in England, more precisely, in 1944, the same year The Vegan Society was created. This movement was born as the result of a strong ethical desire to show deeper compassion to all beings. It could be said that compassion and reverence for all life are the roots of the movement and, its foundation, the recognition of all animals as sentient beings as well as the rejection of their commodification.
The vegan philosophy could be briefly described as living without hurting animals as well as embracing a plant-based lifestyle. This lifestyle could range from what is on your plate to what you wear, put on your face, and, even, what you sit on while watching TV or driving your car.
There are different ways and paths to embracing veganism but the main principle remains across the spectrum: to reduce as much as possible (and as consciously aware) harm to animals.
Across the globe, more and more people are waking up to the idea of living their life in a more compassionate way, transcending not only how they show compassion to themselves and others (including their pets!) but also compassion and benevolence to animals who are in situations of abuse, for example, in cages in test labs and abattoirs. By going vegan, people make a choice and take a stand against animal cruelty to give a voice to ‘the voiceless.’
For some, veganism is focusing exclusively on what is not on their plate, for instance, by rejecting meat, eggs, dairy, and any other products derived from animals. For others, it encompasses more, from rejecting beauty products containing animal derivatives to their clothes, for example, by not wearing a wool sweater.
Regardless of how and why people embrace veganism, they all share the same desire: to see less animal suffering in the world.
Veganism is also seen as a form of activism with some people working tirelessly and committedly to spread the vegan message and reduce animal cruelty as much as they can; the ultimate goal being to exterminate animal abuse, exploitation, and commodification of these innocent beings completely. Activists will sometimes infiltrate slaughterhouses to film the treatment of animals and the reality of abattoirs with the main and ultimate objective of raising awareness and showing the public what really happens in those places.
Contrarily, many companies are also working tirelessly but with a completely different objective in mind: they continue to uphold the commodification of animals as the opposite would mean the failure and collapse of their businesses. For example, many companies in the food industry continue to encourage the consumption of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products through alluring advertising, with social and cultural traditions as their foundation.
All in all, the growing ethical movement of veganism and the vegan philosophy of compassion to all beings keeps providing much-needed space and support to those people who, for whatever personal reason, have chosen to see all animals as sentient beings that deserve to live; not be used, exploited and killed for their benefit and enjoyment.
Reasons For Going Vegan
When going vegan, people have different reasons for choosing this diet and/or lifestyle. It is argued that vegans are vegan because of one or a combination of the following: they are vegan because of their health, vegan for the animals, or vegan for the planet and the environment. Some might initially go vegan for their health but, as they learn more about the treatment of animals, they might identify another deep reasoning within them to uphold veganism. Let’s have a closer look.
Vegan For Health
Some people choose to embrace this lifestyle because they want to improve their health in some way. It might be they’ve struggled with a particular condition (e.g. cholesterol or obesity); it could be they have had a big medical scare (e.g. a heart attack), or, simply, they may want to feel more energized and less sluggish. For whatever reason, they might feel drawn to try a vegan diet or it could have been recommended to them by a family member or friend who has reaped the benefits or, even, a doctor who has seen the research-based, medical evidence to support the benefits of a plant-based diet. There are countless cases of people who, following a whole-foods, plant-based diet have improved and, even reversed in some cases, a disease.
People who have struggled with obesity and have turned to a whole-foods, vegan diet, have seen considerable weight loss and the ability to maintain a healthy weight. One of the reasons for this is the abundance of foods they can eat and the almost no-restraint approach to portion sizes as a plant-based diet tends to be less caloric. There is no doubt many people who have in the past struggled with weight-gain feel enticed to give this diet (which might later develop into a lifestyle) a go.
Vegan For The Environment
With the increasing awareness of our ecological footprint and our negative impact on the planet, many people have decided to turn to veganism to reduce the toxic repercussions of the actions we, as a species, have had on planet Earth.
One of the biggest sources of land, water, and air contamination is the rearing of animals for human consumption. This requires land, food, energy, and water. With the increasing demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, we humans are depleting the planet of its natural resources.
Vast areas of land have been deforested to make space for the rearing of animals for our consumption as well as the production of the food these animals have to be fed. Furthermore, these animals produce methane, among other gases, which contribute to global warming. Not only that, but factory farm animals also drink vast quantities of water as well as pollute water, given the waste from these farms ends up in water sources, sometimes the one we humans consume.
In terms of fish and other marine creatures, extreme fishing has become a threat to our oceans and has had a deeply harming effect on ecosystems. There are also fish farms that pose a scary threat to the health of the ocean as well because of their waste and contaminants filtrates into surrounding areas, affecting the previously healthy waters.
Vegan For The Animals
Many people choose to embrace a vegan lifestyle because they cannot accept the idea of an animal being abused and exploited for their benefit; they wholeheartedly reject the notion of animal commodification and animal cruelty. This can come under the umbrella of what is on their plate, what they decide the wear, what products they decide to put on their faces, and, even, what material they sit on.
For example, a vegan might reject using beauty products that contain beeswax as found in some lip balms or carmine, a pigment extracted from beetles, commonly found in make-up. In terms of food, again, they reject cruelty in all shapes and sizes, from caged hens and pigs to cows who might have a bit more space to move around but who are, ultimately, slaughtered. They will also reject wearing any fabrics derived from animals, such as leather, wool, and silk, among others.
The ultimate argument for them is that animals are sentient beings who do not want to suffer and die.
Regardless of the reason why people choose to go vegan, there is a shared understanding and agreement of the rejection of animal consumption, exploitation, and abuse.
Within the vegan community, there are different paths and ways to eat a vegan diet which might evolve depending on what stage of the vegan journey you are in and your reasons for going vegan. The common ground is the Hindu concept of ahimsa, non-violence to all beings. Eating a plant-based diet means you exclude all animal products and their derivatives from your plate.
For example, vegans would not consume eggs, milk or yogurt, cheese, or ice-cream -unless plant-based. You may be surprised to read that but, nowadays, the market has shown an increasing abundance of vegan cheeses, ice-creams, and a plethora of vegan milk such as oat, cashew, almond, hazelnut, rice and more! Equally, in many supermarkets you can now find what’s called mock-meats many of which are made from soy and/or mushrooms, for example. Mock meats can range from ‘chicken’ nuggets, to hoisin ‘duck’ and ‘meat’ burgers. The list of vegan products is very extensive and it caters to all palates.
Many people transitioning to a vegan diet, might initially choose to try these products to reduce their cravings for what they used to eat but no longer choose to put on their plate. For example, rather than eating a meat burger, they will eat a plant-based burger. Some vegans choose (and are not afraid) to consume processed products because, maybe, their reason for going vegan is not their health but the environment. It does not mean that all processed products are bad for your health though: tofu is processed and, even though you could eat edamame beans or tempeh which are natural or less processed than tofu, tofu is still much healthier than eating a meat burger.
Some other vegans are more inclined to eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet which basically means they choose to nourish their body with minimally processed foods which are as close to its natural form as possible. For example, rather than eating a vegan doughnut (yes, you can find those!) as a snack, they might opt for hummus and crudites such as carrot, celery and cucumber sticks. Moreover, rather than choosing to base their diet on mock meats, ice-creams, pizza with vegan cheese, etc., they will tend to choose lots of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, pulses, tofu, tempeh and, once again, many more other foods that are not (or are minimally) processed.
Regardless of the diet chosen and the vegan lifestyle embraced, they all share the principle of not hurting or abusing animals, hence rejecting animal exploitation and commodification.
Some claim that, whatever diet people choose, there should be no judgment as each individual is unique and what they eat should work for them; as long they’re not hurting animals by putting them on their people, health comes second. Some other people argue that an unhealthy, highly processed vegan diet can lead to serious health issues and deficiencies and that people should care for their health as much as they care for the animals.
All in all, balance is key. Neither a highly-processed vegan diet devoid of fresh fruits and veggies nor an extreme clean-eating vegan diet (linked to the fear of eating processed foods) should be encouraged as health might be at risk.