History of Veganism
Veganism as a way of life and thinking began officially in the United Kingdom in 1944. The founder of the movement, Donald Watson (1910-2005), along with Elsie Shrigley, set up the UK Vegan Society as a reaction to the prevailing belief that vegetarianism sanctioned the consumption of dairy products. They coined the word ‘vegan’ to symbolise the ‘beginning and end’ of ‘vegetarian’ — ‘vegan’ uses the first three and last two letters of the word ‘vegetarian’. It is normally pronounced ‘vi:gən’ or ‘vee-gin’.
Who Are Vegans?
Vegans are those people who consciously avoid the use of all animal products, not only from their diet, but also from anything they may use, directly or indirectly. In other words, vegans make a conscious effort to shun all animal products, by-products and derivatives — such as meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy products, honey, gelatine, rennet, leather, fur, skins of any kind, silk, wool, beeswax, tallow, certain soaps, cosmetics tested on animals, etc. However, it is not always possible to identify from a finished product the use of an animal ingredient in the production process, e.g., refined sugar or alcohol. Vulcanised rubber and steel use animal fats in the manufacturing process, and in many areas, ground water and surface water are filtered through bone charcoal filters Vegan Outreach. In other words, vegans generally try to avoid hurting any sentient being through their lifestyle choices.
Different From Vegetarianism
Vegans, as mentioned above, try consciously to stick to a plant-based diet, with no animal by-products, such as skins, furs, leather, silk, wool, etc., though there are some vegans who make an allowance for insect-derived products such as honey. Many vegetarians, on the other hand, still consume eggs, milk and other dairy products. These are the so-called ‘lacto-ovo vegetarians’.
Reasons for Veganism
- Methods of Meat Production
Most vegans abhor methods of modern meat production, such as the cruelty of factory or intensive farming; the damage to the environment by the excessive use of water, pesticides, fertilisers, etc.; the health risks of ingesting the hormones used on farm animals; and because of religious compulsions, or just a basic revulsion to eating animal flesh and animal products. Basically, veganism endorses the philosophy that ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment’.
- To limit impact on the earth
According to the British 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.” The Vegan Society believes that switching to a plant-based vegan diet may not ‘save the world’, but it would be a significant step towards limiting one’s individual impact on an increasingly fragile environment.
- Diversion of grains to animals rather than humans
Many vegans side with those environmentalists who decry the wastefulness and the ‘devastating toll on the earth’ of animal agriculture. It is a well-documented fact that resources that could otherwise have been used for feeding humans are diverted to feeding farm animals. In the US alone, 80 per cent of all agricultural land is used for rearing animals for food and growing the grain to feed them. Weight for weight, it takes about five to six times the amount of water to produce beef as it does to produce a comparable amount of wheat. If you count the kilocalories (kcal), wheat provides 27.5kcal for every litre of water used, while beef provides only 0.76, which means that beef requires 36 times the water per calorie than wheat.
- Global Warming
Livestock breeding is a major contributor to global warming, not only because it uses energy largely derived from fossil fuels, but also because it is responsible for the production of methane gas. The billions of tonnes of waste produced contaminate soil, groundwater and surface water. Meat and dairy farming also lead to the destruction of natural habitats through conversion of land to rear farm animals or grow feed.
- Increased Greenhouse Gases
It is claimed that the average American’s consumption of a ‘mixed diet’ causes the emissions of 1,485kg CO2 more than that of a person consuming the same number of calories from a plant-based diet. This is said to amount to as much as 6 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the US.
- Religious or Spiritual reasons
Many people opt for a vegan diet for spiritual or religious reasons, and some religions advocate a vegetarian diet, but, apparently, Jainism is the only organised religion that endorses the ideal of non-violence through a vegan diet.
Health Benefits and Concerns
Vegan diets have been said to reduce the risks of blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, aid in weight-loss and lower the risk of some cancers. There have been concerns that a badly-planned vegan diet can result in deficiencies of Vitamin B12, Vitamin D and calcium, among other essential nutrients.
The Vegan Diet
Contrary to popular belief, vegans can have a very varied diet. A nutritious and well-planned vegan diet can consist of fruits and dried fruits, vegetables, including green leafy ones, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds, and many whole-grain products. Most of these foods are also good sources of protein, i.e., nuts, seeds, tofu and soy milk, beans, etc. These, as well as most green leafy vegetables, are also good sources of calcium. However, there may be a need to take additional supplements of certain nutrients like Vitamin B12, which are not reliably available through plant sources.
- Major Sources of Protein
Whole grains (eg. whole wheat flour, bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, rye), nuts (eg. hazels, cashews, brazils, almonds, walnuts, peanuts), seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin), legumes/pulses (peas, beans, lentils), soy products (flour, soy milk, tofu, tempeh).
- Sources of Carbs
Whole grains (e.g. wheat, oats, barley, rice), whole-wheat bread, pasta and other flour products, lentils, beans, potatoes, dried and fresh fruit.
- Sources of Fats
Nuts and seeds, nut and seed oils, avocados.
- Sources of Essential Fatty Acids
Two polyunsaturated fatty acids not made by the body are linoleic acid (omega 6 group) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3 group).
Linoleic Acid (omega 6)
Safflower, sunflower, corn, evening primrose & soy oils.
Alpha-linolenic Acid (omega 3)
Flaxseed, pumpkin seed, walnut, soy & rapeseed (canola) oils.
Note: The correct balance for omega-6:omega-3 intake is roughly 3:1
- Sources of Vitamins
Carrots, spinach, pumpkins, tomatoes, dark greens
Vitamin B Nuts, wholegrains, oats, muesli, pulses (peas, beans, lentils), yeast extracts, green leafy vegetables, potatoes, mushrooms and dried fruit, B12 supplements, fortified yeast extracts, soy milks (eg Plamil), TVP products, some breakfast cereals (eg. Nutri-Grain) - check labels. Seaweed and fermented products (eg. tamari, miso and tempeh) may contain some B12 but they are not reliable sources.
Vitamin C Red and blackcurrants, berries, citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, lemons, grapefruit), green vegetables, potatoes.
Vitamin D Action of sunlight on the skin, vitamin D-fortified foods like vegan margarines, some soy milks (eg. Plamil) and supplements.
Vitamin E Nuts, seeds, whole grains and flours, vegetable oils
Folate Wheatgerm, raw/lightly-cooked green leafy vegetables (eg. broccoli, spinach), yeast, yeast extracts, nuts, peas, green 'runner beans', oranges, dates, avocados, whole grains.
- Sources of Minerals
Nuts, seeds, pulses (eg. soy beans, tofu, miso-fermented soybean curd, haricot beans), molasses, carob, parsley, figs (dried), sea vegetables, grains (eg. oatmeal), fortified soy milks.
Iron Nuts, seeds, pulses, grains, dried fruit, sea vegetables, parsley, green leafy vegetables
Zinc Wheatgerm, whole grains (whole wheat bread, rice, oats), nuts, pulses, tofu, soy protein, miso, peas, parsley, bean sprouts (alfalfa).
Studies, Research and Criticism
Critics of veganism claim that more animal lives would be lost during the ploughing and harvesting of fields if all cropland were to only grow crops for vegan diets. Some researchers dispute this, saying it is a distortion of facts, as the calculations are based on land area rather than per consumer.
There is also concern about vegan diets causing nutritional deficiencies. This, say proponents of veganism, is a myth. The trick lies in a proper combination of foods for a well-balanced vegan diet.
Did you know?
- Pepperidge Farm Turnovers, Murray Butter Cookies, and Cracker Jacks are all vegan. So it's not all sprouts and alfalfa.
- Honey is not vegan as the bees are ruthlessly exploited and artificially inseminated for commercial honey. 
- Each year 1,000 species are eliminated due to destruction of tropical rain forests for meat grazing and other uses.
- Average per capita meat consumption in Costa Rica, El Salveador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama: Less than eaten by average US house cat. 
- One hundred million people could be adequately fed using the land freed if Americans reduced their intake of meat by a mere 10%. 
- Eighty percent of the corn and 95% of the oats grown in the U.S. is eaten by livestock. 
- Fossil fuels needed to produce meat-centered diet vs. a meat-free diet: 3 times more. 
- The percentage of protein wasted by cycling grain through livestock is calculated by experts as 90%.
- The risk of contracting breast cancer is 3.8 times greater for women who eat meat daily compared to less than once a week; 2.8 times greater for women who eat eggs daily compared to once a week; and 3.25 greater for women who eat butter and cheese 2 to 4 times a week as compared to once a week. 
- One acre of land can produce 40,000 pounds of potatoes, or 250 pounds of beef.
Famous Vegans and Vegetarians
Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis claimed he had his best year of track competition when he went on a vegan diet. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Some of the famous vegans and vegetarians are Gautam Buddha, Mahavir, Zoroaster, Charles Darwin, Feodor Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Milton, Mark Twain, P.B. Shelley, R.W. Emerson, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Franz Kafka, H.G. Wells, Thoreau, William Wordsworth, William Blake, Leonardo da Vinci, Hippocrates, Plutarch, Socrates, Voltaire, Einstein, Ramanujan, Richard Gere and Kim Basinger.
Further reading and online resources
- Watch the "Vegan Revolution" story on CNN - 6/11/08. The video is a positive piece about veganism and includes interviews with Chef Mateo and Russel Simmons.
- How to make a vegan pizza
- Vegan Outreach
- Vegan Society
- Going Vegan
- About Veganism
- The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow (ADAPTT)
- Alliance for Animals
- The Animal Concerns Community
- Friends of Animals
- The Fund for Animals
- In Defense of Animals
- Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF)
- International Vegetarian Union
- Speak Out For Animals
- United Poultry Concerns
- The Meatrix
- McLibel, the movie
- Mercy for Animals
- Movement for Compassionate Living (the Vegan Way)
- The Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation
- The Vegetarian Resource Group
- World Animal Net: World Animal Net is the world's largest network of animal protection societies with consultative status at the UN
- Race for the Rain Forest
- Famous Vegetarians and Vegans and Famous Quotes
Interesting Vegan Blogs
- veggiedate.org: Vegetarian Singles Dating Service
- veganpassions.com: A free online dating & social networking site for meeting single vegans.
- Viva! Vegatarians International Voice for Animals
- Feminist Vegetarians of Color
- Queer Vegans Unite!
- Vegetarians Meet Their Match Online
- HappyCow's vegetarian restaurants guide is a global, searchable vegetarian dining guide and directory of natural health food stores, including nutrition & health tips, vegan recipes, raw foods, travel, veganism and other vegetarian issues, including a worldwide active community.
- Simply Vegan, by Debra Wasserman
- Conveniently Vegan, by Debra Wasserman
- Vegan Handbook, edited by Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels
- The Peaceful Palate, by Jennifer Raymond
- Becoming Vegan,(2000), by Brenda Davis, RD and Vesanto Melina, MS RD
- The Dietian's Guide to Vegetarian Diets, (2004), by Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, Mark Messina, PhD, MS
- United Nation's Report on Livestock and the Environment
- Kosher Food
- The Raw Food Diet
- Ahimsa Silk
- Ahimsa Leather
- Green mums