I recently undertook a three-week mission to follow a strictly vegan diet. I am a vegetarian [well, a pescatarian- I do have fish once every two weeks or so], but I wanted to take things a step further for the sake of finding out a few things about veganism. Is it doable, and more importantly; is it doable in South Africa? Do I feel better or worse, regarding general health? Do I lose or gain weight? Do I feel like I have more energy, or I am fatigued? Yes, these things are all affected by diet, as well as things like muscle tone, what your skin looks like [your acne has more to do with what’s going on inside than out, so those expensive products aren’t going to solve the problem on their own] and the state ofn your hair and nails. I stumbled across this website, which sends you daily tips and recipes for the three weeks.
Now, some people aren’t exactly sure what veganism entails. Basically, it means NO animal products. In other words, no dairy, eggs, meat [duh], gelatin or honey. Now, it is easy enough at a restaurant to order your meal ‘without the cheese’, for example, but the difficulty is knowing what products were made from any of the above. Things like breads, pastas, biscuits, crackers, pastries, dressings and sauces often contain animal products. And while some things are obvious, other ingredient lists have to be carefully studied. Imagine my surprise upon discovering my basil pesto had dairy in it! And besides for the fact that it cuts out the entire chocolate section, many chewy sweets have gelatin in them. Gelatin is made from collagen derived from animals’ bones and organs. Pretty gross, isn’t it? Another difficulty is that people will mock you, they will argue your decision and they will not listen to what you have to say. My father, an Afrikaner to the bone, threatened to disown me for a while when he discovered I was a vegetarian. He also arranged a braai for my birthday, combined with my vegetarian sister’s birthday. Nice one, dad.
So, what this meant is I had to carefully check everything I bought. Restaurants were difficult to eat at. Asking ‘Is your bread vegan?’ usually generates a blank stare. And I, being as busy and popular as I am, have many a lunch date. Luckily there are French fries, but of course veganism is a very unhealthy lifestyle if substitutes are badly chosen. But most bread is vegan, as well as pastas. And of course there are things like rice noodles, spinach noodles and wholewheat pasta too.
Secondly, it meant finding substitutes for what I no longer ate. The human body needs approximately 30 grams of protein per day. Things like pumpkin seeds actually have a greater percentage of protein in them than meat. Then again, 100 grams of nuts and seeds is a lot, not to mention expensive! But then of course there are other things like hummus, beans and green leafy vegetables. The thing is that people simply do not believe that there are sources of protein other than animal products.
So, I learnt a few things. Veganism is doable, but it isn’t easy. Especially when eating out [be it at a restaurant or at someone’s house], things get tricky and your options are generally very limited. I mean, even Greek salads have feta in them! Most soups [even tomato and minestrone] have milk or cream in them. You have to check everything you want to buy, because hooves and eggs can pop up in anything, as it turns out. But personally, veganism is not for me. I feel I am doing my part by being vegetarian, and I missed the following too much: milky coffee; cupcakes; croissants; Romany Creams; cheese; yoghurt [a great source of probiotics] and those Yikes! Dinosaurs! sweets. Now, these are mostly unhealthy things, but every now and then one needs a small indulgence. And many people will end up satisfying these craving with vegan-friendly junk food, like crisps and fries. So, vegetarianism and veganism are not necessarily healthier, skinnier diets. While the heart disease and cholesterol platter that is red meat is no longer a risk, things like cheese have all the wrong fats in them and can be very unhealthy. So the trick is to find healthy alternatives. Even if you do eat meat, you can try get your protein from other sources, not only meat. The other problem is, of course, medication. Most capsules contain gelatin, and while I believe in going natural as far as possible, some of us are epileptic and such. You don't want to be skipping your meds.
It is no secret that animals suffer severely to satisfy our glutinous, capitalistic wants. Back in the day when we were Neanderthals and our baby toes were still useful, we killed only as much as was essential. Animals are subjected to inhumane living conditions and are killed with cruel, primitive methods. Calves are put in tiny cages so as not to move, keeping their muscles undeveloped and resultantly producing more tender veal. Chickens are often scalded alive in de-feathering machines. Horses are transported in trucks three times as full as they should be, trampling each other to death. Some animals never see the light of day, never graze outside and many animal feeds contain ground animal bones. Moreover, this industry is very harmful to the environment. Forests are destroyed to create grazing [killing many animals living there], and often the soil erosion caused by these grazing animals leaves that ground completely useless. Meat is transported from farm to abattoir to factory to store to smaller store to homes, and between the processes, packaging and enormous fuel emissions just transporting the meat, it is one of the most harmful industries around. You only need to see a few websites to realisejust what goes on behind the scenes of your Big Mac. But these websites also show what you can do to help, which companies you should support. I now have a great excuse to support M.A.C cosmetics. People eat too much meat. They are also generally not man enough to watch the videos that show what really happens to the animals we eat. I am Afrikaans [says she, writing in English], and Afrikaners can manage to include two types of meat in every meal! And with the hormones pumped into animals [this includes dairy cows], we are seeing a rapid rise in moobs [men developing breasts], breast cancer in men [it happens], and girls beginning to menstruate at abnormally young ages. So, what I do ask, plead, suggest is that we eat less meat. The Breakfast Show on MFM recently started a feature called Meat-Free Mondays. I think it fairly self-explanatory. If everyone went meat-free for one day every week, we could reduce cruelty and environmental harm by over 14%!
Wen you do eat meat or other animal products, try opt for that which is free-range, organic [for your sake], and locally produced. Try not to support the mass corporations like McDonald’s [I’m hating it] and Kentucky Fried Cruelty. Open your eyes, be informed and try make a small difference. Because if everyone make a small difference, it ends up being a big difference.
This song is perhaps a little extreme, but I heart Morrisey.
Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is MURDER
And the flesh you so fancifully fry
Is not succulent, tasty or kind
It's death for no reason And death for no reason is MURDER
And the calf that you carve with a smile
It is MURDER And the turkey you festively slice
It is MURDER
Do you know how animals die? Kitchen aromas aren't very homely It's not "comforting", cheery or kind It's sizzling blood and the unholy stench
It's not "natural", "normal" or kind
The flesh you so fancifully fry
The meat in your mouth
As you savour the flavour
NO, NO, NO, IT'S MURDER
NO, NO, NO, IT'S MURDER
Oh ... and who cares about an animals life?