Friday, 22 March 2013

Vegan Basics 101

Let's get down to brass tacks and look at some essentials.

The concept of veganism itself is plagued by half-truths, misconceptions and over-zealous puritanism.  I think a lot of people new to veganism feel completely overwhelmed, not only by the constantly changing and often contradictory dietary information (need I mention the word "soy"?), but also by self-righteous, insolent vegans who believe their brand of veganism is The Vegan Diet.

Unfortunately these people are sometimes seen as mouthpieces for the entire vegan community, which only does a disservice to the rest of us who struggle with negative stereotypes about our lifestyle choices.


As with anything that goes against accepted social norms, veganism has received a lot of flak over the years, but I truly believe it's starting to get a little more street cred. Vegans are no longer only hippies who live off the grid and grow pot on their communal farms. There are still plenty of ultra-crunchy granola types out there, but they're now joined by people of all walks of life, all around the globe, which effectively increases exposure and interest in veganism.

So, what is veganism?

Simply put, veganism is the conscious choice to abstain from the use of any animal products in daily life.

A quickie list animal-based foods include:
  • meat
    • poultry
    • pork
    • beef
    • fish
    • game (caribou, elk, deer, etc.)
  • milk 
    • milk (skim, evaporated, condensed, powdered, etc.)
    • cheese
    • ice cream/gelato
    • butter
  • eggs
  • honey
In addition to avoiding consumption of the above, most vegans also identify with the concept that animals are sentient creatures capable of emotions. There is a growing body of evidence to back up these claims: scientists have found that cows have best friends, that fish have individual personalities and that pigs are emotionally sensitive.

We've long denied the possibility that animals are capable of so-called "high-level" intellect and cognition, but it's becoming more and more difficult to ignore the possibility that these animals are acutely aware of their experiences before ending up on our dinner tables.

Many vegans also avoid clothing and home items made with animal products, including wool, leather, fur and suede.

What do vegans eat?

This is a question most vegans have heard at least a few times. It's been so deeply ingrained into our culture that a proper meal must include meat to be "balanced" and "healthy" that many people have a hard time imagining what could possibly be left without it.

But look! Behold the cornucopia of nature's bounty!

The number of things vegans choose not to eat is so unbelievably small compared to the awesome variety of plant-based foods available:

  • legumes/pulses
    • azuki
    • lima
    • kidney
    • pinto
    • lentil
    • chickpea
    • soy
  • cereal grains
    • rice
    • barley
    • millet
    • oat
    • wheat
    • quinoa (not technically a grain, but...)
  • fruit
    • gourd
    • berry
    • citrus
    • stone
  • leaves
    • lettuce
    • kale
    • spinach
    • bok choy
    • mustard greens
    • watercress
  • roots
    • carrot
    • radish
    • beet
    • parsnip
  • tubers
    • potato/sweet potato
    • taro
  • shoots/stems
    • celery
    • bamboo
    • ginger
  • bulbs
    • onion
    • garlic
  • flower buds
    • cauliflower
    • broccoli
Okay, I'll stop there. I think you get the point. The list is enormous and I've really just scratched the surface. The vegan diet has as much variety as your average grocery store (and then some). Basically if you see it in the produce section, we eat it, and usually lots of it.  

How "vegan" a person is really depends on personal choice. You can go hardcore into raw, macrobiotic veganism, or just keep it simple with a fantastic variety of fresh, local (non-GMO & organic) food and a balanced diet. 

P.S. I really do feel like my senses have been improved since becoming a vegan. I've gained a new appreciation for the actual taste of food. Without the numbing mask of The Big Three (fat, salt and sugar), foods have more satisfying and complex tastes than before. I find I can smell individual scents with much more clarity - particularly herbs and spices, and I pay closer attention to the texture of my food. 

Maybe that sounds a little nutty, but then again, maybe other vegans out there have had similar experiences.  Have you?