The vegan lifestyle

Every year there seems to be some new dietary trend. A few years ago it was Atkins and then everyone seemed to be going gluten-free, even those without celiac disease.

Now, millennials especially, are increasingly becoming vegan. The interesting thing about veganism, though, is it cannot be discussed as a dietary trend. Its limits are far narrower than Atkins, gluten free, or salt-free diets — making veganism a philosophy or lifestyle, moreso than a hot new weight loss diet.

I know several vegans, and to them, veganism is more than just wanting to lose a couple of pounds. The philosophy of veganism is multi-faceted; it includes the desire to be healthier in body and mind, the desire to be more environmentally-friendly and the desire to boycott the use of animals and their byproducts for our consumption.

Some vegans even go so far as avoiding clothes that use animal byproducts such as leather, and using beauty products and toiletries that do not have animal byproducts as ingredients or are not tested on animals.

This is what sets veganism apart from vegetarianism, or any other diet that is only concerned with what you eat on a daily basis. For some vegans, it makes up a huge part of how they live their lives everyday.

Morgan Biasuzzi, Fanshawe College alumna, has been strictly vegan for four months. When she returned to Canada after a long trip touring Asia, she decided to give veganism a go. Her experience of witnessing animal cruelty in Asia was something she just couldn’t shake.

“I [also] scared myself through documentaries and it opened my eyes to the whole thing,” Biasuzzi said. “Then I started researching it myself and decided it was the right thing to do.”

Biasuzzi described her vegan experience as being “perfect.”

“I was told that my hair would fall out, that I would break out really badly and that it would mess up my hormones and everything,” she explained.

Thus far, Biasuzzi has experienced none of these phantom symptoms.

Biasuzzi, at the request of her doctor, recently had blood taken to ensure that she was still maintaining a healthy diet, even without animal byproducts. All of her tests came back better than normal.

“[The toughest part] is dealing with ignorance,” Biasuzzi continued. “I think people are very cold towards [veganism], which I was guilty of too.”

What the heck does veganism actually mean?

To understand veganism better, Caroline Valeriote, registered dietitian, shared her knowledge of the philosophy.

Quite simply, Valeriote explained, “[veganism] definitely excludes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, eggs and the products containing these.”

Valeriote said when people come to her seeking advice about a vegan diet, she is by no means stating her personal thoughts on the philosophy, but moreso to provide information and advice to help her patients be as healthy as possible.

“Basically a healthy vegan diet has many health benefits,” Valeriote said. “There’s lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type two diabetes and also reduction of risk of certain types of cancers. There’s definitely a medical or health benefit to going vegan.”

Valeriote continued to explain that although veganism can be an extremely healthy lifestyle, there are certain concerns that she has when a patient inquires about it. The main concern is the patient is obtaining adequate amounts of protein in their diet, as protein is generally associated with eating meat, poultry and fish.

“For most individuals that are vegan, it’s the protein [that they’re at risk of losing], so the amino acids are the building blocks for the protein components of your body and my body. We need to make sure that you keep your muscles and your blood cells healthy [to ensure healthy] growth and development,” she said.

For some vegans, this is the hard part. Valeriote explained, however, that there are several other foods that vegans can source protein from such as tofu, soy, tempeh, nut butters and beans.

She also stressed the importance of combining foods.

“Grains are not a direct exchange for protein. They don’t contain as much amino acid composite as, let’s say, a bean would, but the unique combination of a grain and a bean … is making more of a complete protein that the body can use.”

Valeriote explained that all balanced diets should be like a puzzle of fruit, vegetables, protein, carbs and dairy sources that comes together to make a complete picture. Any diet that favours one food group while neglecting another is going to bring only negative results.

Beth Goes Vegan

If you can imagine a spectrum with strict veganism on one end and a butcher on the other, two months ago I would have been hanging out with the butcher, knocking back a coffee with milk and eating a burger.

While I go through spells of healthy eating and exercise, for the most part, I’m like every other student: too poor and too busy to care about eating healthy.

To test my own personal willpower and also to put a little more thought into what I was eating, I decided to go vegan for 30 days starting on the first day of school. While basically everyone around me set me up to fail — I have problems with sticking with things — I was determined to embody veganism.

On the first day of being a vegan, I woke up bright and early, ready to start my first day of classes. Every morning I do the same thing: ignore everybody in my household until I’ve had a cup of coffee. After realizing that milk, an animal byproduct, couldn’t be a part of my morning coffee ritual, my day was starting to take a turn for the worst. Black coffee. Yuck.

The first week was very difficult. All I ate was salad, fruit, stir fry and veggie subs from Subway — who knew their white bread was vegan? I was too busy with school to investigate any good vegan recipes or substitutions and I was starting to feel seriously lethargic. My protein intake was essentially non-existent.

In that first week, I wish I could say I didn’t cheat. There are three foods that somehow snuck their way shamefully into my stomach: a single kernel of buttered popcorn, cream cheese in what I thought was vegan sushi and honey mustard on a sub.

What astonished me about cheating in the first week were the responses that I received from my family and friends. Nearly all of them thought that because I cheated, I was done. My journey as a vegan had concluded; I had failed. Apparently this meant I had free range to start eating cheesy pizza and burgers again like a madwoman.

The main reason why I support veganism is because I don’t agree with the large-scale factory farming industry, for the sake of the animals and our environment, both of which are abused during this process. For that reason, I didn’t view my cheating as a failure. I was still not eating meat; I had still cut my meat and dairy intake by about 99 per cent. I believed I was still making a difference.

 

After that first week, I educated myself a bit better. I was learning to prepare tofu in tasty ways, I was researching more recipes that incorporated vegan proteins such as beans and I also found more restaurants in the Kitchener-Waterloo area that sold food that I could eat on the go. The only downfall was that I was eating out a lot. I commute to school every day, so going home to fix lunch isn’t possible. All I can say is that I’m forever grateful to Thrive Energy Lab, Freshii, Subway and Burrito Boyz for keeping me standing during those 30 days.

Veganism outside of the home

Quick meals were the hardest part. I came to realize I needed more than a salad to keep me going. My body composition thrives on protein. Maybe it was just laziness, but preparing a lunch to take with me every morning didn’t always fit into my schedule. My wallet took a serious hit.

Although I explained earlier that cheating is almost inevitable for a first-time vegan, there was one cheat that I made in the last week of being vegan that I’m seriously not proud of.

It was a Saturday night. I had been drinking with some friends and we ended up at McDonald’s and those drunk munchies kicked in.

Yes, I ate a Junior Chicken, willingly, and the next morning all I could do was hang my head.

Being vegan and wanting savory junk food late at night is nearly impossible.

Most chain fast food joints don’t offer vegan-friendly food. This ultimately means they aren’t able to serve a large group of people that is only increasing.

In turn, vegan restaurants or cafés are generally pricey and can often be intimidating for people who aren’t vegan, or just being introduced to veganism.

Jonnie Karan, owner of Thrive Energy Lab in Waterloo, explained that that is one of the reasons why his restaurant doesn’t like to label itself as strictly vegan cuisine, although it is vegan friendly.

“We don’t really use [the term] vegan here; we don’t really use vegetarian here,” Karan stated. “We just make mindfully crafted whole foods.”

Karan’s hope is that all people, vegan or not, will feel comfortable coming into his restaurant.

“[Veganism] is it’s own language. Some people just don’t know how to be part of that. Health food shouldn’t be like that … we’re trying to make health food accessible to everybody,” he said.

This mentality is one that should be shared among more fast food restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo. While Thrive isn’t traditional fast food, with a drive-thru window and bagged French fries, it is quick meals that are meant to be eaten on the go, or on your 30-minute lunch break.

Being flexible

Karan’s thoughts on the ideology behind veganism were unexpected. Like feminism, society likes to box vegans in to an exclusive, pretentious group. Karan helped to develop a more accurate understanding of this topic.

“Every vegan I go to, I ask them, ‘what is your definition of being a vegan?’ It’s different for everyone,” he said.

“The way I like to look at it [is to] just keep it simple … I don’t like the ideology aspect of what we’re doing here because it confuses people. It kind of brings out these new categories [and for] people who don’t know what [being vegan] is, it [can be] completely foreign to them. Meanwhile, all we’re doing is eating healthy; all we’re really doing is going back to the way our grandparents used to eat.”

Really, veganism is quite simple. Instead of eating a bunch of processed junk that kills our bodies, vegans go back to eating in a much more natural form.

Karan stressed that rather than trying to fit yourself into a distinct category, you should just focus on eating healthy.

“I’ve seen vegans, too, that are unhealthy,” Karan said. “Don’t think just because you’re vegan that you’re healthy. Some vegans are so stressed out that … they’re just not healthy. It’s all about finding a balance.”

Valeroite, too, suggested that veganism could mean one thing to one person and a totally different thing to someone else. She then introduced the new, loose term, “flexitarian.”

“When you’re a flexitarian,” she began, “you may have certain standards and criteria set up to eat certain types of proteins. For example, if you’re willing to be vegan or vegetarian, but you open the door to having ethically farmed fish … or you go to a farm where you know exactly what’s going on there and you have a good understanding of how [the animal is] raised … It’s flexible in that you can consume some animal protein based on certain criteria that meet your specific needs.”

While to some, flexitarianism may seem like a cop out, I believe it to be a more inclusive term. It allows people to build a diet that suits their dietary and moral needs. In the end, vegetarianism, flextetarianism and veganism are all about being healthier and more ethical.

Healthy eating should be something all students are concerned with and while it’s easy to fall off track, Karan explained the benefits of eating healthy while being a student.

“You’re going to be more focused. You’re going to be less sick. You don’t want to be sick while you’re writing exams. You want to have better memory retention,” he said.

Reflection

Those 30 days really taught me a lot about my own self-control. Even if you don’t find yourself a follower of the vegan philosophy, I encourage everyone to try veganism for at least a couple of weeks, as it can be a really good way to test your dedication.

Will I remain a vegan? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no. While I will definitely be paying more attention to what I’m eating, veganism didn’t fit into my lifestyle. There were several substitutive products that I discovered that I would continue to buy — French vanilla coconut milk for coffee is delicious!

For those who can live vegan every day, I applaud you and for those of you who think veganism is stupid, that’s not really for you to say. The bottom line is that everyone should be concerned with what is entering their bodies, vegan or not.

One Comment

  1. I love this article being a vegan myself. Would have been nice if the Vegan and Vegetarian Association (VAVA) at Laurier was mentioned since…you know…this is a Laurier paper and this is what our club tries to teach and talk about.

Leave a Reply