UNDERSTANDING THE VEGAN IN YOUR LIFE by Helga Schimkat
If you have heard the word “vegan” but are not really sure what it means or you hesitate to ask questions of vegans you know, read on.
What does “vegan” mean? The word vegan was created and put into use in 1944 by Donald Watson. In essence, “vegan” means abstaining from the use of all animal products. Some vegans take this ethical position because of the fundamental belief that humans do not have the right to dominate other species and use them for their own benefit and enjoyment. Others adopt veganism because of the atrocities inflicted on animals due to the industrialization of animal agriculture.
What do you eat?????? Vegans eat all kinds of raw and cooked vegetables and fruits; grains; soy products including tofu, tempeh, soymilk, soy ice cream, soy cream cheese and soy sour cream; baked goods without dairy; cereals; beans; and much more. Vegans eat American, Mexican, Southwestern, Italian, Asian, Indian, Middle-Eastern and other ethnic foods that are prepared vegan. Breakfast may include cereal and soy or rice milk, juice, fruit, a smoothie, oatmeal, tofu scramble, bagels, toast, vegan sausages, and vegan-style pancakes and French toast. Lunch and dinner might include salads; pastas; sandwiches with vegan cold cuts, vegetables, hummus, avocado, grilled vegetables, veggie burgers; burritos; falafel; pizza; couscous tagines; Indian curries and other Indian dishes; Asian stir fries and noodles; tempeh, tofu and seitan (wheat meat) concoctions; or beans and rice, just to name a few. An energetic vegan could probably make a different dinner every night of his or her life and not have to repeat recipes. Being vegan is not boring, once the individual is open to the endless variety and combinations of foods available. Vegans also have an increasingly easier time finding vegan specialty foods in health food stores and mainstream supermarkets.
Vegans do not eat any products derived from animals nor do they wear or otherwise use animal products. That means vegans do not eat meat, eggs, dairy products or honey. They do not eat soups made with chicken or beef broths, beans cooked with a ham hock or cookies and cakes made with eggs or milk.
What about clothes and other non-food products? Vegans do not wear leather (including shoes), silk or wool and do not have leather couches or silk curtains. After becoming vegan, some individuals do not immediately get rid of clothes made of these products until they are worn out for a couple of reasons including the expense of buying lots of replacements at once and the avoidance of additional consumerism. Other vegans find liberation in purging their possessions and eliminating those elements of cruelty from their lives.
What about restaurants? Vegans tend to ask questions in restaurants that do not have clearly marked menus about what is or is not vegan. They may be persistent with their questions due to a lack of common understanding about what the word vegan means. For example, upon assurance that a salad has no animal products, a salad with grated cheese may be served. A soup or pasta sauce that is “vegan” may turn out to have a chicken broth base. Vegans must determine how many questions to ask and how much trust to put in the server’s answers. Some vegans will only go to vegetarian or vegan restaurants, a practice that is easier to accomplish in larger cities such as Los Angeles and New York, than in our New Mexico towns.
Isn’t having a little bit ok? Or, it won’t kill you if you just eat this! For most vegans, the ethical belief that humans should not eat or otherwise consume animal products is firmly rooted. The ethic is not negotiable and is not part-time. Yet, vegans often encounter pressures to eat “just a little” of something or eat a non vegan meal “just this once.” Vegans are subjected to teasing about their veganism, encounter many conversations about steak, burgers and other such meals, and, are urged to lighten up. Vegans are checked out when eating or their clothes are visually inventoried to see if they are “cheating.” Some people seem to take pleasure in saying “Aha, I caught you, that must be leather!” as if that would negate all of the vegan’s efforts. While some vegans are able to structure their lives to avoid all such encounters, others find they need to brush off these types of reactions in order not to ostracize themselves and to keep channels of communication open. In fact, these types of reactions in colleagues, friends and family can be hurtful and even demeaning.
Do you mind if I eat this burger in front of you? One of the nicest things you can do for a vegan is to refrain from obvious meat eating in front of them, even if they say it is okay to have that burger. Your vegan friend will appreciate your abstention.
I could never give up cheese (or ice cream)! Sure you can, you just have to want to do it and learn what else is available to you. Adopting veganism is one of the most life-affirming things a person can do.
How can I find out more? Resources are everywhere including the Internet, cookbooks, books and other printed literature on the nutritional and health aspects of being vegan, the background and philosophy of veganism, the practicalities of being vegan, travel tips and dining guides for vegans, and more. And, many vegans, including vegan dinner and house guests, enjoy answering questions about being vegan and explaining how to cook things that are vegan (not hard at all!).
Helga Schimkat is a principal of Animal Vision Consulting, LLC, has been vegan for seven years, and is the proud guardian of the newly adopted Tessa, a canine family member, and Java, Koko and Boris, feline family members.