I recently saw an old black and white movie from before I was born titled “The Adventures of Mark Twain.” I really enjoyed it and later that evening decided to google Mark Twain, whose real name of course was Samuel Clemens, and who lived from 1835 to 1910 in Hannibal Missouri. He was not only a wonderful author, but a great mind and quick wit. If you ever want to read some humor with a message, look up a collection of his quotes. On one occasion he said, “Be careful about reading health books, you may die of a misprint.” On another he stated, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” There’s that humor and message.
I want to talk to you about veganism. What is a vegan? Many people, when they hear the word, think it’s like being a beatnik or a nomad, but most are just confused. Strictly speaking, it is the practice of abstaining from the consumption of all animal products. And it’s all very personalized; in fact the different types actually fall along a continuum. On one far end is the ethical vegan who rejects the use of animal products of any type in concern over their well-being. That includes food, apparel made of materials such as silk, wool, and leather, as well as lifestyle products like cosmetics, toiletries, and even leather seats in cars. It’s much more than merely a diet or preference; it’s a core life philosophy, a guiding set of principles, almost a religion.
The early roots of ethical veganism can be traced back to the 6th century BC to Pythagoras who felt that all living beings are kindred souls. His feeling was founded on a moral basis, not on human health, and that is pretty much how it went for centuries until the mid-1800s. Adherents of a strict plant-based diet were simply called vegetarians.
In the middle of the continuum is what is often termed environmental vegans. They are less strict, but reject animal products because they feel that it harms the environment and is therefore unsustainable in the long run.
At the other end are those who are in pursuit of optimal health, or who are just grossed out by eating animals. They are called dietary or nutritional vegans. At the far side of this end is what I call a flexitarian because while they consume a high percentage of vegan foods, their diet isn’t entirely vegan.
The term Vegan was first coined in 1944 by Donald Watson to describe a non-dairy vegetarian, and since that time November 1st has been observed as annual World Vegan Day. Approximately 2% of the population of the U.S. and Britain identify themselves as vegan, and it is becoming more main stream all the time.
There is no doubt that a poorly planned vegan diet may be deficient in certain nutrients, especially vitamins B-12 and D, iron, zinc, Omega 3, calcium, and iodine. The American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada have stated that a well planned vegan diet is healthy for all stages of life, including pregnancy. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine suggests that vegans “eat at least three servings of vegetables a day, including dark-green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, and dark-yellow, orange, and red such as carrots and red bell peppers; five servings of whole grains (bread, rice, pasta); three of fruit; and two of legumes (beans, peas, lentils). There are many proven health benefits of a raw plant-based diet, including a decrease in weight, heart disease, cholesterol, blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon and prostate cancer, cataracts, and even bone fractures.
In the article “Veganism,” author Rynn Berry states, “Despite the seeming hardships a vegan diet imposes on its practitioners, veganism is a burgeoning movement, especially among younger Americans. In endurance sports, such as the Ironman Triathalon and the Ultramarathon, the top competitors are vegans who consume much of their vegan food in its uncooked state. Even young weight lifters and body builders are gravitating to a vegan diet, giving lie to the notion that eating animal flesh is essential for strength and stamina.”