Veganism – doing the right thing

Far from being limited, a vegan diet can be very varied and quite delicious.

Vegetables 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Vegetables 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Vegans are people who take vegetarianism a step further. Not only do they eschew all meat, poultry and fish, but they also won’t touch eggs or any kind of dairy produce.
For a carnivorous family like ours, where the favorite get-together of children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces is a barbecue in the back garden with mountains of chicken skewers, hot dogs and hamburgers and a few steaks for the adults, the announcement that one of our number was becoming a vegan was a shock from which we still haven’t quite recovered.
Nowadays if we want to include everyone in a celebration, we go to the vegan restaurant Buddha Burger in Tel Aviv, where they work their magic with seitan and tofu, producing convincing replicas of schnitzel, chicken and goulash without bending their belief in not being the indirect cause of cruelty in any form to animals.
In fact, there are two very good reasons to follow a vegan diet. The first, and the one that changed my son’s life, is because of the suffering of animals in the food industry. While he dislikes dwelling on the horror stories of factory farming and battery hens, he has read and seen enough to know that he can no longer eat any creature that once lived. For David, the transition to vegan has been painless, healthy and very satisfying. For me, his mother, it has been an education, having to learn totally new approaches to food. For a meat and two-veg. family, it has required serious adjustment.
For example, if I know he will be home for Friday night, I make lentil or pea soup rather than traditional chicken soup and try to prepare a main dish with soya or grains and legumes to go with the vegetables we all eat. Pie or cake makes an acceptable dessert and is perfectly vegan as long as you don’t use eggs in the dough. In fact, I discovered on Hanukka that you can make great potato latkes without eggs. I always assumed you needed eggs to bind the grated potatoes, but they stick together quite well just with flour binding them.
For my son, eating vegan is doing the right thing.“People repress their knowledge of what really goes into producing meat to eat,” he says. “Deep down they know it is a product of cruelty, but they don’t think about it.” He also feels that things like free-range eggs, while not as bad as the other kind, are still inhumane. “The supposedly happy hens aren’t really that happy,” he maintains.
The second reason many people become vegan is for their health. Warnings about eating meat surface all the time. According to the American Dietetic Association, “Appropriately planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
Veganism has been credited with lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, improving diabetes, and claims are made that vegans have a lower overall cancer rate.
While a vegan diet is very healthy, there are certain elements missing that have to be made up for. Vitamin B12, found in meat, has to be added. Omega 3, which is an essential element in a healthy diet found only in oily fish, has its vegan substitute in ground flax seed.
Far from being limited, a vegan diet can be very varied and quite delicious. Many cookbooks are available, such as a popular one by film star Alicia Silverstone entitled The Kind Diet, and the Internet is, of course, full of recipes. Some vegan recipes are complicated but can easily be adapted, and most of the ingredients are available here.
Vegans have their role models, and a full list of celebs who are vegan is available on the Internet. From Bill Clinton to Alec Baldwin to Ellen De Generes, a wide range of people stick to a vegan way of life, which in some cases also extends to not wearing leather shoes or wool and silk clothing.
Honey is another food item that many vegans won’t touch, though it’s not up in the same taboo rating as, say, a lamb chop. It’s bee-related, therefore comes from something alive. But no bee suffers from producing it, so some vegans don’t reject it. If they do, there are many alternatives like date or carob honey.
Vegans have their heroes, such as Gary Youroffsky, a charismatic speaker for animal rights who has been arrested and imprisoned many times for causing disturbances relating to what he considers cruelty to animals. Fur wearers are his bête noire, and he is passionate about the cause of animal rights, lecturing to schools and organizations with a no-holds barred attitude to the people he regards as his enemies.
Many of us would regard switching to a vegan diet as a huge step and not an easy one. But the more one reads, the more one has to acknowledge that it is the right thing to do -- if only one had the courage.