In our shop at the Harmony Hub we're finding an increasing number of customers are coming in because they have family members with different dietary requirements, veganism being the one that's grown the most in popularity recently. This can cause a lot of confusion when different family members are trying to cater to each other without really understanding what their loved ones want to eat and want to avoid.
We wanted to offer an explanation of veganism in the hope that it will help.
What is veganism?
A vegan is someone who avoids all animal products including meat, dairy, eggs and anything else that comes from an animal. If it's something you're not used to, it might cause some degree of panic if you want or need to cook for your vegan friends and relatives, but as we'll see later, this needn't be the case, it's often much easier to make vegan food than people realise, and in some cases it might not be so different from the food you're making anyway.
As a person's values and choices are rarely so simple that they can be defined with a single word, the best way to understand what's ok and what isn't for any individual is to ask them. They may be very strict about some aspects of their diet and less strict about others or they may have adopted extra rules or restrictions that feel right for them and may go beyond veganism. Often this will depend on a person's reason(s) for being vegan, we'll discuss this in more detail after clearing up one more point.
How is it different from being vegetarian?
A vegetarian avoids products that an animal has to be killed to produce, so meat, fish, seafood, leather etc. Whereas a vegan will avoid all animal products including milk products, eggs, honey etc. which an animal can give without being killed.
Why be vegan?
The reasons for veganism can be broadly divided into three categories.
Often people who are vegan feel strongly about all three of these and it might be interesting to ask the vegans in your life what matters most to them. If someone's main concern is their health they may prefer to avoid processed foods as well as animal products whereas if they're more concerned about the environment they may also care about how far their food has travelled.
We often hear terms like 'plant based' or 'wholefood diet' used alongside vegan to describe someone's diet. These have their own specific definitions and as with veganism, the best way to find out what they mean is to ask the person using them. Also as with veganism, they can mean different things to different people and looking up the specific nuances of each choice can become confusing and might not apply to your loved one anyway. Often we can get caught up in the 'right' definition or way of being vegan or plant based, when what really matters when we decide what to eat or how to live is what feels right to each of us as individuals.
How strict do you have to be to be vegan?
There may be times when each of us wants to be very strict and times when we want to be more flexible depending on what matters most to us at that time. For example, when I'm out and about I identify myself as vegan to ensure that what I'm eating is aligned with my ethics but because I'm lucky enough to work at Growing in Harmony, surrounded by chickens, I will sometimes take some eggs home because I know the chickens they came from have a nice life and that feels okay to me. I know other people who are vegan everywhere but at their mum's house because she finds it so stressful to provide vegan food and often makes mistakes. Yet other people follow a vegan diet a couple of days a week because a little is better than nothing at all. Whether or not you would make the same choices in the same circumstances is entirely up to you, you can be as strict or as flexible as you like.
How to cook for a vegan.
Although it might seem really daunting to think about cooking for a family member who's recently turned vegan if it's not something you're used to, it can actually be really easy. Soups, curries and chillis are all quick and healthy dishes that can be rustled up with the minimum of skill and effort and the internet is abundant with vegan recipes as veganism grows in popularity. Our recipe page is a good place to start if you'd like to make some simple vegan food and we also love the Happy Pear and Bosh for their recipes. Some are more simple than others, so it's worth having a good read through before you start to see if you feel able to follow the instructions.
Do you have a favourite vegan recipe? An experience of veganism you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!