To celebrate #Veganuary, curious editors of Abstract Stylist have submitted eight questions to Vaida – one of our writers, who is an outspoken long-term vegan. Out with the myths, in with the facts!
1. What’s veganism all about? There is a lot of noise and fanaticism, but what is the actual philosophy beneath all that? Also, what about the people who choose the vegan lifestyle in one or two categories? Does that make them vegan?
A comprehensible definition of veganism goes like this: “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purposes and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals” (source here). So that’s what veganism is about – love for the animals, for ourselves, and this beautiful blue planet of ours. What is important is that adopting a plant-based diet does not make you a vegan. Veganism is a way of life, a movement if you wish.
Fanaticism is a parasite; it can probably grow everywhere. I’m not sure how it works in veganism, though, because you either lead a vegan lifestyle, or you don’t. The question is probably how mindful you are about the reasons for your lifestyle and how preachy you are towards others. The hard truth is that for someone unwilling to change and think, everyone who tries to promote changing and thinking seems like a fanatic. It happens to every movement. For those who are on the outside looking in, the people who are passionate and active may seem fanatic. It happened to feminism through all of its stages; it happened to #MeToo. Status quo is adored in our society so much that even trying to touch it can earn you plenty of ridiculous labels. The fanatic is one of them.
2. Let’s talk about the plant-based diet. A responsible diet is extremely important. How do I get all the nutrients I need? Is there any directory where I can check what I’m supposed to eat?
Let’s start with the fact that according to American and British dietetic associations, a well-planned plant-based diet can support healthy living at every age and life-stage. That includes pregnancy, lactation, and all the other stages that people often worry about. The most important part of a plant-based diet, as well as any other diet, is being aware of what you put on your plate. We are always afraid that we’re going to miss out on some strange amino acid and die a slow horrible death. The truth is, most people in our society die of very common and preventable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and high blood pressure. A plant-based diet has been proven to improve and even reverse all of these conditions.
When it comes to getting all the nutrients you need, the key is to educate yourself. I would suggest a couple of books for beginners: Victoria Moran’s “Main Street vegan” and Michael Greger’s “How not to die.” Dr. Greger also created a free app, “The Daily Dozen,” that helps you track your eating habits and make sure you get all the nutrients you need every day. I bet there are many more apps that help you track your nutrition as well; I’m just more of a book type of person. When it comes to specific nutrients – vegans need to make sure they get enough vitamin B12. This vitamin can be found in certain plant foods, but supplementing is a good idea. Because the truth is, many omnivores also lack this important vitamin, so everyone should get their blood tested and make sure they get enough of it.
But all in all, my main piece of advice I could give someone who is just starting, is to learn as much as you can about what you’re about to do. Upgrade your WHY. Refuting the critics is easy – science is on our side. But refuting yourself, when you’re having a moment of weakness, or catch a cold and immediately start wondering if you’re doing it right or just feel truly hopeless in the face of all that’s happening on the planet – that’s hard. Information gives you the power to push through and come out on the other side, stronger, healthier, and kinder.
3. What’s not vegan but is often described as a vegan?
When it comes to food, these days, manufacturers put milk powder in EVERYTHING. That is both insane and annoying. But that’s what we’re dealing with, so you have to keep an eye on the ingredient list. Also, some alcoholic beverages have animal products in them. For example, isinglass, a gelatin-based substance derived from fish, is used as a clarifying agent in some beer and wine. Candy is also something you have to be careful with, because of the milk powder issue and gelatin that is also an animal product. The veggie burger patties that you can find at the store and sometimes even in the vegan aisle, also have eggs, and dairy in them, so veggie burgers are not always vegan burgers.
4. Name a few lifestyle categories where people should go vegan besides food.
Clothing – no wool, no silk, no fur, no leather. None of these materials are cruelty-free.
Cosmetics and other household chemicals – no products, tested on animals, or including animal-based ingredients. The world of animal testing is so cruel, just seeing a few pictures could make you cry for an entire day. Plus, it is unnecessary. At this point, there are so many more modern and humane methods to test the safety of the ingredients, that animal testing is just a cruel leftover.
Treatment of pets. This is a big one, especially in the Baltics and other post-Soviet countries because people still keep dogs for protection, chained to something for their entire lives. There’s not much protecting a chained dog can do, but again, this cruel and unthinkably inhumane tradition thrives. And it must be eradicated.
5. Is it hard to travel as a vegan? There are so many cultures that base their cuisine, for example, on meat or dairy.
A short answer would be no. A longer answer is that it’s 2020, and traveling for vegans is easy. The Eastern hemisphere is perfect because many of those countries were pretty much plant-based even “before it was cool.” The rest of the world is hopping on the vegan train as well, and you’ll find it very easy to find vegan pizza, vegan gelato, vegan tacos, and vegan everything. I travel a lot, and I can’t recall a trip where being a vegan caused me issues.
But it’s always the same question. What is more important to you – trying a strange local beef dish or sticking to your ethical code and having a supermarket-bough veggie dinner? Getting those fancy leather boots or skipping them to show solidarity with terribly suffering animals?
6. What do you think about pets? Is it vegan to have a pet at home?
If I tell people not to have pets, they will hunt me down and get their dogs and cats to bite and scratch the shit out of me. So I would like to repeat the simple formula – ADOPT DON’T SHOP.
7. There are so many vegan cleaning products. They all are wrapped in plastic. These two things just don’t go together. Is vegan = eco-friendly?
The problem with our society is that the moment you start doing ANYTHING, everyone immediately expects you to be doing EVERYTHING. So the moment you become vegan, you’re supposed to start living like Tarzan, or Mowgli or something. That’s a very flawed way of thinking. If you want to win the war – choose your battles.
Plastic is not an animal-based product. Yet, I don’t think I know any vegans (or any lifestyle-conscious people in general) who are not aware of the plastic issue. Of course, it would be amazing to be this vegan zero-waste minimalist, living as though capitalism never existed. All in all, veganism is the most eco-friendly lifestyle that you can think of. Considering the amount of damage that animal agriculture does to our planet, I don’t understand how someone can call themselves an environmentalist and still eat meat. That’s inconsistent and an absolute oxymoron.
8. Some tips for vegan beauty rituals?
I’m going to start sounding boring, but the best beauty ritual is healthy food + A LOT of water + exercise + meditation. I’m not a saint in this one, I skip my squats and enjoy an occasional pizza. We all slip from time to time, but that’s what we should aim for.
Our usual beauty rituals, whatever they are – a nice warm bath, a sheet mask, a nourishing serum or body lotion – are not specifically vegan or non-vegan in themselves. I don’t want to get into naming brands, but there are so many cruelty-free and vegan brands out there that offer affordable and OH SO EFFECTIVE products, it‘s easier to be mindful about your beauty now more than ever. So keep getting that self-care in, just make sure you don’t forget about planet-care and animal-care as well.
And while at it, check out some great vegan documentaries to keep that mind beautiful as well. I‘d suggest “Game changers.” “Forks over knives,” “What the health” and “Cowspiracy”!
And I’m going to leave you with one more form od mind-care – an excerpt from a poem by Warsan Shire that keeps me inspired: