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What is a vegan?

A vegan is somebody who does not eat or use any animal products.

A vegan chooses not cause harm to another living thing by eating a plant-based diet, and avoids meat, fish, milk, eggs, dairy products, or honey. A vegan also does not buy or wear animal products such as leather, wool, silk, fur etc. or use products that have been tested on animals.

"Animals are my friends... and I don't eat my friends.”

- George Bernard Shaw

What is a vegan? Why become one?

Most people become a vegan for health reasons or ethical considerations due to animal rights. Some people (more rarely) become vegan because they care about the environment and realise that farming animals for human consumption is a huge drain on resources.

In this article I will detail the differences between vegetarianism and veganism, the health aspects of veganism, vegan nutrition, what a vegan eats, why the vegan diet does more for the environment than anything else a person can do, and why veganism is the compassionate choice. 

What is a vegan? My story.

I started out being completely unconcerned with health and wellness, thinking that the way I felt, was really just part and parcel of who I was. I had no idea why anyone was vegetarian, in fact I’d never even met one. All this changed when I went to London, and would often see a group of animal activists called PETA (people for the ethical treatment of animals) demonstrating on Oxford street, sometimes with radical displays.

In fact, it was in London when I ate my first MacDonalds burger. It was 1999 and MacDonalds wasn’t even close to the global brand it is today. I remember the taste of the burger bun, and thinking that it tasted like slightly sweet, doughy cardboard. I was not impressed, and (luckily for my health) never ate another one.

Quite by chance, I was walking down Oxford Street when I encountered a group of Hare Krishna’s. They gave me a book without even asking for a donation, though I gave them a few pounds. I took it home with me and both my sisters read it, only to declare they were going to be vegetarian. Always curious, I decided to read it and quickly followed suit!

The author wrote about the horrors of factory farming, about the karmic reprisals of consuming animal flesh (taking on the pain and suffering of the animal), and, I remember reading this as if it were yesterday, called the stomach “a graveyard for dead animals”. I was disgusted.  I immediately saw that eating meat was (ethically) wrong and resolved to be a vegetarian. I have never looked back.

“If man wants freedom why keep birds and animals in cages? Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! I have since an early age abjured the use of meat.”

- Leonardo Da Vinci

What is a vegan? Vegetarian vs. Veganism,

At the time (I was 19 years old), I had no awareness of the vegan diet and couldn’t care less about health. Being a vegetarian was a personal choice and I embraced it fully. Vegetarian (more correctly called ovo-lacto vegetarian), simply meant eating no meat or fish, but still eating eggs and dairy. I found the transition incredibly easy.

I began eating more cheese and found vegetarian alternatives such as tofu and soy. As time progressed, I gradually found a desire to become more healthy, and this included exercise and diet. While I’d always been thin, I envied girls with toned, healthy looking skin.

I also started reading up on vivisection (testing on animals) and was deeply upset at this horrible and unnecessary cruelty. I stopped using cosmetics and any products tested on animals. Meanwhile, another book entered my world, this one was called Perfect Health: The Natural Way by Mary-Ann Shearer.

A housewife, mother of three and bestselling author, Mary-Ann started investigating nutrition and found that the vegan diet was healthier. She also developed the Natural Health and Nutrition Course, a correspondence course approved by the academic board of two colleges in South Africa. In the Natural Way, she quoted extensively from The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell.

Mary Anne embraced a moderate approach, encouraging meat eaters to eat less meat, and vegetarians to eat less dairy, and more whole plant foods. What she wrote resonated with me and I started transitioning to veganism. However, I didn’t ask too many questions at restaurants and still ‘succumbed’ to the odd chocolate bar.

On a more positive note, I began drinking soy or rice milk, eating lots of salads with nuts and avocado, and making tasty coconut curries. I discovered an interest in creating delicious recipes from scratch, just letting my creative juices loose in the kitchen. I ate cheese-less pizza’s and spinach and mushroom pies and read labels, avoiding preservatives and pesticide-laden food.

I found giving up cheese to be the most difficult, as I was convinced I truly loved the taste. It was only after reading the China Study that I became a vegan for once and for all and decided to never touch animal products ever again.

What is a vegan? Caring about your health

"The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If  beef is your idea of `real food for real people,' you'd better live real close to a real good hospital."  

- Neal D. Barnard, M.D., President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington, D.C

The health benefits of a (low-fat, plant-based) vegan diet are impressive. As Dr. T. Colin Campbell says, "The vast majority of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented simply by adopting a plant-based diet." His landmark study found that populations that consume the lowest percentage of animal protein suffer the lowest incidence of disease, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, America’s largest organisation of nutrition professionals, the American Dietetic Association, states that vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other health problems.

Highly regarded doctors such as Dr John MacDougall, Dr Joel Fuhrman, Dr Douglas Graham, Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn and Dr Neal Barnard have dedicated their lives to proving the link between degenerative diseases and what we eat. Their nutrition programmes have cured these so-called incurable diseases with no surgery or drugs, just a change in diet and lifestyle.

By adopting a (low-fat) vegan diet, where you consume mostly whole foods in their unprocessed, natural form,  you will begin to shed unwanted weight, have dramatically increased energy levels and can prevent or reverse degenerative diseases. What’s more, you won’t need medicine or supplements of any kind.

So what are you waiting for?

"When we kill the animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings."

- William C. Roberts, M.D., editor of The American Journal of Cardiology

What is a vegan: Caring about nutrition

Some of the common misconceptions about vegan nutrition centre around protein, calcium and fat. The first question I am ever asked when telling someone I’m vegan is “where do you get your protein?”

If you eat abundant fruit and vegetables, you’ll not only meet your dietary requirements, you’ll exceed them.

Protein: Plant foods have plenty of protein. In fact, a pound of broccoli contains more protein than a pound of steak. Dr McDougall states that all plants contain all of the amino acids in proper balance for ideal human growth.

In other words, it is impossible to make up a diet deficient in protein or individual amino acids from any unrefined starches (rice, potatoes) and vegetables. In fact, “it may surprise you to learn that diets high in animal protein can aggravate kidney problems and calcium losses” says Dr Neal Barnard.

But should you wish to know more about protein, do read Dr John Macdougall's article on protein.

Calcium: It’s a fact that diets rich in animal protein cause the body to lose more calcium.  According to Robert Baker, MD, “The countries with the highest calcium intake per capita are the United States, Denmark, and Israel. The countries with the highest incidence of osteoporosis are the United States, Denmark, and Israel”. Meanwhile, the Eskimos of North America have the highest incidence of osteoporosis in the world, and consume the highest amounts of calcium of  any ethnic group.

The most serious mistake a person can make, according to Dr John McDougall, is to believe cow's milk is a "good" and necessary source of calcium. Heart disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, and infectious disease are only a few of the common consequences of drinking milk from other animal species. For more information on calcium and osteoporosis visit this article by John Robbins.

Fat: “Animal products contain fat, especially saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, and certain forms of cancer”, states Dr Neal Barnard. These products also contain cholesterol, something never found in plant food.

Shockingly, statistics reveal that American children are typically consuming high percentages of fat, leading to all sorts of health issues.

  • Percentage of calories from fat in a typical meal from the U.S. government's school lunch program: 38
  • Percentage of calories from fat recommended by the U.S. government: 30
  • Percentage recommended by Dean Ornish, M.D., in his reversal diet for heart disease: 10
  • Of 1,532 autopsies of teenagers, the number that showed fatty patches in the aorta: 1,532
  • Percentage of American children who are obese: 23

To find out more visit Earth Times.

What is a vegan: Caring about food

It’s surprisingly easy to start enjoying a vegan diet right from the start. Avoiding red meat, poultry and fish, dairy products and eggs is the first step to a vegan diet. Meanwhile, all fats and oils, while high in calories, are low in nutritional benefits and are best avoided.

A gram of any fat or oil contains nine calories, compared with only four calories for a gram of carbohydrates. So keeping your fats to a minimum is also essential for health (and weight loss) and this means limiting or foregoing olive oil, vegetable oil and any fried foods, olives, avocado’s and nut butters.

Dr Neal Barnard talks about the four new food groups: grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables! So you can eat as much as you want of  hearty foods like beans, lentils, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa etc. Soups, salads, vegetable currries, roasted vegetables and bakes, oriental stir-fries, there really is unlimited choice in the kinds of food you can enjoy as a vegan!

"I have no doubt that it is part of the destiny of the human race in its gradual improvement to leave off eating animals.”

- Henry David Thoreau

What is vegan? Caring for the environment

"About 2,000 pounds of grains must be supplied to livestock in order to produce enough meat and other livestock products to support a person for a year, whereas 400 pounds of grain eaten directly will support a person for a year. Thus, a given quantity of grain eaten directly will feed 5 times as many people as it will if it is eaten indirectly by humans in the form of livestock products.” 

- M.E. Ensminger, Ph.D.

Overwhelming evidence supports the fact that a vegan diet is better for the environment and more sustainable as a whole.  According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, a global shift towards a vegan diet is essential if we wish to halt climate change. According to the report, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. 

Says Henning Steinfeld, Chief of  FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.

With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes. 

Still unconvinced? An article written by a 14-year old girl, Lillie Ogden, outlines some more of the devastating impacts of the meat-based diet on the environment. And here’s some fast facts from the US alone, sourced from the Earth Times:

  • Percentage of American agricultural land used for livestock feed: 643
  • Number of people who could be fed with the grains and soybeans eaten by U.S. livestock: 1.3 billion
  • Amount (in metric tons) of methane belched by U.S. cattle annually: 60 million
  • Percentage of U.S. water used for some phase of livestock production: 50
  • Water needed to produce 1 pound of meat: 2,500 gallons (beef: 5,000)
  • Water needed to produce 1 pound of wheat: 25 gallons
  • Amount of fossil fuel expended to get I calorie of protein from beef: 78 calories
  • Amount of fossil fuel expended to get I calorie of protein from soybeans: 2 calories

Meanwhile John Robbins, in Diet for a New America, outlines these facts:

  • Years the world's known oil reserves would last if every human ate a meat-centered diet: 13
  • Years they would last if human beings no longer ate meat: 260
  • Percentage of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining, including fossil fuels) consumed by U.S. that is devoted to the production of livestock: 33
  • Percentage of all raw materials consumed by the U.S. needed to produce a complete vegetarian diet: 2

With all this and more, it’s clear that a vegan diet (or even eating less meat to start out) is the most important thing you can do for the planet. The next step of course, is to transition to a raw vegan diet, which has even greater benefits for your health  and the health of the environment, but let’s take it one step at a time.

"A reduction in beef and other meat consumption is the most potent single act you can take to halt the destruction of our environment and preserve our natural resources. Our choices do matter. What's healthiest for each of us personally is also healthiest for the life support system of our precious, but wounded planet."

- John Robbins, author of "Diet for a New America", and President, EarthSave Foundation, Santa Cruz, California

What is a vegan: Caring for others

"A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.”

- Leo Tolstoy 

As the conditions on factory farms increasingly become impossible to ignore, so people are starting to realise that true compassion means caring about ALL animals, not just your pet cat or dog.

Peta's work in exposing the horror of slaughterhouses, documentaries such as Diet For a New America: Your Health, Your Planet, and Earthlings, which you can watch below, are creating global awareness of widespread animal cruelty.


John McFarlane, Executive Director for the Council for Livestock Protection (a meat industry organisation), testifies to these atrocities: “The amount of meat lost each year through careless handling and brutality would be enough to feed a million Americans for a year."

Meanwhile, vivisection or animal testing is proven to be ineffective, yet is practiced globally today, with most people mistakenly believing it is a ‘necessary evil’. Author and ex-vivisectionist Pietro Croce, in his book Vivisection or Science?: An Investigation into Testing Drugs and Safeguarding Health, details how scientific errors occur when comparing the results of healthy but deliberately injured animals with those diseases occurring naturally in humans.

The developer of the live-virus polio vaccine that helped curb the spread of the then deadly disease, Albert Sabin MD, agrees: "Giving cancer to laboratory animals has not and will not help us to understand the disease or to treat those persons suffering from it." 

Dr M. Beddow Bayley in Clinical Medical Discoveries found that for bypass surgery, animal research actually retarded this therapy for humans because a dog’s clotting characteristics and coronary valves are profoundly different from ours. In fact, the initial human patients died. The first success in this field was the clinical work performed by Dr Kunlin in France, and in fact had nothing to do with animal research.

Even as far back as 1964, doctors were speaking out against animal testing: “The idea, as I understand it, is that fundamental truths are revealed in laboratory experimentation on lower animals and are then applied to the problems of the sick patient. Having been myself trained as a physiologist, I feel in a way competent to assess such a claim. It is plain nonsense.” - Sir George Pickering, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford.

Since then, multiple books and research have been released including 1000 Doctors (And Many More) Against Vivisection, claiming it harms the very humans who practice and condone it, while Dr Tony Page, in his book Vivisection Unveiled: An Expose of the Medical Futility of Animal Experimentation, believes that no animal experiment is ever justifiable.

It’s pretty clear to me, and I hope by now, to you too, that by choosing not to eat meat or animal products, or not to use products tested on animals, you’re making a decision that supports all life on this planet. Cast your vote with every purchase you make and let greater health, greater energy and a more compassionate existence be your reward.

"Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”

- Martin Luther King

Related Articles

Click one of the following links and get to know more about health and wellness when you follow a vegan or raw vegan diet.

Raw Vegan Diet: A raw vegan diet is not a diet; it's a lifestyle. A lifestyle that is filled with fabulous health, joy and an abundance of fruit and vegetables. Find out what a raw vegan diet is and how to start your journey to raw veganism.

Raw food weight loss: Imagine feeling full and satisfied all the time, and dropping weight! Learn how to eat right, be inspired by raw food diet weight loss success stories and get the top weight loss tips and guides.

Raw Food Health: Get passionate about raw food health and nutrition, learn how cooking food destroys its nutrients and how illness and disease becomes a thing of the past with a raw food lifestyle.

Raw Food Weight Loss: Imagine feeling full and satisfied all the time, and dropping weight! Learn how to eat right, be inspired by raw food diet weight loss success stories and get the top weight loss tips and guides.

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil: If you've ever thought that olive oil is good for you, or heart-healthy, or that you can eat as much good fats as you want, this article is for you. Find out the truth behind the Mediterranean Diet, the effects of a high-fat meal and other mind-boggling information that will change your perceptions for good.

Benefits of a Raw Food Diet: Get inspired! Learn what the top 15 raw food diet benefits really are. If you're looking for clearer skin, more energy, motivation and stamina, better sleep, increased happiness and connection with nature, among others, look no further than the raw food diet.

Save the Earth with a Raw Food Diet: Adopt a raw food diet and reduce your carbon and water footprint instantly, leading to a more sustainable way of living that will ultimately save the earth.

The Human Omnivore or Carnivore Myth: Find out whether there is such a thing as a human omnivore or carnivore in this article. Explore the evolution of man, the anatomical differences between omnivores, carnivores and frugivores, and make up your own mind.

The Longevity Diet: The longevity diet gives you a blueprint for health, happiness and long-lasting life. Discover the diet and lifestyle similarities between the Vicalbamba, Abkhasia, Hunza and Okinawa, who not only live to over 100, but do so in great physical and mental health.

Raw Food Travel Tips: At last, Raw Food Travel Tips allows you to travel as a raw vegan without worrying that you're going to fall off the wagon. Find out the best strategies for remaining committed to raw food, anytime, anywhere.

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