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Facts about Veganism

Veganism is a philosophy and lifestyle which "seeks to exclude (as far as is possible and practical) all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment." In practice, this translates largely to the abstention from consumption or use of all animal products, including eggs and dairy products, as well as articles made of bone, leather, feathers, mother of pearl or other materials of animal origin. Vegans are also likely to avoid products that have been tested on animals. People who avoid eating all animal products, but who otherwise use animal byproducts (for example, by wearing leather shoes) are called "dietary vegans".

People become vegans for a variety of reasons, including a concern for animal rights, health benefits, religious, political, ethical, and spiritual concerns, and out of concern for the environment. A Time/CNN poll published in Time Magazine on July 7, 2002, found that 4% of American adults consider themselves vegetarians, and 5% of self-described vegetarians consider themselves vegans. This suggests that 0.2% of American adults are vegans. A 2000 poll conducted by Zogby for the Vegetarian Resource Group suggested closer to 0.9% of the adult American population may be vegan. In the UK, research showed that 0.4%, approximately 250,000 people, were vegan in 2001.

Definition
The British Vegan Society's full definition of veganism is "a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude (as far as is possible and practical) all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment."

In dietary terms the BVS defines Veganism as "the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals." The American Vegan Society also gives a similar definition.

The term "animal product" in a vegan context refers to material derived from non-human animals for human use or consumption. Human breast milk, for example, is acceptable when voluntarily used for human babies, but by comparison, when a human being drinks a cow's milk, it is regarded as the consumption of an "animal product."

Animal products include meat, poultry, edible marine fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, fur, leather, wool, pearls, and mother of pearl. Byproducts include gelatin, lanolin, rennet, and whey. Items derived from insects include items such as silk, honey, beeswax, and cochineal.

Some vegans avoid cane sugar that has been filtered with bone char and will not drink beers and wines clarified with albumen (egg white), animal blood, or isinglass, even though these are not present in the final product. They may also avoid food cooked in pans that have been used to cook non-vegan foods.

As well as avoiding animal products, most vegans refrain from supporting industries that use animals directly or indirectly, such as circuses and zoos, and from products that are tested on animals. However, the majority of vegans would probably agree that it is very difficult to take part in society without indirectly and involuntarily supporting non-vegan activities to some degree.

Origin of the name
The word vegan pronounced [vee-gun], was originally derived from vegetarian in 1944 when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, frustrated that the term "vegetarianism" had come to include the eating of dairy products, founded the UK Vegan Society. "Vegan", which they saw as "the beginning and end of vegetarian", started and ended with the first three and last two letters of vegetarian.

Since the founding of the UK Vegan Society, the term veganism has come to mean people who seek to eliminate all animal products in all areas of their lives, as opposed to those who simply avoid eating animal products. Although veganism as a secular movement is a 20th century idea, the principles date back to the 2nd millennium BC in Hinduism (ahimsa).

Ethics
Female pigs in a factory farm used for breeding are confined most of their lives in gestation crates, which are too small to enable them to turn around. The ethics of veganism are defined by the British Vegan Society as "[A] philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude (as far as is possible and practical) all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose."

Vegans generally oppose what they see as violence and cruelty involved in the meat, dairy, non-vegan cosmetics, clothing, and other industries. (See Draize test, LD50, Animal testing, Vivisection, and Factory farming.)

Utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer, argue that the suffering of sentient animals is relevant to ethical decisions. Though Singer's ethical theory recognizes the suffering of sentient animals, it does not rely on the concept of rights. However, philosophers such as Tom Regan and Gary L. Francione argue that some animals are sentient, and therefore are the subjects of a life which they can value. Because they can do this, they argue, these animals have the inherent right to possess their own flesh, and they claim that it is therefore unethical to treat them as property, or as a commodity (see animal rights). Although these theories draw the same conclusion, they are not compatible with one another.

Health
All fruitarian foods are vegan. Many people believe that eating only fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes, other plants, and fungi is healthier than an omnivorous diet. Many people also believe that additional health benefits are gained by not consuming artificial substances such as growth hormones and antibiotics, which are often given to farmed animals.

The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada state that "well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence." Vegan diets bestow several nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, no cholesterol, no animal protein, and higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals. Vegetarians have been anecdotally reported to have lower body mass indices than nonvegetarians, as well as lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also show lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer. However, no cause and effect relationship between vegetarian diets and these health benefits has been scientifically established.

According to Dr. Michael Greger in a January 2004 lecture at MIT, which as the basis for Whistleblower, a 2006 documentary film by Jeff Bellamar, each year more than one million tons of animal excrement are fed back to farm animals, which are raised for human consumption, allegedly because it lowers the feed cost. Also, up to 10% of blood from killed animals is mixed into cattle feed, and up to 30% of poultry feed is made up of the blood from killed animals.

Environmental considerations
Many become vegan because of their assertion that the production of meat and animal products using intensive farming methods at current and future levels is environmentally unsustainable. It is thought that current farming methods contribute to the ecological crisis.

Sexual and feminist motives
In the 19th century a vegan movement was started by Sylvester Graham, the creator of Graham crackers, which focused on the sexual urges caused by meat and milk. He claimed animal products caused lustful urges; Grahamism thus rejected meat, animal products, and alcohol to create a purer mind and body. Very popular in the 1860s-1880s, this movement rapidly lost momentum and is now remembered mostly for its Graham crackers.

Contemporarily, some third-wave feminists reject the consumption of meat and analogize the use and objectification of animals to the use and objectification of women within society. This criticism focuses on societal construction of ties between women and the environment.

Vegan cuisine
The cuisines of most nations contain dishes that are plant-based (and therefore suitable for a vegan diet) as are specific traditional ingredients, e.g. tofu, tempeh and the wheat product seitan in Asian diets. Also, according to Sturtivants Edible Plants of the World, there are 2,897 plants that may be used for food. Therefore, the variety of vegan food available can be extremely diverse and satisfying.

Many vegans prefer to cook without reference to meat, instead preparing meals from largely unprocessed ingredients such as pulses, grains, vegetables, nuts and fruit. However, artificial "meat" products made from non-animal derived ingredients such as soya or gluten, including imitation sausages, ground beef, burgers, and chicken nuggets are widely available. Many dishes that traditionally contain animal products can be adapted by substituting vegan ingredients in most recipes, e.g. nut, grain or soy milk used to replace cow's milk; eggs replaced by substitutes such as products made from potato starch.

On one hand, vegan cuisine is not new. It has a well developed tradition that is centuries old due mainly to the influence of Buddhism over societies that culturally do not use a large proportion of dairy products such as China, Japan and Taiwan. On the other, many vegans have adapted their diets to fit in with modern fast food eating patterns.

Similar diets and lifestyles
There are several diets similar to veganism, though there are significant differences, including fruitarianism, the raw food diet, the macrobiotic diet and Natural Hygiene. There are also numerous religious groups that regularly or occasionally practice a similar diet, including Jainism, some sects of Buddhism, Hinduism, and some Christian churches such as the Eastern Orthodox church and Seventh-day Adventist Church.

More recently, many young people who subscribe to the anarcho-punk or straight edge punk movements have embraced veganism (in the latter case coining the term 'Straight Veg'), and the corresponding beliefs of the animal rights movement. Straight Edge is a philosophy that rejects the use of alcohol, casual sex or recreational drugs, originating as a reaction to what some perceived as the cultural excesses of the 1980s.

A sub-set of veganism, raw veganism, advocates the consumption only of raw foods and the elimination of processed foods from the diet. A study of raw vegans found them to be slender and healthy, but noted that they had reduced essential bone mass and lower bone mineral density. The researchers said these results are "strongly associated with increased fracture risk" but noted that the raw vegans they studied had no other biological markers to indicate higher levels of osteoporosis, and that their bone turnover rates were normal.

Vegan nutrition
Nutrition authorities say that a properly planned vegan diet presents no significant nutritional problems. Supplementation is highly recommended, though to a lesser extent this applies to non-vegans, too. Drs. Fletcher and Fairfield concluded, in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in June 2002, that "It appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements." The British government's annual survey of nutritional content of food, McCance and Widdowson's 'The Composition of Foods,' notes that the 2002 nutritional profile of foods is seriously lacking in trace elements compared with their 1931 profiles; indeed, a steady decline over the past 60 years has been noted. There are several nutrients vegans should pay attention to. These include Vitamin B12, iron and iodine: deficiencies in these are more likely following a vegan diet, and deficiencies of these have potentially serious consequences, including anemia, pernicious anemia, cretinism and hyperthyroidism. Interestingly, B12 deficiency can be a problem for others, too; aging, for example, can lead to an inability to absorb B12 from food, and supplementation is recommended for those over fifty-five years of age.

Protein
Frances Moore Lappe's 1971 best seller Diet for a Small Planet popularized the myth that the protein in plant foods was "incomplete" and that vegetarians had to "combine" different plant foods by eating both of them (e.g., beans and grains) in order to get a "complete" protein. A decade later in The McDougall Plan (1983) Dr. John McDougall showed that this idea is incorrect and that common plant foods actually contain complete proteins. In The McDougall Program (1990) he wrote, "Fortunately scientific studies have plainly debunked this complicated nonsense. Nature designed and synthesized our foods complete with all the essential nutrients for human life long before they reach the dinner table. All the essential and nonessential amino acids are represented in single unrefined starches such as rice, corn, wheat, and potatoes in amounts in excess of every individual's needs, even if they are endurance athletes or weight lifters." McDougall's claims are easily verified by comparing the individual amino acids supplied by foods to the World Health Organization standard for protein intake.

Iodine
Residents of the UK may find themselves iodine-deficient if they rely on local produce, since in the UK iodine is usually obtained via dairy products rather than iodized salt that is more common elsewhere. The Vegan Society says, "Iodine is typically undesirably low (about 50 micrograms/day compared to a recommended level of about 150 micrograms per day) in UK vegan diets unless supplements, iodine rich seaweeds or foods containing such seaweeds are consumed. The low iodine levels in many plant foods reflects the low iodine levels in the UK soil, due in part to the recent ice-age." This demonstrates that location may also be a factor in what deficiencies may be present in any given diet.

Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, a bacterial product, cannot be reliably found in plant foods, and so vegans are recommended to eat foods with B12 added (such as fortified soy milk, fortified margarines, or many commercial breakfast cereals), certain brands of nutritional yeast, or take dietary supplements (a good multivitamin will likely include B12 in sufficient quantities). Tempeh, and a few other fermented foods can sometimes contain B12 as well, though they cannot be considered reliable sources. B12 is exclusively synthesized by bacteria (which is why it is present in animal products), but it is also naturally synthesized in the human body. Inadequate absorption of the body's stores of Vitamin B12 pose problems, thus the vitamin must be ingested through fortified products and nutritional yeast. Older people, vegan and non-vegan alike, may find they experience difficulties in absorbing B12 from their food, and pernicious anemia, caused by a B12 deficiency, is not unknown amongst omnivores.

Iron
Iron is present in many typically vegan foodstuffs. These include grains, nuts and green leaves, although the iron in these sources is in a less easily absorbed, non-heme form. Nevertheless, the Society quotes research to show that iron deficiency is no more prevalent in vegans than in the general population. This research did not account for the fact that many vegans take nutritional supplements that are not found in food alone, whereas other research that excludes this subset of people does indeed show a marked iron deficiency among a majority of those studied.

It is important to note that iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the general population, and many nutritionists and dieticians recommend a daily multivitamin because of this. Vitamin C is necessary to the absorption of iron, and, indeed, can double or triple the amount of iron absorbed when taken with food (i.e. a glass of orange juice with a spinach salad). Vegans typically have high levels of vitamin C in their diets, which may account for the rarity of anemia amongst them.

Calcium
Calcium may also be a concern if the vegan is not eating a variety of foods, especially leafy green vegetables (such as spinach, kale, collard greens, cabbage, etc.), almonds, oats, soy products (soy milk, tofu, etc.), sesame seeds, most beans, and dried fruits, most of which should be included in any diet, vegan or not. The USDA's study on calcium and osteoporosis in women began with the premise that animal proteins create sulphur in the body, which leaches out calcium from the bones. The results, though, were more complex: the vegan subjects lost bone density at the same rate as their vegetarian and non-vegetarian peers; when put on a weight-bearing exercise regimen, the vegan subjects built bone density at a significantly higher rate than the other subjects. The researchers remark, "If you have less bone formation, the result is the same as if you had an increase in bone resorption. So, even though bone resorption was the same in both groups of volunteers, the lower amount of bone formation in the omnivore women could lead to a decrease in their bone density."

DHA
One nutrient that is sometimes overlooked when analyzing the vegan diet is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For non-vegetarians, good sources for this omega-3 fatty acid include edible marine fish and shellfish and eggs. This healthy fat can also be found in Algae and vegan DHA dietry supplement capsules are now available. This fatty acid is very important for brain function, eye function, and for the cellular transport of valuable nutrients. "ALA" can be converted by the body into DHA. ALA is found in soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and canola oil: many vegans include these specific foods in their diets. To obtain the same benefit, it has been estimated that 10x the amount of ALA as DHA must be consumed.

Omega-3 fatty acids must be included in any diet: this is specially true for younger children and the elderly because growing and ageing brains need more of these nutritious fats. There are multiple sources of omega-3 fatty acids available to vegans: flaxseed oil (sometimes called edible linseed in the UK) and hemp oil, nuts (especially walnuts), and certain green, leafy vegetables all provide omega-3s as well.

Omega 3 interacts with another dietary fatty acid: Omega 6. it is believed that the health benefits of Omega 3 consumption are obtained only when the Omega 3: Omega 6 ratio is increased. Oils which should therefore be avoided due to their high Omega 6 content are: sunflower, safflower, and corn oil. Olive oil is an example of an omega-neutral oil as its fat is monounsaturated and does not contain much omega 3 or omega 6 and may be consumed without affecting the desired ratio.

Cultural aspects
Veganism has been slowly gaining greater popularity amongst some African Americans since the 1960s because of the involvement of politically-oriented African-American activists, actors and musicians; a whole foods, mostly unprocessed diet is positioned as a return to ancestral African diets, an inexpensive and healthy alternative to current dietary habits, and a tool for African-American empowerment in the face of socio-economic disadvantage, especially health.

Criticism and controversy
Veganism requires a level of attention to the details of pre-manufactured packaged goods which many non-vegans view as impractical. Many dishes prepared in western culture involve at least one non-vegan element ? dairy, in particular, is pervasive and some non-vegans may resent the extra effort of accommodating the vegan diet. Certain vegan substitutions for non-vegan ingredients (such as egg replacers) only superficially resemble their animal-based originals and the vegan substitutions may not work well in standard recipes.

Many health supplements (vitamins, minerals, herbal alternatives, etc.) are placed inside capsules made of animal-based gelatin. Online retailers have emerged, selling vegan alternatives to such products, and vegan-friendly multivitamins and supplements can now be found in most health food stores and online.

A majority of medication and dietary supplements contain a number of ingredients that are derived from animal sources such as magnesium stearate, stearic acid, gelatin, lactose, and many more. When the medicine itself is derived from an animal source there may not be acceptable substitute. All FDA approved drugs sold in the United States are animal tested, as animal testing is a requirement for drug approval for U.S. markets. In some hospitals, Catgut in sutures and non-vegan latex gloves are used. In cases such as this, vegans point to the original definition of veganism's caveat of avoiding animal products "as far as is possible and practical", which clearly shows that, unless medications and medical equipment are vegan, non-vegan versions of medications and supplies are acceptable.

Many products like cosmetics, toiletries, household cleaners, and pesticides, contain either animal ingredients or ingredients that have been tested on animals, as well as coloring agents like Cochineal (obtained from an insect). Many vegans prefer to use homemade or eco-friendly, vegan-friendly products.

Ethical criticism
Many vegans question whether it is ethical to make use of products which result in the death of animals. Organizations, such as the Foundation for Animal Use Education [24], dispute that a non-vegan diet entails exploitation of or cruelty to animals, and support the concept of animal welfare while promoting the use of animals in food and fiber agriculture. These groups also dispute whether animals are sentient and have inherent rights, stating that rights are a function of being "moral agents" making moral judgments and comprehending moral duty, and that animals do not exercise responsibility as moral agents. The website for the FAUE states: "As moral agents, we recognize our own obligation to treat animals humanely ? not because it is their right, but because it is our responsibility". Other critics argue that "animals lack the awareness of pain", an assertion that is generally disputed.

There are several other common criticisms of vegan ethics. Critics like Steven Davis, professor of animal science at Oregon State University, claims that the number of wild animals killed in crop production is greater than those killed in ruminant-pasture production. Whenever a tractor goes through a field to plow, disc, cultivate, apply fertilizer and/or pesticide, and harvest, animals are killed. Davis lists field animals in the U.S. that are threatened by intensive crop production. In one example, an alfalfa harvest caused a 50% decline in the grey-tailed vole population. According to Davis, if all of the cropland in the U.S. were used to produce crops for a vegan diet, an estimated 1.8 billion animals would be killed annually. A rebuttal by Gaverick Matheny entitled Least harm: a defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis' omnivorous proposal appeared in the same issue as the report by Davis. Matheny lists several major flaws with Davis' reasoning which include the fact that since vegans generally eat at a lower trophic level, fewer crops are required to produce the food vegans eat. It requires up to 20 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef; consequently, twenty times as many animals would presumably be plowed to death to produce one pound of beef rather than one pound of grain. Another error according to Matheny is the equation of death with harm. According to Davis, an animal accidentally killed by a thresher has been subjected to as much harm as one having spent its entire life in captivity before being slaughtered. Another flaw with Davis's findings is a numerical error; currently nearly 10 billion animals are killed each year in the U.S. for food, more than five times greater than Davis' estimated 1.8 billion for crop harvesting. Matheny concludes that "After correcting for these errors, Davis' argument makes a strong case for, rather than against, adopting a vegetarian diet."

Health criticism
Because the American Dietetic Association (U.S. certification organization for C.N.s) supports a well-planned vegan diet in all stages of life, few nutritionists have expressed concerns about the potential dangers in the vegan diet. This, in some cases involving severe nutritional inadequacy in conjunction with a strict vegetarian diet, may be particularly relevant to young children where the failure to achieve adequate nutrition can lead to permanent developmental deficits. In reported comments, Professor Lindsey Allen of the United States Agricultural Research Service declared: "There's absolutely no question that it's unethical for parents to bring up their children as strict vegans, unless those who practiced them were well-informed about how to add back the missing nutrients through supplements or fortified foods." Vegans should be particularly concerned with adequate intake of B-12. Vitamin B12, a bacterial product, cannot be reliably found in plant foods. Vegans are recommended to eat foods with vegan B12 added (such as fortified soy milk, fortified margarines, or many commercial breakfast cereals), certain brands of nutritional yeast, or take dietary supplements (a good multivitamin will likely include B12 in sufficient quantities).

In very severe cases, parents practicing what were sometimes described as forms of veganism have been charged with child abuse for not providing adequate nutrition. Vegan mothers who do not obtain adequate vitamin B12 in their diet while breastfeeding can cause severe and permanent neurological damage to their infants. Related studies note importance of early recognition of significant maternal vitamin B12 deficiency during pregnancy and lactation in vegetarians is emphasized so that appropriate supplementation can be given and irreversible neurological damage in the infant prevented.

Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D. claims that "some people use veganism to hide anorexia nervosa". Vegan dietician Brenda Davis claims current research indicates as many as 50% of people with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa self-proclaim a vegetarian diet as a cover for their avoidance of eating "meat" or other "high fat foods". Also, Vesanto Melina, a B.C. registered dietitian and author of Becoming Vegetarian, stresses there is no cause and effect relationship between vegetarianism and eating disorders although people who have eating disorders may label themselves as vegetarians "so that they won't have to eat." Pro-ana communities have been known to advocate a poorly balanced vegan diet as a cover for anorexia. Though there may be a correlation, there does not appear to be causation; eating disorders usually predate the adoption of a vegan diet. A 1987 review of 116 cases found that in only 6.3% did meat avoidance predate the onset of anorexia nervosa. The American Dietetic Association acknowledges that vegetarian diets may be more common among adolescents with eating disorders than in the general adolescent population, and that professionals should be aware of adolescents who limit food choices and exhibit symptoms of eating disorders. According to the ADA, the evidence suggests that the adoption of a vegetarian diet does not lead to eating disorders, but "vegetarian diets may be selected to camouflage an existing eating disorder".

 

  Copyright © 2006 Andy's Market. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Veganism".


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