The Vegan Myth

By William J. Furney

Several recent conversations I’ve had with people about the vegan diet is that they think it’s great but, really, it’s kind of impossible and there’s no way they could ever manage it. It is just too strict, difficult and, ultimately, weird — something extreme and batty, like those odd fruitarians and their barmy ways. 

I’ve been vegan for close to a decade and a vegetarian for decades before, a change of diet that, I felt, was a natural progression and one with added benefits: it would not only be for improved health and support my fitness goals but would also be kind to our endangered planet and help to prevent some of the terrible cruelty meted out by humans towards lesser animals they treat as slaves and unnecessarily use as food. It was an evolutionary triple win, one that’s dawning on more people than ever as they shun flesh-food

Yet even as food companies jump on the vegan bandwagon and produce a dizzying array of plant-based foods — many of them, sadly, overprocessed and so not entirely good for you (vegan does not equal healthy if you don’t do it right) — the majority of humans wouldn’t go anywhere near a vegan or even veggie burger.

There are those who are wedded to their destructive, bug-riddled meat, who believe they cannot survive a second without their life-killing lust for blood and muscle, even if it’s carcinogenic and helps to destroy our fragile environment; and they are overwhelmingly sensitive and defensive of their addictions: dare to suggest what I’ve just said and you’ll be instantly met with their meat-loving wrath. 

A cashier at one of my local supermarkets, a friendly young woman with long, brown hair and a sparkle in her eyes, observed my purchases during a recent visit: “You always buy healthy food,” she said as she checked out my basket. “Lots of vegetables.” Yes, I said, it’s my diet — vegan, and she smiled. 

In India I supposed most of the Hindu faithful were vegetarian, but some I spoke to said they only adhered on holy days, and willfully scoffed chicken the rest of the time. But not the revered cattle that wander the streets, oblivious to the haze of crazed traffic, and blithely laze on golden beaches fringed by palms. 

For many, switching to a vegan diet takes way too much discipline, or so they think. Unless you want to exist on bread and chips, and fall ill in the process, there’s a library of research to do into the right kind of plants to eat and how to prepare, cook and store them. Perhaps that’s what adds to the sanctimonious air, told by the quip: How do you know someone’s vegan? They’ll tell you. 

The reality is that it takes no more time, and even perhaps far less effort, to prepare vegan dishes. A simple lentil curry, for instance, could be ready to serve in under an hour, while that roast dinner is still sizzling away in the oven, with hours to go. And if it’s convenience you’re after, vegan products are starting to fill up the supermarket shelves and appear in growing numbers on restaurant menus. 

The view that plants are for animals and that humans cannot get their lusted-after protein from greens is not only incorrect — how do some of the biggest and strongest animals, like cows, oxen and elephants, exist on grass and leaves? — but outdated, a myth best left to yesteryear.

According to a survey run after Veganuary this year — a campaign urging people to ditch meat for at least a month, in the hope they will permanently stick to plants — only 6 percent of adults in the UK are vegan and just 2 percent of Americans live on this diet. Part of the reason, the YouGov poll suggests, is a belief that being vegan is just too expensive — all that costly fresh fruit and veg, when a meaty McD’s is so cheap and readily available — and best left to those with loads of cash. Which, again, is another myth, as you can easily pick up what you need at all kinds of supermarkets, including ethnic stores, and at half or less the price than a trolley full of steak and other meat products. 

As this year’s Veganary rolls around, adherents to the vegan diet, yours truly included, believe it’s never been more vital to change our eating ways. All the hot-air talk in the world at successive UN climate change conferences is not doing an iota of good for the planet as temperatures climb and storms become ever more devastating, because responsibility is individual and it starts with what we put into our mouths. 

As Veganuary says, “if we want [our children] to have an inhabitable planet at all, then we must tackle climate change and one of the biggest human-generated contributors to that is animal farming” .

“When we feed our children vegan food, we teach them about the environment and compassion, about sharing the world and taking care of themselves and others. Some people may criticise vegans for ‘inflicting’ their views on their children, forgetting perhaps that they do the exact same thing when they feed their own children meat.”

Is your diet laden with guilt?

  • Title photograph, of padron peppers, is by William J. Furney (who also made the tapa).

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