How to Be Vegan
We continue our introduction to how to be vegan through the third and final part of a conversation between Enza Ferreri of Human Health and Animal Ethics and Robin Lane, long-standing vegan, animal activist and co-founder of the London Vegan Festival.
A vegetarian is a person who does not eat any kind of meat or fish.
There are two fundamental types of vegetarian:
- ovo-lacto vegetarian, who eats egg and dairy products in addition to foods of purely vegetable origin
- vegan, who only eats products of entirely vegetable source.
In what follows, we use the term "vegetarian" to mean "ovo-lacto vegetarian".
Conversation with Robin Lane, co-founder of London Vegan Festival - part III
Robin: As far as I am aware, non-vegetarians are also prone to B12 deficiencies.
Enza: Yes, but not as much as vegans are. In meat eaters, vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with impaired absorption due to old age or disease, not with a problem with the diet, as it is when it occurs in vegans.
Think of sows, or bitches, or female cats, of whom we read about, who breastfeed the offspring of other species. If we lived in an ideal world, I cannot see anything wrong in drinking cows' milk, as we drink our mothers' milk, as long as cows and calves were happy. You can't say that of meat, so you can see that there IS a difference.
Do you take supplements?
Robin: I have taken a B12 supplement for the past 30 years. I also take an iron supplement as I donate blood. Otherwise I have a healthy iron count.
Enza: I've noticed that the picture of Raw Delights at the last London Vegan Festival says vegan and vegetarian. Can you individually check all the ingredients at the Festival or do you just go by trust?
Robin: We go by trust. Raw Delights` banner includes the word vegetarian so as not to put some people off, thinking that vegan is something that won't be able to eat.
Enza: Is it easy to find soya ice cream?
Robin: Yes. I like soya ice cream.
Enza: How did you become vegan? From one day to the next or gradually, dropping a particular food first? For example, when I became a vegetarian I stopped eating meat before fish.
Robin: Firstly I became vegetarian, and two and half years later became vegan. On both occasions it was instantaneous.
Enza: How do you think that vegetarian restaurants are doing? I've noticed that Blah Blah Blah near Sheperds Bush was on sale and looks run down and closed.
Robin: Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are successful, as some years ago there were very few and now new ones are opening. One has recently opened close to where I live.
Enza: Putting ethics aside, there is a problem with veganism. I don't think that it matters entirely, because what's important is that human beings can be vegan and healthy, and that's what matters. But it's obvious that our nature is not to be vegan. I'm not a fan of a "natural diet", I don't care if something is natural or not, only if it's feasible and healthy, but if we want to understand who we are biologically, we are omnivores.
One of the arguments used in favour of vegetarianism has often been that we are not carnivores, and evidence for that can be found both in our long intestines (those of carnivorous animals are short) and in our teeth. While it's true that carnivores' fangs are longer than our canines (eye teeth), which shows that we are not wholly carnivorous, we do have canine teeth which are absent in herbivores, which shows that we are not totally herbivorous either. We are omnivorous, born to eat food of both animal and vegetable origin.
Another sign that a vegan nutrition is not complete for humans is the need to supplement it with vitamin B12, either in the form of fortified foods or supplements.
A third sign is that human babies cannot be vegan. The Vegan Society itself says that if breastfeeding is not possible there is currently no infant formula suitable for vegans. It says that soya milk or other plant-based milks should never be used for infants "as these do not contain the appropriate ratio of nutrients and can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions". Which is why for example Alpro says: "For babies under 6 months of age we do not recommend Alpro soya" because it does not meet the dietary requirements of a growing infant.
I have noticed that most studies carried out show that, while meat-eaters are the group with the worst health indicators, especially regarding longevity, cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, vegans are healthier than meat-eaters but fare worse that lacto-ovo-vegetarians in this respect. Having said that, I am convinced that vegans are healthy enough for the vegan choice to be the best in terms of a balance of ethics and nutritional quality.
Robin: The studies may not be correct.
Enza: That is sometimes true if you rely on just one single study, unless it's particularly accurate and probative. But if you have meta-analyses or study reviews, which consider many studies on the same subject and pool together the results of only the studies that satisfy certain criteria of good research, namely randomized controlled trials, then a clear picture starts emerging.
Finally, let's end on a light note. Describe to me some of your typical day's meals.
Robin: I usually skip breakfast on weekdays. At weekends I have porridge with agave syrup and soya milk.
For lunch, on weekdays I may have avocado, hummus and salad sandwich, and redbush tea (also called rooibos tea) with soya milk - plus at 10am I have a break with 3 bananas and an apple.
For lunch, at weekends we could have boiled but mostly baked potatoes with olive oil and pink Hymalaian salt, or brown rice spaghetti with pasta tomato sauce.
These days we have avocado with balsamic vinegar with every meal. Dinner can be, in addition to that, a big salad and a baked potato with olive oil and pink Hymalaian salt with humus on top. Or we may have avocado, frozen steamed peas and Engevita flakes with olive oil and some ground black pepper.
As last thing we have dessert, which we generally prepare ourselves. It can be fresh fruit salad (bananas, blueberries, kiwi fruit, home-made juice of oranges freshly squeezed by us, flaked almonds, tinned mandarin or apricot in fruit juice, sometime pineapple only if we can find Fair Trade ones, and on top of it cashew cream.
To make cashew cream pour a small packet of cashew nuts into a blender or liquidizer (we have a good one, Kitchen Aid, that cost us about £100), add half a cup of water, two teaspoons of agave syrup and a dessert spoonful of ground almonds, and blend it all together until it's a smooth paste, it mustn't be too thick, you may have to add water but not too much water otherwise it becomes like a milk.
Alternatively, on top of the fresh fruit salad described before we can have the newest dessert I made, raw carob dessert. For this put in a blender one ripe avocado, 2 dessert spoonfuls of raw carob powder and half a block of soft dates soaked overnight, then blend it all together until it gets a smooth consistency, again you want it smooth but not runny, too liquid. If you need to pulverize nuts you need a nut grinder.
I also have several (4-5) cups of red bush tea with sweetened soya milk a day. It can be Co-op soya milk or Sunrise soy milk.
THIS ARTICLE IS IN 3 PARTS: → Part 1 Vegan Part 1 of conversation with co-founder of London Vegan Festival Robin Lane | → Part 2 What is Vegan Part 2 of conversation with co-founder of London Vegan Festival Robin Lane
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