As we arrive at another World Vegan Day (November 1, in case you didn’t know), it’s a good time to reflect on veganism and the way the world is going.
I’ve been vegan nearly all my life, so have never felt like I was ‘missing out’ and the ‘but there’s bacon’ arguments are irrelevant here.
Hang on – before we go any further, I’d better offer up a definition of veganism. It’s a term coined in the 1940s but the concept has been around since the dawn of civilized society, from Chinese nobility via Buddhist monks to today’s elite athletes, supermodels and Hollywood A-listers. Apart from veteran vegan Woody Harrelson, there’s a veritable army of the vegan bold and the beautiful, including Zac Efron, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sia, Kat Von and Ariana Grande. From the sports world, did you know the sporting superstar tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams are vegan? Lewis Hamilton? Former professional MMA fighter James Wilks and pro cyclist Dotsie Bausch both star in Titanic director James Cameron’s vegan documentary, Game Changers, while Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris swears by his plant-based diet.
“Veganism is not a sacrifice. It is a joy.” -Gary L. Francione
My take on what it means to be vegan is to knowingly avoid any harm to animals. So for me, that means not eating any animals or animal products like cheese, milk and eggs, and not wearing clothing derived from animals. It also extends to beauty products, household products and, to be honest, other things that pop up on my radar. Every day is a learning experience. Did you know fabric conditioner contains animal fat, for example?
Above the basic tenet of avoiding causing harm or abuse to any animal, for me, protecting the environment has always been a leading reason for my veganism. There are way too many other places where you can easily learn about how giving up meat can save the planet – it really is as simple as that – so you might want to start by relaxing with a big bowl of vegan (naturally) popcorn and watching the plethora of films, documentaries and clips available via Netflix or YouTube.
While the number of vegans in the world is still small, this year has again seen exponential growth, not least in the Middle East. As more and more of us turn to veganism for the animals, for the planet and for our health, I have seen the local landscape change from a deep misunderstanding of the vegan diet to embracing it with gusto. I don’t have to go far from my own home to find a cafe, restaurant or other outlet offering fantastic vegan options.
The pandemic has also seen rapid growth in online food delivery. There are many vegan-only online delivery outlets now, including virtual kitchens, and most coffee shops offer plant-based milks in their drinks.
“If you think that being vegan is difficult, imagine being a factory farmed animal.” -Davegan Raza
Of course, the rise of veganism in this region is not only about food. There’s a strong movement toward fitness and looking good and protecting the planet. The rise of easily accessible information means it’s not hard to discover the provenance of our food and our everyday products. The average consumer is far more savvy than they were 10 years ago and this is reflected in where we choose to spend our money.
Veganism might have been a hot trend, but many people who choose to go vegan feel many benefits – physical, mental, and dare I say, spiritual.
“I don’t see why someone should lose their life just so you can have a snack.” -Russell Brand
A few years ago, a friend and I were tired of searching for good places to eat and like-minded people to socialize with, so we started Dubai Vegan Days, a Facebook-based community-minded social dining group. The aim is to bring together vegans and the ‘v-curious’ in a venue offering a special menu, often with vendors, talks, films and even yoga. I’ve seen the group go from strength to strength, with some events attracting more than 100 people.
It’s a friendly, no-judgement environment, but we hope that we’ve given some people an insight into what being a vegan involves. You don’t gave to give up taste or hearty food and you certainly don’t have to be an angry hippy to enjoy the abundance of the vegan lifestyle.
Think you’ll be hungry on a vegan diet? Think again. Don’t forget that all those gloriously filling foods like pasta, grains, falafel, hummous, rice and potatoes are vegan.
“The problem is that humans have victimised animals to such a degree that they are not even considered victims. They are not even considered at all. They are nothing; they don’t count; they don’t matter. They are commodities like TV sets and cell phones. We have actually turned animals into inanimate objects – sandwiches and shoes.” Gary Yourofsky
You might also have heard that a vegan diet lacks vital nutrients. That’s simply not true. I take supplement B12, as that’s one of the few things lacking, but there’s not much else that’s missing from the vast abundance of natural, whole and healthy foods I enjoy every day.
Veganism has moved on since my childhood from lacklustre cardboard ‘burgers’ and dreary nut roasts to a dazzling array of burgers, meat replacements, sausages and other exciting fast foods, like vegan fish and chips, pizza and even shawarma. Of course, I wouldn’t say these are necessarily healthy, but they do tick the box for a healthier alternative to meat, don’t contribute to the three billion animals killed every day for humans to eat, and they do help save the planet.
If you think veganism is not for you and that you’d miss meat, I would recommend joining one of the many support groups and movements and give it a go! Try meatless Monday, for instance, or sign up and pledge to go meat-free for January with the ‘Veganuary’ movement.
“As I improved my diet, I started to learn to love myself, probably for the first time ever.” -Frank Ferrante
I’m delighted with the way veganism has crept into the mainstream. In my lifetime, it’s gone from an obscure, misunderstood, ‘hippy’ thing to do, to a far more widely accepted way of life. It wasn’t so long ago that women voting was a preposterous idea. Slavery was once considered normal. Are we now gradually witnessing the death of the meat and dairy industries?
Sadly, we still have a long way to go, and the (male-dominated) mainstream way of life still condones cruelty, suffering and unnecessary consumption of meat on a daily basis.
But just think about this. You might not even want to go vegan for the animals, or for the planet. But how about being selfish and doing it for you? Don’t you deserve a good life? A longer, happier, healthier life? And to be able to look your pets in the eye without feeling weird?
Try grabbing a veggie burger over a meat one. You might just like it.
• Dubai Vegan Days was launched and conceived by Ananda Shakespeare as a way of helping people enjoy and learn more about veganism, ethical living and how to live with more compassion. Keep up with our events by following us on social media: Facebook and Instagram.
Ananda Shakespeare is founder of PR agency Shakespeare Communications, and Dubai Vegan Days, to help people enjoy and learn more about veganism, ethical living and how to live with more compassion.