Former President Bill Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Ozzy Osbourne, Christie Brinkley, Natalie Portman and Carrie Underwood.
What unites that odd collection of humans?
Each is a vegan (although the former president admits he has his lapses).
Everywhere I turn these days, it seems someone I know is or has recently become vegan.
What’s a vegan, not to be confused with Vulcans? Although Spock the Vulcan was a vegan, portrayed by real-life vegetarian actor Leonard Nimoy in the televised Star Trek series?
A vegan takes vegetarianism to the next level and includes no animal products of any kind (including milk and eggs) in their diet. Before anyone shrieks about how unhealthy a meatless life is, consider that a vegan or vegetarian has a lower risk of Type II diabetes and cardiovascular problems. They also have significantly lower BMIs (Body Mass Index) than meat eaters. Overweight and obese individuals—all of whom have higher BMIs— have increased risk for many diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, hypertension, sleep apnea, and many forms of cancer.
In addition, as a result of all the fruits and vegetable they are eating, vegans have a lower risk of having certain forms of cancers.
If you are considering giving up meat, proceed slowly and do your homework. A person can’t just stop eating meat and start eating veggies and fruit without a lot of careful research and planning to make sure they’re getting the proper nutrients, especially protein.
Vegan nutritionists explain that a human can get almost all of the nutrients they need without any meat or dairy products in the diet. The one risk that most dieticians agree is common for vegans is a lack of vitamin B12, so supplements to meet this need are recommended.
The reasons for becoming vegan are varied. Although many people do it for pure health reasons, most people who go the vegan route have a concern for animals and/or the environment in general. I recently sat down with a couple of people who identify as vegan. Neither grew up in a vegan lifestyle.
Jessica Tremblay, who operates Sirius Dogs, a mobile grooming business, is a dog and horse lover, but has a concern for the well-being of all animals. She went vegan for combined personal health and love of animals reasons. Siân Alcorn, a St. Lawrence College student, chose a vegan diet for environmental concerns.
Alcorn, who had been vegetarian for about two-and-a-half years, had taken a global development course at Queen’s University and didn’t like what she learned about the agricultural industries’ effects on the environment.
“For me, it’s more about the environmental impact of meat eating and animal consumption,” she said. “I wanted to try something new. I grew up with omnivores and I realize the as humans we are omnivores. Becoming vegan was not something I thought about growing up. I was a competitive skater and I mostly was thinking about getting all my nutrients. I’ve been vegetarian now for about two-and-a-half years.”
Late last summer she went completely vegan.
“I think it’s becoming more popular because more people are talking about it on social media and aren’t as scared to try it.”
She said that she’s eaten many kinds of meat, from venison and duck to beef. Nowadays, she’s completely vegan. She said it can be difficult to dine out, but she’s found some places around Kingston that offer vegan choices.
“Harper’s has a vegan option,” she said. “So does a new place, Score Pizza, on Princess Street.”
Before eliminating all dairy products from her diet, she used to like going to Toast and Jam on Bath Road for its macaroni and cheese. Having ruled out dairy products, that’s no longer an option for her.
Fortunately, she enjoys cooking meals at home. She said she volunteered at a veg fest held at St. Lawrence College last year and learned a lot from the keynote speaker.
“I enjoy being in the kitchen,” she said. “And it’s fun trying something new and being aware of what you’re putting into food. I always look at the ingredient list. When it comes to macaroni and cheese, that’s one of my favourite foods. It’s cool that you can make alternative sauce for macaroni and cheese out of nuts.”
Jessica Tremblay went completely vegan last summer. Prior to that, she ate a lot of meat, trying to eat healthier cuts like chicken and salmon.
She said the ethics of the meat industry drove her to becoming vegan. She watched a video about slaughterhouses. She saw what happens to pigs at a slaughterhouse.
“I had never pictured what the killing process would look like,” she said. “I was shocked and haunted by it and it made me question how I should feel about this.”
The next time she visited a grocery store, she could not look at the ham.
“My inner voice was telling me that it was all wrong. I could never treat an animal that way so why am I condoning this brutality towards animals by purchasing the product of their suffering? I started to see the hypocrisy of my actions. Still I buried these thoughts and continued to eat other meats.”
She admits that the reason she finally went vegan wasn’t just for ethical reasons.
“My mother and I were always in search of what was a truly healthy diet, a diet that can help you maintain a lean body weight with lots of variety while still enjoying what you were eating.”
She continued exploring the research on health and nutrition. She tried the Paleo diet, but did not stick to it. Something still didn’t feel right for her. She knew that her food choices were not healthy, but she did not know what was. Then she read about vegan diets.
“At first I shied away from this as most people do at the word ‘vegan,’” she said.
But a couple of months later she decided to give it a try. She watched documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, and Earthlings. These films opened her eyes to a world she did not like. What she learned shocked her.
“The fact that animal agriculture is the leading cause of environmental destruction and that many diseases are caused by animal-rich diets, and finally that animals are treated with such cruelty and most live their lives in inhumane and deplorable conditions,” she said.
After turning away from all meat and dairy products, Tremblay felt tired for about a week as her body adjusted to the change. She said that after the first week her energy increased and she no longer felt lethargic after meals.
“Meals now energize me,” she said. “I am very active now. Besides regular dog-walking and yoga, I have started weightlifting training five days a week.”
Tremblay recommends that someone considering going vegan should get some good cookbooks like “The Oh She Glows Cookbook” and “Thug Kitchen.” She also suggested that people look at the research into plant-based diets by reading such books as Dr. Michael Gregor’s “How Not To Die,” Dr. Garth Davis’ “Proteinaholic,” and Dr. Joel Fuhrmannn’s “Eat to Live.”
She likes to batch cook on Sundays. She says it helps to discover about five dishes you enjoy making and then fill the freezer with them.
“People think veganism is about restricting yourself when it is really the opposite,” she said. “It is about abundance and creativity. Almost any recipe can be converted to vegan by using plant milks and nuts.”
Tremblay explained that another positive outcome after going vegan is the decreased need for pills for your ills.
“Many people can reduce and eventually eliminate the need for the pharmaceuticals they were told they would be taking for life,” she said.
She can now look her pets (dogs and a horse) in the eyes without guilt.
“I can’t imagine how I would feel if my dogs or horse were in a slaughterhouse,” she said. “There is no difference between these animals raised for the food industry and our pets. I can now say with pride and true conviction that I am truly a lover of all animals and honestly care about their welfare, my health and the environment. I am a vegan.”
Mark Bergin on Twitter @markaidanbergin.