Being vegan is increasing in popularity in the UK and beyond. An Ipsos MORI poll conducted in 2016 in the UK reported that 542,000 people aged 15 or over – just over 1% of the population – had adopted a vegan diet/lifestyle compared to just 150,000 ten years earlier.
It was in 1944 that Donald Watson, The Vegan Society founder, produced the first copy of Vegan news and in those days he probably had a very small readership. These days with the proliferation of social media channels and the reach of the internet, social media celebrity vegans can reach hundreds of thousands of people in seconds just by clicking a button.
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. The Vegan Society.
My concerns are that as this lifestyle increases in popularity, so too will the food manufacturing industry’s interest and involvement in it.
In the westernised world we are incredibly vulnerable to the power and dominance of the media and commercialised industries like the food manufacturing and diet industries. An example of this is the story of American physiologist Ancel Key’s study in the 1950’s exploring his theory that there was a link between cardiovascular disease and the consumption of saturated fats. He conducted a study, backed by the government, and when the results turned out to be contrary to his hypothesis, they simply adjusted the outcome to avoid losing face. The bodged results became a public health campaign that received huge attention from the media and led to the food manufacturing industry creating low-fat, high sugar products with little or no nutritional value.
The growing interest in veganism appears to be accompanied by a growing fascination with alternative meat and dairy products. This growing interest is rousing the food manufacturing industry. 15 years ago it was virtually impossible to find vegan processed foods in the supermarkets, now it is quite a different story. I am quite sure that there are labs all over the country currently racing to come up with the next genetically modified, synthesised compound that will replicate the taste and texture of meat. I believe this is something we should be seriously concerned about.
The principles of veganism are rooted in heartfelt ethics and the decision to follow a plant based diet should, on the face of it, be a healthy one. If you know a little about food and are happy to spend time in the kitchen, you can follow an incredibly healthy, tasty, whole food, plant based diet featuring meals that are interesting, indulgent and nutritious. However, if you are still yearning for food that mimics meat and animal products, or want the convenience of off-the-shelf food products, you could be in trouble.
I encourage those who are vegan or considering becoming vegan to do a bit of homework and consider the following points:
- If you are going to buy manufactured/processed products, check the labels for scary ingredients. I am no expert, but things like: Genetically modified soy, Xanthan gum, Hydrolyzed Protein (look up Hexane which is used in the production of this), vegetable oils like canola or soy, and Methylcellulose can potentially damage your health.
- If you can’t give up dairy products, check what the natural alternatives are. The obvious ones are a nut milks and coconut cream. Try to avoid off the shelf egg products with scary ingredients and instead make your own Aquafaba or use flaxseed liquid.
- If you do have to give in to mock meat products and copy-cat cheese, check the ingredients here too, if you can’t pronounce the words, the chances are it’s not going to be beneficial to your health.
- Challenge yourself to get in the kitchen and learn some new recipes that use wholefoods and natural ingredients. You can create some great tasting, truly healthy, plant based meals with just a little effort – there are quite a few in my recipes.
- If you are going to use processed products, do the homework on the companies producing them. Try and see through the marketing and look a little deeper into their production values and whether they actually care about your health.
This may appear to be a ‘ranty’ blog but it is an area I feel strongly about. My ongoing curiosity about food and my belief that the food we eat has such a profound effect on our health and happiness makes me very passionate about it. The more awareness there is that there is a strong commercial agenda around many of the foods being made available to us, the more likely we are to question things. The more we question things, the more likely we are to make better informed decisions about our health.