Action 135: Learn about going vegan

Vegan burgerDate: 15 May
Action: 135
Cost of taking action: £/$/€ ZERO or SAVES MONEY


From our guest writer Lynsey Clayton in the UK

Please note that you should discuss any planned major change to your diet with your doctor or pharmacist

Action 135: Learn about going vegan

Walking around and seeing an ever increasing number of “Vegan Options Available” signs outside cafes, bars and restaurants; being able to enter almost any supermarket and find a huge selection of vegan products; and watching as huge multinationals back worldwide bans on animal testing, there certainly is a huge change happening at the moment.

I’d like to share a little bit with you about what it means to be vegan, and why it’s so good for your health, for the animals, and for the environment.

What does it mean to be vegan?

Vegans avoid eating any and all animal products – red and white meats, fish and other water creatures, eggs, dairy and insect products such as honey and cochineal. Vegans also avoid animal products in their clothing, footwear, accessories, toiletries and household items, and avoid products tested on animals.

This can be for a variety of reasons – predominantly animal welfare, but can also be for reasons of health and the environment.

The Vegan Society defines veganism in this way:

Veganism is a philosophy and 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; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.

Some may follow a vegan diet purely for health or environmental reasons, and may refer to themselves as plant based.

Colourful vegan plate

Those who choose to follow a vegan diet for animal welfare and/or moral reasons, and extend the philosophy into other areas of their lives, opposing the use of animals for any purpose, are ethical vegans, and ethical veganism is now recognised under the Equality Act 2010, as a philosophical belief that is protected by law against discrimination.

(Well I never knew that! … Ed)

Environmental benefits

Concerns for the environment and climate change have been on the rise, and recent studies have shown that going vegan is the “single biggest way” to reduce our environmental impact. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%.

Findings published in Science demonstrate how meat and dairy production is responsible for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products themselves provide just 37% of protein levels around the world.

Cow road sign

Methane, produced by cows, is also 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

(Yup, see our article on cow farts and burps here … Ed)

Research shows that animal-based products are incredibly resource-intensive, especially when it comes to water. For example, it takes over 15,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef, compared to just 180 litres for 1kg tomatoes and 250 litres for 1kg potatoes. Since a large percentage of the crops fed to European farmed animals are grown in developing countries, this wasted water comes not only from European reserves but also from the very countries where drinking water is most scarce, and studies indicate that following a vegan diet could significantly reduce the world’s water requirements.

Land use is also a major factor; using 0.4 hectares of land to raise cattle for slaughter yields only 9kg of meat, yet the same land holds the potential to produce 165kg of protein rich soya beans. Almost 80% of the world’s soybean crop is fed to livestock, and vast swathes of the rainforest are being deforested to clear grazing land and to grow soya feed

Commercial fishing is another issue which is in the news on a regular basis, with severely depleted stocks of wild fish in our oceans and ongoing damage of the ecosystem, including coral reefs. As a response, the seafood industry has turned to raising fish in contained factory farms – a process known as aquaculture. These farms raise millions of fish in netted cages in coastal waters. However, confining so many fish in small areas may lead to a host of environmental and health hazards – many of these fish are prone to disease.

Health benefits

Going vegan mean eating more fruit, vegetables, pulses and other nutrient-dense foods that are proven to boost your health. The average vegan diet contains fewer calories, virtually zero cholesterol, and more fibre than non-vegetarian diets.

However, it is also worth noting that it’s very easy to be a “junk food vegan” and consume lots of sugar and other types of fat. In general though, vegan diets have been associated with lower risks of certain health problems, including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and some cancers.

Fruit meal

Getting a healthy level of nutrients from a vegan diet is not difficult, and protein is in abundance. However, one common concern is vitamin B12, which is produced by bacteria that live naturally in the soil, as well as some bacteria in our guts. Unfortunately, due to some farming methods, soil depletion and the extensive washing of produce, there is an insufficient quantity of naturally occurring B12 in the soil to be passed to us via the vegetables we eat. The same applies to grazing animals.

Farm animals are therefore often supplemented with B12 and, if you have been eating a non-vegan diet, your supplement has come to you second hand via another animal. This is not the most reliable form of B12 and it may therefore be appropriate – no matter what your diet – to use supplements or fortified foods (cereal, nutritional yeast, plant milks and so on).

(Please take professional advice before using supplements for any length of time … Ed)

It’s Easy being Vegan

Vegan donutsIt has become considerably easier to become vegan, and supermarkets are constantly launching new and exciting products. Many vegans are not vegan because they didn’t like the taste of meat, but because they want to enjoy food without contributing to animal suffering or slaughter in the meat, egg and dairy industries.

Therefore replacement products are very popular, and brands are now battling for our custom. There are also lots of products you may know and love, without realising they are vegan. Co-op doughnuts and fruit pies, jelly tots, Fry’s chocolate cream, and most varieties of bacon flavoured crisps – even Pizza Hut’s bacon bits are, and have always been, vegan! So there’s no need for you to miss out on the office birthday celebrations!

Take action: learn more

If you’d like to find out more information about the topics I’ve talked about, the Viva website is a fantastic resource and you could even sign up to their vegan challenge.

You can also find lots of recipes and information over at my own website

This article has been contributed by our guest writer Lynsey Clayton


Please note that you should discuss any planned major change to your diet with your doctor or pharmacist