[phillyBurbs.com - opinion]
Maybe you've seen their products in supermarkets. Boca Burgers paving
the way for Smart Links, rice bread showing up an aisle away from Soy
Dream. And suddenly more and more you're meeting people who refuse
eggs and cheese along with meat. You may have seen one carefully
scrutinizing food labels. They are legion, and they have a name: The
Vegans. And although you've probably only noticed them relatively
recently, they've been around for over half a century.
Veganism is vegetarianism "turned up to eleven." It avoids any product
obtained through the use--read, exploitation--of animals. That means
meat is out, obviously. So are eggs and dairy. But less obvious are
things like honey or silk. These are also verboten; after all, those
bees made the honey for themselves, not for some clumsy farmer who
crushes ten worker bees whenever he checks on the hive. And imagine
yourself in a silkworm's position: all that effort to create a cocoon,
and for your trouble you're boiled in it and tossed aside.
According to the website of Britain's Vegan Society (the world's
oldest), the movement started in 1944, when a group of concerned
"non-dairy" vegetarians (as they were then called) grew tired of
seeing fellow herbivores consume animal products. Led by Elsie
Shrigley and Donald Watson, they chose a new name for themselves:
"Vegans," from "vegetarian's" first and last syllables. Though the
movement met with initial resistance from vegetarians unwilling to
completely forego animal products, it has since grown dramatically.
Britain is home to at least 250,000 vegans; in the U.S., up to 1.4% of
people refuse to eat or use any animal products. And with the rise of
those vegan-friendly products, the convenience-factor is drawing more
Vegans make the choice for a variety of reasons. First of all, it's
better for you. Vegan diets are high in fiber and protein and low in
saturated fat and cholesterol. In a time when heart attacks are the
most likely cause of death in America and obesity is on the rise all
over the western world, this is no small benefit. Cancer risk is
lessened, as well; a regular consumer of red meat is twice more likely
to get colon cancer than a vegan.
Veganism has never sat well in the public eye, even with some
vegetarians, who view vegans as too extreme, and most meat-eaters, who
consider them downright loopy. But recently public opinion shifted
from puzzled disapproval to outright animosity, brought on by a
controversial study in 2005 and several deaths. Lindsay Allen, a
professor working for the US Agricultural Research Service, studied
the effects of vegan eating habits on African children versus those of
children given small, daily doses of meat. The meat-eaters experienced
healthier development and performed better in school, while the
"vegan" group--fed daily servings of just corn and beans--fell behind.
Based on the study, Allen concluded animal products contain nutrients
not found anywhere else and that forcing children into a vegan diet is
unethical and irresponsible. But vegans blasted the study as
unscientific and heavily biased; not only were all the children
starving, but the beef industry financed Allen's study.