The 2020 guide: How to be a better vegan

9 months ago 32
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First, stop talking about it. You know the joke: ‘How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you’. Don’t be that kind of vegan. Try instead, a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

Switch for the right reasons. “When I decided to cut out meat, dairy, even honey from my diet, in 2010, my friends said, ‘Ah, healthy choice’ as a compliment,” says entrepreneur Jitin Patel, 31. “The widespread misconception is that veganism is a wellness movement. It’s more of a political, ethical set of decisions.” The term vegan was coined in 1944 for vegetarians who’d stopped consuming animal-derived products as a response to cruel, industrialised farm and dairy practices. “It’s about minimising the burden or loss of other lives in your life; it’s not a shortcut to weight loss or muscle gain,” Patel says.

Admit that vegan food can be unhealthy too. Riddhima Saxena, 39, a corporate-finance editor, grew up in a household that relished everything. A series of health issues seven years ago caused her to cut out meat, dairy and gluten. “But the vegan diet wasn’t necessarily healthy,” she recalls. “A lot of it is very processed. It’s high on soy and tofu, which can interfere with hormones. With the new mock meats, I don’t know what I’m eating and we don’t know their long-term repercussions. Nothing is healthier just because it’s vegan – think of French fries and beer.”

Think of ABillionVeg as a cross between Instagram and TripAdvisor. It lets you rate and review plant-based dishes or cruelty-free beauty and ethical fashion products from anywhere in the world. Globally, hip travellers going green are using it as a guide to where to eat and shop. The platform was founded in 2017 by Vikas Garg, who worked in India but now lives in Singapore. It now has more than 300,000 reviews. The name comes from Garg’s mission to help 1 billion people turn vegetarian by 2030.

Check your privilege. Patel tends to stay away from what he calls pulpit vegans. “They’re mostly showing off that they can afford to be picky,” he says. “A lot of vegan alternatives — nut milks, dairy-free cheeses, fish substitutes — cost more and have a higher carbon footprint when you factor in packaging and imports.”

It’s going to get busy. Vegan bloggers are inspirational, until you realise that’s all they do. “I have a full-time job and it’s impossible to think about what to eat every meal, every day,” says Saxena. “It’s worse when I’m travelling. In parts of Asia, they just don’t understand the concept.”

So be an imperfect vegan. The term is getting popular among vegans who’ve struggled with the all-or-nothing version of the lifestyle. It allows flexibility and a chance to do better in bits. Veganuary, observed since 2014, is a way to start the year as a vegan. Meat-free Mondays are easier to manage than a week of struggling over every meal.

Talk to a doctor. Malnourishment is common among vegans. For many, a strict plant-only diet does more harm than good. Saxena’s health concerns abated only after a doctor prescribed the occasional fish or egg meal and advised her to give up lentils. Patel now focuses not on vegan or not vegan, but on the effort the world and he have to put into a meal.

As Saxena puts it: “Just do what you can without it taking over your life and everyone else’s.”

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