Why Go Vegan?
ve·gan (vee·gn), n. a vegetarian who omits all animal products from their diet.
The following was written by one of our alumni, and focuses mainly on the health-related reasons for going vegan. For a well-presented, comprehensive enumeration of the issues and reason for going vegan, see Vegan Outreach’s Why Vegan page.
Many meat eaters don’t understand why people would stop eating all animal products. They think that vegans are masochistic, under-nourished weirdos. The truth is, all the vegans I know are super healthy, active people that love life, themselves, the planet, other animals, and especially food. The facts are overwhelming, going vegan is the best thing you can do to help the lives of other animals, to improve your health, and to do your part to protect the environment. The meat industry kills billions of animals a year, forces these animals to live in inhumane cramped quarters, creates incredible amounts of pollution, is the number one water user in the country (in fact, meat farmers must have government subsidies for water, or their water bills would be so high they would have to charge $25 for a pound of hamburger), and eating meat fills your arteries with cholesterol and increases your risk for cancer and heart disease.
If you want to go vegan in Ann Arbor, you have wonderful stores like the People’s Food Coop, walking distance from campus on Fourth St, Whole Foods Market (3135 Washtenaw Ave.), and Arbor Farms (on Stadium Blvd). And you can even buy soymilk and tofu now at places like Meijer and Kroger. Please look into veganism; start slow if you want, and make sure you eat plenty of the wonderful things there are to eat from the plant kingdom. The more you do, the better you’ll feel, and you’ll know that you are having a positive impact on the world around you.
Some notes on Vegan Nutrition
The myths must be broken. It is perfectly easy to get enough protein and vitamins from plants, in fact, the average American meat eater gets too much protein, which results in bone loss and other health problems. Many vitamins are found mostly in plants. Doctors, from the famous Dr. Spock to the doctors of Physicians for Responsible Medicine, are recommending a vegan diet for everyone. If you are unsure about getting enough calcium and iron, etc., then by all means, take a vitamin supplement (women’s formulas are often best because they have extra calcium and iron, which are the nutrients vegans might get less of).
Alright, your body needs three basic things from food: starch and sugars for energy, protein for building muscle and enzymes etc., and other vitamins and nutrients for basic cellular proceses.
Starch: This is what you break down into glucose, a form of sugar. You then store the glucose in your liver, which regulates how much glucose it releases into your bloodstream. Your brain, muscles, and all your organs use glucose for the energy they need to do the things they do. Your muscles, etc. can also burn fat and protein for energy, but your brain must have a healthy supply of glucose, or you will die. Fortunately, plants are the best source for glucose, particularly in the form of starch. You get tons of starch in grains such as rice, wheat, and corn. Potatoes are little bundles of starch as well. Always eat plenty of these starchy foods (they’re best for you if they are whole grains, and have fiber as well!).
Protein: Your muscles are made of lots of protein and your cells use all sorts of different proteins for various enzymatic and structural functions; there are lots of different proteins in you. When you eat protein, you break it up into little pieces called amino acids, and then you reassemble these into the different proteins you need. Plants need enzymes and proteins like you do, so there is protein in very cell of a plant. However, plants don’t have muscles like animals do, and your muscles need lots of protein. The part of a plant that has the most protein for you to eat and build muscle with is the seed or bean. There is lots of protein in the nuts, beans, and seeds, because the plant puts it there so that the baby plant can have plenty of protein as it starts growing. Soybeans have the most protein of any bean, except maybe hemp seeds, and tofu is made from soybeans and it is virtually all protein. There is also protein in wheat that is called wheat gluten or seitan; you can find seitan specially prepared in the tofu section of the People’s Food Coop, or you can make it yourself by seperating the starch from the protein in wheat flour. So eat plenty of beans, nuts, lentils, etc… Basically, vegans always get enough protein as long as you get enough calories and aren’t starving. Just make sure you eat a variety of different and tasty foods, to get all the different amino acids you need!
Vitamins: You needs vitamins for many important functions in all the different parts of your body. Most vitamins are plentiful in plants, or are only really found in plants. For instance, vitamin C is most abundant in citrus fruit, and vitamin A is found best as beta-carotene in plants that are orange, like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, etc. So eat fruit and orange veggies for these. Zinc, as well, is found mostly in plants- in places like grains, nuts, and legumes. Meat eaters need to eat more veggies to get vitamins like these! There are, however, some vitamins that are not as abundant in plants, but they are there (remember, meat eaters eat animals that have these, but those animals got them only from plants- eliminate the middleman (or rather, middle animal) !!):
Iron: You need iron in your blood, because this binds to the oxygen you breath and it carries it throughout your body. If you eat meat, you get it from eating the animals’ blood. In plants, iron is used in the reactions of photosynthesis, so iron is found in the green parts of plants, where photosynthesis occurs. This means you should eat lots of leafy greens, like spinach, kale, turnip greens, lettuce, etc., to get iron. There is also lots of iron in fortified breakfast cereals and in dried beans. Beans such as soybeans and lentils (as well as most leafy greens) have more iron on a per calorie basis than red meat! It may sound strange, but you can also increase your iron intake by cooking your food in cast iron cookware! *Note, if you take vitamin C when you eat these foods, it will enhance the iron uptake.
Calcium: This you need for your bones, of course, and for signalling in your nervous system and brain. Plants use calcium where cells are dividing and growing, and also in the cell wall, for structural support. So you should eat the actively growing parts of plants, like the dark leafy greens again, and also those tough parts like the stems and underground tubers, ie. celery, rhubarb, turnips, beets, onions (best raw), etc. You can get calcium as well from tofu that has been processed with calcium sulfate, and almonds, sesame seeds, and tahini also have a lot of calcium. *Note, there is also calcium available in enriched soymilk or orange juice, and if you drink lots you will get plenty of calcium. This is better than drinking cow’s milk, because the animal protein in cow’s milk has actually been linked to causing bone and calcium loss: so those of you who don’t eat animal protein may need to consume less calcium than those who do.
(Blackstrap molasses: this stuff has lots of vitamins- especially calcium and iron. So you might think about putting this on top of your cereal in the morning….)
Vitamin B12: Contrary to popular belief, B12 is not made by animals. It is not made by plants. It is only made by microorganisms, like bacteria. If you eat meat, you get it in the bacteria in meat (gross)! If you eat plants you can get it if you eat dirt. That’s right, if you have an organic carrot, or something, you can just knock off the biggest bits of dirt and know that the soil bacteria living on the carrot are making B12 for you. If this seems weird, don’t worry, because there is an even better source of B12, and that’s nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast flakes and brewers yeast are made from cultures of microorganisms that are making lots of B12 that you can eat. I always keep plenty of the yellow NYF around and I shake it on everything: salads, soups, potatoes, you name it. It imparts a bit of a cheesy taste, and a favorite at the vegan coops around town is popcorn seasoned with NYF, olive oil, and lemon pepper, (and Tabasco sauce at my house!) So go to PFC (People’s Food Coop on 4th street) and stock up on nutritional yeast.
Vitamin D: This is not in plants, but you need it to process and use calcium. You can get it in certain fortified foods, or soymilks: like Edensoy Extra (cow milk companies also put vitamin D in their milk so that it is there to help you absorb calcium; it’s not naturally in the milk.) Also, you can make Vitamin D yourself! Your body makes it by using sunlight energy (this is the way all animals get vitamin D)! If you get about fifteen minutes of strong sun on your face and hands two to three times a week, you will make enough vitamin D. (This may be hard to do in Michigan in November, so you might want to get that Edensoy…)
Finally, I recommend that you buy one of the vegan nutrition books available. There is a nutrition section in the most recent edition of Dr. Spock’s Infant and Child Care that promotes veganism, and I also have heard that The Vegan Health Plan by Amanda Sweet is very good, in addition to any books listed on our reading list.
What’s Wrong With Dairy Products? Read this article by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and get the lowdown. Eight convincing reasons to leave cow products behind.