By Steve Gooch
You may not know it, but there are vegans in your midst. Few in number, and indistinguishable from other folks, vegans are spreading their agenda of health, compassion and wellbeing to all those who will listen.
It is a growing movement, not just here in Egypt, but around the world. In the UK, adherents of veganism have multiplied by over 390% in recent years, according to the UK Vegan Society. There are now estimated to be around half a million vegans in the UK, and over a million in the United States. In Egypt, that number is substantially lower. There are no good indicators for the spread of veganism in Egypt, but it is possibly in the hundreds: a number that is now, however, growing rapidly.
But what is a vegan and what should you do if you meet one? Veganism is a term first coined in the UK back in 1944 by Donald Watson, who adhered to a lifestyle free from all animal exploitation. It is similar to being a vegetarian, but more so. Not only do Vegans not eat meat and fish, they also avoid such products as eggs, milk, cheese and honey, seeing as all of these things, as not only unhealthy for human consumption, but are also perceived by some as a contribution to the suffering of other living beings.
For many years, veganism has been on the back-foot, fighting its corner, presenting its evidence to a hostile scientific community and food industry, and a public whose main response has been dismissive ridicule. Vegans were the fringe crazies at the party, but no more. To answer the second question; if you meet one, listen. Their message, now backed overwhelmingly by the scientific community, will change your life. Vegans are moving into the mainstream as even the United Nations is pushing for a global move to a meat and dairy free diet.
One of the main reasons for vegans to adopt the lifestyle is concern over their own health. The scientific evidence for moving away from meat, towards a plant-based diet, is staggering.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States, meat eaters are much more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes and suffer from obesity, than their vegan counterparts. Vegans have much lower blood pressure, and are generally much healthier. These findings have been replicated consistently around the world by all scientific communities. According to the American Dietetic Association in a 2009 report: “Properly planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases…are appropriate for individuals, during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, and for athletes.”
The vegan argument however, is not simply that it is possible to get all of the body’s requirements from plant-based foods, but that the consumption of meat and other animal derived products is actively harmful.
In a study carried out at the Massachusetts General Hospital over a thirty-year period, with more than 130,000 participants, it was shown that raising the share of animal protein in one’s diet by only 10% led to a 2% higher risk of death from all causes. In the case of heart disease, this figure rose to 8%. Eliminating eggs from the diet led to a 19% reduction in death risk, whilst eliminating red meat led to a drop of 12%.
The problem with meat is that it is often contaminated with faeces, blood, adrenalin and other bodily fluids, as well as chemical compounds such as artificial hormones, designed to make the animal grow more quickly. It’s also stuffed full of antibiotics. When you eat meat, you consume these fluids and chemicals.
A study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reported that 96% of a particular brand of chicken contained a highly dangerous bacterium called campylobacter. Campylobacter causes 2.4 million cases of food poisoning in the United States every year. The World Health Organisation has gone so far as to officially declare meat a carcinogen, that can increase the risk of colon or rectum cancer by as much as 18%.
So what’s the alternative? The very best sources of protein, iron, and all the other minerals and vitamins a body needs, come from a plant-based diet. This is backed up by reports from The British Medical Association as well as The Vegan Society and others.
Rich sources of protein are lentils, chickpeas, peas, peanut butter, spinach, rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes and broccoli. Iron can be found in soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tahini, raisins, watermelon, millet and molasses. For your daily intake of calcium try molasses, tofu, fortified orange juice, tahini and almonds. B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, fats and other nutrients, all have plant-based sources, and are often of a higher quality than their animal-product derived counterparts.
But surely drinking milk is okay? Don’t we need all that calcium to strengthen our bones and teeth? No, actually, it isn’t okay. Milk is the great lie of our age. The ‘Save Our Bones’ campaign in the UK has shown that whilst milk does contain an abundance of calcium, it is of a kind that the human body simply can’t absorb, even more so when pasteurised. Ironically, milk consumption has been shown to actually increase calcium loss, due to the body drawing on stores of bone calcium to neutralise the acidifying effects of milk on the body.
T Colin Campbell; Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, made this observation in 2000 in relation to milk consumption: “Cows’ milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed”.
That’s a pretty critical indictment of milk, and the studies are overwhelming. Time and again, the scientific community around the world is revealing the old-wives’ tale about the benefits of milk to be the nonsense that it is.
In Egypt, as a consequence of the lack of knowledge about the benefits of veganism and the harmful effects of eating animal products, those that are turning to the lifestyle, are facing stiff opposition. Yasmine Nazmy, the former owner of ‘The Vegan Kitchen’ restaurant in Maadi, which has metamorphosed into ‘Earthly Delights’, a vegan home-delivery service, ran into some stiff opposition: “I have…had more objections than support. Just like in many other omnivorous societies, the Egyptian society regards meat as a necessity, and vegetarians/vegans as weak people who are ‘just going through a weird phase’. Most people who criticise a vegan diet often lack a lot of scientific knowledge, so it’s normal to expect an aggressive reaction…”
Yasmin’s experience isn’t unusual. With nothing more than the hearsay wisdom of previous generations, most people find it difficult to understand or acknowledge that there is a different and healthier alternative to the prevailing norm. Heba, an Egyptian student currently living overseas, also said, “My friends were so upset from that lifestyle. (But) …through that hard process, some friends were influenced by me and they started gradually to become vegetarians (or) vegans.”
The evidence that veganism (and its less draconian little brother, vegetarianism) is growing in Egypt can be found by visiting the Vegetarian/Vegan Society in Egypt’s Facebook page. Currently it has nearly three and a half thousand members. Alternatively, you could check out the Plant Based Diet (Egypt) page also on Facebook, with over two hundred thousand members.
Many members of these groups may not be vegetarian or vegan, but their numbers are a testament to the fact that there is a huge and growing interest in this dietary regime. Mostafa Helmy, one of the founders of the Plant Based Diet page, said, “I think vegetarianism and veganism will continue to expand in Egypt and all over the world. A plant-based diet is a much healthier diet, and the western diet is what is killing us. Food industries will fight this, like the tobacco industry did years ago, they will cheat, they will lie in court, they will fund flawed research, they will do whatever they can to hide it for longer, but in the end, they will lose, because the truth is the truth, and in this day and age with the internet and all, they can’t hide it.”
You could also check out www.kouhl.com, Egypt’s first online vegan lifestyle magazine “…with a focus on Egyptianizing the vegan and raw lifestyles.”