Shake hands, declare independence
We must end our non-critical acceptance of vegetarianism’s influence and power over veganism. Though unintentional, vegetarianism will continue to harm and subvert veganism’s progress until vegans stand up to claim and control veganism’s definition and affirm that it is an entirely different belief system and way of life. It’s been this way so long that it may not be obvious, but it’s there for all to see.
By definition, vegetarianism allows the option of consuming animal products, which is a direct and open acceptance of the violence and endless harm it does. In the minds of its practitioners, vegetarianism is an intention to create good as an improvement in one’s health, a belief it will stop the suffering and killing caused from eating flesh, and perhaps to believe it is a temporary place for transition to veganism. Those assumptions don’t stand up to scrutiny. What vegetarianism does is transfer predation through eating flesh to predation through dairy and egg consumption. Cows and their calves, chickens and their chicks are still harmed and slaughtered at a young age in animal agriculture due to the demands of vegetarianism.
Veganism up to now has allowed itself to be associated with and defined as just one of many types of vegetarianism whosepractitioners overwhelmingly consume dairy and/or eggs, honey—and sometimes outside of vegetarianism’s expectations—also eat fish and other animal-derived substances.
Lumping types of vegetarianisms together causes havoc with food labeling and consumer understanding of what is and is not effective to reduce suffering and end the killing of source animals. Vegetarianism causes unnecessary destruction to ecosystems that in turn impoverishes wildlife and people alike. Because we care to our core about these tragedies, we have a duty to turn this around and prevent them with veganism.
The Vegetarian Society, founded in 1847, is still home to the 1800’sdevelopment of the concept of vegetarianism and sees it this way: “A vegetarian is someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, fungi, algae, yeast and/or some other non-animal-based foods (e.g. salt) with, or without, dairy products, honey and/or eggs [my emphasis]. A vegetarian does not eat foods that consist of, or have been produced with the aid of products consisting of or created from, any part of the body of a living or dead animal. This includes meat, poultry, fish, shellfish*, insects, by-products of slaughter or any food made with processing aids created from these.”
That the Vegetarian Society and many similar organizations believe stealing calves’ milk from the females’ udders, and eggs coming from an ovulating bird through her uterus do not come from “any part of the body of a living…animal” is preposterous. Their milk and eggs are biologically intimate and as necessary for cow and chicken existence as blood and muscle. The simple fact that the business of stealing calves’ milk and chickens’ eggs harms them to an early death should end this nonsense.
Being consistent, the Vegetarian Society offers their, “… Approved trade mark… [for]… products containing free-range eggs” in addition to vegetarian (and vegan) product certification. One of their certification criteria, “Free from any ingredient resulting from slaughter,” ignores that the fact that their approved ingredients and certifications cause the slaughter of spent chickens, cows and their calves, and other species. This magical thinking dominates many vegetarian organizations. Those with certification programs actually make money from exploiting animals. The European Vegetarian Union also specializes in logos that certify products as being “vegetarian” (and “vegan”) using the same misleading, illogical standard that screams approval. Why, why, why would vegans enable them in any way?
The Vegan Standard
Veganism easily and powerfully stands on its own; so how did we inherit the junior status within the list of vegetarian choices? Since vegetarianism was historically (in the European context) first on the scene in the early 1800s before Donald Watson and others coined “veganism” in 1944, perhaps we have fallen into accepting veganism as secondary just as it was in its historical timeline. That is beginning to change, thankfully.
In 2016, the Council of the Consumer Protection Ministers who represent German states proposed official definitions for vegan and vegetarian food labeling. Though not legally binding, the Council realized what vegans and vegetarians alike should remember: the German state ministers used “vegan” as the baseline definition and then described what is not vegan to define vegetarian.
The European Vegetarian Union translation of those definitions from German:
(1) Vegan are foods that are not products of animal origin… [full text is in the link]
(2) Vegetarian are foods which meet the requirements of paragraph 1 with the difference that in their production
Compare that translation to Vegan Germany’s:
(1) A food is vegan if it is not an animal product and if the following substances are not used and not added in any step of production or processing, if they are from animal origin:
– ingredients (including additives, carrier materials, flavourings, enzymes) or
– processing agents or
– items what are not additives, but that are used in the same way and with the same purpose as processing agents
(2) [vegetarian products – not relevant]
That’s right, not relevant. They have refused to define veganism by referencing vegetarianism. That’s how it is done.
The multitude of disastrous possibilities within vegetarianism’s fog of eggs, milk, and other transgressions is a problem for vegetarians to solve. Our first responsibility is to insist that vegans are not vegetarians by definition or reference. Vegans create that clarity by never again referencing veganism as a type of vegetarianism and ask vegetarians to respect that. Vegans own veganism.
For Whom the Bell Pepper Tolls
This is an essential but maybe scary change for some because it challenges friends and organizations that we love and support. Yes, relationships might be strained or even ended but not by us. People face social pressure when they are perceived “different,” and that’s always been part of the social environment during societal change. We are humbled and motivated by the power and immense importance of veganism to transform human behavior away from violence and towards justice for all life on Earth. Remember that the visionary founders of veganism—Donald Watson, Leslie Cross and othersؙ—stood up in 1944 out of necessity to differentiate veganism from vegetarianism.
Our responsibility is to make it easier for hundreds of millions of people to embrace veganism and create the global tipping point. We must not operate from a sense of weakness out of fear that the vegetarian and vegan movements will be unavoidably jeopardized if we stand up for making veganism the primary concept that actually stops exploitation and ecological destruction as vegetarianism never will.
A social movement cannot function at its best and hope to succeed if it doesn’t know how to define itself so others can understand and be motivated by the vision it advocates. Let’s remove the word “vegetarian” from our speech and writing, from the names of our organizations, and not use that term to define veganism because they are nothing alike. In the end, it is not about us, but what we must do. END
Short videos that inspire veganism:
These two videos will reinforce your convictions (both videos have some animal distress portrayed despite being tagged as “not graphic”):
Patrick Brown founded Impossible Foods with the goal of supplanting the meat industry. He believes America’s 230 million omnivores can be made to trade their hamburgers and steaks for a plant-based equivalent, scienced into being.
That vision may yet be a long way off — even Brown admits as much. But next week the concept will get an important early test: Impossible Foods is opening its first large-scale facility in Oakland.
The Oakland plant, which will begin to produce burgers this summer, is the first concrete sign that Impossible Foods and flagship offering are anything more than utopic moonshots. The plant will prove whether or not the concept can scale, which has implications for public health and the environment.
It also has consequences for the emerging clean-meat industry, of which Impossible Foods is an early (and highly visible) player. Unlike Boca or Morningstar before them, which sought to corner the vegetarian market, these companies aim to appeal to hardcore meat-eaters by creating a meaty plant-based product. Beyond Meat, a popular vegetarian brand, has dipped a toe in those mainstream waters with its beet-juice “bleeding” Beyond Burger. And earlier this week, the start-up Memphis Meats announced that it had successfully created a lab-grown chicken strip — at a whopping price per pound of $9,000.
But few of these companies have proved that they can commercialize yet, and even those that have, like the Beyond Burger, still only sell at Whole Foods. With this new facility, a spokesperson for Impossible Foods said, the company’s production capacity will increase 250-fold — allowing it to supply 1,000 restaurants by the end of this year.
“The mission of the company is to making the existing method for producing meat obsolete,” said Brown on the phone from California, several weeks before the factory’s ribbon-cutting. “That means we need to be competitive everywhere. And soon we will be.”
Proclamations like this one have earned Brown and his six-year-old company constant attention almost since its founding. A former biochemistry professor at Stanford, Brown became interested in industrial meat production after learning that it’s a major contributor to climate change: livestock account for nearly 15 percent of all greenhouse gasses, according to the United Nations.
Brown became convinced that, given enough time and resources, science could essentially solve that problem by engineering plant-based “meats” that look and taste like the original artifact. Since 2011, he has received more than $180 million in investments from the likes of Bill Gates and Google Ventures to pursue the project.
His first offering is the Impossible Burger: a patty composed largely of wheat and potato proteins that — thanks to a iron-containing molecule called heme — looks, handles and (reportedly!) tastes quite a lot like ground beef. The burger has caught the eye of several high-end chefs, including New York’s David Chang and San Francisco’s Traci Des Jardins, who have put the burger on their respective menus for roughly $15 apiece.
But even as the burger earned rave reviews from curious patrons, its central tenet has remained unproven. Namely, Brown still has to show that he can churn out burgers en masse — and that red-blooded meat-eaters will buy them.
That could prove difficult in two respects, say analysts and advocates who know the industry. First, Brown and his team will need to optimize their supply chain and manufacturing process to bring the price of the Impossible Burger on par with conventional beef.
Some of that will happen naturally, said Bruce Friedrich, the executive director of the Good Food Institute: all food startups, regardless of what they make, benefit from economies of scale as they standardize and mechanize the way they make their food. Prices will also come down once Impossible Foods has a reliable distribution network. And the company has another advantage, as well: Compared to conventional livestock slaughter, its methods are inherently more efficient.
But sourcing has still provided challenges — such as the question of heme. The iron-containing molecule is what makes the Impossible Burger taste like meat. Brown initially extracted it from the root nodules of soybeans, but that process, at scale, costs a fortune and releases a lot of greenhouse gasses. Impossible Foods eventually skirted the issue by engineering yeast that produce heme, meaning that the company no longer needs to extract the molecule from soybeans. It can be produced in vats.
It’s also not the only uncertainty that faces Impossible Foods. The company’s biggest challenge may be getting it to catch on not only with the coastal Whole Foodies who have flocked to Manhattan or Los Angeles to try it thus far, but with average and middle-income Americans. Brown is adamant that his product is not designed to appeal to vegetarians; he’s after the old-school meat-eater, who is motivated largely by price, taste and convenience.
John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State and the president of the Institute of Food Technologists, believes this type of consumer might prove difficult to convince, even if plant-based meats are priced on par with their conventional equivalents. Some focus-groups and studies have suggested that consumers aren’t entirely comfortable with the idea of meat that doesn’t technically have any animal in it.
“So much is going to play out in psychology, more even than in chemistry,” Coupland said. “Meat is an incredibly gendered thing to eat. How is that going to play out? Are you picking the light beer by having this stuff? It’s too early to tell if it’s really going to take off.”
We may find out very shortly. While Impossible Foods is not releasing any details on the new plant’s exact capacity, cost or headcount until after the March 22 launch, it’s already clear that the facility represents a significant ramp-up from what the company has produced thus far.
By the end of the year, Brown said, the burger will be in multiple restaurants, including some chains like Bareburger, which debuted the Impossible Burger at its flagship location in February. Those restaurants won’t all be coastal hotspots, Brown added — they’re pursuing deals in the heartland, as well. Brown has also reportedly been in talks with McDonald’s, though the company doesn’t have that capacity yet.
Such a coup could move the whole industry much closer to dinner tables across America. And other plant-based and clean meat companies are watching the experiences of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat closely, Friedrich said. Their success or failure in scaling could inform the whole market.
“This is brand-new for the plant-based meat industry,” he said. “It’s lifting the whole sector and inspiring other entrepreneurs and food scientists to get involved with it.”
If milk comes from a plant, can you still call it milk?
Not according to the dairy industry. Facing growing competition from dairy alternatives like almond, soy and coconut milk, the nation’s dairy farmers are fighting back, with an assist from Congress. Their goal: to stop companies from calling their plant-based products yogurt, milk or cheese. Dairy farmers say the practice misleads consumers into thinking that nondairy milk is nutritionally similar to cow’s milk.
A bipartisan group of 32 members of Congress is asking the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on companies that call plant-based beverages “milk.” They say F.D.A. regulations define milk as a “lacteal secretion” obtained by milking “one or more healthy cows.” Proposed legislation from Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, a state known for its cheese, suggests a slightly broader definition. Their bill would require the F.D.A. to target milk, yogurt and cheese products that do not contain milk from “hooved mammals.”
“The bottom line for us is that milk is defined by the F.D.A., and we’re saying to the F.D.A.: Enforce your definition,” Mr. Welch said.
But critics say consumers know exactly what they are buying when they choose almond or soy milk instead of dairy milk. “There’s no cow on any of these containers of almond milk or soy milk,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, a trade group representing 70 companies. “No one is trying to fool consumers. All they’re trying to do is create a better alternative for people who are looking for that option.”
And what about other nondairy products with dairy names? Will milk of magnesia, cocoa butter, cream of wheat and peanut butter have to change their names as well?
In recent years, dairy milk alternatives made from almonds, soy, cashews and coconuts have exploded in popularity. Many people consider them more nutritious than cow’s milk. Some people buy them because they have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance. Others choose them for environmental reasons or because they want a vegan diet. And some just like the taste.
Cow’s milk was once one of America’s most iconic beverages. But Americans are drinking less of it. Americans drink 37 percent less milk today than they did in 1970, according to the Department of Agriculture. Dairy milk sales tumbled to $12 billion last year, down 20 percent from $15 billion in 2011. Part of the reason is that people switched to other beverages, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, bottled water and soy and almond milk. Mintel, a market research firm, found that negative health perceptions were driving the decline in sales of cow’s milk.
Plant-based milks, with brand names like Almond Breeze and Silk, are sold in the dairy aisle and still represent a fraction of the beverage market, but they are growing in popularity. According to Nielsen, sales of plant-based milks have surged to $1.4 billion from $900 million in 2012.
Much of the growth in plant-based milk has come from the rising popularity of almond milk. Last year, Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee chain, announced that it would begin offering almond milk to lighten its espresso drinks, to meet customer demand. The chain said it was one of the most-requested customer suggestions of all time.
Experts say sales of almond milk are surging for a number of reasons. The dairy industry has come under fire over concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impact of livestock, which contributes to air and water pollution. Almond production has an environmental impact as well: Most of the world’s almonds come from drought-stricken California, where farmers have been accused of diverting dwindling groundwater reserves to their almond orchards, and producing just 16 almonds requires an estimated 15.3 gallons of water. But ultimately the environmental impact of producing cow’s milk in areas where almonds are grown would be far worse, said David Zetland, an assistant professor of economics at Leiden University College in the Netherlands and the author of “Living With Water Scarcity.”
Many consumers also consider almond milk a healthier alternative to cow’s milk. The dairy industry says that’s not true. They point out that milk has nine essential nutrients that are necessary for good health, like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and potassium. The industry has also created ads claiming that milk has up to eight times as much protein as almond milk and fewer ingredients and additives. Some brands of soy and almond milk do contain large amounts of added sugar. But they also come in unsweetened varieties with zero sugar, and some are fortified with calcium, B12 and other nutrients.
There is also debate over the nutritional merits of cow’s milk. In 2013, for example, two of the country’s top nutrition experts, Walter Willett and David Ludwig, both at Harvard, published an editorial in JAMA Pediatrics arguing that healthy adults who get plenty of vegetables, nuts and protein in their diets may not get any extra benefit from cow’s milk. They also raised concerns about exposure to hormones in milk and high levels of added sugar in the chocolate milk served in many schools.
As the dairy industry continues to press its case, producers of nondairy milks are fighting back. The Plant Based Foods Association sent letters to the F.D.A. stating that plant-based milks were properly labeled with their “common or usual” names. A petition from the Good Food Institute opposing the dairy labeling legislation has garnered more than 41,000 signatures.
“Don’t they have better things to do than to care about what a product is called?” asked Miyoko Schinner, the chief executive of Miyoko’s Kitchen, which sells popular nut-based cheeses and butters at almost 2,000 stores nationwide. “The only reason they would care is because they’re protecting their special interests.”
Marsha Cohen, an expert on food and drug law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said that the dairy industry faces an uphill battle. She said the government’s definitions for milk and other foods — known as “standards of identity” — are intended primarily to protect consumers from financial harm, such as being duped into buying cheap or imitation foods masquerading as more expensive ones. She noted that the F.D.A. recently allowed the company Hampton Creek to call its vegan mayonnaise substitute “Just Mayo,” even though the F.D.A.’s legal definition of mayonnaise states that the condiment must contain eggs.
The debate over what can and can’t be called milk already has played out in courts, with judges so far siding with the plant-based milk industry. In 2013, Judge Samuel Conti of Federal District Court in San Francisco, dismissed a proposed class-action lawsuit that claimed that almond, coconut and soy milk were mislabeled because they do not come from cows. Judge Conti said the claim “stretches the bounds of credulity,” and that it was “simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soy milk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow.” He said the lawsuit was reminiscent of an earlier case in which a woman claimed she was misled by Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries cereal because she thought it contained real fruit (that case was thrown out).
November welcomes World Vegan Month, and with it comes a new perspective on a lifestyle that holds individuals accountable for what they eat.
Vegans have to dodge relentless stereotypes — but these people are not the grass-eating hippies many make them out to be. Veganism promotes a healthier and sustainable lifestyle that seeks to eliminate a dependency on animals, and instead supplement meat with plant-based protein. This protein comes in many forms, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts.
While this may seem extreme to some, vegan products have expanded greatly to fit the need of the market. Milk, meat and cheese substitutes are found on grocery store shelves everywhere, and vegetarians and vegan consumers are able to find food sections dedicated to fit their needs.
Five percent of Americans identify as vegetarians and about half of these individuals follow a vegan-based diet, according to most recent data published by The Vegetarian Resource Group.
Though many vegans adopt their eating habits to enjoy a diet that is free from guilt in regards to animals, it is not the only reason to quit frequenting Chick-Fil-A and the like.
The desire to go vegan can stem from a number of reasons — including wanting to become healthier and more energized, lessening one’s carbon footprint and also eliminating one’s part in the tons of crops and water it takes to raise farm animals, according to PETA.
Vegan or not-vegan, the decision to cut out animals from a diet raises important questions about the apparent disconnect between humans and the food on their dinner plate. Before we pull into the drive through of the nearest fast food joint, we don’t stop to think about how the meat we are about to consume was produced, and whether there was malpractice involved.
Overwhelmingly, 79 percent of American consumers believe producing healthy choices is important for farmers and ranchers to consider when planning their production practices, yet 72 percent of consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching, according to research conducted by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.
With a nation uninformed, fast-food industries and major corporate chains are able to get away with mass producing meat products while cutting corners. Seventy percent of all antibiotics important to human medicine in the United States are sold for use in animal agriculture, according to a report by Friends of the Earth, an environmental and consumer advocacy organization.
These drugs are used unnaturally to stimulate growth in animals, fed routinely and misused to stimulate an industry that overlooks the process of how a chicken sandwich became a chicken sandwich. The money we spend on a lunch break doesn’t just feed us, it feeds an industry of neglect.
The same fast food restaurants frequented by the masses are receiving failing grades on their use of antibiotic policies, according to the same report by Friends of the Earth. Olive Garden, Starbucks, Chilis and Burger King are just a few on a long list of companies that are less than transparent about how they feed their customers — receiving an F on the 2016 scorecard by FOE.
While these facts are alarming, and prove the overwhelming detachment between consumers and their meals, it does not mean that one has to jump on the vegan bandwagon to take a stand. Companies like FOE enact several petitions towards companies that engage in this malpractice in order to spread the word, and encourage many to be apart of the movement.
NPR also lists a number of apps available to consumers that provide information on food and products that are produced through sustainable practices.
While veganism is not for everyone, it sheds a light on how we see our food, and quite frankly — what we don’t see.
Next time someone hands you a flyer in tate that advocates for Meatless Mondays, think twice before throwing it away. Do research on the companies you frequent and become informed about better choices, because until we do, it is those without a voice that bear the burden.
Iwas in the local fish shop buying my dinner when another customer in front held up two live lobsters that he had just bought. He needed some advice about what to do with them. “I’m going to boil one today,” said he, “but how long can I keep the other before I boil it? Will it last two days?”
There were the poor lobsters, held aloft, waving their arms about in a frenzy. Did they know what awaited them? Horrible. I suddenly remembered those Buddhist monks who saved hundreds of lobsters in July – bought them, carefully untied their claws and set them free again. They probably knew that lobsters “have a long childhood and awkward adolescence” and feel pain. So that cheered me up a bit – not all humans are greedy, heartless bastards. But it means no more lobsters for me, and perhaps I should cut out fish, too, and be a proper vegetarian. Or even a vegan, because once you start on this road, there’s no way back.
And it’s difficult, because I was brought up eating meat. Lovely tasty stews, roast dinners, bacon for breakfast, and shellfish. My mother cooked it all, in defiance of Jewish dietary laws and her own ferociously kosher mother. But those were more innocent and ignorant times, when we didn’t know about how dairy cows suffer, or eat such gigantic chunks of everything; when there was no Twitter, Facebook and endless campaigns against eating, boiling and torturing dogs, pigs and more or less anything that moved, and we just thought animals wandered freely around fields or spacious pens and didn’t miss their children, or mind being slaughtered, or feel anything much. And we didn’t yet know that the planet was almost totally buggered.
“This is a middle-class activity,” says Fielding harshly. “And remember, you live in Islington. People will mock.” Who cares? I’m not claiming to be saintly. I have lapses; I eat Olivia’s heavenly roast chicken, pretending to myself that I’m just being polite. Daughter’s making more effort than me, often turning to tofu. Perhaps the next generation will do better than us, and save the world. If they still have time.