Vegan is a trending world. It’s hip, it’s catchy, and it has a positive connotation. But, is it really the case? Vegan label in general means that the product contains no animal products or derivations. However, the term vegan has been misused and misinterpreted so many times that even vegans try to differentiate and distance from it. Many companies are trying to ride the wave of interest and sell you on vegan alternatives and products. But the question is what does vegan truly mean for the company and what are the benefits of these products.
Let’s break it down a little. There is no legislation covering veganism or the term vegan whats so ever. Vegan label is not regulated by the USDA, FDA, TTB or any government entity so it is very easy to self-proclaim a product vegan and mislead customers. Also, there might be other aspects of the supply chain that vegans do not approve. If you want to make sure you comply with a healthy and harmless lifestyle you have to do your research. Often times, small brands are more transparent than big corporations.
If you buy a vegan cosmetic product it doesn’t automatically means healthy, non-toxic, good for you, animals and the planet. Vegan product can be still tested on animals!?! WTH??? Unfortunately yes. You have to look for “cruelty free” label as well that means no products have been tasted on animals. PETA has an exhausting list of companies that comply with vegan and cruelty-free labels and let’s put it this way. None of the big names are in there. Also, vegan and cruelty-free doesn’t mean “no toxins”. These chemicals have nothing to do with animal origin so technically they are vegan, just not good for your skin and your body. You have to read labels very carefully in order to find the best product for yourself and the planet.
Vegan food has been considered generally healthy and good for the environment. People often pictured lots of fresh veggies and fruits, grains and legumes, fresh salads and no junk food when asked about vegan diet. But this picture has dramatically changed in the last few years. Food industry has evolved so much when it comes to vegan food alternatives that one might get lost. Nowadays, you can get literally anything in a vegan form – meat substitutions like chicken, beef and pork, sausages, bacon, cold cuts, fish, seafood, yogurts, milk, cheese, ice creams, candies, pastries, desserts you name it. There are two major categories of vegan substitutions. Natural substitutions and store bought processed foods.
Natural substitutions are raw or lightly processed ingredients that you can use to replace texture, flavor or consistency in your favorite recipes. Very popular are cashews, nutritional yeast, flax seeds, vinegar, avocado, tofu, mushrooms, almond butter, cauliflower, liquid smoke, amino acids, coconut cream and so on. I would also consider small brands products made from these ingredients as their methods of preparations are fairly healthy.
The second category contains most if not all of the big vegan brands products. These products are anything but healthy. They’re heavily processed containing fatty acids and tons of sodium among other additives and flavoring. For example the beyond burger has 22 ingredients which are extracted in scientific labs. This doesn’t sound healthy or natural to me by any means. So are the vegan cheeses that look like real cheese and other products. Also they’re not as green as they proclaim either. These products might help some people to shift towards vegan diet but I would definitely not recommend to eat them on a daily basis and have them in your regular diet. In my opinion these products should be advertised as fast food not as healthy alternatives to omnivore diet.
What about vegan desserts? Are they any healthier? The same rule apply to deserts. If they are made of processed vegan substitutions they are definitely not good for your health. In some cases they might have even more calories and higher sugar content than regular desserts.
Raw vegan desserts, on the other hand, are healthy alternatives to traditional or vegan desserts. They are made of natural organic ingredients like nuts, seeds, dried fruits, often times with no added sugar using only naturally occurred sugars. Cashews create creamy textures, coconut oil holds it together, coconut cream adds richness, vanilla is good for the smell and sweet association in your brain. Walnuts, pecans and other types of nuts are great for crusts. Play around with dates, agave or maple syrup to add sweetness and you can create delicious treats. These desserts contain lots of nutrients, enzymes, fiber and vitamins. You can definitely indulge without sacrificing your health.
How about dishes labeled as vegan in restaurants? Due to non-existing regulation, restaurants may use vegan labels however they like. Veggie burger might contain eggs as a binder, might be served with a bun that contains milk and eggs and it is most likely grilled on the same grill as other meat and fish. Be very specific when ordering at a restaurant, because they don’t need to disclose all ingredients on their menus. It’s always better to advise your server about your dietary preferences ahead of time. Most of restaurants are very accommodating when it comes to vegan diet.
When it comes to vegan label in fashion it doesn’t automatically mean eco-friendly or sustainable. Vegan leather for example is made of plastic, have a very short life span and it’s very hard to decompose. Other vegan fashion pieces are made of fabrics like rayon and polyester, which production is toxic and/or harms the environment. Vegan fashion is very misleading and in many cases falsely advertised. Fashion industry plays with emotions of ethical oriented customers. But it is far from being eco-friendly or sustainable. It is a very complex and complicated problem and unless you wear all cotton or hemp (which might not be 100% eco-friendly either) you will harm animals and/or even humans either directly or indirectly. In my opinion the best option is to stick to the environmentalists recommendation of reduce, reuse and recycle specially in fashion. Get creative and repurpose your old closet.