By Eva Carnero
Do you think that the lives of all animals have exactly the same value? If so, you will agree that keeping thousands of hens crammed into farms to collect their eggs is inappropriate, or that using monkeys, hamsters, or cats to research and make a moisturizer is not only against your basic rights but also that should be forbidden. In the background of these statements are the main ideas of the philosophy of veganism, “an ethical alternative to consumption and dependence on products not adapted to the physical and spiritual needs of human beings, such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey, products derived from animals and other articles of animal origin such as leather and skins ”, according to the Spanish Vegan Association (UVE).
For a few years and, above all, since some actresses such as Drew Barrymore or Gwyneth Paltrow have made their choice of life public, veganism has gone from being an absolute unknown to “starting to normalize and become an option accepted by the majority ”, Says David Román, president of the Spanish Vegan Association. However, there is still a lot of confusion about it and a multitude of myths that do not correspond to reality. One of the most common and widespread mistakes is to limit the vegan philosophy to not consuming products of animal origin. This characteristic is only a part of their reality, which also includes the rejection of the use and exploitation of animals. "Veganism is not a diet, it is an attitude," says Carol Pino, a spokesperson for DefensAnimal.org and a committed vegan for twelve years. “From the association we propose veganism as a lifestyle in which everything revolves around respecting all people, regardless of whether they are human or not, whether they are male or female, what color of skin they have, what is their size, their sexual orientation… ”, Pino points out.
Cruelty-free personal care
But is it really possible to put this philosophy of life into practice? How is the day to day of a vegan person? Can anyone stay absolutely true to the exacting precepts of veganism? To find out, let's see what a vegan eats, how he dresses and what buys. We do it hand in hand with David Román, who stopped eating meat 17 years ago, convinced that this would improve his health. “Later I was incorporating ethical reasons, both related to animals and the planet. I think it's a pretty natural evolution. In fact, most of the vegans I know have gone through the same stages, which gives it a lot of solidity, ”explains Román.
The alarm clock rings and David Román gets up, goes to the bathroom, turns on the shower tap, and takes the gel. "I don't use a sponge and I choose a soap without ingredients of animal origin and not tested on animals," explains Román. The production and distribution of cosmetics not tested with animals or cruelty free is one of the aspects that has advanced the most in recent years. At least, so says Ben Williamson, one of the spokesmen for the international organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). "Since animal testing was banned in 2004 by the European Union, more and more cosmetic brands have joined the list of companies committed to this cause," he says. In addition, to make it easier for committed consumers to search for these types of companies and their products, they post on their website the list of brands that are joining the initiative. “It's not about regulating the conditions in which these victims are used or killed, but about abolishing their consideration of things that humans can do whatever they want to. From DefensAnimal.org we want science to advance, but not at the cost of using people, human and non-human, who have not given their consent to be used ”, Carol Pino maintains along the same lines.
You don't have to kill an animal to make a shoe ”, Sergio Alday, founder of Ekoethicshop
A closet full of values
Roman chooses pants, a shirt and shoes, which, at first glance, may seem like the ones most of us have at home. But if we look at their labels we verify that no material of animal origin has been used for their manufacture. “I don't buy leather, wool or silk clothes. It is easy to dress in clothing made of cotton, linen, or synthetic materials. Footwear? There are alternatives to leather, ”says Román. One of those options is offered by Sergio Alday's shoe store, Ekoethicshop. He started this business in Bilbao almost three years ago under the firm conviction that “you don't have to kill an animal to make a shoe”. Since then the reception has been very positive.
The absence of materials of animal origin in its manufacture is the essence of vegan clothing and footwear, but Alday, vegan for more than 20 years, goes further. “It is also important that the production process is free of child and slave labor and that it is as respectful as possible with the environment. The textile industry is very polluting and, in many countries where there is hardly any legislation in this regard, thousands of workers die due to the chemicals used. Furthermore, the discharges considerably affect the aquatic flora and fauna ”, he explains.
Intimately linked to the textile sector, the world of fashion also plays a very important role in the development and consolidation of veganism. According to Williamson, "the endangered species of tomorrow are those that appear in fashion magazines today." However, not everything is worrying data. PETA UK spokesperson also brings hopeful news. “The production of clothes and shoes made with non-animal derived materials is clearly increasing. And, without a doubt, one of the engines of this change is the support of designers and businesswomen such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood for the Vegan Fashion Awards, organized by PETA UK ”, he assures. "If this trend continued and animals were to leave our closets for good, millions of them would stop suffering the terrible abuse to which they are subjected due to the inexhaustible cruelty of the human being," adds Ben Williamson optimistically.
The vegan fridge
Breakfast time is characterized by the absence of milk, pastries and cookies. “We substitute cow's milk for vegetable drinks and we avoid cookies or buns made with butter or other ingredients of animal origin”, explains Román. The need to consume dairy products is a source of contention. Dr. Pilar Riobó, specialist in Nutrition and Endocrinology, categorically assures that "milk is not only not harmful, but it is necessary to avoid problems due to lack of calcium such as osteoporosis". However, the nutritionist and expert in veganism and macrobiotic diet David Gasol believes the opposite: “It is possible to have a healthy and balanced diet without the consumption of any dairy in the diet, as long as we know how to correctly substitute what the milk was providing to our food, "he says.
Vegans not only exclude all products of animal origin, they also reject those made by animals, such as honey for example. This absence of products of non-vegetable origin is what prevents Dr. Riobó from considering the vegan diet as a complete and balanced diet: "I am in favor of a quasi-vegetarian diet, with a clear predominance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, but if we do not consume no meat we will inevitably suffer from certain iron and vitamin D and B12 deficiencies ”, he warns. The Achilles heel of a vegan diet is found in vitamin B12, exclusively found in products of animal origin. "This deficiency is only salvageable through pharmacological supplementation," says Riobó. But the vitamin deficiency is not what worries the nutritionist David Gasol the most. “Any diet, even conventional ones, where there is animal protein, is susceptible to deficiencies. And luckily, vitamin B12 is stored in the body, generating reserves for long periods of time ”, he argues.
On the other hand, "the deep interest that vegans normally have in nutrition is one of the best guarantees that they will have a balanced and healthy diet," says Dr. Riobó. This interest is what usually leads them to learn new menus, cooking techniques and to look for new foods with which to have a healthy and attractive diet. "At first glance, it seems that stopping eating meat and other animal products reduces the range of possibilities in your meals, but the truth is that the culinary possibilities are enriched," explains Román enthusiastically. “Most of the people are unaware of the wide variety of cereals that can be used in the kitchen apart from wheat and rice (oats, rye, barley, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, spelled ...) or those derived from soy (tofu, tempeh, miso, drinks and yogurts ...) or seitan (made with wheat gluten), which are also common foods in the vegan diet ”. Until you master or, at least, manage with ease in the vegan diet, it is best to "start cooking the same recipes as before, but substituting foods of animal origin. Later on, new and 100% vegan dishes will arrive ”, suggests Román. "It is convenient to make the transition to this type of diet with the support of a specialist and to follow specific controls to avoid vitamin or mineral deficiencies", warns nutritionist David Gasol.