After the December indulgence in rich foods and comfort drinks, most of you may be planning a stretch of healthy eating to get back in shape for the next cycle of over-indulgence and penance between Valentine’s Day and Easter. In its third year now, Veganuary is coming back in full force in 2017. In a world of progressively growing healthy and environmentally conscious folk, the challenge of turning completely cold turkey vegan for thirty-one days is being welcomed by thousands. The charity pledges to change public attitudes, ‘while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and enjoyable as possible.’
In 2016, over 20,000 participants cut animal products from their diet, including meat, dairy and eggs, many with the intention of proving that they could weather the seemingly difficult task. Over 51% of those that took on Veganuary, continued the cruelty-free lifestyle beyond January. As a way of life, veganism has always adhered to a staunch desire to protect defenceless animals from the inane cruelty of factory farming and the dairy and egg industries. Usually, veganism is consciously chosen during adolescence or adulthood, not for health considerations but with animals and environment at heart, to distance oneself from a society that feasts at the expense of fellow creatures. With that in mind, most vegans ban all animal produce including insects’, like honey and cochineal colourings, as well as wool and leather from their closets. All the latest trends suggest that hemp, cork or wooden soles are the next hot kicks. There is more than one facet to veganism and to vegans’ life philosophy, from staunch activism and intransigence to laidback harmony with nature.
The organisers of the well-marketed campaign have certainly proved that a vegan diet needn’t be poor, dull, bland, or low-calorie; all misconceptions that meat eaters tend to have about the veggie heavy diet. The internet is inundated with veganised versions of everyone’s favourite meals that when executed properly are just as hearty, rich and satisfying as the original take on the recipe, but usually with miles less saturated fat and cholesterol, and a huge boost in fibre and vitamins and minerals. Take Jamie Oliver’s Vegan Shepherds pie for example, it substitutes the beef mince for a beautifully meaty medley of mushrooms, lentils and veg sautéed slowly in wine and stock. Despite the preconceived notions of many who remain unconvinced by veganism, the diet will not impair your protein, vitamin and mineral intake if carried out properly. Beginners should start with those dishes they are already familiar with, and explore ethnic cuisines that traditionally avoid animal products for economical or religious reasons. It’s surprising just how vegan friendly most Indian and Asian dishes are, using tofu, bean curd, soy, legumes and smoked vegetables to bulk out their meals, and offer protein rich alternatives to your everyday vegetables heavy meals.
Although it’s been a slow development in Gibraltar, with our culture steeped in Mediterranean ideals and traditionally meat and fish filled dishes being ever prevalent on the Rock, we asked some very proud and keen vegans about their lifestyles and how difficult it is to follow in this part of the world. Ian Shaw turned vegan over two years ago in an effort to make a statement on animal cruelty. ‘As we work towards more rights for more diverse groups of people, it is becoming obvious that the next step will be rights, protection and liberation for our furry cousins – why not be ahead of the curve?’ he says. ‘It is very energy inefficient and with starving people in the world, it makes it very difficult to justify wasting so much food potential along the meat, dairy and egg production chain.’
He believes there is a stigma against vegans, particularly males, who are derided when perceived as ‘weak’ for feeling compassion for a cute little piglet. ‘When I explain the findings of bacon being carcinogenic as a scientific fact, teasers fall silent.’ Since carrot sticks are cheaper than steak, he also weighs in the economic factor with his catchline ‘broccoli is bargain!’ a more appropriate and notably less aggressive cliché than ‘meat is murder!’
‘Veganism is not absolute, it is on a spectrum,’ he tells us. ‘I appreciate that sometimes animal testing is necessary in medicine and trying to remove all animal products in everything we use is a futile task. It’s about doing what you can, not doing it all. It will take us all to change, not one person doing everything.’
Traditionally Irish, and so obviously a huge fan of cheese and onion crisps Eyleen Sheil first discovered vegetarianism last year when she rescued her puppy and discovered the immense joys of animal companionship, and harsh hypocrisy of speciesism, the concept that as meat eaters humans unfairly discriminate against other beings. ‘Now I can actually say I love all animals and not be selective about which I choose to love or not,’ she admits truthfully.’ Coming from a typical meat-keen family, she beams when explaining that her family, friends and boyfriend have fully respected her dietary change and cater for her when needs be. ‘Some people wrongly believe vegans feel they are superior to others. We actually believe that we are all equal.’ She claims that the production of food eaten by non-vegans is one of the biggest destroyers of our planet. As a staunch environmentalist, the eco-friendly nature of a vegan diet falls perfectly in line with her desire to help protect the earth. ‘No matter how green your life is elsewhere, you are not a true environmentalist if you are not vegan.’
VegaNom-Noms blogger Chiara Saccucci describes veganism as ‘a contract to extend your life span’ noting that being vegan brings peace of mind, and also opens you to a whole new outlook on life and behaviour. ‘It makes you more compassionate and empathetic, and truly motivates into doing good everywhere.’ Chiara claims that veganism is increasing at a ‘massive rate’ in Gibraltar and she hopes for more options to start popping up in local establishments, ‘there are already pages on the web for local people to find each other, information on stores and eateries.’
On the contrary, Duane Licudi, who turned vegan after watching a video about a pig being forced into slaughter, laments that veganism is not as popular in Gibraltar as it is in other places. Feeling very much part of a minority, Duane explains, ‘veganism isn’t the norm, and people are conditioned to see animals as objects being placed on this earth to serve us – the idea of animals being sentient beings is not understood by many.’ Duane takes solace in the thought that he is ‘no longer complicit in animal exploitation.’
Former bodybuilder Tasha States struggles when dining out with her parents who don’t approve her ‘faddy diet’, and finds herself often arguing her corner against others who perpetuate the stereotype of vegans being ‘feeble hippy tree-huggers’. She wants to live her life trying to cause as little harm as possible and to speak for those who don’t have a voice. ‘I feel closer to my pets and animals in general, and my conscience is clearer because I have lessened my contribution to global warming and the destruction of rain forests,’ she says. ‘You just do what you can, with the knowledge you must educate yourself more about alternatives to daily products, and what’s used where and why. For example, I believe that hemp could be used a lot more in the western world instead of wool, leather or plastic.’ She praises her change in diet for having given her more energy and better skin, hair and nails. Locally, she believes Gibraltar has a ‘healthy community of vegans, with more places offering more choices in food.’
She made the transition on her forty-third birthday and describes it as the ‘best birthday present ever’, adding, ‘I was totally unaware of the industry standards, even though I grew up in a farming area. Things have changed massively since then and the reality of the process a little cute lamb prancing around in a field goes through to get to your plate is something everyone should face up to. A life is a life, either you love animals or you don’t. Your taste buds and chosen ignorance are no excuse to not face the reality of your choices. If you cannot raise it, kill it, gut it, skin it yourself, then you have no right to eat it.’
The hardest thing about being vegan? It’s not the food, that’s easy. The hardest part is knowing that the compassionate, intelligent people around you can’t (or don’t want to) see the connection that animal exploitation is cruel and unnecessary. Hoping they change their minds someday.
words | Nicole Macedo & Elena Scialtiel