Should we go vegan?
The number of people adopting a plant-based diet is on the up . But could you do it? Taymer Mason explains why it might be time to cut out more than meat
Why am I vegan? It’s not glamorous – it’s because one day I ate too many pork pies.
I was always a picky eater. I grew up in Barbados, but could never stand West Indian soup, and I often avoided meat. When I was a teenager I taught myself to cook; later I studied microbiology and became a food scientist. In 2006 I was working on product development when my boss asked me to create a new pork pie. I made ten varieties, and had to taste them all. That night I fell very ill. I woke up the next day and declared myself vegan. I have been vegan ever since.
I’ve seen many benefits. I lost weight, my complexion has improved, I get sick less often, I have more energy. However, this only happens if you plan your diet well. It’s not just meat that makes us fat. A diet that’s high in sugar, empty carbohydrates and low-nutrition vegetables can make you tired and overweight, even if it is vegan.
Veganism is on the rise. Thanks to social media and vegan celebrities – from Jennifer Lopez to Brad Pitt – the public is starting to see the health benefits. Numbers are on the up across the western world. In the UK alone, the number of vegans has increased by 350% since 2006.
As non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension become more prevalent, many people are starting to recognise that a plant-based diet can address some of these issues. There’s also increased awareness of the impact that meat consumption has on the environment.
There are many advantages to eating a plant-based diet. But veganism – in its purest sense – is more than that. Leather shoes and products tested on animals are not suitable for a vegan, either. Veganism is a complete lifestyle movement towards compassion.
Q Is it hard to be vegan?
If you don’t like to cook, yes – when you decide to eat vegan, be prepared to get into the kitchen. The Caribbean is an excellent place to be vegan because we have great fresh produce. We have root vegetables that are high in complex carbohydrates, and many of us have kitchen gardens. More restaurants are starting to offer more substantial plant-based entrées. As demand increases, we need to respond to the change in the market.
Q What can’t I eat?
Put simply: no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products.
Q What can I eat?
Everything else! As my Caribbean Vegan cookbook shows, there are many substitutes for your favourite ingredients. For instance, I have a recipe for accras, fritters that traditionally contain salt fish – I use eggplant and seaweed instead. I have recipes for pizza with cashew cheese, Jamaican beef patties using walnut mushroom jerk ‘meat’, vegan ice creams and rum cake. Being vegan is not all boring salads. You can eat the rainbow! Vegan diets are far from limiting.
Q Is alcohol vegan?
Mostly. Some wines have animal-derived fining agents.
Q Is honey vegan?
No, because it’s an animal by-product. Vegans argue that harvesting honey harms bees.
Q Is it expensive to be vegan?
Yes and no. Some dishes require niche ingredients that you may have to buy in specific health-food shops. Also, some speciality items, such as vegan ice creams, are more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts. However, if you just want to eat simple food, shopping at your local market can be very affordable.
Q Is it healthy to be vegan?
Yes, as long as you eat a balanced, protein-rich diet. You can be vegan living on soda pop, potato chips and vegan cakes, but that in itself is not healthy.
Q Is it good for the environment to be vegan?
Yes. It helps reduce your ecological footprint because producing vegan food doesn’t use as much water, land or fuel as factory-farming animals. Being vegan can help reduce water pollution, because a lot of the waste from factory farming gets pumped into rivers and oceans. Also, livestock produce a high volume of ammonia, which contributes to acid rain, and methane gas, which contributes to global warming. That is a lot to digest – and all because of the demand for meat. Many people eat meat without thinking of the bigger picture.
Q Is it OK for my kids to be vegan?
I know a lot of children who are growing up healthily without eating meat – but parents need to be responsible. Children need carbohydrates and good nutrition to grow. A diet of extremely low-calorie plant-based dishes is not advised because it can cause poor development – as can a low-nutrition, low-calorie omnivorous diet.
Q I’m going to go vegan – how do I start?
If you’re going vegan it means a whole lifestyle change. No leather, no products tested on animals. If you simply want to adopt a vegan diet, that is different. Look online for recipes. It can be daunting to change your milk and swap honey for agave nectar, but take your time. Invest in cookbooks, and practise. Making new dishes can be challenging. To combat this, make bowls. A bowl comprises complex carbohydrates (such as root vegetables) or grains (for example, rice or quinoa) with green leafy vegetables and beans. The ingredients for these bowls can be made ahead and stored. You can make different dressings and change them daily. Bowls make your transition into veganism seamless, delicious and nutritionally sound. Remember, too, that a lot of foods are already vegan: rice, bean stews, doubles. You can also get vegan roti. It’s that easy.
Vegan heroes – 5 fabulous plant-based foods
1 Green soursop
When marinated and cooked, this fruit has the same texture as a firm white fish. Peel it, cut it into steaks, salt it, add green seasoning and ground nori seaweed, batter and fry
2 Raw cashews
Soak them to make ‘cheese’
3 Coconut milk
So versatile! Use in oil downs, rice and peas, cake recipes or on your oatmeal
This fruit has the texture of scrambled egg. Add kala namak (black salt) to give a more eggy flavour
5 Chickpea brine
The water from canned chickpeas, which contains protein, can be whipped up like egg whites to use in cakes