Veganism: A healthy and cheap way of living?

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Veganism is becoming an increasingly popular lifestyle, but is often accompanied by negative stereotypes: having to spend ludicrous amounts in Holland and Barrett, becoming too undernourished to live a normal life and having to give up cake. Of course none of this is desirable for students who want to be able to enjoy university life while minimising the cost. Fortunately, it is easy to live a healthy vegan lifestyle on a small budget with plenty of cake.

A vegan lifestyle is defined by the Vegan Society as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” A vegan often aims to minimise the cruelty to animals that is an inevitable side-effect of consuming both their meat and the other foodstuffs they produce. In addition to cutting short the lives of countless animals, the production of non-meat animal foods such as milk and eggs also causes suffering. For example, in order to yield milk, cows are repeatedly artificially inseminated, causing exhaustion and leading to infections. Male calves are generally slaughtered shortly after birth as they are considered useless for the dairy industry. In the UK 3000 male calves are slaughtered in a week.  The production of eggs also leads to the killing of thousands of male chicks who cannot be raised to be eaten as they are not bred to produce sufficient quantities of muscle.

Eliminating animal-derived foods is also highly beneficial to the environment. A vegan requires far less water and crops to sustain than a meat-eater’s. The livestock industry is accountable for around 8% of global water use and contributes to water pollution. Vegans are often criticised for introducing more soy into their due to its production leading to deforestation. However, just over 5% of soy beans are directly consumed by humans – most soy is used to make animal feed. The amount of energy required to feed an animal before it is eaten is far greater than the energy gained by eating it, often around 1 pound of flesh is produced from 13 grams of feed. This inefficiency, then, demonstrates how much deforestation from soy would be reduced if we ate it ourselves rather than feeding it to livestock.

Living on a student budget isn’t easy and it can be tricky to stay healthy when you’re trying to save money. Despite the pale-faced, underfed vegan stereotype, it is easy to stay healthy on an animal-free while keeping the cost low. As a vegan myself, I am constantly being asked how on earth I can get enough protein on a plant-based diet – the simple answer is easily! Soy milk has an equal amount of protein per 100ml as semi-skimmed cow’s milk while the price of soy milk tends to be less per litre. You can buy soy yogurt, ice-cream, milkshakes and custard too! If soy’s not your thing, then there are numerous other alternatives such as rice milk, almond milk and oat milk which are also great sources of protein. Other soy derived products such as tofu are also great meat substitutes and give your meals a protein boost. Many vegans also have high amounts of beans, seeds, lentils and nuts in their diets. All of these are brilliant, protein-rich foods while being significantly lower in saturated fat and lower in cost than animal derived sources. Getting enough iron is also a concern for those considering a vegan lifestyle. Fortunately, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, fortified cereal, alternative milks, beans and nuts are all excellent sources of iron.

It is definitely economically viable to stay healthy on a vegan diet. It is possible to spend a little extra if you want to buy fake cheese and meat (and they are delicious), but even these do not rival meat products in their cost and are still far lower in fat. You don’t even have to give up treats! Recipes for vegan cakes, biscuits and many other tasty snacks can be easily found on the internet (try http://garden-of-vegan.tumblr.com/) and there are many vegan recipe books available. If you don’t have time to bake for yourself, the Jumping Bean Café in Durham has a great variety of completely vegan foods to enjoy.

Not only is veganism equally healthy to eating, many who make the switch to a plant-based diet (including myself) report increased energy levels, needing less sleep and better hair and skin. In fact, veganism is so un-like the malnourished stereotype it perpetuates that many athletes, such as tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, are adopting a plant based diet. It is a completely enjoyable, ethical and environmentally friendly lifestyle and it’s a decision that I’ve never regretted!

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