Founder of WNY Vegans talks about her diet, misconceptions about veganism

Good article by Melinda Shaw on her experiences as a vegan:

The word “vegan” carries an inordinate amount of caustic weight despite its simple theory and definition. The term sparks trigger quick, flippant responses and reactions based on – from what I have found through casual conversations – a misappropriations, distaste and individual perplexity.

Statements like, “Why would you do that?” “Isn’t is hard to not eat meat?” and “You’re missing out on so many good foods!” spring up regularly, creating inadvertent and glaring testimonies that being “vegan” really means being “different.”

And ultimately misunderstood.

After reading about “Veganuary,” my seminal curiosities led me to dig in a bit deeper in what it is to be truly “vegan.”

I understand the core concepts: no meat, no animal byproducts, and conscious and ethical living practices, but never did I realize that living as a vegetarian, how far off I am from living a vegan lifestyle, thanks in great part to the products I use that contain animal components – as opposed to the foods that I eat.

So “Veganuary,” the promotion of “veganism” last month, afforded me the opportunity to reach out to Melinda Shaw, the founder of WNY Vegans, who spoke about what it is to be vegan.

“A vegan is someone who chooses not to consume any animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs and byproducts made from animals, including honey and gelatin. People generally choose to become vegan for either humane, environmental or health reasons, or a combination of those reasons. Most ethical vegans also generally abstain from using health and beauty products and cleaning products that contain animal ingredients or were tested on animals,” Shaw said.

Also, ethical vegans will desist from wearing fabrics derived from animals, including wool, leather, fur and silk. They also will refrain from attending events and activities where animals are being used for entertainment purposes, such as rodeos, zoos, marinas and circuses.

As a vegan for 23 years, Shaw began living in this manner for “ethical reasons.” Her primary concern was “for the animals.” With more than two decades experience, Shaw attests to the “health and environmental benefits of being vegan.”

“I know that the choices I make every day have a positive impact on the world and do the least harm possible to the animals, my health and the environment. The physical benefits of a vegan lifestyle are tremendous,” Shaw said.

“Today, more people are dying from lifestyle-related disease than infectious diseases! These lifestyle-related diseases are mostly due to high consumption of processed, animal-based foods and lack of physical exercise. We know that most of these diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, are linked to the over-consumption of animal products and can be reversed through a whole-foods, plant-based diet.”

Thanks largely to innate commonsense and research, omnivorous and vegan diets are, nearly to entirely devoid of animal byproducts, thus traditionally lower in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in comparison to non-vegetarian forms of nourishment. Numerous studies also support claims that vegetarians and/or vegans appear to have a lower risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and various forms of cancer.

With all the health benefits associated with non-meat based diets, misconceptions about herbivorous diets are incredibly and shockingly pervasive in our society, especially one that has access to answers in as little time as it take for someone to think and type in a question on Google.

“The biggest misconception about being vegan is that it’s too hard and the foods are too restrictive,” Shaw said. “Many people who try or become vegan are pleasantly surprised to learn about the huge variety of foods that are vegan and actually enjoy cooking and eating more as a vegan as they experiment with new foods and flavor combinations.

“The other misconception is that vegan food is expensive, which is just the opposite. Beans and rice are very inexpensive. When you remove the costly meat, dairy and eggs from your diet, which is generally about 40 percent of an average grocery bill, that frees up a lot of room in your budget. You get more for your money on a vegan diet.”

As for vegan foods, the variety available is extensive. Per the recommendations from Shaw (and some of her favorites), there are “vegan” meat products like Gardein and Beyond Meat, which she uses when cooking for those who are non-vegan, and nutritional yeast, an accent spice of sorts; high in vitamin B12, it gives food a pleasant, nutty flavor.

“The biggest apprehension from people about being vegan is concern over what they will eat,” Shaw said. “I will often go grocery shopping with people to show them some of my favorite products. Most people are shocked to see all of their familiar food items in vegan form, such as butter, cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, ice cream, shredded cheese and meat-replacements. It’s a big relief when they realize that they can still eat very similar to what they are used to eating, just in a more humane and healthy way.”

Should you want to experiment with being vegan for a day or just a meal, there are numerous local restaurants that offer vegan dishes. They include Saigon Bangkok, Falafel Bar, and Pizza Plant, to name a fast few.

Also, as the old, clichéd, but ever true adage goes, “knowledge is power.” The more information you have on veganism, the better informed you will be about the relatively misconstrued subject matter. Check out these documentaries: Vegucated; Earthlings; Forks Over Knives; and Food Inc. Or try one of these books: “Diet for a New America,” by John Robbins; or “The China Study,” by T. Colin Campbell.

Now you can go seek out, find out and try out what works for you. Like anything in life, options are good, and this is just another one for your consideration.

2 thoughts on “Founder of WNY Vegans talks about her diet, misconceptions about veganism

  1. Yeah, but here’s the thing: multiple studies (anyone can Google this) have shown that there is essentially no difference in overall health and longevity when comparing vegans/vegetarians to people who eat balanced meals that include some meat. So, health benefits? Research doesn’t support that claim. Initial studies often didn’t factor in smoking and alcohol habits as well as the fact that some self-identified vegans/vegetarians actually consume some fish and meat. We’ve known for many years that a Balanced diet enhances health and longevity; recent research into strictly vegetarian diets hasn’t altered that age-old concept.
    As far as veganism/vegetarianism being good for the environment… again, no. There are many examples – both past and present – of people living as nomadic herders or as hunter-gatherers – in environments that are examples of how minimally such a lifestyle impacts nature. The key, critical problem we’re facing right now is overpopulation. In every instance, the move away from nomadic herding or hunting and gathering to an agriculture-based diet has resulted in exponential population growth. Soy beans don’t simply fall out of the sky. Virtually every agricultural product consumed represents some combination of forests felled, wetlands drained, rivers diverted, aquifers pumped dry, fertilizers laid down (and ending up in waterways as pollutants) and pesticides sprayed. Animals impacted by these events don’t simply go somewhere else. They die.
    Be a vegan if you want. Be that person who shows up as a guest saying “I can’t eat this” and “I can’t eat that. Everyone accommodate me,” if you’re comfortable being that person. But there’s no basis for holding this lifestyle choice up as a “solution” to anything. The unscientific, unreasoned belief among vegans/vegetarians that they are somehow “saving the world” places this lifestyle in the realm of superstition and religion, and to many of us, yes, that is off-putting and puzzling.

    • Hi. Thanks for your response. Albert Einstein figured it out nearly 100 years ago: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet” – so why we are still debating this in the light of so much scientific research and common sense baffles me!
      In response to your comment – yes of course you can eat a healthy and well-balanced diet and not be vegan. I don’t think anyone would suggest otherwise. We probably all know vegans who aren’t very healthy and all know non-vegans who are very healthy, this is irrelevant. The point is that ‘the average vegan diet is incredibly healthy and the average western diet is not’. You can’t open a newspaper or turn on the radio without another research paper advising that we cut down our red meat and dairy intake. Over 70% of people are lactose intolerant. Cholesterol is a huge contributor to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, many forms of cancer etc and of course there is zero cholesterol in a vegan diet as cholesterol is only found in animal products. Speaking from my own personal experience – I ate a healthy balanced omnivorous diet for 31 years before adopting a vegan diet 2 years ago. I feel far healthier now than I ever have before. My energy levels have improved dramatically, my skin is improved, I sleep better, my concentration levels have improved, I have a higher libido, my bowels are far more efficient!, I’m much happier overall with my choices – the list of benefits I’ve felt (and didn’t expect) is endless. I obviously can’t speak for all vegans and can only speak from my experience and those that other vegans have shared with me and they all say the same thing – they are healthier as vegans than they were before.
      Regarding your point about the environment – I don’t think I follow… surely you’re not suggesting that because nomadic herding practices don’t impact negatively on climate change that the whole meat, fish and egg industry somehow doesn’t therefore either? This argument would be nonsensical of course because they are entirely unrelated. Of course if we all lived as nomadic herdsman, as our ancestors did for a very long time, then our diet would not be the leading contributor to climate change that it is today. But we don’t. We live in a time when worldwide, 56 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food each year. Factory farms account for 67 percent of poultry meat production, 50 percent of egg production, and 42 percent of pork production. By 2050, it is estimated that nearly twice as much meat will be produced as today. The devastating environmental impact that this scale of production has on the planet is well known (please google those of you are in any doubt whatsoever about this). Just the fact that methane emissions from cattle and other ruminant animals is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, more than the whole of the transport sector put together (so many people still don’t seem to know this), should be enough to make you limit your meat and dairy intake dramatically. The other damaging effects on the environment are obvious from sewage run-off to water pollution and water wastage, complete decimation of the ocean ecosystem by overfishing, habitat loss, species extinction, and of course mass deforestation, particularly for the planting of soya – as you so rightly mentioned – but perhaps you hasn’t realised that 97% of all soya grown is used to feed farm animals! So if you’re concerned about deforestation then the best thing you can do immediately is stop eating meat and dairy.
      Finally, in response to your point that vegans feel they are somehow saving the world – would you say the same of everyone you know who turns off their lights at night or recycles or drives a hybrid car or cycles to work and buys organic veg? No I thought not. A vegan diet is unarguably better for the environment as are all of the above practices. We should commend and encourage every small change people are willing to make in an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint and not sneer or mock them just because you deem it ‘puzzling’ and ‘superstitious’ – which of course is hugely puzzling to us given our (what we think are abundantly obvious) reasons for not eating animals.
      Of course the main reason why most people are vegan is because they refuse to be part of the shameful imprisonment, abuse and slaughter of innocent animals. For this reason alone (whatever your thoughts on the dietary or environmental effects of meat production are) anyone who doesn’t have to eat meat, dairy or eggs for survival should not.

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