Nov 012015


World Vegan Day is an annual event celebrated on 1 November, by vegans around the world. The Day was established in 1994 by Louise Wallis, then President & Chair of The Vegan Society, United Kingdom to commemorate its 50th anniversary and in 2014 the 70th anniversary of the term ‘vegan’, ‘veganism’, and the establishment of The Vegan Society. Vegans around the world join together to celebrate animal rights. Animal advocates hold street stalls about veganism, host vegan potluck events, plant memorial trees for World Vegan Day, although the customs are not especially widespread.

Speaking in 2011 Wallis said: “We knew the Society had been founded in November 1944, but didn’t know the exact date, so I decided to go for the 1st November. Partly because I liked the idea of this date coinciding with Samhain/Halloween and the Day of the Dead – traditional times for feasting and celebration. Both apt and auspicious.” Well, she’s actually wrong about the dates. Hallowe’en is 31 October, and the Day of the Dead is 2 November. In the ballpark, though. These are not always feast days either; many people fast on these days if they are using them to reflect on the dead. Whatever. Here’s a few notes with images of some well known vegans.


World Vegetarian Day is 1 October, and you’ll find my post here Vegans used to be called “strict” vegetarians, meaning that they abstained from all animal products, and they have been around since classical times – just without a name of their own. Some vegans and vegetarians avoid animal products for health reasons, but for most there is an ethical component – avoiding cruelty and exploitation of animals (perhaps more so with vegans than vegetarians). As with so many ethical arguments, the issues are not clearly black and white. I’ll discuss both milk and eggs.

Vegans avoid both milk and eggs because their production is part of animal exploitation. Well, yes and no. As a general rule I am in complete agreement. Battery hens and mass dairy herds are an abomination. At egg mills chicks when they are hatched are sorted into male and female. The males are dumped into bins alive and suffocate to death. Females have their beaks ground down to avoid self injury and then caged tightly for the rest of their (short) lives. When their production slackens they are slaughtered for meat. Nothing could be crueler or more humane. But I’ve lived in the country most of my life where people keep chickens that roam the yard freely all day, and return to nesting boxes at night where they are safe from predators. When they are well fed and contented they lay almost daily. When they die of old age they are stewed and eaten. I do not see that as particularly cruel or exploitive. Many humans lead much harder lives.


Milk is slightly more complex. We have to face the fact that cows, and mammals in general, do not give milk out of the goodness of their hearts. They are kept lactating by constantly being bred. No calves, no milk. Male calves are usually allowed to fatten briefly (on milk substitutes) and then slaughtered for veal. Typically they are tightly penned so that they cannot move, so that the meat is tender. Females join the dairy herd where they produce milk for a few years and are then slaughtered. All in all, therefore, you can’t make the case that you don’t eat meat, yet you do drink milk, because you don’t like animal slaughter. Vegans are much more consistent here. Many cultures outside the West do keep animals for their milk without exploiting them in this way., so there is a middle ground.

I eat meat and consume animal products, but I try to do so in a humane way where possible. In the modern world a strict ethical veganism is virtually impossible. There are animal products in so many things. Sure, you can obviously avoid leather, fur, silk etc. but avoiding animal products entirely is well nigh impossible in the modern world. Animal products in common use in non-food products include albumen, allantoin, beeswax, blood, bone char, bone china, carmine, casein, cochineal, elastin, emu oil, gelatin, isinglass, keratin, lactic acid, lanolin, lard, rennet, retinol, shellac, squalene, tallow/sodium tallowate, whey and yellow grease.


I also have to say I am a little iffy about the ethics behind using insect products, such as honey and beeswax, as are some vegans. I don’t quite see how keeping bees is particularly cruel or exploitive. About the only difference between domestic bees and wild bees is that domestic hives are readymade, and some of their products get filched, so they have to make more. But bears, honey badgers etc. do the same with wild bees. Likewise, I have friends who keep pet llamas and shear them once per year for their wool. The llamas have, as far as I can tell, a happy contented life. In other words, my ethical stance tends to be that it is not so much the use of animal products is wrong, per se, it is cruelty and abuse that is wrong. I am just as much against that as cruelty and abuse towards humans.

A vegan diet is generally considered very healthy by nutritionists with one exception. Vegans have a hard job getting enough vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a bacterial product needed for cell division, the formation and maturation of red blood cells, the synthesis of DNA, and normal nerve function. A deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia and nerve damage. Vegetarians in general are at risk, as are older people and those with certain medical conditions. A 2013 study found that “vegetarians develop B12 depletion or deficiency regardless of demographic characteristics, place of residency, age, or type of vegetarian diet.”


Increased hygiene in the food supply is probably the cause of B12 depletion from plant-based diets. Neither plants nor animals make B12; it is produced by microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi and algae. Plants not washed properly may contain B12 from bacteria in the soil, often from feces, and drinking water may be similarly contaminated, particularly in the developing world. Animals obtain it by eating contaminated plants, other animals, or their own feces, and become sources of B12 if eaten themselves. Intensively farmed animals are often given B12 supplements or injections, particularly pigs and poultry, because when raised indoors they have no access to plants and less access to their own feces. Bacteria in the human digestive tract produce B12, but most is expelled. The mouth is another source, but in small amounts and possibly not biologically active.


Japanese researchers say that around 4 g of dried purple nori, an edible seaweed commonly used in sushi, supplies the adult RDA of 2.4 mcg (µg) of B12. It’s easy to find these days in large sheets, but I imagine 4 g is a fair amount.  Tempeh, a fermented soybean food, is cited as another source, perhaps because of contamination during production. One tablespoon of Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast delivers the adult RDA of B12. There is no agreed upon standard for assessing B12 status and few studies exist of long-term vegans who have not used supplements or fortified foods. Studies of vegans not taking supplements or eating fortified food have found low B12 levels and clinical signs of deficiency; low B12 levels without signs of a deficiency; and neither. Nevertheless the consensus among researchers is that vegans and vegetarians should use supplements, or eat B12-fortified foods such as plant milk or breakfast cereal. Mangels et al. say: “It is likely that all Western vegans consuming unsupplemented diets will eventually develop vitamin B12 deficiency, although it may take decades for this to occur. No animal products are involved in the production of B12 supplements.

Here’s an image of miso soup with nori, rice, turnips, and daikon that I culled from the web.


Miso soup is easy to make. You start with dashi (Japanese soup base). There’s a recipe here Bring to a simmer and add white or red miso (available at most Asian stores) in the proportion that suits you. Then add whatever you want for interest. The one pictured has tahini, brown rice, turnips, squash, radishes and nori. I like cubed tofu and kelp – a common combination.