Lentis/Vegan and Vegetarian Diets: Nutritional and Social Values
While the highest prevalence of vegetarianism remains in countries where the motivations are primarily culturally or religiously based, both veganism and vegetarianism are rising in popularity in the US. From 2014 to 2017, US consumers identifying as vegan grew from 1% to 6%. An increase in vegan options in restaurants and grocery stores has made going vegan or vegetarian more feasible than in the past. Pop-culture, with many public figures adopting vegan or vegetarian diets, the rise of veganism and vegetarianism in the media, and the abundance of published scientific research on nutrition have attributed to an increase veganism and vegetarianism in the US.
A vegetarian is a person who does not consume meat, including poultry, red meat, fish, or the flesh of any other animal. There are many types, or levels, of vegetarianism.
- Lacto-vegetarian: excludes meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, but includes dairy.
- Ovo-vegetarian: excludes meat, fish, poultry, and dairy, but includes eggs.
- Ovo-lacto vegetarian: excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but includes dairy and eggs.
- Pescatarian: excludes meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, but includes fish.
- Fruitarian: predominantly consists of raw fruit; about 75% of diet.
- Pollotarian: excludes meat from mammals and fish, but includes poultry.
- Pollo-pescetarian: excludes meat from mammals, but includes poultry and fish.
- Semi-vegetarian: primarily plant-based but includes meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs on occasion or in small quantities. Semi-vegetarians may also be called flexitarians.
- Plant-based: animal products do not form a large proportion of the diet.
A vegan is a person who does not consume or use animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs, as well as any by-product of animals or product tested on animals.
Vegetarianism vs. Veganism
The more commonly known difference between vegetarianism and veganism regards food choices. The base of vegetarianism is the exclusion of meat consumption, and there are different levels of vegetarianism with varying degrees of restriction. Veganism prohibits the consumption of any food produced by animals, including honey, lard, and gelatin. A less commonly known difference regards lifestyle choices. In addition to not consuming any food produced by animals, vegans do not consume or use any by-product, including honey, lard, gelatin, and certain fabrics, or product tested on animals, including certain cosmetics. Vegans often advocate for animal rights, the environment, and certified vegan products, companies, and organizations.
A fad diet is a diet that is popular for a time, without being a standard dietary recommendation, often promising unreasonably fast weight loss or nonsensical health improvements. Many people adopt these diets for reasons not backed by facts, as a dieting tactic, or because of social perceptions. Pop culture and social media has greatly influenced this, as many celebrities endorse various diets and products and put vegetarianism and veganism in an appealing light. However, it is not likely that those pursuing vegetarianism or veganism for these reasons will maintain it long term. It has been shown than 69% of fad diets fail and 65% of people who lose weight on a fad diet gain it all back. Other fad diets include the Paleolithic, Whole30, gluten-free, and Ketogenic diets.
Vegetarians and vegans are often stereotyped as ascetics, faddists, sentimentalists, or hostile extremists.
- Ascetic: pursues a restrictive diet to practice self-discipline and abstention in order to have more control of their life and lifestyle choices.
- Faddist: follows current trends and fads because they are what is new, popular, or “cool” at the time.
- Sentimentalist: base actions and reactions on emotions, rather than logic or reason.
- Hostile extremist: hold extreme or fanatical beliefs, particularly regarding political or religious views, and typically participate in protests or rallies. This stereotype could also be seen as a “hippie”.
Motivations for Vegetarianism and Veganism
Sensory Food Aversion: dislike for taste, texture, appearance, smell, or temperature of a food. The food aversion for vegetarianism and veganism is against meat or other food from animals.
Many choose these diets because of their passion for preventing animal cruelty, not wanting animals to be harmed or killed. These people often belong to organized groups such as PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the largest animal rights organization in the world.
Vegetarianism and veganism are deeply rooted in some cultures. Countries such as India, Israel, and Taiwan have the highest prevalence of cultures that promote a well-balanced vegetarian diet. Cultures promoting these diets believe they encourage development of the intellect, increase capacity for mental labor, promote longevity, and align with their objection to animal cruelty.
Religious values surrounding vegetarianism and veganism:
- Respect for animal life.
- Giving back to the land.
- Nonviolence (ahimsa: “do no harm”).
- Anna Kingsford’s Theory: the strongest animals were not carnivorous.
Religions that actively promote vegetarianism:
- Hinduism: follow dietary customs of self-control and purity of mind and spirit.
- Jainism: avoid harm to animals and their life cycles.
- Buddhism: support the concept of ahimsa, however some do eat fish or meat.
- Monks: consider meat to be a luxury, and giving into luxury items conflicts with their motto of simple living.
- Alpha-gal Syndrome / Mammalian Meat Allergy (MMA): allergy to the galactose-α-1,3-galactose (Alpha-gal) sugar molecule that is found in most mammals. Alpha-gal is not found in fish, reptiles, or birds, but can be found in some products made from mammals. Aquiring Alpha-gal syndrome is associated with tick bites and Lyme Disease.
- Poultry Allergy: the body triggers an immune reaction upon comsumption of poultry.
- Nocebo Effect: one's negative expectations of a treatment cause the treatment to have a more negative effect. This is the inverse of the Placebo Effect.
- Garcia Effect / Conditioned Taste Aversion: associating a consumed food with gastrointestinal discomfort or illness, whether the food consumed was the actual cause or not.
- Bandwagon Effect: as the rate of a trend increases the more people participate in it.
Foods included in the vegetarian and vegan diet typically have a lower proportion of calories from fat, fewer overall calories, and more fiber, potassium, and vitamins. The health benefits of eating such foods include reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
People believe that more conscious eating will help with weight loss goals, although 65% of people who lose weight on a fad diet gain it all back after quitting the diet.
- Vegan Action: a registered trademark for products that do not contain animal products or byproducts, by an application.
- The Vegan Society Trademark: third-party certification based on the society's international standards for vegan products.
- Vegecert: a non-profit organization that offers third-party certification for vegetarian and vegan products.
- American Vegetarian Association: certification categorized by vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based, with plant-based being synonymous with vegan.
Restaurants are beginning to add vegetarian and vegan options to their menus. Vegan options are often denoted with a small "V" next to the item, similar to the "GF" used in gluten-free labeling.
Dedicated restaurants are dedicated to serving vegan cuisine. In 1993, approximately 55 restaurants were certified vegan in the US. In 2019, there are over 485 vegan restaurants in the US. This does not include restaurants that have begun offering vegan options in addition to traditional menu options. Happy Cow was created to connect vegan consumers with the best dedicated vegan restaurants in their area.
Many social groups are affected by the vegetarian and vegan movement.
- Meat Industry: has attempted to adjust to a shift in food consumption in the US, with meat suppliers such as Tyson and Perdue beginning to offer vegetarian and vegan alternatives to compete with the popular vegan vendor, Beyond Meat.
- Consumers: are choosing to change to a vegetarian or vegan diet, affecting the food choices they make.
- Environmental Activists: are in favor of adopting a vegetarian and vegan diet because of the negative effects the meat industry has on the environment.
- FDA: is responsible for regulating new vegetarian and vegan foods and products put on the market.
The Role of the Media
The media is a significant contributor to the rise of vegetarianism and veganism in the US.
One of the first skepticisms of meat consumption was in Upton Sinclair's early 1900's novel, The Jungle. The book was intended to expose the immigrant labor abuses and unjust working conditions of the meatpacking industry, but a latent effect of the work was disgust surrounding meat production, leading many to consider eradicating meat from their diets entirely.
Vegetarianism and veganism are growing in popularity in the present day. The 2008 documentary Food Inc. revealed many of the environmental implications of the meat industry, prompting viewers to consider a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are many popular vegan and vegetarian Instagram accounts, one being Ella Woodward, who currently has 1.6 million followers and her own line of vegan products. There are many books on going vegetarian or vegan, many continuing clinical research on the benefits of a meat-free diet such as Neil Barnard's The Vegan Starter Kit.
Future research regarding the nutritional and social values of vegetarianism and veganism should investigate the demographics, including gender, race, and household income, of those pursuing vegetarian and vegan diets. Socioeconomic implications of vegetarianism and veganism are of particular interest as these diets tend to be of higher cost. Trends across different countries, and the reasons why those trends may differ, should be evaluated to determine if this phenomenon can be generalized. This chapter has examined criticisms of vegetarians and vegans, but future researchers should consider criticisms of those who do eat meat, how meat producers deter people from vegetarianism and veganism, and if GMOs play a role.
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