Throughout the past weeks, we have casually mentioned the vegan diet and lifestyle. If this isn’t already a familiar concept, you might have asked yourself, what does it mean to eat vegan? Moreover, what does it have to do with the environment?? If that is the case, you are in the right place because we will tell you all about it! Vegan refers to both a diet free of animal-based foods, such as meat, dairy products and eggs, as well as not consuming products that are animal-derived, such as medicine, clothing or cosmetics. Overall, the concept is to promote the prevention of animal suffering and environmental degradation. Therefore, the word vegan is a flexible term which describes a person, a dish, a hygiene product, clothes or any other product we consume daily. There are three main advantages to this lifestyle, starting with the reduction of health risks, prevention of animal mistreatment and decreasing one’s environmental footprint.
THREE REASONS TO go vegan
A balanced plant-based diet will help you to lose excess weight and maintain a healthy body, as it is also rich in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E. However, it is fundamental that you plan your food intake adequately to compensate what you might have been ingesting before through meat and other animal products. Many studies have revealed other health benefits, such as lower blood sugar, improved kidney function, lower risks of heart disease and cancer, and reduction of arthritis pain. Taking this all into account, increasing the number of whole plant foods in your diet and reducing meat will have positive effects on your overall health as long as it is balanced.
"A balanced plant-based diet is rich in potassium, magnesium, folate and vitamins A, C and E."
One of the central motivations that drive many people to adopt this lifestyle is to boycott some of the main branches of the meat industry, which use methods of production and packing, considered to be unnatural and unethical. One example is intensive animal farming, which uses antibiotics, growth hormones and other drugs to feed and fatten terrestrial and marine animals. All these chemical substances also enter our food chain. When it comes to the so-called “packing process”, which involves slaughtering, processing, packaging and distribution, there is an evident despicable practise of animal cruelty. Most meat and fish that humans consume is produced unethically, which impacts the wellbeing of both animals and humans.
"Most meat and fish that humans consume is produced unethically, which impacts the wellbeing of both animals and humans."
A significant issue is how factory farming is having a massive impact on air, water and soil pollution, and consequently on climate change. The world livestock emits more greenhouse gases, dust and other air contaminants than all the means of transportation together. The methane, which a cow can produce up to 100 kg a year, multiplied by around 1.4 billion farmed cattle in the world, is more potent than CO2 as it absorbs more heat. Waterways are polluted by animal waste, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals, which end up in rivers and oceans. Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of water consumption, which is estimated to be around 15,000 litres of water for 1 kg of meat, in comparison to 2,000 litres of water for 1 kg of wheat. Thirty percent of the world’s land surface is used to farm animals, which leads to overgrazing and soil erosion, deforestation and desertification. Consequently, twenty percent of the world’s grazing land has already been labelled as degraded. With deforestation, comes the habitat destruction of many species which now are endangered or have become extinct. In the same way, the ocean ecosystem and hundreds of species are threatened due to overfishing and bycatch. Nearly 40% of the total annual catch is discarded, harming the biodiversity and creating ocean dead zones depleted of oxygen to the point marine life is no longer possible.
"To produce 1kg of meat 15,000 litres of water are needed, in comparison to 2,000 litres of water for 1 kg of wheat."
Overall, simply eating more vegetables and less meat and animal products would lead to a drastic reduction of greenhouse emissions, deforestation, water, air and soil pollution and general food and water waste. Additionally, it would help protect ecosystems and biodiversity, which are crucial for our environmental health. We know how challenging this transition might feel at first, but there are ways to satisfy your taste buds without hurting the planet. A great example is Vegan Junkies, a junk food restaurant in Lisbon, developed by a genius group of people. We’ve had the pleasure to do a short interview with Vinicius Alkmim, one of the co-founders of Vegan Junkies.
What inspired you to start Vegan Junkies?
The three of us, founders of Vegan Junkies, met when working and managing a hostel together. We used to mostly cook traditional Portuguese meals for our guests. However in 2017, Mariana applied through a project called My Kitchen Through Yours, with a cuisine based mostly on vegetables. We hired her, and she brought a strong proposal on vegan and vegetarian food, even though she wasn’t entirely vegan herself yet. Meanwhile, I saw the concept of a vegan junk food bar in Deptford, London called The Full Nelson. When I returned to Lisbon, I just thought it was time to change and wanted to open something vegan outside of the tourism circle. So last year we left the hostel and opened Vegan Junkies. When we started, we were all trying to go vegan, which was challenging because it was hard to find food that we could get on the go, quick to make and still tasty. Starting Vegan Junkies was a way to make that transition. We felt that vegan food needs to be fun and crazy. There was no one doing what we do in Lisbon, vegan burgers like fast food. We were going against the stereotype of vegan food being just about salads and eating healthy because it can taste delicious as well. Things moved forward and grew very well. The vegan community is also very supportive and active in Lisbon.
What’s your personal experience with vegan food?
I am Brazilian, and my two other business partners are Portuguese, we all come from traditional families who eat a lot of meat. Eating more vegetables and cutting meat out of our diets wasn’t something natural. I’ve always wanted to go vegan and reduce my meat consumption somehow but lacked those recipes to satisfy my cravings. From the moment that I was confronted with a world of possibilities and started learning different recipes, things became more effortless because I was cooking and consuming delicious vegan meals at home as well. There is always a misconception about being vegan of needing to completely change your diet from that moment on. The truth is, you just need to get one of the items off your plate and supply it with another one, as there are many other substances of protein. The basis is I don’t need any meat or dairy, but I will keep eating the rest of what is on my plate. As a Brazilian, eating rice and beans is something very familiar, which I’ve always loved. It’s just a regular meal, but you could already consider this a vegan dinner. The challenge is when you want to eat something delicious, crazy and full of experience because it requires adding textures, flavours and fat. Most of those dishes use cheese or other meat products. Once I found a trick around that, life became very easy.
From what you have observed, how do you feel your customers relate to vegan food?
When we opened Vegan Junkies, we were almost like the vegan flag for the first three months. Mostly vegans came, and then they would bring their families to show them how vegan food is delicious and goes against many misconceptions. In the beginning, there was always at least one vegan at each table which was trying to convince the rest that the food is good and worth trying. However, that has slightly changed in the last few months. We start seeing more people that are flexitarian, vegetarian or simply just want to eat at Vegan Junkies because it’s good, and it doesn't matter anymore if it's vegan or not. People are starting to naturally accept it more as a concept, because as I said before, it is just a plate without the meat, but still food that you eat every day. This has been the general shift we observe in the last six months. Portugal is a very traditional country, but then in downtown Lisbon, you see a growth in the popularity of eating vegan food, in the media and through influential people which support this lifestyle. Even though it wasn’t necessarily our initial target, we see a different demographic, which we appreciate.
Hopefully, Vegan Junkies inspires you as much as us with their creative, mouth-watering approach to an animal-free diet. We are also excited to present to you our collab shirt and hoodie which you can browse here.