The following article appeared in Cairo East, June 2018
Over the last few years, veganism has been battling its way into the public consciousness. Eschewing the conventional ‘wisdom’ of past generations, the young guns of Egypt’s ‘cool’ are driving forward a new food and lifestyle agenda. And at the heart of it is a resolute assertion, based on compassion, a sense of personal wellbeing and solid scientific proofs, that it is simply not right, logical or healthy to be eating the corpses of other beings. Meat is not necessary, the vegans say. Nor is it right to be consuming eggs, cheese, milk, and honey, all of which lead to the unnecessary suffering and exploitation of other species. And do significant harm to your own health in the process.
The new vegans, reveling in their encampment on the moral high ground of nutritional superiority, are a part of an explosive global movement for a less violence-orientated dietary regime. In the UK alone, veganism has increased by over 400% in the last few years and in the US by a staggering 600%. Not catering for vegans is becoming financial suicide for a growing number of food outlets in many countries. Is veganism the future? Almost certainly it seems, yes.
Veganism as a definable concept came into being in 1944 when the term was coined by the Englishman, Donald Watson who adhered to a lifestyle free from animal exploitation. For many years, veganism was on the back foot, fighting its corner, presenting its evidence to a hostile scientific community and food industry, and a public whose main response had been dismissive ridicule. Vegans were the fringe crazies at the party. But no more.
In Egypt, the embracing of the vegan agenda has taken a while to get going. Deeply entrenched (and wrong-headed) old wives tales about how meat is necessary for a healthy diet (“where do you get your protein?”) and how bones get brittle if you don’t drink milk (osteoporosis, a bone disorder linked to insufficient calcium is most prevalent in those who drink the most milk – dairy farmers) continue to prevail. But more and more individual citizens are rejecting this as the unscientific nonsense that it is.
Vegans are known to have significantly lower rates of obesity, reduced risk of type II diabetes and lower incidents of cardiovascular disease. Whilst consuming increased quantities of fruits and vegetables helps to reduce the risk of contracting certain cancers, especially colon cancer. The development of kidney stones, gallstones, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and gum disease are also exacerbated by consuming meat and other animal products.
And there are environmental costs too. The meat industry is the biggest single contributor to global warming on the planet. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture – far outstripping the impact of the oil and car industries combined. There is also the issue of resource depletion. It takes approximately 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of beef protein, 22 calories for 1 calorie of poultry, but jut I calorie of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of soybeans. Water consumption to produce animal products for consumption is crazy. It takes 3 to 15 times as much water to produce animal protein as it does plant protein.
So as a prospective vegan, where do you start? As amazing as koshary, foul and falafel and lashings of bessara are, sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned burger – Big Mac style. And how about pizza? What are you going to do to replace all that cheese?
The reality is, you don’t have a lot of options. Vegan consumers are not on the radar of the major food manufacturers, or indeed supermarkets scouting new products to import from more vegan-conscious countries. If you’re going to go vegan you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and start experimenting in your own kitchen. Or there’s salad. Endless salad.
Alternatively, you can get in touch with Yasmine Nazmy; vegan-guru and author of ‘Happy Belly’, Egypt’s first vegan cookbook. Yasmine has been at the forefront of promoting the vegan lifestyle for some time and is the owner of Earthly Delights, a home delivery service that caters for the meat (and eggs, milk, cheese etc) averse consumer, and Kaju, the vegan food company, best known for its range of vegan ice cream. Earthly Delights and Kaju are going from strength to strength as the vegan and vegetarian communities expand across Egypt. Yasmine herself has been the subject of numerous articles and interviews over the past couple of years and is a leading light in the Facebook-based Vegetarian and Vegan Society of Egypt, which now has over eight thousand members and is growing at an astonishing rate. Check it out for tips, tricks and amazing recipes posted by the group’s users.
Also worth checking out is Kouhl.com, the online healthy lifestyle magazine that actively promotes an ‘Egyptianised’ vegan agenda and has some great articles and recipes. And don’t miss the inspiring blog posts and recipes on One Arab Vegan.
The exponential growth of veganism across the world has been astonishing, and there is no indication that it is going to do anything other than speed up even more. Some would say that it is about time that Egypt got on board with the new world food order, after all, there are strong indications that our very survival might depend on it due to the environmental costs of sticking our heads in the sand and continuing as before. In reality, it would be more accurate to say that the rest of the world is possibly finally getting on board with something that was essentially Egyptian in the first place. According to researchers at the University of Lyon, the ancient Egyptians ate a diet that is very similar to that of modern-day vegetarians and vegans. The mass consumption of animal products is, in historical terms, a more recent phenomenon and one that is slowly but surely giving way to the upsurge of veganism across the planet.