Vegans: More Than A Diet

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It is a dietary, political and social phenomenon that was thousands of years in the making.While Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos discussed his theory on right triangles—circa 500 B.C.—he also was preaching kindheartedness toward all living creatures. Around that same time, Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, was discussing vegetarian diets with his scholars.

Skip ahead to 1806—just about 210 years ago—when Dr. William Lambe, fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, spoke out against consuming eggs and dairy, laying the foundation for what would become the vegan movement.

Veganism, an extreme form of vegetarianism that rejects all animal products—not merely meat and fish, but dairy as well; practitioners likewise refrain from wearing wool, silk and leather—was officially coined in 1944 and popularized in recent years by a host of public figures: from entertainers Ariana Grande, Pamela Anderson, Peter Dinklage and the late Robin Williams to boxer Mike Tyson and former President Bill Clinton—although there are rumors that the politico has been cheating on his diet.

Hamptons residents, particularly those interested in clean living, are catching up with the craze. Though not one eatery on the East End is strictly vegan—yet—many restaurants and markets have vegan options, including Babette’s in East Hampton, Naturally Good Foods and Cafe in Montauk, World Pie and Fresh Hamptons in Bridgehampton, and Provisions in Sag Harbor.

“People are definitely seeing the benefit of being vegan,” according to Genevieve Spellman, manager at Provisions. “If something isn’t specifically vegan, we can adapt it to be vegan.”

The term “vegan,” simply the first three and last two letters of “vegetarian” combined, was coined by British woodworker Donald Watson. Tuberculosis was running rampant in England—it had been found in 40 percent of the country’s cows the year before—and he took advantage of the statistic, claiming it proved the vegan lifestyle protected people from dairy, or “tainted food.”

Three months later, he released a formal explanation of the word’s pronunciation— “veegan,” he wrote, not “veejan”—to the 25 subscribers of his new Vegan Society newsletter. In 2005, when Mr. Watson died at age 95, there were 250,000 vegans in Britain, and two million in the United States.

“[The Vegan Society] was an offshoot of the Vegetarian Society,” according to Anne Dinshah, whose father, H. Jay Dinshah, founded the American Vegan Society, “composed of people who wanted to reflect further on their commitment to animals.”

The American Vegan Society was founded in 1960 in Malaga, New Jersey, its headquarters to this day. “My father toured a slaughterhouse in Philadelphia in 1957,” Ms. Dinshah said. “He vowed to work every day until all of them were closed.”

She added, “Certainly more people are coming to veganism out of compassion and concern for animals. I think these days even more are getting into it for health reasons and the environment. It’s exciting to see all three reasons working toward the same goal.”

Every vegan has reasons for giving up meat and animal products, be it health-related, an awareness of animal cruelty, or simply a misplaced desire to hop on the latest trend. Noyac-based artist Dorothy Frankel first converted to vegetarianism more than 40 years ago, she recalled during a recent telephone interview, after visiting an agricultural farm in Beltsville, Maryland, operating under the auspices of the University of Maryland Agricultural Department.

“What I saw made me give up meat. And I was such a meat-eater then,” she said. “Though for many years I wasn’t happy I wasn’t a vegan, which I became four years ago.

“For me, it’s about the life of an animal,” she continued. “People have a disconnect with what they eat and where it comes from—and how it has come to them. They go to puppy mills and say, ‘That’s horrible,’ but they don’t think about farms that make meat for them. The more you know of what goes on, the more you really can’t turn away from the truth of the matter.”

Stephanie Bucalo of Shelter Island, who co-founded Sweetest Dog Rescue in 2013 after decades of experience, has been vegan for 10 years, a way of life she embraced for both ethical and health reasons.

“It was something I wanted to do for a long time before that,” she said during a recent telephone interview. “My grandfather graduated from medical school in 1924. At one time, he worked in a slaughterhouse and would never eat meat after that. When you find out about the animal food industry, what happens to baby chicks and calves, it’s horrible.”

While Ms. Bucalo’s motivation to give up meat was, at first, compassionate, she said she now believes her new diet ameliorated her heath issues.

“I’ve been followed for lymphoma for some time,” she said. “There are so many studies, going back for years, that a plant-based diet lessens the risks of so many cancers.”

For Larry—a longtime employee at a local fitness equipment store who declined to give his last name—it was almost too late. He suffered from Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. His mother had died as a result of morbid obesity, and he was on the brink of bariatric surgery.

The second week of this past July, he started the six-week Wellness Challenge hosted by the Wellness Foundation—a total vegan diet. As of November 16, Larry had lost 57 pounds, and he has kissed four of his seven medications goodbye. By the end of the year, he plans to be off all of them.

“I’m never hungry,” he said during a recent interview. “In fact, I eat all the time. So what I eat fills me and doesn’t make me fat. My pants were size 42—now, I’m in between 34 and 36.”

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