Are vegans and vegetarians the same? UAE residents bust myths about their food choices

Veganism is a philosophy that has become popular over the years, especially as sustainability becomes a hot topic of discussion


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Sun 14 Jan 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 15 Jan 2024, 6:49 PM

Veganism is a philosophy that has become popular over the years, especially as sustainability becomes a hot topic of discussion. Vegans abstain from consuming and using animal products and try to limit animal cruelty.

“It is a moral baseline to avoid the use of animals as far as is possible in life and to avoid killing them,” said Chandan Sojitra, the founder of community group Vegans in Dubai. He elaborated that it is quite different to vegetarianism.

“Vegetarians also go to places like zoos, safaris and aquariums; wear leather or wool and some even eat eggs,” he said. “They don’t know that baby chicks are ground up alive or disposed of if they are born male since they can't produce eggs. Veganism takes into consideration all aspects of life, from clothing to entertainment. It goes beyond just food. We do what we can to make sure we don't intentionally kill living, sentient beings, at least whatever we can control anyway.”

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According to Carly Dubery, turning vegan is fast becoming the only option for people. “If people love living on the planet, they all have to do this,” she said. “Veganism is not just about the animals but also about raising awareness that it is more sustainable for the planet. It is about people being conscious of the damage that is being caused by the meat and dairy industry.”

A vegan entrepreneur, the British expat runs networking events for businesses that specialize in ensuring cruelty-free products. Her next exhibition titled The Kinder Life Sustainable, will be held towards the end of the month and brings together several vegan brands together.

“It is sometimes hard for vegans to find everything they need in one place,” she said. “So, I try to bring together as many cruelty-free products as possible to make it easy for vegans. It is one of the things you can do to make sure people live more sustainability.”

Since 2014, a UK-based nonprofit organisation has been running a campaign called Veganuary, which encourages people to follow a vegan lifestyle for the month of January.

Turning vegan

For Carla, her favourite meal was a good steak. However, when she got a pet dog, everything changed. “The connection I had with my dog prompted me to reevaluate my eating choices,” she said. “One day, on my birthday nine years ago, I decided that I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. Gradually, that changed into veganism.”

Veganism has become a popular choice for various celebrities around the world. While racer Lewis Hamilton and tennis player Serena Williams turned vegan for health-related issues, for Hollywood superstar Joaquin Phoenix, it was a personal choice. The actor used his Oscar acceptance speech to condemn the dairy industry.

Chandan said he turned vegan when he found out the truth about the meat, egg and dairy industry. “There's a reason why slaughterhouses don't have glass walls - else, majority of society would turn vegan,” he said. “It's not just the slaughter part, but the animals' sad journey before they reach the end. There's no such thing as a ‘happy farm’ in my opinion.”


Lebanese national Seb Alex was 16 when he turned vegetarian. “I didn't like the idea that I'm killing other animals when I have the option not to,” he said. “When I was 24, I found out that it's not only a matter of killing, but also exploiting them and treating them as resources and objects. So, I cut out the products that cause sometimes even more harm than meat — such as dairy, eggs and others.”

He established the Middle East Vegan Society to inspire others. However, he said that it is often challenging for vegans. “We live in a world where being a 100 per cent vegan is not possible,” he said. “For example, when you go to the hospital, you will be given medicines that are tested on animals. So as a vegan, you have to accept that the idea is to reduce animal suffering as much as possible.”

According to Carla, the hardest thing was to find vegan alternatives to regular products. “Whether it is makeup, cosmetics or home chemicals, it is sometimes hard to find alternatives,” she said. “People having the right information at the right time is challenging. That is why it is important to build a support system.”

Sara K., who grew up in a very meat-eating household turned vegetarian in 2017 in phases. “Red meat was first to go, poultry next, then seafood, and finally eggs,” she said. “But giving up dairy completely is proving to be a challenge. Though I use plant-based alternatives as much as possible, what I did not realize was how much dairy food manufacturers sneak into everyday foods from potato chips to bread to candy. Also, jams, jellies, pastas, pre-packaged soups, and salad dressings have animal-based ingredients in them. Even finding a vitamin D capsule without gelatin, to supplement my diet required a bit of research.”

According to her, another challenge in turning vegan has been the social aspect. “You might have to get used to being the butt of jokes, patiently fend off questions from friends, and even be accused of trying to be holier-than-thou,” she said. “My advice is to meet their curiosity with patience and good cheer, and just remember, it's okay to be different.”


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