By Kimberly Ng
During a General Paper lesson in junior college, Nicole Goo discovered a startling fact: Fish could become extinct in 30 to 50 years.
Goo, now 22, was intrigued and did more research into the topic, where she subsequently came across a video titled 101 Reasons to Become Vegan from the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. She went on to watch other videos as well, and learnt about the cruel methods used to slaughter animals. The videos were a “wake-up call” for Goo, motivating her to remove animal products from her diet.
“I always knew my food came from animals, but I never thought about the process by which my food was obtained,” said the second-year Nanyang Business School student, who has been a vegan for the past three years.
She added: “I thought about the animals and how horribly they were treated, and I couldn’t see meat as food anymore. I saw it as a dead animal that had been butchered and slaughtered.”
The same holds true for 20-year-old Soon Chinmy. Two years ago, she stumbled upon the documentary Farm to Fridge from international animal rights organization Mercy for Animals and learnt about the impact of meat production on the environment and human health. This includes climate change due to large emission of greenhouse gases from animal agriculture and the increased risk of mortality from the consumption of red meat. Thus, she became compelled to turn vegan.
“I’m really passionate about the vegan lifestyle because it’s in line with my values and my belief that animals should not be abused,” the first-year School of Social Sciences student said. “Over the years, as I became enlightened about the negative consequences of consuming meat, my passion was reinforced.”
The vegan lifestyle
In recent years, the vegan community in Singapore has been growing steadily. In 2016, Singapore was named the second most vegan-friendly Asian city, behind Taipei, by American animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
A vegan diet is plant-based and excludes foods that are derived from animals, such as dairy products like milk and cheese.
For Goo, the hardest part about becoming a vegan was giving up her favourite non-vegan foods and guilty pleasures.
“I used to have Llaollao three times a week, so the hardest thing for me to give up was yogurt. But I was very determined to become a vegan, so that helped me to kick my yogurt-eating habits,” she said.
Despite the dietary constraints, there are vegan alternatives to most foods. For instance, nutritional yeast is used as a substitute for cheese in a vegan diet, and nut milks like almond milk are consumed in place of cow milk.
For Soon, the biggest obstacle to adopting a vegan lifestyle was the disapproval from her parents.
Her mother was worried that she would not get enough nutrition if she turned to a vegan diet.
“It was tough for me at the beginning because I argued a lot with my parents. My mum even went three months without talking to me,” said Soon.
Such criticism usually stems from the belief that vegans are unable to get sufficient nutrition due to the dietary restrictions. However, this is not true.
Ingredients like tofu and tempeh (fermented soya bean cake), which are commonly found in vegan meals, are good sources of protein and calcium. One cup of tempeh contains more protein than five eggs, and half a cup of tau kwa (pressed tofu) contains 16 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium.
Benefits of veganism
Since turning vegan, Goo’s health has greatly improved.
“My skin has cleared up a lot ever since I cut dairy out of my diet. My digestion is a lot better now, and I feel like I have this boost of energy every morning, even at 6 or 7am,” she said.
Other proven health benefits of a vegan diet include a reduced risk of cancer due to the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and legumes, all of which help to prevent cancer. A vegan lifestyle also promotes better heart health as harmful animal fats, which are saturated, are not consumed. According to Medical News Today, a medical website owned by Healthline Media UK Ltd., saturated fats, mainly found in meat products, increase health risks such as high cholesterol when consumed in large amounts over time.
While the small vegan community here is growing, it is still a relatively uncommon lifestyle among Singaporeans.
For 22-year-old Lee Yi Shin, his love for meat makes it difficult to commit to a vegan diet.
The first-year Sport Science and Management student had looked up the health and environmental benefits of veganism out of curiosity. While he has since reduced his meat consumption, due to its impact on the environment, Lee is still unable to give it up completely.
“Now I cook plant-based food for dinner in hall, but I really like the taste and texture of meat, so I still eat meat on weekends,” said Lee.
Even so, Soon hopes that more people will try out the vegan lifestyle.
She said: “I know it can be a difficult diet to stick to, but based on personal experience, I felt a lot more energetic after becoming a vegan and happier as well knowing that i was playing a part in helping to save the environment.”
Vegan food on campus
While there are no eateries within NTU that cater solely to vegans, vegan options can be found in some of the more popular food places in school:
- The Soup Spoon
Currently, The Soup Spoon only has one vegan soup — the Roasted Pumpkin Soup. However, their bread bowls, focaccia and sourdough bread rolls are vegan too. Other vegan options include their Asian Tofu Salad and Garden Green Salad, but be sure to request for the egg to be removed from the Garden Green Salad.
The Veggie Delight and the Chatpata Chickpea sandwiches are both vegan-friendly. Order these with either the Hearty Italian, White, or Multigrain bread. Alternatively, opt for a wrap instead. Vegan sauces include chilli sauce, tomato sauce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sweet onion, and mustard.
- Koufu vegetarian stall
Though not all vegetarian foods are vegan, the Koufu vegetarian stall is vegan-friendly as well. Popular choices include the spinach and tofu dishes. A regular plate of rice with three dishes sets you back about $4.