By Zubair Ahmed Hayat
The Review of Religions sent a three man Social Media team to attend the ‘Plant Powered Expo 2020’ at the iconic Olympia, London on 1st and 2nd February 2020. Almost every aspect of being a Vegan [i.e. following a plant-based way of life and abstaining from animal products] or wanting to be Vegan was exhibited via over 200 stalls and 100 expert speakers from around the world.
For centuries religions [or Dharmic traditions] that originated in ancient India (Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism) have been following vegetarianism and have evolved a philosophy that extends into other areas of life, such as not harming animals, etc. Vegans have since 1944 moved along similar lines and in the 21st Century Vegan philosophy, through Social Media, has become a viral trend to scientifically guide the individual who wants to sculpt his or her own body, as well as promote health and increase life span.
It is now normal in the Western World to have Vegan restaurants, recipes, sports teams and clothing brands. The plant-based lifestyle has been embedded in our minds. Innovative and eye-opening movies like “The Game Changers” and “What the Health” use the power of science, celebrity and the latest movie-making styles to present their message to the masses.
What once was a niche subculture is now mainstream and still trending. In the near future are meat eaters going to feel ‘guilty’ about eating their chicken sandwich in public? What is behind this lifestyle’s popularity? Is there a trend to create a cult-like following based primarily around food choices? What impact does Veganism have on humanity’s environmental consciousness?
Being a meat eater myself I decided to look into plant-based diets for my own sports performance optimisation. At the Expo I came across a host of carefully marketed Vegan products, which claim to cure disease, reduce anxiety and boost immunity. However, it seemed like vegan activists followed the diet and lifestyle choice for many different reasons, some for athletic performance, some for reducing their carbon footprint and others for the protection of animal rights.
Finding a middle ground between my own exploration into veganism and also my beliefs as a Muslim I began to speak with stall holders on their personal journey to becoming Vegan and quickly realised many had only turned Vegan a few years ago.
This gave me the courage to mention my own love for meat (seemingly confessing my sins), which they did not mind. However there was a general hype that was noticeable in the way they spoke about the Veganism from constantly high fiving each other to shouting out statements on a loudspeaker like “we are vegan and we are strong”.
Apart from a very few hard-core Vegans many did not know the science behind why they were Vegans and only gave anecdotal evidence for why they have chosen this lifestyle comprising of “we feel better” and we can “we recover quicker from sports injuries” which was difficult as I had a notepad filled with tough questions on B12 and all the other nutrients they were missing out on in their diet that I learnt off the internet.
To my surprise we got to meet and interview Patrick Baboumian, one of the stars of the biggest Documentary on Veganism by Netflix “The Game Changers” and Germany’s Strongest Man 2011. Since he had a hulk-like figure I assumed that he was very strict with his lifestyle, but on the contrary he seemed to be quite balanced in his view of Veganism and understood my perspective as a Muslim exploring their culture. He said:
“If you have strict rules people wont accept it, they will go in the other direction. A lot of people when they go to extremes they have self image issues and want to be perfect which isn’t good. When it comes to being Vegan it just means that I want to do as little damage to the world.”
During our 15 minute conversation I mentioned to Patrick that the 4th Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community said we should go free range with the dairy products we use and the way they treat animals in certain slaughter houses is completely wrong and against the teachings of Islam. Also that a balanced diet is promoted in Islam which ties in with the concept of Halal which is to treat animals in the best way possible and to slaughter them without pain or unnecessary harm, Patrick said:
“Some people think there is just Vegan and non-Vegan but there is a whole spectrum where you can go from people who do not care where their meat comes from, to people that really care where it comes from and how the animals in the facility are treated. I don’t see a fight between these different positions and I don’t care about judging other people, I care about people living with less damage to the planet.”
As the day went on I started to realise I had a lot in common with Vegans in the sense that as a Muslim I can also see how the way we are dealing with the planet is causing a lot more harm than good and also how some slaughter houses across the world treat their animals in the worst way possible imaginable. However it did not tempt me to go Vegan but it did create this need in me to become an activist and get my voice heard. One of the key elements of Islam which I promoted to the particpants at the Expo was moderation:
“Eat and drink but do not be immoderate”(Holy Qur’an: Ch. 7, V. 32)
“Eat of the good things We have provided for you”(Holy Qur’an: Ch. 2, V. 173)
Such a simple but profound statements from the Holy Qur’an, which ensure that mankind, does not go to extremes in their choice of dietary needs.
Meeting another Vegan bodybuilder who had a talk on the B12 deficiency myth, named Carlos from Spain, who is another gigantic muscle bound athlete and poster boy for veganism, further shed light on the moderate Vegan approach, he said:
“Many new Vegans begin to dissociate themselves from their parents, friends and families when they adopt this new lifestyle and they develop a militant mind-set, which is extreme. This is not good for them and they will not be able to sustain it going forward. Keeping a middle path is good and even my family did not accept me when I changed my lifestyle but I did not run away from them.”
Therefore my experience at the Plant Powered Expo was a positive one bringing to light many issues we’re collectively facing in the world today and how it is affecting our daily choices. The concept of healthy living, wellbeing and saving the planet should be high on the list of every individual living today but doing it to the extreme could create more pain, suffering and alienation than good.
Stay tuned for the upcoming video coverage from the event.