Opinion – Terra Vegana: “It is possible to be vegan and to be cheap”, says Jean Wyllys in an exclusive interview


Neither meat, nor fish, nor milk, nor eggs: that was the month of January for Jean Wyllys, a former federal deputy currently affiliated with the PT (Party of Workers).

Jean accepted the challenge from Veganuary (a portmanteau of the words “vegan” and “janeiro” in English), a non-profit organization with an international presence, and was supported by easy recipes, meal plans and tips to support veganism for 31 days.

The column interviewed Wyllys to find out his motivations for joining a vegan month, his main challenges and findings, and the political dimension of veganism from his point of view.

What motivated you to go vegan for a month?

I had been wanting to take on this challenge for a long time. My first concern for the world is the eradication of hunger. I don’t want to get the message across to people that being vegan is easy. Today I can select what I eat, while people are looking for their food in the trash can. I know what it’s like to be hungry. This challenge was made without me losing sight of my biggest concern, which is to eradicate hunger in the world.

Having participated also has to do with my concern for the health of the planet. If there are more vegan people in the world, there is less demand for meat in the world, there will be less soy plantations, less macro-farms and food industry breeding sites, and therefore more sustainability on the planet.

Veganism is seen by some as an elitist movement, even though we have in Brazil today many people on the periphery doing militancy and activism work for popular veganism. Do you think it is important for the state to have public policies to guarantee more 100% vegetable meals to the population?

I totally agree, that’s why when I joined the PT I presented Lula with some challenges that we need to work on in the process of rebuilding Brazil. One of these challenges is the issue of climate change and the sustainability of the planet. This challenge involves modifying Lula’s discourse on meat.

Lula is a candidate who talks a lot about the picanha, at the Sunday barbecue, about this memory that the Brazilian people could eat meat. I understand what he means, he is talking about a social memory of prosperity, a time when there was no more hunger in Brazil, and people could eat meat.

It will not be easy for him to change, nor to convince people of this change, it will have to be gradual and through public policies. Meals in public schools must be balanced with foods of plant origin, and family farming must be subsidized in the production of these foods, combined with policies to reduce the use of pesticides. We already have successful models in this regard, such as the MST cooperative, which produces organic rice, for example. But people need to ditch meat in the name of another diet, a more sustainable diet.

It is possible to be vegan and be cheap. For me, it was expensive when I sought practicality and went to buy ready-to-eat food. But when I cooked what I ate, it came out much cheaper.

QWhen we go to the kitchen at home, it becomes accessible, but when we eat out, I agree with you, it can be very difficult.

It has an imaginary thing and an inversion. The poor who lived in hybrid peripheries like me, between rural and urban, practiced, without giving a name, an ovo-vegetarianism without realizing it. These people practiced healthy eating without being aware of it.

Hence, when the food industry organizes itself in a very heavy way, with fast foods and a whole propaganda of industrialized foods, this seduces people. The power of consumption has led many people to adhere to this unhealthy diet. The class we now call C abandoned healthier habits, while the top of the pyramid started to adopt a healthier diet.

And then there’s an association of celebrities with health, with veganism, a whole association of this behavior with the upper class, and an idea that it costs more to live life that way, but no, it doesn’t.

If there were agrarian reform, if indigenous peoples and quilombolas had their lands demarcated, respected and recognized, we would have family farming and free of pesticides on these lands and, consequently, these people would have a healthy diet. But, at the moment, that doesn’t exist, we are fighting against land grabbing by agribusiness, which promotes monocultures aimed at feeding cows and pigs, not people.

Do you see veganism as a political act?

Veganism today is primarily a political act. It will cease to be when we make this way of life more capillary, more popular. When we overcome hunger. It is even important to overcome hunger. In other words, if veganism is promoted and, along with it, policies of agrarian reform, land rights, family farming, subsidies for family farmers, then the issue of hunger will be resolved.

The issue of hunger and also the issue of diseases that threaten humanity are resolved. Veganism can stop pandemics like the coronavirus, it’s the recognition that there are other species and that we don’t need to invade their space. We cannot forget: the coronavirus was transmitted from an animal species to the human species.

And that only happened because we raise animals for slaughter, for human consumption on a large scale.

Western modernity was a big spree, we believe that the resources would not run out, and that the species were there for our enjoyment. And this party’s days are numbered, because either it ends, or the planet ends.

My reasons to join [ao desafio do Veganuary] they were the defense of a planet and a future for children I don’t have. But I’m not forcing anyone to do the challenge. If that’s an incentive for someone, that’s cool, but I don’t want to get into fights with anyone.

How did Veganuary help you?

First I got information about what veganism was, because there is a lot of confusion between veganism and vegetarianism and I didn’t know all the differences myself. I also received tips from websites and recipes. I’ll follow with them after the challenge is over, I’ll try to extend veganism, I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I’ll try my best. But if I slip, I don’t want to suffer. It is also a learning experience and a deconstruction, like deconstructing racism, homophobia and machismo.

What are the tips you can give to those who also want to move towards veganism?

The first tip is to stop eating red meat, replacing it with plant foods that have protein.

Then stop with eggs and milk, which is more difficult because sometimes they are in cakes, breads, etc, without us remembering it.

Finally, dedicate a part of your life to thinking about food. The United States plays a very large role in our poor food education, it is a population that eats like you fill up a car, without thinking about what you eat. And the food needs to be thought about. I think veganism allows you to think about what you eat, to think about the food itself.

Jean confessed early on in the conversation that she ate a hard-boiled egg in the middle of the month, at a time when there was nothing left in the fridge. And that she went shopping with a leather bag. It’s okay, Jean! The world really needs more people who practice an “imperfect veganism” like you, or rather, a possible veganism.

Veganuary resources are freely available year-round at veganuary.com with advice and support for trying a plant-based diet.

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