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food / travel

It May Be Vegan, But That Doesn't Mean It's Healthy

A walnut spread - but with plenty of palm and coconut oils
A walnut spread - but with plenty of palm and coconut oils
Berit Uhlmann

MUNICH — Surely vegan offerings are healthier, and easier on the figure. More natural in any case. Many consumers have even become moralistic about the vegan products they put into their shopping baskets. But a survey by a Hamburg consumer group, the Verbraucherzentrale, shows that these attitudes and expectations are often wrong. They tested 20 vegan food products — mainly tofu sausages, cheese alternatives and soy drinks — and only two emerged with relatively good marks.

Four of the products were notable for their high fat content. Among those were a milk-free Hirtenkäse, or herder’s cheese, that contained 40% more fat than standard feta. In five of the products, the testers found high levels of saturated fatty acids that are considered damaging to both the heart and circulation. And the testers also found unusually high salt content in five cases: 100 grams of some meat-replacement products and spreads contained a third of the daily recommended amount of sodium.

The testing also showed that many vegan products are not necessarily natural. “Imitating animal products partly means using more additives because in most cases you couldn’t make the product at all if you didn’t, or at least not with a similar taste,” Verbraucherzentrale reports. Additives include thickeners, dyes and artificial aromas.

Vegans and vegetarians who do not banish any and all processed products from their diets cannot escape the tricks of the food industry. When it comes to names, for example, something like “Bio-Plus-3” may sound organic, but it requires reading the small print on the package to discover that it’s contents are not entirely natural. Meanwhile, a cranberry bar turns out to contain mainly almonds, date paste and only a smattering of berries.

A picture of the Swiss Matterhorn is depicted on one drink package, even though the ingredients come from various European countries. But on most product packaging, consumers would be unable to ascertain where the main ingredients were sourced. Processed vegan products usually end up frustrating consumers eager to buy regional because they want to help reduce long-haul fuel use and support the local economy.

The Verbraucherzentrale also calls for more transparency by the manufacturers of vegan products when it comes to dealing with consumer inquiries. Only 40% of the companies it contacted responded to questions within three weeks. “And in only a few cases could the contact be described as good,” the testers write.

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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