Mushroom is a fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus. It is typically produced aboveground, or on soil or other food sources. Basically it is the reproductive structure produced by a certain class of fungi. Mushrooms produce millions of microscopic spores in gills. If these spores get a suitable substrate, they will germinate by giving rise to the mycelium that penetrate into their new feed source. The mycelium persists for many years and extracts nutrients. They are saprophytic fungi; i.e. they extract their nutrition from dead and decaying substances. Edible mushrooms are a rich source of nutrients and are general healthy to consume.
Are Mushrooms Vegan?
The answer varies from person to person. There are some arguments to consider whether mushrooms are vegan friendly or not. Most people consider mushrooms as vegan friendly as they are categorized in the kingdom fungi and are not placed in the animal kingdom. Also, some people consider that the mushrooms do not have a central nervous system like that of animals. Eating them is not cruel because they do not feel pain. So, they can be eaten as vegan if they are grown without using any animal products. The answer in this case is yes, mushrooms are considered vegan-friendly. They belong to the kingdom fungi and are not classified as vegetables but are entirely plant-based as well as vegan-friendly. Mushrooms have a meaty texture, and due to this reason, they are often utilized as the substitute of meat in many recipes.
What Is A Vegan Diet?
Before discussing whether mushrooms are vegan or not, we have to discuss the vegan diet. A vegan diet is one that abstains from animal products in their diets. Vegan people also refuse animal byproducts including milk, honey or leather. Vegan people usually refuse to eat food that is categorized as under animal kingdom. There are various reasons behind people choosing a vegan diet. Some people become vegan due to health reasons, others due to environmental concerns, and still others due to ethical issues. People becoming vegan due to health concerns often cite sources indicating that animal products are the cause of many heart-related problems, such as hypertension. Those becoming vegan due to environmental concerns state that animal-based products like red meat, poultry, and pork are major sources for greenhouse gas emissions. People becoming vegan for ethical concerns have said that they wanted to reduce cruelty towards animals. Many ethical vegans are also animal activists.
Mushroom: Meat or Vegetable
Mushrooms are neither meat nor vegetables. This is the major reason behind the confusion about whether they are vegan or not. On a cellular level fungi are more similar to animals than plants. Their cell wall is made of chitin, like a beetle’s shell, whereas the cell wall of plant cells is made up of cellulose.
Biologists have categorized living things into different categories which are known as kingdoms. Plant and animal are two different kingdoms. Mushrooms belong to a third kingdom called Fungi that also includes yeasts and molds. As mushrooms do not belong to the animal kingdom, they can be classified as vegan.
For vegans who do not choose to consider fungi vegan, they have to avoid all bakery products that are prepared by using yeast, such as many breads. They may also have moral issues with removing fungal infection from the body.
In terms of taste, mushrooms are not exactly like either animals or plants. Their taste is somewhere between plants and animals. They provide us with many of the health benefits of plants, but they also they have a meat-like texture that lacks fat and cholesterol.
Read More: Is Honey Vegan?
Do Mushrooms Feel Pain?
Most of the ethical vegans state that they want to reduce cruelty towards the animals. They avoid animal products as they believe that killing and eating animals and their products causes suffering and pain to the animals. As animals have a well developed nervous system, they feel pain and suffer a lot when they are killed.
Because mushrooms lack a central nervous system, they do not feel pain. Mushrooms do not show any symptoms of suffering when they are plucked or chopped.
Also the mushroom is not a complete organism. The part that you consume is the fruiting body of the mushroom. The mycelium is underneath the soil. In this sense, picking mushrooms is similar to that of picking ripe fruit oranges from an orange tree rather than killing the entire tree. Even after picking off the fruiting body, the main body of the fungus continues to grow.
Thus, we can conclude that harvesting and consuming mushrooms does not cause suffering to them and is completely different from slaughtering animals.
What About Using Animal Products For Growing Mushrooms?
Some vegans will deny mushrooms if they are grown on animal products. Some mushrooms can be grown in animal manure. This is similar to how vegetables are also grown by using animal manure. There are different views about whether to consider mushrooms grown using animal products to be vegan or not but most consider it vegan as long as no animals are harmed in the process. There are several mushrooms that can be grown in a completely vegan way. Oyster mushroom farming is a perfect example of this type of mushroom. Oyster mushrooms can be grown on straw, saw dust or any other plant substrate. So, we can produce mushrooms in a 100% vegan way.
Consequences Of Mushrooms In The Environment?
If you are vegan primarily due to environmental concerns, you must know whether mushroom farming practices are sustainable or not. Mushrooms such as truffles and morels are found in the wild. They are a part of the natural ecosystem and they do not have any negative impacts on the environment. Wild mushrooms also help in nutrient recycling. Wild mushrooms help to degrade dead wood and other organic matter, which creates an environment for new plants to grow in their place.
Unlike wild mushrooms, mushroom cultivation has a small carbon footprint. The carbon emission is from creating indoor cultivations. For creating indoor cultivation, the light, humidity and other factors need to be controlled carefully, which consumes electricity. Also, the plastic bags used to hold the mycelium cannot be recycled. As compared to other crop production, mushroom cultivation does not have severe negative implications on the environment. Conventional livestock rearing has severe negative implications on the environment. Due to their generally reduced negative impacts on the environment, mushrooms are considered as one of the most sustainable sources of protein. So, if you are vegan primarily due to environmental concerns, you can consume mushrooms with zero guilt.
Are Mushrooms Nutritious And Tasty?
Mushrooms are both delicious and highly nutritious. They are one of the best non-animal sources of vitamin D, a rich source of vitamin B and also chock full of fiber and protein. For people who have recently turned vegan and are struggling with the change in diet, mushrooms can also provide them with a meat-like texture.
Mushrooms can be cooked in a multitude of different ways. Mushroom burgers are very popular, but you can also make delicious mushroom soup, risottos, tacos, etc. They are also fantastic by themselves raw, fried, or steamed.
How Can You Grow Your Own Vegan Mushrooms?
If you are vegan and love eating mushrooms but you are worried about the contamination of animal products, you can grow mushrooms of your own. Growing them is not a difficult task; mushroom cultivation does not require too much care and maintenance. You can grow organic mushrooms right inside your own home!
For a beginner, oyster mushrooms are the best variety. They are well-suited for a variety of agro-climatic conditions. To start, we recommend using rice straw as the growing bed for your oyster mushrooms.
Fungi That Vegans Can Have In Their Diet
If you are vegan but you don’t love mushrooms, you can include other fungi in your diet. For example, most bakery products are made using several fungi such as yeast. You can also try products that don’t taste at all like mushrooms, such as chocolate made with truffle oil.
Read More: Could Eating Insects Be Considered Vegan?
While there are some contrasting views as to whether mushrooms are vegan or not, the general consensus is yes, they are vegan-friendly. The basic reason behind considering mushrooms as vegan is that they belong to the kingdom Fungi and not to the animal kingdom. Vegan people are those that abstain from animal products in their diet. Mushrooms are not animals, so they can be kept under a vegan diet. As mushrooms lack a central nervous system, they are not able to feel pain. In this way while consuming mushrooms, we are not causing suffering to them. Also, plucking of mushrooms is similar to plucking off oranges from a tree, as the mushroom’s mycelium continues to grow. So, plucking off mushrooms is very much different from slaughtering animals. Let us know your thoughts (and favorite mushroom recipes) in the comments below!