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Vegans have a higher profile than ever before. A simple web search can turn up vegan-friendly establishments in your neighborhood. There are vegan celebrities, vegan restaurants, vegan burgers that look and taste enough like beef that they can fool the average person.
There is vegan leather made from pineapples and vegan sugars that are free from using bones from animals. Even people who use products from animals may not want to commit fully to a vegan lifestyle. Yet, they appreciate that it can provide health benefits and expand culinary horizons.
Although many people think of India as one of the most vegan-friendly countries, the word "vegan," which doesn't have a long history, was born not far from London. It was coined in the 1940s by a Brit named Donald Watson. No history of veganism would be complete without mention of Watson.
A woodworker by trade, Donald Watson wanted a name to differentiate himself and others who took vegetarianism to a new level, eschewing eggs and dairy. Donald Watson took the beginning and end of the word "vegetarian."
He decreed that the original term pronounces with a hard "g" rather than the soft "g" in vegetarian. Donald Watson's invention of the word coincided with a tuberculosis outbreak among British dairy cows, the fact of which he took advantage of when preaching veganism and animal rights.
In a story that is not so different from the motivations of new vegans in the 21st century, Donald Watson turned to vegetarianism at the age of 14, after witnessing the slaughter of a pig on his uncle's farm.
Watson went fully vegan 18 years later, having become convinced that the use of any animal-parts for human consumption was immoral.
Donald Watson was a member of the Leicester Vegetarian Society, an offshoot of the Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom.
This society became established in the late 19th century, but Watson felt that the movement didn't go far enough.
Watson said in a lengthy 2002 interview that "unless the consumption of dairy products was limited, [vegetarianism] could be an even more cruel diet than the [conventional, animal eating] diet."
He said this was because slaughtering a cow provides meat once, but you can milk a cow multiple times.
Despite this disdain for vegetarianism, Donald Watson said that he maintained his Vegetarian Society membership his whole life, a sign that he understood that that movement played an important role as a stepping stone for people from vegetarianism to veganism.
Donald Watson created the Vegan Society in November of 1944 to address the lack of a community for vegans.
The Vegan Society aimed to persuade people to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It's still active today, and on its website, the Vegan Society defines veganism as:
A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals." Donald Watson.
Watson began publishing a newsletter called The Vegan News to educate his new community on the work of the Vegan Society for animals' rights. In the process of his search for a new name, Watson asked members of the society to give him ideas as an alternative to the word "vegan," but ended up keeping that moniker after all.
Some of the comments he received suggested names such as allvega, neo-vegetarian, dairyban, vitan, benevore, sanivores, and beaumangeur. None of these stuck, so the Vegan Society, it remained.
Noted playwright George Bernard Shaw, already a vegetarian, reportedly responded to the first issue of The Vegan News with a comment promising to give up eggs and dairy.
In the interview linked above, at the age of 92, Donald Watson credited his longevity and continued soundness of mind to veganism. He said he was still able to climb mountains in his 90s and that he had lived his life without any sign of serious illness.
He added that he needed to outlive the critics who accused his new diet as unhealthy or unsustainable. Donald Watson died at age 95 in 2005.
Donald Watson credits two of his Vegan Society friends, Plant Milk Society founder Leslie Cross and Arthur Ling, with the creation of the first saleable plant milk. The Plant Milk Society began as a search for a viable milk alternative.
Ling was the founder of Plamil, a UK company which grew out of the society. Plamil is credited with helping plant milk enter the commercial market, releasing for sale the first commercial soy milk in 1965. Ling was also a former president of the Vegan Society.
World Vegan Day, commemorated on November 1, was established in 1994 by the then-chair of the Vegan Society, Louise Wallis, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Vegan Society.
According to Wikipedia, Wallis set the date on November 1 because she liked associating it with Halloween and the Day of the Dead.
Offshoots of the Vegan Society and other vegan groups commemorate November 1 by holding food festivals, giveaways of soy milk and vegan baked goods, potlucks, and putting up signs.
Some groups use the occasion to pull publicity stunts to raise the profile of veganism and the Vegan Society.
Some examples include giving away plush toys such as when the Invercargill Vegan Society in New Zealand gave away a toy stuffed dog to an animal-skin preservation plant. The event made the news on November 1 in 2013.
These small acts led to November's designation as World Vegan Month.
Veganuary is a relatively new non-profit created by vegans in 2014. The two organizations have now partnered, capitalizing on the ubiquitous dietary promises that people are wont to make as New Year's resolutions.
Participants pledge to adopt a vegan lifestyle for January, and the organization sends them support emails and a starter kit with access to a recipe database.
The organization seems to be trying to reverse the stereotype about activist vegans by fostering a fun, lighthearted sense of community of people who want to make a change in their diets. The UK-based organization seems to go all out for the month-long challenge.
Some vegans believe that simply living a quiet vegan lifestyle in a meat-eating society is not doing enough to address the state of animals' rights. The vegan.com Animal Rights Activism Guide encourages advocacy and activism with the following words.
"You can save hundreds of times more animals through animal rights activism or vegan advocacy than you can save by merely being vegan."
The guide suggests that a single vegan activist has the power to "transform the vegan-friendliness" of an entire American town by employing three strategies:
The guide suggests easy ways for you to encourage more vegan options, such as convincing a cafe to add a vegan alternative to dairy creamer to its menu or persuading a bagel shop to offer soy cream cheese.
It also recommends leaving online reviews for restaurants that could use improvement in their vegan options or praising other establishments for their vegan friendliness.
The guide recommends volunteering to help vegan restaurants establish an online presence by listing them on Google Business Places and restaurant directories and helping them set up social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram, or even their website.
The author recounts visiting a sign-less vegan noodles shop in Thailand and reminisces how he ordered and paid for a sign leaving the country.
He aimed to boost the visibility of the establishment and help other vegans find it.
The guide suggests organizing your society with monthly vegan meetups at local vegan restaurants, which has a two-fold benefit.
First, it brings vegans meaning to come together and enter into fellowship over their shared ideals. Second, go back to #2 - Support Vegan Restaurants by bringing those establishments much-needed business.
The guide suggests creating a rotating meetup where the members restaurant-hop. These meetups allow restaurant owners to see vegans as a crucial potential clientele group.
They could encourage the development of more vegan options as a result.
The guide illustrates the power of a single activist, recounting the story of American Hillary Rettig, who started the group Vegan Kalamazoo in Michigan in 2013. In five years, Rettig grew her group from 0 to 4000 members.
This increase "greatly expanded" the number of vegan options in the area (though there is no quantification provided in the article). Her group put on events that regularly drew non-vegans while building a thriving Facebook Group.
When it comes to practical, one-on-one activism, the Vegan.com guide maintains that talk is cheap and encourages would-be activists to make "asks" that are not difficult.
Don't try to convince a person to subscribe to a vegan lifestyle in one day.
Instead, ask your friend to try out Meatless Mondays or a dairy-free lifestyle, or request that the local pizzeria try out a plant cheese.
Generally, you want all of your outreach to be a one-two punch: you offer a piece of compelling information related to veganism, and then you follow it up with a suggestion on a lifestyle change that aligns with this piece of information.
For instance, if you were to share a video showing calves taken away from their mothers, you might follow it up by writing, 'If this distresses you, why not switch from dairy-based yogurt to soy yogurt, or to using a vegan coffee creamer?'" Animal Rights Activism Guide, Vegan.com
The guide cautions would-be activists against taking an all-or-nothing approach to address finding converts to veganism, saying that this approach does not work.
It recommends learning what your interlocutor cares about and then using that information to build a bridge of persuasion.
Finally, the guide reminds vegan activists not to neglect self-care. "The cruelty animals suffer can make you crazy if you think about it too much.
So, then, the solution is not to think about it too much...acting massively of animals absolve you of any responsibility to expose yourself to the horrors they face," it comments.
One of the first notable animal rights activists was Henry Spira, a former high school teacher, credited with saving tens of millions of animals.
He did so in part by addressing the problem of top cosmetics companies' testing on animals. Spira convinced companies, including Revlon, to stop testing on animals in the 1970s.
As of January 3, 2020, Revlon's website stated that it had not conducted animal-testing in decades. However, the American People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), contends that Revlon is not a cruelty-free company because it still sells its cosmetics in China, where animal testing is required by law.
As illustrated by the PETA-Revlon kerfuffle, sometimes the vegan movement and the plant-based movement lock horns. Perhaps this is a sign of more interest in plant-based diets but with vastly different priorities.
The public spat between Impossible Foods and PETA over the hugely popular Impossible Burger, a vegan beef alternative, has illustrated this friction.
PETA's beef with the company is the fact that Impossible Foods tested their burger on rats while developing it.
Not content to just state this fact, which would have made the product unusable for anyone who adheres to Watson's meaning of "vegan," PETA went for the jugular.
They attacked the ingredient that is responsible for this plant-based burger's blood: heme.
In a press release dated July 27, 2018, PETA lashed out at Impossible Foods, pointing out that the heme in the Impossible Burger contains more iron than in a traditional burger.
PETA claims that including heme in the product is unhealthy for humans.
Having too much iron in your blood can mean a greater risk of developing cancer, especially for men and postmenopausal women. There's no need to consume heme since the body makes its own to hemoglobin—which helps transport oxygen in red blood cells" the release read.
"The Impossible Burger is also more than 50 percent fat, and most of that is saturated fat. In short, the Impossible Burger is probably the unhealthiest veggie burger on the market." PETA
Impossible Foods retorted that PETA was undermining its own cause by attacking the company.
Hard-core vegans do not appreciate the use of the term "vegan" to denote a person who does not embrace other aspects of a strict vegan lifestyle.
But there is no denying that the vegan diet has gained a lot of interest among people who are interested in its potential benefits for health or weight loss. New Scientist reports that there is a growing trend towards part-time veganism.
While people may not be adopting the vegan lifestyle whole-heartedly, there is a growing community of people who are trying to change their diets to include more plant-based food for a healthier lifestyle and longer life.
The hashtag #MeatlessMonday has nearly 750,000 associated Instagram posts. Trendy vegan food restaurants from India to California serve beets instead of beef.
People who won't turn up their noses at a hot dog are eating part-time vegetarian or part-time vegan.
Supporting this shift towards vegan food is a study that was conducted by the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine, Cornell University, and the University of Oxford.
The study, known as the China-Cornell-Oxford project, was held in the 1980s in rural China. It sought to determine whether there were any links between the consumption of animal products and chronic illnesses.
One of the directors of the study, T. Colin Campbell, wrote a book called "The China Study," which concludes that people who eat whole food, plant-based diets enjoy better health than those who do not.
Campbell was careful to use the words "whole food" to differentiate his recommended intake from a vegan diet that relies on processed vegetables in the form of meat/protein substitutes and the like.
Although he eats a vegan diet for health reasons, he doesn't identify with the animal rights activism that characterizes many vegans. The Times article went on to say that the community that identifies as plant-based is growing.
Some restaurants that previously classified themselves as vegan are now embracing the new term, according to the Times, including Cafe Gratitude, a California restaurant chain that came under fire from vegans when they discovered that the chain's founders raised and slaughtered animals on their private farm.
Protesters pickets the chain, and its founders received death threats. It's been a few years since the rebranding to "plant-based." Still, in the Times article, the chain's executive chef said its employees were discussing a shift back to the term vegan, which they felt was a better designation.
Surveys suggest that at least a plurality of vegans consider themselves non-religious or atheist. However, there are a few religions that encourage a mindset that is supportive of veganism, even inspiring fasting from all animal products at prescribed times of the year.
Though Watson has derided religion in general, Christianity in particular, he may not have realized that the vegan diet has ancient spiritual roots in the monastic tradition.
Adam and Eve ate fruit in the Garden of Eden, not animal products. They cared for animals; they didn't eat them.
It wasn't until their fall from grace that they began to eat animals. Saint John the Baptist lived on plants and honey in the desert.
Though the Bible says St. John's food was "locusts and honey," Christian tradition and linguists suggest that the word "locusts" actually refers to the seed pods of a carob tree, which is also known as "St. John's Bread" and "locust tree."
St. Anthony, the father of organized Christian monasticism, was a vegetarian. However, in practice, he was probably more vegan because he was a great ascetic who ate very little at all. And it wasn't just the monks.
Early Christians fasted from animal products for more than half the year. As Christianity modernized to suit contemporary desires, the breakaway churches shed their fasting disciplines until they were no longer recognizable (and have entirely disappeared in the Protestant denominations).
However, practicing Orthodox Christians still, go vegan for part of the year for religious reasons and monastic communities for longer than that.
Originally from India, Jainism is a doctrine founded on the pillars of non-violence (including all living beings), many-sidedness, non-attachment, and asceticism.
Though Jains are not strictly vegan, they do practice vegetarianism, and religion encourages those who are concerned with animal welfare to follow their consciences to veganism.
Unique to Jainism is the abstention from root vegetables like onions and carrots. Jains believe that pulling these vegetables disturbs microorganisms in the soil.
So concerned are they with the welfare of living creatures that Jain monks are known to sweep the ground in front of them as they walk to avoid stepping on insects.
You can identify them wearing a cloth over their mouths - not to protect from polluted air, but to avoid inhaling insects accidentally.
Buddhism does not explicitly prescribe any diet, though both vegetarian and vegan diets are conventional among Buddhists who subscribe to a belief that humans should not harm any living creatures.
Some interpret Buddhist texts insist on vegetarianism, but this is a point of debate.
The figurehead of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, himself eats meat.
Buddhist Mahayana monks, however, are strict vegetarians. There are various passages in Buddhist texts that seem to prescribe at least a vegetarian diet, if not a life of veganism. Some examples are below.
Continuing on the theme of religions that don't require veganism but prize it as an ascetic discipline on certain holidays, many Hindus follow a vegetarian diet.
As a result, the vegetarian cuisine of South India is quite developed and varied. Even those who eat meat abstain from cow flesh, from a belief that the cow is a sacred animal.
A quasi-Christian religion, the Adventists are a much newer faith than any of the others we've discussed so far.
Though the doctrine does not prescribe any specific diet, about 30 percent of its adherents practice vegetarianism or veganism for health reasons.
Due in part to ideas about health from their religion, John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Kellogg founded the Kellogg Company and marketed breakfast cereals as a healthy alternative to fatty daily breakfasts filled with animal products.
Many vegans are as protective of veganism as a lifestyle as devout adherents to any religion. On January 3, 2020, a British court ruled that veganism should be a protected belief system and that people should not be persecuted because of it.
The case was brought to court by Jordi Casamitjana, who claims to have been fired from his job when he raised objections to investment funds that were part of his retirement plan.
Casamitjana objected to his pension plan investing in companies that he said did testing on animals. Lawyers for Casamitjana's company argued that he was dismissed because of misconduct, and not because of his stance on animal rights.
The court did not enter a determination on why Casamitjana lost his job, saving that issue for future hearings.
There is no scientific consensus on whether humans had always eaten meat or, if not, when they started eating it.
Various theories abound.
f you've heard of the trendy "paleo" diet, you know it is based on the idea that the earliest humans in history lived on meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
The diet eschews dairy products, legumes, and grains, which it insists only became popular with the invention of agriculture.
A few years ago, scientists from Hebrew University and Bar Ilan University found evidence of edible plants during an archaeological dig in the Hula Valley in Israel.
In their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2016, they posited that the findings demonstrate that the people living in the Hula Valley 780,000 years ago ate a vegetarian diet.
However, an earlier study published in 2012 in Nature found that the species Australopithecus, which some belief was a human ancestor, was eating meat more than 2 million years ago.
Archaeologist Dr. Richard Leakey believes in the prehistoric vegetarian. He was quoted saying that the earliest humans did not eat meat.
You can't tear flesh by hand, you can't tear hide by hand, and we wouldn't have been able to deal with the food sources that required those large canines." Dr. Richard Leakey to The Independent.
Taking an evolutionary approach to the question, biology professor Robert Dunn posits that we should look to living creatures who have a digestive system most akin to our own, and see what they are eating to determine what we should eat.
For Dunn, this means evaluating the gut and eating habits of the chimpanzee. The chimpanzee will occasionally eat meat but gets the majority of its food from plants and insects.
I know, what I have shown is not that our ancestors were vegetarians but instead that they tended to eat vegetable matter mostly.
Here though, I am using the definition of vegetarianism that almost every human uses where someone is a vegetarian if they decline meat in public, but occasionally, when no one is looking, sneak a beef jerky.
The modern vegetarian's illicit beef jerky is the ancestral vegetarian's crunchy frog." Professor Robert Dunn, Scientific American
While there is no conclusive evidence one way or the other of early vegan society, the question of whether or not to eat animals is not a new one.
Debates about vegan cave dwellers notwithstanding, veganism, meaning the complete abstention from the use of any animal product, is a relatively new concept in history.
There are no wholly vegan cultures in history, at least none with evidence to back the claim.
The history of veganism is short, really beginning with Donald Watson's Vegan Society and his coining of the term vegan, meaning complete abstention from all animal products.
But some historical figures have been credited with laying down the foundations for diets devoid of animal flesh.
Among them is the Greek philosopher Pythagoras dating back to 500 BCE.
You may have heard him in school - he's the one who wrote that theorem for calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle. He was also an early believer in a "round Earth."
Pythagoras believed in the reincarnation of souls, and since he thought there was a good chance he could come back as a pig (soon to be slaughtered), he decided to become a vegetarian.
Interestingly enough, there was no term for someone who didn't eat meat at that time in history.
Pythagoras just decided he would eat bread, honey, and vegetables full-time, and his followers also began to change their diets to subscribe to his.
Some believe that Pythagoras may have corresponded with Mahavira, a leader in Jainism, who, we have already learned, adhered to a strict vegetarian diet.
Regardless of where the Greek philosopher came up with the idea, historians believe that he experienced ridicule for his vegetarian lifestyle.
He may also have faced ostracism because celebrating public holidays with festivals of food - heavy on the animal protein - was a big part of the Greek society at the time.
Thus, the vegetarian lifestyle was known as "Pythagorean" until the word vegetarian came about in the mid 19th century.
Porphyry, another Greek philosopher, is respected by vegetarians and vegans for a letter he wrote entitled "On Abstinence from Animal Food."
His writing seems to suggest that he was a vegan. He wrote,
If however, someone should think it is unjust to destroy brutes, such a one should neither use milk, nor wool, nor sheep, nor honey.
For as you injure a man by taking from him his garments, thus also, you injure a sheep by shearing it. . . . milk likewise was not produced for you, but for the young of the animal that has it.
The bee also collects honey as food for itself, which you, by taking away, administer to your own pleasure."Porphyry
Another Greek philosopher, Theophrastus (~300 BCE), who was a contemporary of Aristotle (note: Aristotle was neither a vegetarian nor vegan), believed that eating animals was immoral and wasteful.
He posited that people only began eating meat when acts of war destroyed their crops. Theophrastus also taught that the gods disliked animal sacrifices.
Before Theophrastus, the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten (1350 BCE) may have banned animal sacrifice because he believed life given by the god Aten was sacred.
There are vegetarians to be found in early modern American history as well.
You know that Benjamin Franklin conducted lightning with a kite, but did you know that this beloved American founding father was a vegetarian?
Franklin wrote in his autobiography that he decided to subscribe to a vegetarian diet at the age of 16 after reading a book by Thomas Tryon (this book was likely Wisdom's Dictates, published in 1691).
Crediting vegetarianism with giving him a clear head, more time to study and more money (saved from his food budget) to buy books, Franklin wrote:
When about 16 years of age, I happen'd to meet with a book written by one Tryon, recommending a vegetable diet. I determined to go into it.
My brother being yet unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices in another family.
My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconveniency, and I was frequently chid for my singularity.
I made myself acquainted with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling potatoes or rice, making hasty pudding, and a few others, and then propos'd to my brother, that if he would give me weekly half the money he paid for by board, I would board myself.
He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me. This was an additional fund for buying books: but I had another advantage in it.
My brother and the rest going from the printing-house to their meals, I remain'd there alone, and dispatching presently my light repast (which often was no more than a biscuit or a slice of bread, a handful of raisins or a tart from the pastry cook's, and a glass of water) had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress from that greater clearness of head and quicker apprehension which usually attend temperance in
eating and drinking."
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
Musicians including Bryan Adams, Moby, Joan Jett, and Morrissey are practitioners of veganism. Personalities like Ellen DeGeneres and Portia Rossi are also vegans.
These celebrities' experiences are varied. For example, Joaquin Phoenix was raised vegan from age 3. Moby was quoted saying the reason for his switch from vegetarianism to veganism in 1987.
My reason for becoming a vegetarian was simple: I loved (and love) animals and I don't want to be involved in anything that leads to or contributes to their suffering...
Then I thought, 'I don't want to contribute to animal suffering. But the cows and chickens in commercial dairy and egg farms are pretty miserable, so why am I still eating milk and eggs?'
So in 1987, I gave up all animal products and became a vegan.
Simply so that I could eat and live in accordance with my beliefs that animals have their own lives, that they're entitled to their own lives, and that contributing to animal suffering is something that I don't want to be a part of. " Moby
Another veteran of both diets, Morrissey, is a newer vegan, having come over from vegetarianism in 2015.
He is so committed to the cause, however, that he will not play venues unless they agree not to serve meat the evening that he performs.
Not one to waste any time, he has even written to General Motors in a bid to convince the company to offer vegan leather interiors.
As I head to Detroit to play the Royal Oak Music Theatre, I'm writing to ask GM to make Chevy's Volt and Bolt more eco-friendly by giving buyers the option to choose vegan leather interiors – including steering wheels and gear shifts. " Morrissey, in a letter to GM CEO, Maya Barra in 2016
Though history struggles to find concrete examples of strict vegans before the 20th century, anecdotal evidence suggests that the movement continues to expand even if new adherents don't subscribe to all of its principles.
It is a sign of our prosperous times that people in developed countries eschew humanity's over-consumption in search of more regular diets, if not for ethical reasons, then for health reasons.
Although no extensive studies have been done on vegan demographics, some have estimated that in 2016, 0.5 percent of the population of the United States is vegan, while 2 percent are vegetarian.
The above website also references another, more recent study, that suggested that in 2017 vegans made up 6 percent of the population.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll, also mentioned on that blog, the percentage of vegetarians has remained steady.
The author takes this is as a sign that more people are abandoning their conventional diets to enter directly into a daily vegan diet without using vegetarianism as a stepping stone.
A study by consulting agency Cultivate Insights found that 48 percent of adults living in the United States had consumed plant-based animal alternatives during the three months following April 2019.
The study, which surveyed 2068 people 18 and older between April and June and found that younger generations were more likely to purchase plant alternatives than older generations.
Part-time vegetarians are helping shape a new food system driven by health, sustainability, and animal welfare."Che Green, Report Author
According to figures compiled by the Plant-Based Food Association, sales in the vegan food industry had grown 11 percent during the 52-week period that ended April 29, 2019.
The first annual Plant Protein Month launched in April 2017. Continuing every April, it aims to raise awareness about plant proteins and how they can contribute to a healthy diet. The next Plant Protein Month will occur in April 2020.
Hollywood has gotten in on the game too. To address concerns about food consumption and waste, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association made a last-minute change to the menu of the 2020 Golden Globes, which had included fish.
The new menu included a chilled golden beet soup with citrus oil and pistachio. Replacing the initially planned sea bass entree was a wild mushroom risotto topped with "scallops" made of king oyster mushrooms.
Dessert was a vegan take on an opera cake.
If there's a way we can, not change the world, but save the planet, maybe we can get the Golden Globes to send a signal and draw attention to the issue about climate change, "
Lorenzo Soria to the Associated Press.
If you're interested in any of the organizations discussed in this article, you can subscribe to each web site. So that you don't have to search, we've also included each organization's email address below:
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