Archive for the ‘Reasons to Go Vegan’ Category
In December a woman from Dallas was riddled with malignant tumors. Doctors gave her a terminal diagnosis. Within two months, her tumors were benign. Medical experts can’t explain why, suggesting there’d been some sort of misdiagnosis. The woman’s daughter, whom I know, is equally confused. What she does know, however, is that when her mother was diagnosed with her terminal illness she left Austin to be with her. And while my friend was with her mother, she did something for her everyday, three times, and with the purest love: she cooked. Vegan.
And not just vegan. But healthy, macro-driven vegan. NO exceptions. When I asked my friend what her mother ate she simply said, “I know how to cook beans, grains, and vegetables, and that’s what I did and that’s what she ate.” And that’s what she’ll continue to eat.
My friend, humble soul, is taking no credit for saving her mother, who, it should be noted, ate a typical meat-based American diet before her daughter commandeered the kitchen. But it’s hard not to flirt with the logical sin of at least allowing cause and coincidence to flirt rather seriously.
It is perhaps the lack of a nutritional smoking gun that defuses the power of these sort of anecdotes to achieve permanence in the public imagination and, in turn, become a mainstream force for change. There’s so much quackery out there that it’s hard not to be drowned out by it when you think out loud about kale curing cancer. Having been trained from an early age to seek evidence, evidence, evidence—from the most reputable authorities—to buttress every belief and claim, I’ve been reluctant to make too much of these stories myself.
But here’s the thing: I hear them too often for there not to be some truthiness in there somewhere. And when you are facing death, and there’s the chance that a radical change in diet can save you, truthiness is pretty damn good.
My friend and her mother are celebrating their good news by going to Brazil next month. When I saw the happiness in my friend’s face as she told me this story, when I saw her hands tremble, I decided that it was high time to start listening more closely to these narratives, sharing and collecting them, and fighting harder than ever to condemn the food products that not only harm animals, but the decent and loving people who eat them as well.
Environmental science is becoming more and more like Biblical interpretation. You can find in it exactly what you want. You want evidence that wind energy will kill too many birds and wreak ecological havoc on avian migration patterns? It’s there. You want evidence that rotational grazing of cattle will turn parking lots into fertile gardens and grass-fed beef will turn you in Superman? Sure, we can dig something up. Got clean coal? Science does.
I generally try to avoid getting overly worked up about highlighting this study or that because it seems every time I do that some cranky naysayer with too much time on his hands comes along with a study of his own to prove me wrong. Damn! Then I go and find a countervailing study. Then it’s his turn. Then mine. Soon we’re stuck in a downward swirl of dueling studies. Some people say “follow the funding,” and that’s a good point. Others, with equal legitimacy, say “follow the science” and that’s a good point, too. Problem is that it’s hard to do a decent study without external finding and I’m not a scientist and therefore have no choice but to trust the process of peer review. I’m sure there’s a study explaining why that’s a bad idea as well.
This is a long-winded and caveat-studded way of introducing a new study. And, wouldn’t you know it, this one says exactly what I want it to say, namely that the vegan diet is healthier for the environment than a non-vegan diet. A good overview of it can be found here. Highlights of the highlights include the following: the GHG emissions of a vegan diet is over 40 percent lower than non-vegans; combine vegans and vegetarians and their collective reduction of food-related GHG emissions is 30 percent; a scientist said what I’ve always felt to be as true as gravity: “The conversion of plant-based to animal foods is intrinsically inefficient.” Love it all.
I’m sure people who consider themselves meat-eating environmentalists are scrambling right now to highlight the study’s glaring internal flaws and find data published elsewhere that contradicts it point by point. Or may be they’re just ignoring it as they do carbon footprint penance for having just flown to DC to protest an oil pipeline that, if nixed, only means Canadian oil will travel to the Gulf in less secure trunk lines (see my friend Robert Bryce’s piece here.) Whatever the case may be, for now at least, at this very moment, there appears to be some compelling empirical evidence that eating a diet based on compassion is good not only for animals but the environment we share with them. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Thanks to Karen Orr for the tip.
I’m writing this piece from the porch of Casa de Luz, my favorite place in the world to eat. Vegan and macrobiotic, the food here does more than nourish the body.
After a week of thinking deeply and writing actively about a range of questions—why did a college in Vermont ever want to kill its oxen?; how do violent tactics fit into the animal rights movement?; how should we conceptualize the place of companion animals in our lives?—the food here, in its simplicity and honesty, reminds me that authentic, unthinking clarity can be found in a plate of green beans, kale, lentils, brown rice, and pickled cabbage. It’s a well-timed reminder.
The act of eating has always intrigued me. Even before I began advocating for ethical veganism, I’d been interested as a historian in why cultures ate what they ate, the meaning they imbued in their meals, and rituals in which they embedded this most basic act—one that’s up there with sex and sleep as essential to keeping us going. I spent a decade of my life exploring these issues.
The more I look back on this work the more I’m struck by how the academic impulse was always to question and complicate, analyze and contextualize, to the point that the essence of the act of eating was buried in the expectations of professional imperatives. Think too much, conform to institutional formatting, and the most inherently simple topic can be pounded into academic mush. I turned out some mush.
Eating healthy, eating vegan, and eating intentionally are goals that really need not be over-analyzed, or even analyzed for that matter. Their obvious benefits resoundingly speak for themselves. Perhaps less obviously, eating a plant-based diet can and should provide us with an anchor of clarity and hope in a murky sea of confusion and suffering. If we’re open to the experience, it can inspire.
I know that, as I write, animals are being slaughtered. Thousands before I even finish writing this sentence. I know that at least 18 children were killed today in a Connecticut school shooting. I know that a person close to me is suffering a terrible situation beyond her control. This is all so murky and depressing and it’s going nowhere soon and I could just wallow in despair over it all.
But I won’t. My meal is my antidote, a very real one, and I have no problem allowing it to make me feel good about life, my fellow humans and non-humans, and the potential of goodwill to make small dents—and sometimes large ones—in the systematic suffering that easily overwhelms those who hunger for peace and justice.
I guess you could say I’m seeking convenient denial in the extra plate of kale I just requested. And I guess that sounds pretty lame. But right here, right now, it’s working for me.
Today’s vegan conversion narrative comes from Dianne Wenz, a holistic health counselor who blogs at Veggie Girl. A recent conversation I had with Jasmin Singer, on her and Mariann Sullivan’s Our Hen House podcast, led to me realize how critical these narratives are to the larger project of vegan activism. Essentially, they help us avoid burnout because, living in the carnistic world that we do, every small victory—such as a single vegan conversion—reminds us not only that we all take our own journey to veganism, but that this is a movement ultimately rooted in the raising of an individual’s consciousness. Witnessing an individual change on the personal level thus reminds us that collective change is more than possible.
My sincere thanks to Dianne for her beautifully told story (replete with reference to my all-time favorite band, REM):
I’m not exactly sure how I figured out that meat came from animals, but I remember being very little (probably about 6 or 7) when I asked my mom why we kept cats and dogs as pets and ate pigs and cows. To my little brain an animal was an animal and I didn’t see why some were for snuggling and some were for eating. I don’t remember the answer, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of, “Because that’s the way it is. We need to eat them to live.”
I was probably in 8th or 9th grade the first time I saw the word “vegetarian” in print. I’ll be honest and tell you where I saw the word to – it was in an interview with Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, and he had said he would be a vegetarian if he didn’t love steak so much. I’m not even sure if I had know that a “vegetarian” was a thing before that, but I remember thinking “A vegetarian! That’s what I want to be.” I never really liked meat and I didn’t understand why we had to eat it. I was would always scarf down my broccoli and then be stuck at the dining room table, forbidden to leave until I finished my pork chop.
After graduating from high school, I went to art school in New York City. I was happy to find that there were actual vegetarians at school, so I decided to give it a try. Once again, music was my influence. I knew that R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who I absolutely loved, was vegetarian, as were the members of another favorite band of mine, the B52s. I gradually went vegetarian, first by removing beef and pork from my diet, and then phasing out tuna, turkey and chicken. Of course, I now know that chickens suffer my most of all factory farmed animals, but for some reason back then it seemed that by phasing out the larger animals, I was doing less harm.
In June of 1992, my grandfather took me to visit my aunt in California. We ate most of our meals at restaurants, which was probably the most I’d ever eat out in my life. To my surprise, there were vegetarian options everywhere we went! There were even veggie burgers! For lunch one day we went to a little dinner that served dozens of different flavors of burgers, and they could be made with a beef hamburger, turkey burger or veggie burger. I ordered a teriyaki veggie burger, which came topped with grilled pineapple, and I was hooked. There was no need for meat anymore. “This is going to be easy, I thought,” and I gave up all meat at some point during the trip.
When I came home, I realized that were even places in New York and New Jersey where I could buy vegetarian food! I used to live on pita melts with broccoli and cheddar cheese at the Land And Sea diner in Fair Lawn, and my favorite meal in New York City was Dojo’s soy burger dinner.
Back then the market wasn’t saturated with the vegetarian convenience foods that we have now. I used to have to go to the little closet of a health food store in the mall to get my favorite Yves veggie burgers, which were very expensive and only came in a two pack. Green Giant had frozen burgers that I could find at the local grocery store, but I’m pretty sure the box they came in tasted better than they did. Like most people who grew up in the 70s, I grew up eating food that came from bags, cans and boxes. Most vegetables weren’t fresh and those that were, weren’t very good. (Iceberg lettuce, anyone?) When I changed my diet, my mom would buy a bag of frozen cubed carrots, corn and cut green beans and try to serve it to me as a meal, and she didn’t understand that beef flavored Rice-A-Roni had meat it in. Family meals became a problem. So I subscribed to Vegetarian Times, bought a copy of Peta’s The Compassionate Cook and taught myself how to make vegetarian food.
I was vegetarian for 9 years when I met Dennis. I had been looking around online, trying to find a vegetarian group to join, when I stumbled upon VeggieDate. On a whim, I placed an ad. (Hey, it was free!) I was really just looking for veggie friends to hang out with because I was tired of being asked “well, what do you eat””, and “where do you get your protein?”. After a few months, Dennis answered my ad, and even though I told him that I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, we started dating a month or two later. Dennis suggested that I start a website as a vegetarian resource (there weren’t very many veggie sites around at the time), and Veggiegirl.com was born! While researching the site, I read about the egg and dairy industry and couldn’t believe how horrific it was. Dennis and I decided to go vegan together. I had already given up eggs, after reaching for a hard boiled one a salad bar and then suddenly realizing exactly what it was. (I was horrified! How could people eat that?) I have to admit that giving up cheese was much harder for me than it was for Dennis, and I still snuck some when he wasn’t around. It happened to be a particularly humid summer that year, and I had one long sinus headache. Regular medicine wasn’t helping, so I decided to try acupuncture. The doctor told me that I needed to give up all cow’s milk because it was mucus forming, and my desire to be headache free, along with my new knowledge of the dairy industry helped me kick the cheese habit for good.
And that is that! I’ve been vegan for 11 years, and now I help others go vegan too.
Just in case you were spending your Sunday looking for reason #5,243 to be dubious of celebrity vegans, here’s this unsavory tidbit from the New York Daily News:
Jamie Hince couldn’t help but give up veganism when his supermodel wife Kate Moss tempted him by serving him a bacon sandwich in her underwear.The rocker, who married the supermodel in 2011, gave up animal products and spent 20 years as a vegan, but Moss soon turned him back into a meat-eater, reports dailystar.co.uk.
It serves to remind us that celebrities, just like non-celebrities, can be fickle, if not plain vacant, people. What ultimately matters are the principles, even more than the people that espouse them. Which is good thing. Principles, last I checked, can’t be seduced by a supermodel in her underparts.
A few days ago I criticized big time chef Dan Barber for this chest thumping outburst of arrogance: “Chefs are powerful because we are curators of what’s truly delicious; we’re driven by pleasure. The sustainable food movement is about hedonism, A to Z: Be greedy.” So advises the celebrity chef.
In dinging Barber, I didn’t mean to imply that it’s wrong to be greedy for pleasure. Greed for pleasure is good. Damn good. Vegans, I’m slowly learning, must be careful about lending the wrong impression that we’re averse to hedonistic indulgence. It’s for this reason that I regret writing this paragraph, which ran in the Atlantic a while back:
“To really eat ethically more often than not means to avoid the primacy and exclusivity of taste. It means to forgo foods usually associated with “fine dining”—rich cheeses, meat, luscious desserts, and seafood dished out in fancy restaurants—in exchange for (as Mark Bittman’s work quietly reiterates) a humble bowl of beans, greens, and whole grains cooked up at home (with the leftovers eaten all week for lunch). It means, in essence, embracing sacrifice, even asceticism. Any committed vegan will have some sense of what this entails.”
Mea culpa. Should have deleted that one. It sends the wrong signal, implying that vegans are, as one writer once said about me, “a real buzz kill at dinner parties.” Given my poorly chosen words, this is a fair assumption (albeit wrong!). The remark suggests that committed vegans are imprisoned in a rigid set of behavioral strictures when, of course, veganism in no way necessarily requires the suppression of pleasure or the minimization of indulgence. Nor should it.
Vegans can be as pleasure obsessed as non-vegans–and possibly even more so. Indeed, vegans may have a special penchant for the experience of pleasure, a healthy and life-affirming grasp on what it means to experience the inherent joys of shared indulgence in the myriad pleasures offered by a remarkably generous world.
Understanding why this is the case first means understanding what’s essentially wrong with Barber’s testosterone-swollen brand of greed. Perhaps most conspicuously, Barber’s is a narrow-minded form of pleasure, one that’s thoughtless, amoral, exclusionary, and based on the principle of unsanctioned domination. It is, therefore, diminished pleasure because pleasure becomes purest and most fulfilling when it happens consensually, openly, and without the necessary suffering of others, be they human or non-human sentient beings. Pleasure, even the most hedonistic and fleeting variety, is purest when unmarred by complicity in the pain and systematic degradation of others. Barber and his band of slow foodie sybarites simply refuse to chew on this claim. They rage with greed against innocent animals as they try to convince themselves that their pleasures are a force for meaningful change.
Rather than confront the moral quandary infecting this version of hedonism, Barber’s indulgence revels in the contradiction of capitalizing on the pain of others. No matter how many words are used to obscure this point, it hinges on the slaverous quest to consume animals who, as a result of some sclerotic idea of “sustainability,” have been deemed worthy of dying for our shallow indulgences. It thereby thrives on the crassest exercise of power. Not only is this power-driven form of pleasure necessarily qualified by unspeakable violence, suffering, and unnecessary death, but all that violence, suffering, and death is masked by the falsely virtuous sheen of ecological responsibility. It hides. It hides behind the supposed humane treatment of animals with absolutely NO interest in dying to slake our superficial pleasures. It hides from truth in ditches of deceit where pleasure is cheap.
In essence, we’re talking about a form of pleasure rooted in pathological deception and denial. Any self-aware human can only sustain those qualities for so long before either experiencing an emotional implosion, undergoing a radical awakening, or choosing to live a permanent lie—in which state no pleasure can ever be authentic or fully realizable. Awaiting their fate, omnivores pose. Literally. The picture of Dan Barber accompanying the Wall Street Journal piece is, in a way, visual confirmation of the relentless dominance at the core of foodie hedonism. I’m free-styling here, but his bodily expression strikes me a stark gesture of dictatorial control over animals who lack the explicit means to fight back. All in confirmation of some juvenile notion of pleasure that butcher-block philosophers tell us we have an inherent right to seek.
Not unlike hunters who get blottoed in a deer blind while pathetically clinging to the cold weaponry of warfare, Barber the culinary curator derives his sense of identity from the same lust for power over enslaved animals lured into agriculture’s craven traps by small farmers now considered crusaders for justice. Again, the keys terms won’t go away: deception and denial. Nobody, moreover, is punishing this approach to sustainability. To the contrary, chefs like Barber have been elevated to the status of new cultural heroes. (My word, read the article.) What emerges from this unredeemed posturing and mindless glorification is a sinister inverse relationship: the lowest form of pleasure at the highest cost of pain. Reflecting the superstructure of capitalistic society, this process is driven by a few to oppress the many. Indeed, only a handful of privileged consumers capable of spending more money on gluttony sanctioned by elite culture have full access to Barber’s perverse playground of pleasure. And hellfire if they don’t hammer us with their authority.
Most humans and all non-humans are excluded and, in the case of animals, brutally victimized by the passion to eat in a way that tastemakers have identified as both unattainable and virtuous. In the case of humans, common omnivores are marginalized as rubes, dismissed as inferior because their meat wasn’t pasture raised, fed by hand, and stroked at dawn by virgins. The drooling hoi polloi, unable to appreciate the subtleties of woodcock and braised squab, flock to the fast food joints. Something (again I’m speaking from the cuff here) in Barber’s expression suggests that he enjoys this unsustainable but thrilling position of privilege, all despite the fact that his ultimate role in this vast epicurean charade is to hover over a grill and watch fire sear hunks of flesh that he’ll sell for $30 an entree to people who read Marx in college. Which, if you think about it, makes the chef even more cowardly than the hunter.
Okay, so what does all this spewing about have to do with vegans and pleasure? Everything, of course. Vegans, as I’ve noted, are by no means opposed to greed for pleasure. We simply have the freedom to pursue it without all this horrific baggage. By virtue of our veganism, we indulge a more thoughtful and artful form of pleasure, a pleasure more discriminating and genuine and accessible. As a result, our pleasure resonates with more integrity both within and without the psyche of the individual. Choosing to indulge sensual life in a state of heightened consciousness about the impact of our own pleasure on others (including animals), we are able to yield to pleasure guiltlessly and without the feeble crutch of artifice or cheap rhetorical excess. Our id can leak and we’re not compelled to mop it up.
Omnivores, by contrast, cower under the cope of hypocrisy. They thrill over the idea of a “righteous pork chop” all the while marred by insecurity over the repressed suffering underscoring their mission to eat like the New York Times says they should. The strained nature of their overwrought defenses routinely reveal their myriad disguises and cheap justifications. Vegans, however, can sit back, relax, and enjoy their pleasures unmasked, free of any need for forced argumentation and secure in the knowledge that—to every extent possible—external suffering was minimized as pleasure was maximized. Not a bad inverse relationship to promote
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m not only writing about the pleasures of food. Perhaps the most enlightening aspect of veganism (and, by the way, perhaps another reason why this word should define us) is that it signifies more than a dietary choice. It reflects a comprehensive approach to life, one that affirms the moral legitimacy of sentient life while deeming the pleasures of others to be as fundamentally important as, and integral to, our own. In this sense, the vegan greed for pleasure—be it culinary, sexual, artistic, visual, aural, whatever— remains deeply informed by awareness, empathy, openness, sensitivity, and the desire that another’s desire be just as fulfilled as our own. Which is exactly why my favorite T-shirt pretty much nails it: “Vegans are Sexy.” (Emphasis added.)
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with vegans who walk on hot coals, sleep on a bed of nails, abstain from alcohol, and proceed through life with Monkish discipline. That can be way sexy, too. My only point—which, sorry, I’ve now taken over 1400 words to make—is that those of us otherwise inclined have every right to indulge in pleasure as vegans. And to take Falstaffian pride in it. Like non-vegans, we happen to have blood in our veins. We happen to be thinking and feeling human beings, grasping and insatiable creatures seeking peak experiences in a world that—at least for most of us—provides tremendous freedom and opportunity to do so. It’d be terrible to screw up that deal by associating pleasure with exploitation, exclusion, and the perpetuating of suffering. Really, really terrible. The alternative, from A to Z, is such a pleasure.
“This name I got we all agree . . .”
-REM (“Sitting Still”)
I’m no expert in anything (except maybe REM lyrics), but I pride myself in having at least a dash of common sense. It’s on this basis that I note how words, not unlike individuals or nations, have histories. Like all histories, they are, to an extent, unthinkingly constructed but insidiously conducive to serving an endless array of contemporary ideological missions, be they noble or nefarious. Cultures and sub-cultures routinely chisel, chip, and polish words to add nuance or, more often than not, deflect it. Popular culture thrives at turning words into empty shells.
However, once the forge of time lends permanence to a word, it’s very difficult, perhaps impossible, to empty it entirely of its original meaning. Attempts to do so are fraught with controversy and rarely result in a clean co-opting of the term (think about the history of the word “nigger,” as well as attempts to reclaim it.) Words with conventional meanings, instead of lending themselves to the subversive strategies of earnest advocates, are instead coronated by power elites in an established dictionary and destined to petrify like an epitaph on a crumbling tombstone. They’re emasculated.
The lexicon of advocacy matters as much as, if not more than, the objective nature of the desired reforms. From an etymological perspective, vegan is still a relatively virgin term. As such, we may be in an unusually opportunistic position to intentionally shape it to mean what we want it to mean now and in perpetuity. Committed advocates, rather than an indifferent culture at large, are currently poised to own this term of empowerment and direct its course through time. We are the ones who can do the dictionarial coronation and, in so doing, imbue vegan with our deepest aspirations before the carnistic hordes violate the word through the thoughtless vulgarities of popular culture. As a word, vegan is a gift.
So why pass up this chance by bickering over semantic particles of dust? I’m aware that many advocates for animal liberation wish to co-opt older terms–say, vegetarian. I appreciate their arguments for doing so (many presented in the comments to the last post). The problem is that when we seek to redefine or even capture the original meaning of an older term, we have to undo the history that saddled it with so much distracting baggage in the first place.
Well good freakin’ luck with that. As an historian and a vegan, I’m routinely amazed how insouciantly many animal advocates deny the power of the past when they verbally and intellectually situate themselves around contemporary issues. Contemporary power consolidation is nothing–nothing–compared to the allure of tradition. When we revive the terminology of tradition to inspire the future of a movement, we unnecessarily hobble that movement with the weight of a useless history.
I thus vote for a term that’s yet to fall into the iron grip of the past. I thus vote for vegan. That should be the umbrella word we embrace as the idealization of where we want the future of the movement to proceed. Whether one currently identifies as a vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian, Hungarian, or librarian, we can all aim to go a step further. We can all aim to go VEGAN. The revolution, after all, will be nothing if not verbalized, and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to shape our mouths around the single word that best embodies what we want for the animals who are right to be damned impatient with our state of etymological dysfunction.
Something to consider supporting. “Eatin’ Vegan,” a production of GoodTV, is a webseries dedicated to revealing how achievable and rewarding it is to eat a plant-based diet. Zinka Benton and Fran Rzeznik, the producers, have this to say regarding their promotional efforts: “As important as your pledge is your help with spreading the word out about these shows to your circle of friends, family and colleagues!”
So, at the least:
· Forward this post widely.
· LIKE them Facebook.
· Link to their FB show pages.
· Post on LinkedIn if you are so inclined.
· Tell your family, friends and colleagues about this project!
In talking with Zinka, I’m impressed with her interest in reaching college students in particular. As a university professor, I see thousands of students a day. Every year, despite the growing attention to eating a healthy diet, students appear more and more unhealthy. Being college students, though, they are also more open to change than your average set-in-his-ways adult. My sense is that the message of vegan health, while certainly available, is not reaching this expansive (heh) demographic. I think the series that Good TV is attempting to produce has the potential to break whatever barriers are currently keeping college students from exploring the benefits of eating plants.
I hope it succeeds.
B12, a vitamin that behavioral omnivores generally get from animal products, is the vegan’s bogeyman. Relentlessly and insidiously, it’s used to discredit the transition to an animal-free diet. Essential for neural transmission and red cell production, B-12 can be found in bio-fortified vegan drinks, some fermented beverages (such as kambucha), and a range seaweed products. But the fact that it’s much more readily available in animal products, and the fact that most vegans take a B12 supplement, are more often than not used to confirm the superiority of an omnivorous diet.
Non-vegans (one is tempted to say “anti-vegans”) play the B12 card not only in the trenches of everyday discourse, but in high profiled venues, such as the New York Times. Here’s a typical example from a Times forum on vegan athletes. One health professional, who suggested that the vegan ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek followed a “goofy” diet, reduced his analysis of veganism to this remark: “The one issue is vitamin B12, which is found only in meat.” (see “Of Interest” for the full piece)
Hence the common B-12 strike against veganism. This tact, though, is flawed for several reasons. While there’s no problem whatsoever highlighting the extra care that vegans should take to acquire B12, to suggest that the need to do so confirms the diet’s inadequacy is ludicrous and counterproductive.
It’s ludicrous and counterproductive because, more often than not, it’s the meat-eater who suffers extensive micronutrient deficiency, if not malnutrition. When a significant portion of your calories come from meat, eggs, butter, and cheese, you are most likely not consuming nutrient dense foods in sufficient quantity to cover our vast nutritional and micro-nutritional requirements. It’s the meat eater who needs to wake up and take note of nutritional deficiencies.
And he’d do well to consult a vegan. Vegans who concentrate on eating a diverse array of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes might miss out on B12, but they cover a range of other nutrients that non-vegans systematically miss. No diet is perfect, but a healthy vegan diet generally comes a lot closer to nutritional perfection than an animal-based diet. To single it out for a single deficiency is not only hypocritical, but a disservice to those seeking to eat in a way that improved their personal health.
Another point to consider is the argument that veganism is not natural. It’s not natural because, well, why else would you have to take a supplement? Technically speaking, it’s possible for vegans to get B12 without a supplement, but supplements are highly recommended. I certainly take one. Does this make the diet “unnatural”?
This claim takes us deep into the question of what we mean by “natural”? In a sense, nearly everything we eat is unnatural. Humans have manipulated the plant and animal kingdoms to make portions of them edible. That’s agriculture. And you could easily say that that’s “unnatural.”
The history of plant breeding bears this point out vividly. Ever seen a wild strand of corn? A wild banana? Both are practically inedible. Breeding made them food. Is that natural? Well, not less so, I would argue, than taking a dietary supplement. More to the point, what’s natural about forcibly impregnating an animal and drinking her bodily secretions? That’s both unnatural and cruel.
In addition to these counterarguments, another way—perhaps the most important way–to take on these arguments is to lead by example. Vegans can best battle the stereotype of the nutritionally deprived plant muncher by remembering that eating well is the best revenge. Too often I attend vegan and vegetarian festivals and notice that the tables are peddling a ton of junk food. God bless vegan cupcakes, but let’s keep them a rarity, enjoy them in moderation, and bring on the kale.
And take that B12 supplement with pride.
Vegans who are secure in their veganism can be forgiven for thinking going vegan is the easiest thing in the world to do. Most of us cannot imagine that we ever lived our lives as non-vegans. Veganism becomes so deeply integral to our identities that we’re endlessly enthralled–true believers that we are–with what it’s done for the quality of our lives (and others’). So enthralled are we that our approach to converting others basically boils down to this: just do it! Sure, we suggest resources and are on hand at all times for advice, but it pretty much tends to come back to those three words of exhortation: just . . . do . . . it.
I’m currently in Bentonville, Arkansas. While one might praise the fact that I can leave my hotel and walk to a plethora of restaurants (thus avoiding unneeded use of my car), those restaurants would include such places as Denny’s, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Honeybaked Ham Cafe. Last night at a Sushi restaurant (that I had to drive to) the chef foisted over the counter, without our asking, a few free options. These included fried fish and some weird deep fried sushi roll smothered in melted cream creese. Today I ran on the town’s local exercise trail. It snakes through Walmart parking lots and industrial parks. Not an experience I’d want to repeat. At one point the smell of burning plastic was so bad I had to stop. I don’t mean to bash Bentonville (after all, check out this place), but my point is that it would be a hard place to adopt a healthy vegan lifestyle.
Going vegan is about aligning two compasses. There’s our internal compass–the one that points to will power, ethical passion, and commitment to a cause beyond ourselves. Then there’s the external compass, the one that attempts to negotiate a landscape of food options, healthy lifestyle choices, supportive groups, and other forms of affirmation of the life we want to lead. Both are critical. Vegans are, and should always be, attuned to the environmental implication of veganism. We must never forget that “environment” is about much more than air, soil, water, flora, and fauna. It’s also about the physical infrastructure around us. The place that our external compass is always spanning for options and support. The place where we go out and “just do it.”