I am very passionate about nutrition and eating healthy, organic whole foods. I don’t follow any ”diet” or eating plan, instead I just eat a variety of foods that feel right to me. My own diet is heavy on plants and free of dairy which causes me to stumble onto vegan blogs from time to time, usually when searching recipes. However, I’ve never wanted to make the transition into a vegan diet because there are some things that, in my opinion, just don’t fit.
It seems like any time someone mentions a flaw with a vegan or vegetarian diet they run the risk of ruffling some feathers so I want to preface this by saying that I’m not on some hamburger-fueled mission to stop the vegans. I have friends and family that live this lifestyle (including my own husband) and I respect anyone who cares about the environment or their diet.
It’s very admirable to make a lifestyle choice based on a desire to decrease animal suffering by not partaking in the eating of animal products. I have found that most people in the vegan community think that a purchase of veggies instead of a purchase of meat is a vote for the health of our planet. However, you aren’t really saving the lives of animals. Most organic produce hails from HUGE farming operations, that are rife with many of the same environmental problems that exist on the non-organic industrial farms, such as:
enormous outputs of fossil fuels to run equipment to till, plant, harvest, process, and ship the food to your neighborhood health food store.
Less-than-safe working conditions for the laborers on the farm.
Thousands of tiny animals killed with each pass of the tilling and harvesting equipment. The animals in this case are mice, moles, rabbits and other creatures that are run over by tractors, or lose their habitat to make way for farming. They are not as “visible” as cattle, but the deaths are very real, nonetheless.
Hundreds of species of flora and fauna displaced to create cropland.
This begs the question, why is it okay to kill animals on the field but not okay to eat one cow? Which choice truly reduces suffering?
I will be the first person to agree with the vegan’s that the concentrated livestock operations (CAFO’s) are a bane on our planet, and an absolute catastrophe in regards to animal welfare and human health. But to conclude that because CAFO’s are harmful, the only other option is to stop eating meat altogether is to engage in a false dichotomy. There is a third, and better option for us; small-scale, grass-based family farms, where multiple species of livestock and crops are raised in such a way that have been proven over and over again to actually IMPROVE the existing environment, soil, water, air quality, and very capably feed the local community.
I love animals as much as the next person but everything in life requires sacrifice. There is a very well-written article on Food Renegade that talks about how everything in life comes from death. I am not as poetic as the author so I urge you to read it.
We, as a species, have thrived on meat for our whole existence. There seems to be a little debate about this; in fact, my husband says that there was some culture that survived on a diet free of animal protein, but I was unable to find any such information on the Internet (and we all know if it’s not on the Internet it’s simply untrue! LOL). If you look over some serious literature in the non-diet-biased fields of archaeology and anthropology, it quickly becomes clear that humans throughout history happily and gratefully chowed down on animal parts whenever the opportunity arose, and those opportunities were welcomed with gusto! Nutrient dense foods such as animal fat, meat, and eggs were life-saving for primitive people, who didn’t have the luxury of a Whole Foods store down the street.
Now, we modern humans DO have access to great food resources, however, choosing to eat this way is not necessarily a sustainable choice. One question I always ask the outspoken vegan people is this: Could you sustain yourself on a vegan diet if you only had access to foods within 100 miles of your home? For arguments sake, let’s say there is a zombie apocalypse and most of our food supply has been lost to looting. Are you going to continue being vegan or expect me to share the rabbit that I just killed? Inevitably the answer is a resounding ‘No!’.
If a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is only made possible by shipping food over long distances with fossil fuels, and taking copious amounts of supplements to stave off malnutrition, can this REALLY be called a viable, environmentally friendly lifestyle choice? I think not.
I realize that I said vegan and malnutrition in the same sentence so some heads are already rolling. Let me get into that point now. I’m well aware that many vegans do it for “health reasons”- because they truly believe, typically thanks to the China Study by Dr. Campbell, that eating a vegan diet can prevent and cure heart disease, as well as a number of other health conditions. Folks, there are studies that can back up any diet. There have been studies stating that eating broccoli has health concerns. These studies by Dr. Campbell only prove, in my opinion, that eating meat may increase your risk of heart disease, and as another blogger so cleverly put it, “Saying that your risk of heart disease “may increase” from eating red meat is like saying you “may” be able to breath fire if you eat enough jalapenos”.
Denise Minger from Raw Food SOS (an ex-vegan, herself) did a great job debunking some points in the China Study, and you can read her blog here.
Many people will argue that there is no need for animal protein in our diets, regardless of how sustainable or environmentally friendly the diet is. I have even heard that it’s not necessary to take supplements to meet dietary needs, yet whenever I read about vitamin deficiency I come across several comments from angry vegans who insist the whole thing could be avoided with supplements. So which is it? The problem is that here in America it’s hard to meet dietary needs on any eating plan, and many vegans come up short. Poorly planned vegan diets may be low in vitamin B12, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron, zinc, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and iodine. They often (and this one is my biggest pet peeve) eat too much processed food, which is very contradictory to the health benefits they preach about.
Without plenty of healthy fats in your diet, you are not able to assimilate and absorb the nutrients in fruits and vegetables. This means you can eat kale until you are green in the face, but if you’re not consuming enough healthy saturated fat, than you don’t even need to bother. And where do you find these healthy fats? Sure, you get them from coconut, avocado, almonds, and olive oil, but these sources are not always in season, not always convenient to purchase in your area, and are not always present in your diet in a high enough quantity on a given day to meet your body’s requirements to function properly.
While writing this post I came across dozens of blogs on google from ex-vegans/vegetarians who stopped the diet after realizing that they were sick. Some of these people had been on the eating plan for decades. I learned that statistically 75% of vegans/vegetarians return to eating meat. Some of the celebrities that I remembered as being vegan like Natalie Portman or Ellen are no longer vegan. In a way, this news doesn’t really surprise me.
In closing, if you are vegan, vegetarian or want to be one I would like to say: Do it right, or not at all. Just because you don’t eat meat or dairy doesn’t mean you are automatically healthier. Say no to processed foods!
Additionally, I don’t think there is only one way that people should eat. This article is simply about why I haven’t chosen this diet personally. I recommend this diet to people often for short-term weight loss and detox. This post talks mostly about what I believe are some cons to the vegan diet, but there are also health benefits to going plant strong and reducing or eliminating animal protein. We are all made differently; some people feel better without dairy, or gluten, or soy, or even meat. I believe that there are many paths to good health.