Monday, June 18, 2007

More on “to be or not to be” vegan

There was a comment posted this morning on yesterday’s blog that got me thinking, and I thought I should give the “to be or not to be … vegan” ;-) question a bit more attention.

First, let me make it clear that I would positively love it if every human on the planet could jump on the vegan bandwagon tomorrow. It’s better for the environment, it saves massive energy resources, it’s kinder to animals, etc. If any of us here have been vegan or vegetarian for any length of time, we know our own reasons for doing it and one or more of them are likely at least a variation of those. (Of course, this raises other issues, such as how we animal-loving vegans would feed our carnivorous – and domesticated – kitties especially without the meat industry to help us, but let that be a topic for another post at some point.)

But it’s not just that I think it’s unrealistic to think that everyone will become vegan with some education and perhaps a little pushing. I do think it’s unrealistic, actually, but that’s really another issue. It’s that I don’t think everyone *can* be completely vegan. Here’s why.

I used to think that everyone could be vegan if they wanted to be. I still think it’s true that *most* people could probably be vegan if they wanted to (which is yet another issue), but not everyone anymore. This is a conclusion I reached after a lot of years spent watching and learning in this lifestyle. Like I’ve said before, I know one person who has to have animal products in his diet regularly or he’d literally die because he can’t make his own cholesterol like most of us can. Two more have more subtle discomfort, but nonetheless they feel they do best with just a little meat. I don’t think this is a mistake, or greed, or misdiagnosis, whatever. I think it’s simply a fact that some people need a little meat to be healthy.

Why? Because the human species has been the most adaptive on the planet, and in evolutionary terms, our ancestors had to adapt to the food sources they had around them. Some had mostly fruit, beans, veggies and grains, while others had a lot more meat. You ate what you got, period, or you didn’t survive. So I think it stands to reason that we’ve come through history with traces of those diets embedded in our genes, depending. Some of us can’t stand the sight of meat, some of us need just a little, some of us can adapt either way.

Given that the medical community can’t agree across the board whether or not veganism is healthy (Dean Ornish supports it, for example, but I can’t tell you how many lectures I’ve heard other docs give about the need for dairy in the diet to get calcium still … and they’re not uncommon), I think this is probably an illustration of needing different strokes for different folks, not an endorsement of “one size fits all,” even if we’d like it to happen for veganism.

Again, what I most hope is that those who eat a meat-centered diet now switch to one that’s plant-centered with some meat in it if they need it. This would be no small change. After all, if three die-hard meat eaters drop their meat consumption by about 30% (for starters), that’s the same as if one person goes completely vegetarian. Still a huge impact. :-)


  1. I just stumbled across your blog while doing a quick search and while I haven't read anything other than this post, I will certainly return because this is one of the most thoughtful and reasoned positions on veganism, vegetarianism, and food choices in general I have read. My boyfriend is a vegan and I've recently cut out meat and poultry from my diet through no prompting on his part. After a few months of seeing many things through his eyes (not just food), it just seemed odd for me, a self-professed animal lover, to not at least question my meat-eating ways. Now it's been a good two months now since I've eaten meat or poultry, cheese with rennet or much cow's milk (it's funny but I was never much of a fish eater until I decided I just had to be a pescetarian while transitioning into and researching vegetarianism! And I used to mock them!)

    Anyways, I do sometimes wonder how I'll live without eating meat again, which, as much as what I've read about factory farming and meat production, is still something I think is tasty. There are some days when I over-rely on frozen mock meat products because I not only miss the taste of meat but I miss the full, satisfied feeling I get from eating it. I do love grains and produce but I don't always FEEL like I've eaten a complete meal. I've chalked this up to the fact that I'm still learning about a whole new way of, not just eating, but of thinking about food and what makes a meal. But I also think that while it would be great if we could all strive to be vegetarian or at least more vegetarian, I do not think some meat consumption is detrimental to our physical health. As you've noted in your post, some people NEED to consume meat. I once knew someone with pernicious anemia who also had to eat, not just meat, but raw meat.

    I've been trying hard not to eat meat but even if I do, I can't imagine easily going back to my old model of making meat the centerpiece or mainstay of my diet. Most omnivores could stand to eat a whole lot less meat and all of us could stand to eat a lot less processed goods.

    Thanks for offering a very smart and nuanced take on this issue. My boyfriend and I just started a blog, Mutual Menu, about some of the challenges and joys that arise when individuals in a group have different diets. Please check it out if you have a minute.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment and the compliment, Joselle. I applaud you for giving a vegan diet a fair go, but I understand what you mean about thinking you need a little meat. If everyone who feels they need some meat did as you think you might need to (do mostly vegetarian with just a little meat to satisfy as needed), that would still help environmental and animal cruelty problems immensely. I think most of the problem is that people are simply mindless about what they eat and where it comes from. A little education is a good thing. :-)

    I will certainly check out your blog. Thanks!