Friday, June 15, 2007

What if everyone can’t be vegan?

I understand what those who push for veganism for all are going for, but I don’t agree with it for a few reasons. First of all, IMO, this thinking assumes that everyone physically *can* be vegan, meaning they don’t need animal protein or meat. That’s just not true; yes, most people probably can be, but not everyone.

Why? For most people, the liver can produce all the cholesterol you need by itself; you don’t have to actually ingest cholesterol in your diet. (And yes, despite its evil reputation, you do need some cholesterol to produce certain hormones, avoid osteoporosis, etc.) No plant food actually contains cholesterol, only animal-based foods. My father has this condition; if he doesn’t eat some every day, he’d literally be dead, because he would be getting no cholesterol in any form. Small group of people, I admit, but still there.

Second of all, I don’t think any of us fully understand the fine workings of the human body (and I’m no doctor, for sure) enough to say that *everyone* can follow a purely vegan diet and be healthy. Not just that small group of people I spoke of earlier who clearly need to ingest cholesterol, but those with varying degrees of need to ingest what is chemically a very different kind of protein than vegan-based foods but who have no exact diagnosis of any disorder. I have a couple of friends who desperately tried to become vegan because they so believe in it as a lifestyle, but they just couldn’t. They need to consume small amounts of meat regularly to feel their best. And I absolutely understand that, because I spent the first 18 years of *my* life feeling “off” because I *wasn’t* vegetarian. I didn’t even know you could be until I was in high school, and when I became one in my freshman year of college it was like an undercurrent of constant mild nausea was just gone. This had been a “natural” feeling to me previously that I didn’t even know was abnormal. So I’d never judge someone’s need to have a bit of meat in their diet for the same reason; BTDT. I *do* think we make the mistake of consuming a meat-centered diet instead of a plant-based one supplemented with meat if necessary, but this, too can change. Certainly, the mainstream medical community is *finally* jumping on board by advocating a largely vegetarian diet, even if not every doc believes you can be entirely vegan.

Third of all, although some would consider this less important than the other reasons, a lot of vegans, me included, have pets. So if you’re a pet “parent,” you’re an indirect consumer of the meat industry even if you don’t eat meat yourself. I have no idea how I’d feed my beloved kitties and keep them their healthiest were the meat production industry to disappear tomorrow. I know you can feed them taurine supplements and try, but I don’t think it’s healthy for true carnivores to have a meat-free diet. So, what to do then? Feed them freeze-dried mice? Set them loose and let them try to fend for themselves? I’m sure this could happen, but I don’t know if it’s best, and as I said, I don’t think it needs to happen. I think a modification in the industry will help a lot, so that the environment *and* the animals who make the ultimate sacrifice are both cared for and appreciated appropriately.


  1. ohmygod... this is unbelievable. just why do you call yourself vegan??? i totally do not judge omnivores, i totally do not judge vegetarians, i totally do not judge vegans who fall of the wagon every once in a while, but advertising meat in such a boldfaced blatant manner... saying you need it to get all your protein.. so we are back to the protein-lie, are we? wow, i'm speechless....

  2. Anonymous, thanks for your comments, but I think you misunderstand. I am *not* saying everyone must have meat. I am saying there are people who may (even probably) need some. Certainly, I know one person who can't make his own cholesterol and needs some animal-based protein in his diet to be healthy. (You can't get cholesterol itself from plant foods; it has to come from animal products.) And I know at least two people who would love to be vegan and just can't. They feel they need just a little meat to be healthy. I had the same situation in the reverse; I didn't feel my best until I eliminated meat. Really two sides of the same coin.

    Like you, I don't judge. I just want people to be their healthiest, and I want to encourage less dependence on animal protein (to benefit us, the environment, and the animals raised for food). I also hope that we can change practices so that the animals raised for food are treated gently and with respect and gratitude throughout. I don't think the meat industry can or even should go away entirely; it just needs to change. Thanks again for your comments.

  3. hi lazy :-)

    cholesterol is found by the boadload in dairy products such as cheese. there is NO reason to eat meat for this.

    and this "i need meat to feel healthy" thing... it is not that people need meat, they need protein, iron, zinc, etc...

    with a little effort, again these minerals and nutrients are found abundently in plant-based foods. after all, where do horses, cows, elephants, giraffs etc. get their strength from?

    the only problem people might have is their habits. i think habits and traditions are a very poor excuse for defending the consumption of cruelly raised and slaughtered sentient beings.

    the last point you address is feeding pets. again, just so we can lock up dogs and cats in small homes and keep them for our amusement (I am not saying this is what you do, but just look around and ask yourselv if this particular cat/dog would consent to the way it is kept) is a very weak excuse for perpetuating the scandalous ways we raise and kill animals.

  4. one mor thought: you wish that "the animals raised for food are treated gently and with respect and gratitude throughout".

    just think about this: being locked up in a place/cage/box your entire live, regardless of its size...

    tenderly being transported to the slaughterhouse where peolpe uuhhh.. caress you to death?

  5. Hi, Anonymous:

    I agree that you may be able to get all of the cholesterol you need from cheese, but there may be other factors at play, too, that even doctors aren’t aware of yet. If you read my post from the 18th, I think the fact that some of us crave meat and some can’t stand it may very well have something to do with our genetics and ever so slightly different physical needs between people. We are, after all, *omnivores* by design and historical development, not purely vegetarian as horses, cows, and giraffes are. They never ate meat to adapt and survive; we did, so we may carry those characteristics with us now, depending on what we’ve carried on from our ancestors. These animals are also completely different species than we are, so saying that because they don’t need meat we never should either is not a sound argument, IMO.

    I used to think as you do, but I no longer judge anyone who thinks they need a little meat. And because it’s not going to be eradicated as a food source any time soon, why not spend your energy educating people (gently :-) ) about the cruelty of the current industry (which badly needs changing), and encouraging less consumption rather than no consumption? I do think getting combative about the subject with folks only makes them defensive and not willing to listen, and I don’t blame them. I’ve also found that a lot of the time, once people realize you don’t judge that they eat meat, they relax about it and are the first to admit that they eat too much; perfect opportunity to begin to get them to reduce their consumption by showing them easy ways to add veggies, legumes and grains.

    As to your point about pets consenting to the way they’ve been domesticated, no, they probably didn’t, historically, thousands of years ago. But they’re here now and it’s up to those of us who have them to take care of them. I will say that I absolutely think mine have a much better life than they would were they simply loose and fending for themselves.

  6. >just think about this: being locked up in a place/cage/box your entire live, regardless of its size...


    Nope, no cages or boxes. Free range is much more humane. Currently, a few places do it, but I'd like to see it become a practice across the board. Lots of changes have to happen first, though.

  7. Free range? Isn't the definition of free range something like 10 minutes a day. That certainly is some life.

  8. Where did you hear that free range simply meant that an animal was allowed 10 minutes a day unconfined? All the research I've done on free range shows that the animals are unconfined as a matter of course. I'd be interested to hear where you're getting your information, thanks.

  9. Another Lazy VeganApril 17, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    "No plant food actually contains cholesterol, only animal-based foods."

    Found these in a cursory google search. Just thought you'd like to know.

  10. Thanks, "Another Lazy Vegan." I did know that, but helpful info for those who don't. :-)

  11. Thank you so much for your open-mindedness. I was vegan for three years due to my belief that we shouldn't eat animals. However, I have Cystic Fibrosis and have to take enzymes to digest my food. I worked with a nutritionist to make sure I was eating everything I should have been but over the time I was vegan I started to get sicker and sicker. My body was just not able to take what it needed from what I was eating.

    Finally at the end of the three years my doctor told me that my body could just not survive on a vegan diet. My vitamins were almost nil and I would fall asleep at the drop of a hat. I had absolutely no energy and felt nauseous all the time. I had known him since I was a child.. and he BEGGED me to start eating animal protein again.

    I did so.. and although it was a bit hard keeping the meat down at first.. I felt better after the first week. It took a full year to get all of my vitamin levels back up to normal and to really feel well again. I still have problems with eating meat but I know I need it. None of my previous vegan friends understand that even though they saw how sick I was.

    I HAVE to eat it. Not everyone is like that, but I am. I still believe in the vegan diet. Just because I can't do it, doesn't mean others can't. I use to believe the world would be completely vegan in the future.. but after my troubles, I think the most we can hope for is for people to eat MOSTLY vegetarian.

    Thank you for being one of the very few people I've found that understands.

  12. You're welcome, Anonymous. :-) I don't think there's anything selfish about putting your own health first. Best of luck to you.

  13. Thank you for posting this. I needed somewhere to talk about this. I know this is an old post. I have tried to be vegan for a year. I'm allergic to milk, so I thought it would be easy, even though i am allergic to soy as well. Let's just say I was completely wrong. I have a bowel disorder so I have to eat a really low amount of fiber. Everything that is a substitute for meat either has soy in it, has a lot of fiber, or both. I was extremely light headed and sick a lot. I had to start eating fish. You are right, not everyone can be vegan, believe me, I wanted it more than anything.

  14. >I know this is an old post.

    Not a problem, Anonymous. It's still pretty active here regardless. Kudos to you for trying to be vegan -- and for putting your own health first when it was clear you couldn't. My goal here is to get people to take a look at what they're eating and make thoughtful choices that will *minimize* (not necessarily eliminate) negative impacts, and also not necessarily to become full-time vegetarians if it's clear they can't.

  15. i agree with your post. i was vegan for six months. oddly, i didn't crave meat or animal products. but i did get sick and became unable to eat many foods, including most fruits and many raw veggies. which is basically the bulk of a vegan diet.

    i didn't go back to meat. i just drank milk and ate some cheese. i don't think meat is required for anyone who can eat milk and cheese. they basically have all the same properties as meat.

    i wish i could be vegan. but i don't know how. i've tried like mad to find on google what i was missing, but i haven't been able to. i ate tofu and nutritional yeast and soy milk and tons of beans and nuts and lots of grains and produce. nothing helped except cow's milk. i try to buy kind brands, but they are not always available.

  16. Thank you for writing this. And thank you, too, to the commentators. I've been vegetarian for 15 years and vegan for six. And I am sick. Very sick. In the past year, I've had multiple doctors tell me that my vegan diet is to blame and I haven't believed them.

    Then I talked to my family. I should mention that I'm Indigenous. My grandparents are Arctic First Peoples, you know, the ones who subsist almost entirely on animal products because you can't grow anything in that climate? Well, I learned that each and every member of my family (we aren't close, or I would've known earlier) has a condition where we cannot build long-chain fatty acids from short-chain ones; we must consume them. We also cannot appropriate iron or protein easily from any food source; doctors measure our appropriation at about 20%. If you're living entirely off seal meat, that's a great mechanism for avoiding the ill effects of too much iron or protein. If you're living off kale and beans, it's a recipe for disaster. I could go on into our family's unique medical issues related to changing hundreds or thousands of years of dietary habits in three generations, but I think you get the idea.

    So I'm falling off the vegan wagon. And I feel like hell about it. But, having spent over a year in casts because broken bones won't heal, only to break new ones and tear ligaments due to the simple physical stress of the weight of the cast, and the multiple surgeries I've had to repair this damage, well, I'm going to eat meat. Will I be very selective, researching local farmers to make sure the animals had the best possible life before being murdered? Yes, I will. Will I feel horrible every time I take a mouthful? Yes, I will. Will I acknowledge that I need to do this or, as doctors say, I will die prematurely? Yes, I will.

    One thing I haven't shared: I'm a prominent member of an animal rights group. Being vegan is a job requirement. This choice for my health will cost me my job.

    And, if the vegan community is so narrow-minded that they cannot understand (as some here have shown) that not everyone has the same genetic blueprint, well, maybe that's why vegan advocacy is failing; market research shows that the public -- even those sympathetic to animal causes -- see vegans as elitist, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I'm starting to see where they're coming from.