Vegan has gone mainstream. It’s not just for hippies, celebrities and politicians anymore – it’s become big business. Even Starbucks has had to buckle to the demands of the market, providing dairy free alternatives. And you can’t go down the aisles of the grocery store anymore without noticing “Vegan” proudly stamped on a growing number of products.
Why do Vegan and Vegetarian diets continue to gain traction? There is no one reason. There is an appeal that connects with people on a very emotional and core level whether it be for the sake of animals, the planet or our health. The arguments against all things animal also appeal to those who just want to eat “clean” and of course, lose weight. So is veganism a panacea or just another fad diet?
In the 90’s, I read a book that changed my life: “Diet For A New America” by John Robbins. OMG. I instantly stopped eating meat and dairy and thus began, what I now refer to as, the Vegan Years. I loved my new eating regime – the food was good but more than that, I felt as if I was saving animals while becoming healthier and hopefully, thinner.
Except I wasn’t. I happily ate my mock chicken tofu and veggie burgers and yet I could not lose the weight I wanted. It seemed I was always bloated, tired and having some kind of digestion issues. So I thought I needed to clean it up even more and for a short period of time I even went Raw. That was all a long time ago – before it was trendy – and now you can find Raw restaurants (which are awesome!) and plenty of Raw Food products at the grocery story. Just goes to prove that as demand grows, the market responds.
Although I still love me some Raw Food yumminess, I did reintroduce animal protein back into my diet. I work with a lot of clients who eat Vegan or Vegetarian and totally respect their choice; it’s just no longer my choice for several reasons. I would explain them all to you except I have a better idea – I’ll share a book with you that does a much better job called “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith.
After Lierre Keith experienced 20 years of poor health as a practicing vegan, she took responsibility for her own health and education on the subject. In her book, Keith takes on the widespread notion that vegetarianism is good for health along with the planet. She proceeds to dispute this belief and goes on to explain why a global shift towards veganism would have dire consequences. She focuses on three of the most common arguments people have for being vegetarian or vegan including moral, political, and nutritional.
Many vegetarians claim that the reason they don’t eat meat is because they’re against the killing of living things. Keith herself was a moral vegan who believed that living a life free of animal products was both meaningful and ethical. She decided to grow her own food but soon found that in order for her plants to grow, the soil needed nitrogen with blood and bone meal. As she humorously points out, even though she didn’t want dead animals, her garden did.
Even the natural pesticides Keith looked into to protect her plants from getting eaten by bugs contained insect guts. Instead of chemicals she could opt for using chickens, however, this too was a double standard, as they would kill the bugs. She finally accepted that in order to physically exist, killing is necessary and it’s absolutely impossible to eat something that hasn’t lived. Just because there isn’t a dead animal on the plate doesn’t mean numerous animals didn’t die for that serving of rice and tofu. In fact, farm machinery used for agriculture, kills numerous animals and destroys countless animals homes due to the land needed to farm these crops. She makes a case that a soy burger requires just as much death (if not more!) than the one made of beef… oopsie.
Keith also addresses the argument that the entire world could be fed if people didn’t eat meat. If we weren’t using all of that grain to feed the animals that we eat, we could feed the hungry in every nation, right? Not quite. First, Keith points out that animals aren’t supposed to be eating grain in feedlots in the first place. Instead, they should be eating grass in pastures, nourishing the soil with the nutrients from manure. Animals aren’t even designed to digest the corn that they’re so often fed. She also discusses how mono-crop agriculture is anything but sustainable. Pasture raised animals create necessary topsoil, while the process of raising corn destroys it. Not only does it use a ton of water and create soil runoff, but when topsoil disappears, fossil fuels are required to continue growing the crops. The world simply isn’t equipped for this much farming and with increasing crop yields we’re at risk for running out of oil to fertilize and transport them. See where she’s going with this?
Keith also touches upon the fact that if we were all to eat crops instead of animals, the grain based diet would only contribute to malnourishment, rather than feeding the hungry. Grains are unhealthy for so many reasons. They contain anti-nutrients, can rapidly spike blood sugar, are difficult to digest, and can lead to severe brain disease. Keith points out that altering the food chain by replacing animals with soy and grain not only destroys the circle of life, but simply isn’t sustainable.
Keith takes on what’s probably the most common argument in favor of veganism and vegetarianism; that it’s the healthiest diet. She writes about how her 20 year vegan diet destroyed her health and how she unfortunately still suffers some of the permanent consequences, such as a disintegrated spine. Many vegetarians argue that green, leafy vegetables contain all of the nutrients we need. After all, gorillas, elephants, giraffes, zebras, etc. survive on them. Actually, those plant-eating animals have the necessary bacteria to digest cellulose, something us humans don’t possess. Leafy greens are great, but they aren’t enough to sustain us. And as Keith continuously points out, grains and soy definitely aren’t the answer.
People who choose vegetarianism for the “health benefits” often seem to think that eating animal fats is unhealthy and will make them fat. In actuality, fat helps prevent fat, increases muscle, boosts our immune system, and prevents disease, along with a plethora of other benefits. When we lose meat, we lose those advantages. Keith also debunks the idea that all vegetarian and vegan foods are healthy. She gives us a terrifying statistic that food companies spend over 33 billion dollars a year in advertising things like margarine, whole-wheat products, and soymilk as “healthy alternatives.” There’s nothing natural or healthy about these modified “foods.” The bottom line is grains and soy cause physical damage to our digestive systems (along with other dangerous side effects) and our bodies need animals in order to live a healthy, nutritious life.
“The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith is emotional, political and personal, shedding light on some of the most prominent vegetarian/vegan positions. Her arguments are compelling and definitely worth the read even if you don’t agree with her.
To be Vegan or not is a personal choice about what you want to eat. Become familiar with both sides and make your own decision – don’t just follow what a Hollywood trade mag has to say about the eating habits of your favorite celebrity. And if you choose to eat meat, you can support your local farmers that raise their pastured animals humanely, without hormones and antibiotics. Together, we can raise the demand for healthy animals and healthy food.
What books have you been reading lately? Any suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!