by Sara Gottfried, MD
I’m flirting with veganism, again.
Seems every Spring I feel a recurring stirring. I consider the sweet mother cows whose babies are taken from them so they can produce tons of milk for you and me (and not their calves).
But before I go all Alicia Silverstone on you, I need to confess that I find most vegans insufferable. And the more vegans understand this sentiment, the more effective they’ll be at promoting their mission. I’m behind the mission: but I come at it from the health benefits, and those benefits may be an easier sell.
Sure, I love the PETA campaigns. George Clooney’s girlfriend. Pam Anderson. Very funny and titilating, with a great message. Ironic. But the strident, brow-beating lectures proffered by vegans I know – no, thank you. Let me make my own damn decisions about what to eat without hearing the misery of Food, Inc scenes recreated to proselytize me toward not eating animal products. Let me dose myself on the misery, thanks.
How about I don my medical hat for a moment? Vegan diets rock. There’s significant data showing that vegans have significantly lower rates of heart disease compared to Americans on the Standard American Diet (SAD!). Dr. Caldwell Esselyne has published convincing data on the topic and even helped Bill Clinton become vegan after his recent brush with heart disease. Check out Bill! He lost 24 pounds and now rocks his high school weight! And that’s not all! Vegan diets are associated with far less inflammation, the precursor to all things bad such as cancer, achey joints, bad aging!
But it’s one thing to go vegan because of health benefits. Most of those folks still have a healthy sense of irony intact. It’s quite another to go vegan for ethical and/or environmental reasons.
My husband, David Gottfried, is the founder of the US and World Green Building Councils, and wrote the white paper on LEED, an international benchmark for how green a building or home can be, in 1993. Arguably, his nonprofits have done more to mitigate carbon than any other in the world because the building industry has an even worse carbon footprint than the meat industry. He’s an environmental zealot. What metric made him go veg? The water story.
Here’s the persuasive metric: how much water does it take to produce a pound of meat versus a pound of vegetables? As you might imagine, there are some folks answering that question with a conflict of interest. Most estimates range around 2500 gallons of water per pound of beef. Or as Newsweek put it, the amount of water to produce a 1000-pound steer would float a destroyer. Ask the beef industry, and they put the figure at 441 gallons.
What about gallons of water per pound of veggies? Take potatoes. The metric is put at 2 gallons of water per pound of potatoes. Now I don’t know exactly how fuzzy this math might be. I’m an engineer by training, and we have an organic vegetable garden. We capture rainwater to irrigate our garden and our veggies seem to need much more than 2 gallons of water to produce a pound. And I haven’t even touched the carbon footprint of other aspects of meat production, and the energy consumption needed to pump and treat water. Oy.
If you seek more rigorous data, you find rather consistently that regardless of the absolute numbers, it takes about 200-fold more water to produce a pound of beef than a pound of potatoes. Persuasive.
In any case, we both went veg last year: David for 3 months as a vegetarian and I went vegan for 6 months. Yes, it was temporary. We’re both O+ blood types, if you believe the eat-for-your-blood-type hype. I must say it was hard to persist.
And yet here I am again, feeling the pull toward veganism. I imagine the mama cow. I imagine looking in her eyes with a bowl of organic yogurt in front of me. Milk intended for her baby, not me. I harken back to my breatfeeding days, when I felt remarkably cow-like, and can’t fathom myself in a similar position – a milk prostitute.
Oops, there goes the irony. I get all serious, earnest and downright irritating. But irony is a great tool for the under-powered to use against the over-powered. Let’s get some supplemental irony to these vegans!
Yet I’m still motivated to go vegan, but with buckets of irony and humor. No taking myself too seriously. Let me know if I become insufferable!
Thanks to Leo Babauta for triggering the thoughts behind this post. You rock! Vegan?