Are Vegans Low in Irony?

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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?

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About Sara Gottfried, MD

I believe in evidence-based ancient wisdom. I believe in eating your leafy greens rather than popping synthetic pills. I believe in Ayurveda and integrative medicine. I believe in botanical therapies over synthetic hormones. I believe you deserve to feel sexy, ripe and delicious. I believe in tending your flame. I believe that proactively managing and optimizing your health is your divine responsibility and a path to personal power. I’m a mother suspicious of processed sugar and a yogini hotly pursuing lithe, lean lusciousness. I’m committed to deep green, organic living. I’m a scholar and a seeker of truth, vitality, hormonal balance, sacred balance, spirituality and divine self-actualization. I’m Sara Gottfried, MD and you can find me at my website or love my Facebook page.


36 Responses to “Are Vegans Low in Irony?”

  1. Blake says:

    I'm glad that you said up front that a vegan diet is healthier than the Standard American Diet (SAD). The last part seems to get lost in the literature. What I'd like to know is if the water usage numbers are from the factory farming of cattle or what we can call SAD meat. Do these numbers differ with local, grass fed, pasture raised cattle?

  2. AMO says:

    Vegans ARE insufferable, and you're right, that their arguments often miss the mark. It also doesn't help that they say the things they say as if they were facts when, in fact, mostly it's mixed facts with conjecture, and it tries to touch a part of many people that isn't touchable with those pieces of information. I eat only organic locally grown meats, and very little of that. I don't consume any cow milk products because cow milk is really healthy for baby cows but not for human adults. I eat fish, though that too has a powerful environmental impact. I hope that as we all learn and grow together we can talk to one another without hyperbole and judgment. As soon as you start judging someone for something as personal as what they eat, you've lost them….

    • NotSoSure says:

      So, you start off saying all vegans are insufferable. Then you end with the hope the we all learn and grow and talk together. And finally you say "As soon as you start judging someone for something as personal as what they eat, you've lost them…. ".

      Err, don't you realize that calling vegans insufferable and then ending with a "non-judgement" comment is hypocritical? Comments like the ones found in your post are the problem.

      Also, calling all vegans insufferable is an error in logic. You do not know "All vegans". So, calling all vegans insufferable is a hateful projection on your part.

  3. palariviere says:

    As a vegan, from being a vegetarian. I switch to veganism after seeing a picture of a milk cow laying dead on the cement of an industrial dairy farm. I was follwing a lacto-vegetarian diet like the one found in indian ashram. I won't get back to meat, I do not have any craving for meat. I know a man in my yoga community that has been intoxicated by mercrury, he was eating salmon 4 times a week for years. The mercury as accumulated in his legs, at the peak of the intoxication, he was not able to move his legs. Frightening. The civilization begins when humanity was able to grow wheat and other cereals so they can stock food for winter and have time off so arts, litterature, science, religion flourished.

  4. Rennie says:

    Just watch Earthlings
    Popularity is nothing compared to the cruelty behind the dairy/egg/flesh/skin skin industries
    some of us are vegan because we are animal lovers or environmentalists or health driven. Shouldn't generalise vegans.
    I think any vegan would help if someone wanted to go crueltyfree, or even reveal which seemingly vegetarian products (even in sweets, fizzy drink, alcohol) use cochineal/carmine/e120/crushed beetle, gelatine, isinglaas fish swimbladder or beaver anal gland!

  5. Rena Maya says:

    nice ego speech
    now turn vegan and read this a month later 😉

    • elephantjournal says:

      Monica DiBisceglie My husband is a Vegan…and I agree some, if not most are insufferable. I tease him often, he knows it's all in love. My 8 year old was telling me about that same water for beef vs.'s starts early. 😀

      Bonnie Brown Eat what you want just know where it comes from……

      Wong Tho Kong Being a vegetarian or vegan is a personal thing eithier you see the light of it or not.

      Tim de Phan Thank you for teaching me a lesson, Dr. Sara Gottfried.

      Dave Gilstrap
      Vegans that wear it on their sleeve stick out but are not the majority. Most, humbly like myself, are developmental and it becomes but part of a broader mindful lifestyle and deepens. Mnay years after becoming a vegan, I was living in Taiw…an when a nationwide swine diease required the killing of all pigs in the country. While the pigs were lilled and buried , the effect was contamination of the ground water. It was a disaster. Water run off from hog farms in the USA is also a problem, therefore just one of many environmental and health reasons to think vegan. I have been a vegan for 30 years yet will allow myself to ocassionally eat WILD CAUGHT fish. No need to turn it into a religion, just know your food and become mindful. Thanks for the article.
      Michael Lines Well said Rena.

  6. Janet says:

    I would rather be "serious, earnest and downright irritating" than a participant in animal suffering. If that makes me insufferable, I guess guilty as charged.

  7. Lettuce Havsomesence says:

    whether vegans are insufferable or not will end up on the floor like other debates (religion, abortion, and politics).

    the part about vegan that bothers me the most is the separation of veganism and vegetarianism. if i tell someone i’m vegetarian, i have to preface it with a definition of what vegetarian is as there is always someone that says, “what about eggs, or milk, or cheese?” i hate that! all those off shoots are just one being an omnivore. adding ovo to vegetarian is as ludicrous as adding bovine in front of it! everyone will think you’re an idiot if you say you’re a vegetarian but will also only eat cows! i really feel that anyone that wants to be called a vegetarian should stop shoving animal products in their pie-hole. what is the purpose of eating a vegetarian diet and then topping it off with poison? there is unrefutable evidence that the consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol is unhealthy. if you want to eat what you want to eat, great, do it, but stay out of the vegetarian and vegan bulletin boards and networking sites.

    and those that say they eat only farm-raised this or free-range that, or grass fed, or corn fed, or milk-fed… give me a break! that is as insane as saying, “i do cocaine, but i get it from a friend that cuts it himself! i know what’s in it and where it comes from.” is anyone going to stop and listen to what they are saying. “yeah, i’ve read the articles and studies and scientific journals, but i think they are all untrue. the cattle industry pays scientist to fake their studies so that the cattle industry will have more attention brought on themselves.” who is going to go to school for years and years and years, learn all about the scientific method, probably have tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, have a job with a major national laboratory that took ten years to get, and then throw their whole career away to just go and write a study based ego, hearsay, and unverifiable sources?!

    lets put aside the ethics and morality of the animal processing industry and just assume that there is no veganism, just plant-based or animal-based diets… lets to do an experiment where one group eats a plant-based diet and one group eats a meat-based diet. what do you think is going to happen in 40 years? within a bell-curve, the meat-based diet is going to reveal many more with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. within a bell-curve, the plant-based diet is going to reveal less if none with cancers, less if none with heart disease, little or no diabetes, healthy blood pressure ranges and the lack of obesity… now, i can guarantee that i’ll have a dozen or so meat-eaters jump up and say, “just because you don’t eat meat, doesn’t mean you can’t get cancer!” OF COARSE IT IS POSSIBLE, YOU DUMB ASS! again, no one reads or listen to anything that was just presented… within a normal bell curve there will always be those that fall outside of the norms… there will always be people that bring disease on themselves by drinking, druging and smoking! but we are talking about a plant-based diet versus a animal-based diet and the final outcome of the participants of this study 40 years down the road!

    and lastly, does anyone know how to communicate and listen anymore? no wonder that more than half of all marriages end in divorce and there are so many lawsuits! no one knows how to use “i” statements, no one reads anymore, no one takes the time to investigate something before jumping headfirst into the unknown. i know people that graduate with master’s degrees now and have never been in a library or know what microfilm or microfiche are! if all it takes to get a graduate degree is paying the tuition and a connection to the internet, then i think i’m going to become everything i always wanted to be when i grow up!

    • Louise Brooks says:

      Ah….so Lettuce, you are a great example of what an "insufferable vegan" is!

    • Abby says:

      Amen, especially to the communication bit. No one seems to do any research anymore before they jump headlong into a diet, exercise plan, or frankly, anything else. I recently left a Facebook discussion group on essential oils because it made me too crazy to read posts from people who had home-diagnosed their kids with an illness and wanted to know how to treat it with EOs. They hadn't even taken the child to a doctor to confirm what they suspect, WHAT? What I find insufferable is the lack of thinking for oneself I see around me these days. . . don't just accept something as truth just because you read it on the interwebs! Research it!

  8. tanya lee markul says:

    Great blog Sara!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

  9. Rennie says:

    I think the article used insults to get attention/hits. Would have been useful to include a link or footage of what actually happens in these industries- get visits to that instead of bitchiness

  10. Luz says:

    All this is so confusing for me. When I was a kid I lived in small town and had farm animals that we cared for and allowed them to be out and about. At least to me in my mind it felt as if they needed us and we needed them.
    Now I see how cruel people are to these animals and it makes me so sad to see that. How ungrateful they are after all these creatures provide to us. And I think to my self what can I do? Well for one I can stop consuming animal products and that one day it will make a difference.
    Then I go into another debate! We didn't only have farm animals we also an orchards and we grew strawberries, pumpkins, potatoes, carrots and many fruits and veggies. My grandmother loved her plants and was well known for her beautiful garden. I remember her talking to her plants, telling them how nice they looked and would touch them as if they were a person. When ever shes not home she leaves music for her indoor plants and talks to them all the time. I know that plants of all kinds can feel too. How can they not? they are alive too, other wise they wouldn't grow. I talk to my plants and trees and feel a connection with them too.

    So what now? To me everything that grows is alive. What should I eat?

    • karlsaliter says:

      Luz, a plant-based diet consumes less lives.

    • evolvingnature says:

      Plants are a live, but not sentient. Ethylene production dictates much of their growth patterns in a process called thigmomorphogenesis. Eating plants and eating animals are two entirely different things. Plants cannot "feel" pain. They don't possess even the most rudimentary of nervous systems. Xylem and Phloem is all we're working with, here. I appreciate the argument that we should respect all living things, of course we should. However, this falls flat when debating the vegan diet.

  11. Emer says:

    Sara, judging by some of the responses I think you have proved your point. Keep your charm and humor intact as long as you can.

  12. Robb Wolf says:

    Could you comment on these two issues:
    Veganism and malnutrition:

    And the myth or veganism and least harm:

  13. betterdeal says:

    I question the comparison between vegans and the standard. People who choose a vegan diet are, on average, more health aware and more likely to make choices with the notion of eating healthy than the average person in an omnivorous society. I'm sure omnivorous athletes are, on average, healthier than the average person. The group is a bit self-selecting in other words.

    That said, I like the article. Making your lifestyle choices with a view to achieving personal happiness, and having a positive sense of humour as well makes sense to me: a long, meaningful and happy life is something that appeals to me too.

  14. Helen says:

    Well thought Luz. I agree.

    A couple of points –
    – this articles compares veganism to the SAD (standard american diet) – well of course it comes off better, virtually any other way of eating on the planet would. seriously.
    – Secondly it focuses only on the industrial meat and dairy world, rather than looking at and comparing local compassionate farmers and food sources, such as your childhood experience. These options are still available today, you just need to search out for them and connect with others.
    There are several differences that come from the above point – there is the stark difference in the ways the animals are reared, cared for and killed and there is also a stark difference in the amount of water used for the production of animal / vegetarian food per pound. It also takes into account other environmental factors like green house gasses, as cows feeding on grassy fields produce far less gas than those fed grains in feed lots.

    Taking the above points into consideration would make the article more balanced.

  15. Helen says:

    A couple of points –
    – this articles compares veganism to the SAD (standard american diet) – well of course it comes off better, virtually any other way of eating on the planet would. seriously.
    – Secondly it focuses only on the industrial meat and dairy world, rather than looking at and comparing local compassionate farmers and food sources, such as your childhood experience. These options are still available today, you just need to search out for them and connect with others.
    There are several differences that come from the above point – there is the stark difference in the ways the animals are reared, cared for and killed and there is also a stark difference in the amount of water used for the production of animal / vegetarian food per pound. It also takes into account other environmental factors like green house gasses, as cows feeding on grassy fields produce far less gas than those fed grains in feed lots.

    Taking the above points into consideration would make the article more balanced.

  16. Jesse says:

    Please get over yourself. I love how if you become vegan for purposes beyond yourself you are considered insufferable, yet if you make the change based on egocentric reasons you are fine. Seems like it should be the other way around. Making decisions based solely on yourself is not seeking the truth. Maybe the author (scholar of gyncecology, not ancient wisdom) should do some more research into ancient wisdom and see how it coincides with modern scientific trends.

    "I don't only believe. I know, and I do." -authors words. Well if you know it is better, for both you and our mutual environment than start doing like you say you do.

  17. Melinda says:

    I love sara!

  18. Dace says:

    The only compassion in action is – living doing less harm and the most good.
    Our mind is always looking for arguments, reasoning and evidence, but once we master to silence it, the heart will guide us into responsible decisions.
    And it is well said before: " There is no peace possible in the world until people make peace with animal nations".

  19. Oso says:

    i find it much easier relating a description of my favorite foods, how they're made and leave it at that. i don't declare a staunch stand or appear to be against something but share simple pleasures of food. that opens doors, a shared meal is a language in itself. we tend to look for absolutes where chaos prevails and in diet, personal needs and preferences chaos gets cranked up a notch or two.

  20. Daniella says:

    so the vegans you refer to are insufferable for having a point of view that's different than yours – way to be tolerant Doctor

  21. oz_ says:

    As an engineer, I would have hoped for an analysis that did not engage in the 'false dichotomy' fallacy I see so often in pro-vegan pieces like this one.

    You compare veganism only with the SAD – when the fact is that almost any diet you could choose short of eating raw toxic waste would look healthful by comparison.

    This says more about the unhealthful nature of the SAD than it does about veganism.

    If in fact your goal is evidence-based wisdom, I'd suggest giving the following a read:

    The water argument also suffers from the fale choice fallacy: as long as all you compare to is CAFO-produced meat, then your point is valid. But what about non-feedlot meat? For example, truly free range bison that use natural water supplies vs vegetable farming that must divert water from natural sources? That's a far tougher analysis, especially if you expand that analysis to not isolate only water, but consider water as just one factor, in a holistic, complex systems analysis, which is what is called for?

    What about the FACT that the mere presence of bison on a Great Plains ranch actually serves to restore the ecosystems to a far more ecologically balanced state? That when you add bison, you then see everything flourish: flora, insects, bords, predators, etc? Bison is a keystone species in the Great Plains – what would an ecological analysis look like if bison were excluded and only vegetable farms were allowed?

    In fact ,what if we flip your false dichotomy around, and point out that huge farms that grow only vegetables (including organic ones) first must kill off or drive away ALL animals and then establish that veggie farm acreage as a permanent animal exclusion zone? So much so that we now feature, world-wide, about 3.8 BILLION hectares of land where animals – pollinators excluded – are not permitted? This is ecologically irresponsible, to put it mildly.

    Let's consider for a moment Aldo Leopold's land ethic:

    "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

    If you are willing to accept this ethic (which I am), then the case can easily be made that eating bison is far superior to eating only veggies (unless those veggies were produced in a permaculture-based scenario), in terms of ecological benefits. Especially if the harvesting of bison is done humanely (see: Buffalo for the Broken Heart, by Dan O'Brien).

    I would also argue that the science shows pretty clearly that eating a diet largely based on plants, but that includes animal products such as meat, eggs, and small-scale, local dairy (e.g. raw goat milk), leads to perfectly healthy individuals, and in fact to individuals far healthier than many vegans I know whose health is appalling thanks to huge intake of non-fermented soy (often in the form of 'meat substitutes') and vegan processed foods (often based on high omega-6 oils, which inarguably leads to chronic inflammation).

    But in the case that you DO continue to push veganism (which, don't get me wrong, can be done healthfully, if one is willing to invest the thought and the time [approx 2 hours per day for cooking] and the money), then I'd suggest you also offer this valuable information along with that recommendation:

    You see, the problem here is not as simplistic as 'should I eat feedlot beef or go vegan' – the problem is with our proclivity for short cut thinking – using labels (like 'vegan' or 'organic') in order to avoid having to think through what is a complex issue. And engaging in fallacious 'false choice' reasoning, as this article does, keeps people in that short cut mode. As a fellow engineer, I'd encourage you to allow for more of the variables that are at play here to enter into your thinking, and your writing. It's just not as simple as you've made it out to be, and that does people a disservice.

  22. Erin says:

    Live and let live. I'm sorry you find certain vegans insufferable. I could care less about what other people eat and why they eat the way they do. I mostly just worry about what I eat. But what you find insufferable in other people is probably just a reflection of yourself, so you must see something you don't like about yourself in "insufferable" vegans.

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