March 29, 2019

Why a Diet of Vegan Extremism isn’t Healthy for Everyone.


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Can some of us enjoy a good burger without it meaning that we’re pet-owning hypocrites, or that we don’t care about the environment?

Recent days have seen two articles published on Elephant Journal about the benefits of a vegan diet: “The Hypocrisy of Loving Puppies & Eating Piglets,” and “The Day the Neighbors Roasted a Dog: Why I choose Veganism—Time & Time Again.

While these articles highlight the benefits of a vegan diet, they do so from a divisive point of view and illustrate the need to discuss these issues the middle way, without judgment and prejudice.

We are not against a vegan diet or those who practice it. We have friends who are vegan. We support their choices. They have complained about a lack of vegan offerings at restaurants, and we sympathize with them—there should be enough choices to support a vegan lifestyle.

What we have an issue with is the extreme approach to the topic that some vegans take. Rather than a call to arms to trade in our steak knives for salad forks, we suggest acknowledging the complexities of the issues and extending the same respect to other diets that vegans often feel they don’t get themselves.

While these articles do raise valid issues such as the negative health effects of eating too much meat, as well as the environmental damage done by factory farming, none of the issues are simple. Even with respect to factory farming, consider the following from the 2016 Forbes article, “Why Factory Farming isn’t What You Think,” which concluded that despite common misperceptions, it is possible for factory farms to be both profitable and considerate toward the animals’ life-quality.

Truth is, saving the planet is much more complicated than espousing a vegan diet for everyone. The science of vegan diets is lacking. There is not much data about the feasibility of a planet-wide vegan diet—a Business Insider article published last year questioned whether a large-scale vegan diet is even sustainable. Additionally, financial constraints, as well as the limited availability of certain foods in some countries, should not be discounted.

Much of the research that is available is inconclusive. Consider the EAT-Lancet Commission report published last month. While the commission did advocate reducing the consumption of red meat, the recommendations allow for a healthy, weekly portion of animal proteins. There are no recommendations regarding the move to a wholly plant-based diet.

Also important to note, the vegan argument fails to consider the concept of bio-individuality; the idea that each body is unique with varying needs. One type of diet does not work for every individual. Sure, we may all be human beings, but our genes, our lifestyle, and our cultural backgrounds are different. One size does not fit all.

What we put into our bodies is based on a number of factors, and the “environment” is not the only point of consideration in the decision-making process.

The Weizmann Institute’s Personalized Nutrition Project demonstrated that how each individual responds to the same set of foods can be varied. This study, published in 2015 by the research groups of Eran Elinav and Eran Segal, showed that a diet tremendously healthy for one could prove to be disastrous for another based on our individual gut microbiome. Our microbiome is the collection of all microbes (such as germs) that are associated with our body. In our gut alone we have around 100 trillion microbes, which is 10 times more cells than we have in our entire body. Our microbes help us digest food, train our immune system, and influence our health, weight, and well-being.

Another situation to consider is when a vegetarian diet works for someone from a nutritional perspective, but possibly leaves them feeling unfulfilled in their soul. For many of us, food is just not about nutrition. As a traveling foodie, there can be great joy in experiencing cultures of different countries from a food perspective. More often than not, this involves eating meat.

If we are not healthy and happy in our minds, bodies, and souls, we cannot have a positive impact on the environment in the long run. Each individual’s balance is unique, and it is important for us to respect this. So, while we respect vegans caring for the environment as much as they do, we appreciate vegans who can be kind to people who have different dietary wants and needs a whole lot more.

Articles about vegan diets that steer clear of the middle way will sadly fall on deaf ears outside of the vegan choir. It’s unfortunate because issues such as reducing the consumption of meat, the poor treatment of animals at many factory farms, and environmental damage will not be discussed. It’s a missed opportunity. It’s time we all move toward the middle in a respectful way to discuss these important issues, because we can all make changes that will have a positive impact.

So, here’s what we say to our passionate vegan and vegetarian friends:

Why not let go of judgment and shaming in favor of having a mindful discussion?

Why not start a dialogue along the lines of “reduction” instead of “elimination” of meat?

Why not have a conversation that hinges on a middle ground?

Let us do our best to make this world a better place, together!

“Instead of making others right or wrong, or bottling up right and wrong in ourselves, there’s a middle way, a very powerful middle way. We could see it as sitting on the razor’s edge, not falling off to the right or the left. This middle way involves not hanging on to our version so tightly.” ~ Pema Chödrön


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