Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I Don't Believe In Vegans

For most, “vegan” is a word synonymous with activism and extremism.  I have mentioned in past posts that I am not an activist, which is true, but I think I should say that, while I am no champion of animal rights, I do feel good that I don't contribute to the mistreatment of animals or the environmental impact the meat/dairy industry has.  That being said, I do take issue with the meat and dairy lobby's attempts to convince you and I that their products are actually healthy for us; as opposed to the actual scientific findings which show they increase the chances of heart disease, and even cancer.  I know what some of you are thinking: "Why do you gotta be like that? Meat, I can maybe understand but puh-leez leave milk alone! After all, it does the body good, right? RIGHT?!”  Well I won't take this time to ruin your childlike love of the holy-white-liquid that makes your bones strong, especially when this post is dedicated to why I don't believe in vegans, but I will say this: if you want to see it for yourself in black and white and from a more knowledgeable and credible source, then please read The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II and The Food Revolution by John Robbins. See for yourself; I dare you!

Firstly, maybe I should backtrack a bit. What is a vegan? A vegan is a vegetarian (no meat) who doesn't eat any other animal byproduct (e.g. eggs and dairy).  There are differing degrees of veganism: some refuse to wear clothes that use leather, some don't even eat honey, so as to not exploit bees (since when is a bee an animal?!) Others won't even "kill" plant food, they wait until the fruit naturally “dies”, falling from the tree.

I take no issue with most vegan extremism. I, as I am sure you've gathered, am a bit of an extremist myself. For most obese people, a goal of just losing weight is more than enough, but for me, I had to take it to the next level and make my goal to go from almost 400 lbs to completing an IronMan (a triathlon: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, than a full marathon 26.2 miles) in five years. A goal I am two years into and still working toward today.  Where I take issue is the general lack of health consciousness in the vegan community and the pushy and/or dangerous antics that keeps groups like PETA in the news.

Firstly, I have something to say that needs to be clarified: VEGAN DOES NOT MEAN HEALTHY! I have known many vegans who eat junk. I mean absolute trash. One guy I knew told me that he and his family were vegan for about ten years when he was growing up. They stopped because his mom was deficient in vitamin B, which is commonly found in red meat. But when I asked him what they ate on a regular basis he admitted they were basically living on McDonald's fries!  Another guy I worked with decided to go vegan because his girlfriend was vegan. When lunch time came he'd make his way to the nearest vending machine and buy a couple of packs of dairy-free dark chocolate bars, full of high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals and a number of other ingredients I can’t even pronounce! And yet he scolded me for my leather shoes!

The problem with eating consciously with only animals in mind is that you often stop looking for what's healthy and just scan ingredients to see if any form of dairy is present, often skipping over much worse offenders like high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oil.  I would sooner rather you eat meat as a part of a meal with whole foods then eat the way most vegans I know are eating.

On the other extreme, there are those vegans who look sickly and pale. I have met quite a few of these people, as well, who scold me, a mostly raw eater, saying I shouldn’t call myself “raw” if I’m not going to be 100% (i.e., I don’t always eat “raw” nuts - instead, I sometimes purchase nuts that have been roasted and I often use maple syrup over blue agave nectar, because it’s so accessible and inexpensive here in the north east.). I have even heard one talking about how fruit today is void of nutrition and modified to be nothing but sugar which our bodies can’t break down properly. They make eating a naval orange sound like eating a deep fried mars bar! Those buzz-kills scare me a little. One such woman I met looked really unhealthy. I found out later that she used to do some modeling and now she looks scarily thin, pale, and weak.

Secondly, I take issue with the antics of Guerilla-Vegans like PETA who go after everyone from clothing lines that use fur to the big meat and dairy industry. Their demonstrations are all over the news, which, in their minds, brings attention to the issues of cruelty to animals. Before I became a “vegan” I belonged to the Facebook group for PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals. To me PETA: People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals were a joke and a nuisance. They alienate people from engaging in the topic they are trying to champion.

I guess by definition I am a vegan, but I don’t think of myself as one. In fact, just last fall I shared a glorious New York City Lombardi’s pizza; fully loaded with bacon, italian sausage and cheese, with my wife, while visiting the Big Apple. Like they say, “when in Rome...” (Don’t get me wrong, it was a special occasion - virtually the only time I have had any meat/dairy product since I started this whole journey.) I try to just think of myself as mostly raw and do my best to keep in line with what I know to be true and is good for me. I know that not all vegans are “that” way, but, in my experience, I have found a lot of people living at either end of that spectrum and, I fear, their extreme antics distract from the issues they want to champion. While I am writing this post about the downfalls of the vegan lifestyle, I agree with veganism in principal: It IS the healthiest way to live (again, read it for yourself) and that the meat and dairy industry is at the center of a lot of problems we face in society and the more people that become educated about it, the closer we will be to a collective understanding on the issues.

My story may be an unique one in that I came to be a “vegan” in an organic way. I believe that if I, a former meat and potato guy, that did in fact make fun of my cousin, Lisa, for years about her being a vegetarian (sorry Lisa!), that we don’t need to resort to extreme methods and antics to make “believers” of everyone. I’m not even sure if that is a realistic goal. People don’t like being told what to do, or what to eat. From my perspective, I think that the most we can expect to accomplish is to help break down the illusion built up around the “health” benefits that the standard North American diet has used to cater to special interest groups like the meat and dairy industry.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Eric, it's Mike (Nesrallah);
    I completely agree with you man. I've seen some of these extreme raw foodists, and they do look sickly, pale and prematurely wrinkly. Human's aren't supposed to look like that.
    I totally respect the choices you make, especially since they are with good motives, and you are well-informed.
    I'm lucky that my mom has raised me to dislike junk food and have a natural inclination towards healthy, seasonal foods. She actually runs a shop on Chricton St., called 42 Chricton Fine Foods 'Terroir Cuisine'. It's not vegan by any stretch, but she's a chef who focuses on local, seasonal foods and is completely against the mistreatment of animals.
    I might actually be working there full-time this summer, you should swing by and say hey sometime man.