My decision to stop being a vegan was based on a gut feeling–literally and figuratively: the blog post(s) that I’m about to provide you with are simply based on all of the research I’ve done since making the decision to stop being a vegan.
I’m writing it all here not to promote any kind of orthorexia or nutritionism or restrictive eating or dogma–I’m writing it here because there are people who want to understand the potential health implications of a low-fat plant-based diet.
I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist–just a girl who is sick and tired of being sick and tired–and sick and tired of watching so many people make decisions based on half-truths, emotional appeals, and ingrained biases that ultimately leave them sick and tired too.
What Veganism Gets Right
My goal here isn’t to bash vegans. At all, actually. I think that, while there are some serious nutritional issues with eating a vegan diet, there’s a lot that vegans DO get right:
1. Ethical treatment of animals
We all know that the meat and milk industries are really f*cked up*. When you watch documentaries that show animals rolling in their own feces, being injected with hormones and fed their brothers, and being packed in cages with no room to move or breathe before being fattened up and slaughtered on a production line from PETA and other veg*n organizations, you’re watching what happens in Concentrated Animal Feed Operations and conventional factories.
These animals are treated horrifically–fed foods that make them sick, pumped full of medications that make them sick, and then stressed out until they get sick…and then slaughtered without so much as a second glance. You know how they say, “You are what you eat?” Well, when you get your hands on a steak that’s been raised conventionally, you’re essentially eating stress and sickness. Vegans are right–that’s awful. For you AND for the animals.
I know that vegans don’t want us to eat animals (considered unethical), but if you have to eat them, you better make damn sure you raise them right. No one in the ancestral health community would suggest that eating a cow that’s been fed other cows is a good idea. In fact, there is a movement of farmers and ranchers out there promoting the ethical treatment of feed animals, and it’s gathering steam as more and more people realize that “grass-fed” and “free-range” are more than just labels and marketing ploys–they’re the future (and the past) of our food system.
2. More veggies & fewer processed foods
I love listening to lectures by the vegan thought leaders, because they always work from the same general premise:
When you stop eating a standard American diet full of processed foods, stressed out meat, and sugar, and start eating a vegan diet, you feel better.
I’d like to propose that it’s more the first part than the second that’s responsible for the change in how you feel.
In other words, by cutting out the crap, you’re immediately doing your body a HUGE service. I’d like to argue that it’s not veganism, but any form or variation of “clean eating” diet/lifestyle–whether vegan, paleo, all-natural, bodybuilding, whatever–that makes the biggest difference on the front end.
If you’re overweight, sick, or in any way suffering from the maladies of living in the first world, cutting out anything that comes in a box and contains chemicals is immediately going to lift the burden you’re putting on your body. It’s that simple. You stop feeding cancer, diabetes, and obesity in one fell swoop.
And when you go vegan, you introduce vegetables in all of their glory–which is a double whammy for the system recovering from the typical, mashed potatoes and mushy peas style SAD. So your body goes through an immediate period of what I’d call “gratitude” instead of detox–because, as I’ve explained above, veganism still gives you the possibility of introducing toxins and other nasties into your diet. But your body is grateful for the unburdening of its systems and for the influx of green leafy things with lots of nutrients.
And that goes for any other clean diet. We need more veggies. We DO. We need more home-cooked meals and lovingly prepared dishes with ingredients we not only can pronounce but consciously choose and cook ourselves.
I am all for that, and I say thank you to veganism for teaching me the value of kale over protein powder.
My only hang up is that veganism becomes dogmatic about the veggies über alles message–While taking my classes from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition recently, I watched an incredibly fiery, passionate talk given by Joel Fuhrman, the creator of the ANDI score that Whole Foods now uses to promote the nutritional value of various foods. He is spot on in suggesting that we’ve missed the boat on micronutrients with our conventional way of eating, and that we absolutely should be including a variety of vegetables (mostly green & leafy, but of every color) in order to reap the benefits of phytonutrients and antioxidants–because they’ll help protect against cancer, heart disease, obesity, and all sorts of other badness. Right on, Joel. Keep preaching.**
However, from a critical perspective, I think we have to take a step back. I love the idea of curing breast cancer with mushrooms–and I think that we need to take a page from Hippocrates’ book and let food be our medicine and our medicine food–but there’s more to the story than micronutrients. The slides provided by the IIN had a little disclaimer at the bottom:
“Nutrient density scoring should not be the only factor determining your health. By only consuming foods with high micronutrient scores your diet may be too low in fat, vitamins d and B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Ideally, you should mix up high nutrient dense foods with an overall healthy diet.”
Um…so, in other words, it’s not just the mushrooms that’s going to cure the cancer. A low fat diet filled with supplements is not as healthy as a balanced diet filled with the beautiful, tasty, important variety of foods that make it possible to be a happy, functioning human.
So the idea is to look at everything we’re told with a critical eye and not just accept dogma at face value (not for veganism, and not for any type of diet/lifestyle).
I believe that we should take a page out of the vegan book and consider it an important lesson in the context of the overall story. Treat your animals right and eat more veggies. I can absolutely do that. How about you?
To be continued…
*Watch at your own risk.
**Absolutely no sarcasm suggested.