Note: veg*n is a shortened version of “vegan/vegetarian”
People often ask me about why I started eating meat again after 18 years of being vegetarian and how I dealt with the ethical issue of killing and eating animals. So I did an entire podcast on it recently on Evil Sugar Radio. In this article, I’ll address some myths, misconceptions and psycho-social aspects of vegan and vegetarian diets.
Please keep in mind that many of these problems are inherent in other diets, as well. There are, however, specific environmental and spiritual claims unique to veg*nism, which people need to know are complete bullshit.
The core problems I see with vegan and vegetarian diets are these:
Insufficient nutrition – deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamins A, B-12, D, E, and K, plus carnitine, zinc, protein and more. Humans are biologically omnivores, despite what vegans say about our teeth.
Unsupportable health claims – veg*n claims of superiority in health markers don’t stand up to scrutiny. Observational studies don’t tell us much about cause and effect. We can look at some and see a few useful things though, such as reports on centenarians who live long eating a wide variety of diets, and have much more fulfilling lives and concerns than obsessing about what they eat.
Environmental damage not reduced – sustainable farming that preserves and builds topsoil, reduces carbon emissions, runoff of fertilizer and use of pesticides must incorporate both plant crops and animals in a symbiotic system.
Animal suffering is not reduced – large-scale mono-crop farming requires habitat destruction and direct killing of vast numbers of animals. Veg*ns conveniently ignore this.
At this stage in my life, I see no point in discussing, arguing or debating most diet topics. First, most people suck at making logical arguments. Second, most people don’t know how to manage their emotions, and the discussion almost always goes south (same as religion and politics). So, this article is for those considering veg*nism or for those who are about to return to their omnivorous roots.
Why Do I Care?
I was vegetarian for about 18 years. I’m also a health/fitness professional and write about nutrition a lot. Is that good enough? Apparently, it’s not good enough for some. Some people think I have an agenda or a chip on my shoulder, but I don’t. I ate really well as a vegetarian. Many of my closest friends are still vegetarian. There are just a few ideas that need to be clarified.
Depending on the source, there are about 1 million vegans and 5-7 million vegetarians in America. Most of that data come from phone calls or questionnaires. You want to take a guess at how many Americans are lying about this? When you are led to believe that this diet is virtuous/more spiritual and can save the planet, you’re probably going to fib. Same thing happens when people are asked about how much they eat. People lie.
I think people can and should eat whatever and however they like; I really don’t care what you eat. You also don’t need to explain to anyone what you eat or why you eat what you do. However, people deserve to know basic facts about health & nutrition so they can make informed decisions.
I’ve also spent the last twenty years as a professional being bombarded daily with misconstrued diet questions. This article is a resource I can send people to now, instead of repeating myself for another decade.
Some veg*n diet misinformation can be harmful and lead people into unnecessarily restrictive diets. Now don’t get me wrong here. It doesn’t have to be dangerous, and isn’t always harmful, but it absolutely can be and often is.
Promoting superstitious beliefs is a problem, especially when it comes to health. Granted, we are not necessarily talking about faith healing and letting kids die because of health superstition. OK, so maybe a little bit here and there:
Vegetarian Baby Dies from Rickets
Vegan Couple Serves Life Sentence for Starving Baby
The real problem is these diet ideologies discourage critical thinking, they can sometimes discourage seeking out real medical advice, and overall, health superstition doesn’t improve anyone’s health or save the planet. Also, if you don’t think people are being ripped off by veg*n-related cleanses, detoxes and miracle cures, then you haven’t been around this community long enough.
It’s common for people who are ‘true believers’ in vegan and vegetarian diets to have what amounts to a religious fundamentalist mindset about it. Promotion of these diets generally relies on tactics that sidestep critical thinking, such as appeal to emotion, ‘truths’ accepted on faith instead of science, historical mythology and naturalistic fallacy.
Following any particular diet for actual religious reasons is a separate issue. I won’t presume to tell anyone to change their spiritual beliefs. The problem arises when a dietary system itself is surrounded with symbology or supported by a religious structure of ideas that rely on faith or pseudoscience. The proselytizing, moral policing and exclusionary behavior that accompanies this kind of dietary belief system is problematic and doesn’t really help anyone get healthier or reduce animal suffering.
Also noteworthy is that veg*nism can be a cover for eating disorders. In my experience, this is uncommon, but it certainly does happen.
Apostasy is Freedom
The vast majority of people who adopt a veg*n diet will give it up after some time, for many good reasons. When this happens, these people will be verbally assaulted and shunned by the veg*n community. FYI there is great freedom, more pleasure and improved health seen in those returning to their omnivorous roots.
One survey found “[…] ex-vegetarians outnumber current vegetarians by a ratio of three to one […] returned to meat because of declining health, logistical hassles, social stigmas, and meat cravings.”
The Most Common Response When Veg*ns Start Eating Animal Foods:
“Oh, damn that tastes good. Dude, I feel so much better. Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
You Didn’t Veg*n Hard Enough!
The main claim is that these people did not veg*n hard enough: They were insincere anyway, so no wonder they had poor health and dropped out. This mistake in logic is really common, it diverts the discussion away from the facts, and is known as No True Scotsman.
Clinging to ideological dogma hurts the believer and hurts people seeking accurate information. Also, arguing with dietary zealots creates the Backfire Effect.
Yes, I already know all about vegan bodybuilders and vegetarian athletes. There are always exceptions to the rule. Outliers can’t be used as examples of what is suitable for the general population. Anecdotes absolutely can be useful, but they don’t always prove those ideas are applicable to others.
Also, for a group touting a myriad of spiritual benefits of a magic diet, they sure do cling to aesthetic imagery (fitspo) and promote physical appearance as an indicator of health a lot.
It’s Not All About the Diet
It’s important to understand the distinction between correlation and causation. The ‘healthy user effect’ means that often, people who are more generally health conscious and engage in health-promoting behaviors (regular exercise, avoiding cigarettes, drugs and excessive alcohol, etc.) will also adopt a diet that’s promoted as healthy. That does not necessarily mean the diet is the cause of their apparent health. Correlation does not equal causation.
There is an important lesson for everyone here: yes food is important for health, but many of the positive changes we see in people’s health/body on any diet come not from one single change, but from the cumulative effects of several important lifestyle habits.
If you happen to believe that these diets are a slam dunk, you may want to take a look at this recent study. Granted, it’s not the best study, it’s kind of a review, but it does shine a light on the overstated magic of vegan/vegetarian diets:
The Association between Eating Behavior and Various Health Parameters:
Veg*n Diet is Not a Cure-All
Yesterday, while watching a youtube video of a vegan rationalizing away his rotting teeth, I saw these two FB suggestions:
Surprise! Vegans and Vegetarians Can Get Cancer and Die Too.
George Harrison, Linda McCartney, Steve Jobs, Davy Jones.
The Mythological Protein Myth
There is a popular veg*n myth that protein is not really all that important and “they” overstate its importance. No, people talk about it a lot because protein really is that important. It’s difficult for humans to get adequate protein from plants only. When you restrict your calorie intake (happens on every diet), your requirement for protein goes up. Yes, veg*n diets, which have a long list of foods to avoid, often turn out to be low calorie and low protein diets – a double whammy.
Often it takes a serious health problem to get someone to examine their dietary beliefs and honestly evaluate whether their diet is sufficient for their needs.
When you define yourself by your diet, and your diet is basically a long list of foods to avoid, you are restricting calories (dieting) and your chances of becoming orthorexic greatly increase.
Although this chart comes from an article about the Paleo diet, the principle is the same for any diet:
Return to Eden?
Appeal to Nature – there is an idea, in some veg*n circles, that a veg*n diet comes from ancient history, when we lived in perfect harmony in nature; lions lay down with lambs and tigers dance with deer (Hindu mythology).
Since we share about 98% of our DNA with chimps, some veg*ns argue, we should eat like our nearest primate relative. What they don’t tell you is that chimps hunt and fish, they go on war patrols, they can be evil, and yeah, they eat meat:
In addition, comparing ourselves to other species in this regard is full of logical fallacies, especially when using those comparisons to dictate what we should eat and how we should behave. The idealized pictures that many people have of the behavior of other animals are inaccurate and entirely useless as examples.
Giraffes and Dolphins are Evil Bastards
Meat is Not Murder
I think most of us agree that factory farmed (CAFO) meat production is inhumane and the methods are destructive to the environment and humans as well. But abandoning animals altogether does not solve the problem.
Humans have a symbiotic relationship with animals and we wouldn’t be here today without using them for clothing, weapons, shelter, tools and food. Domesticated animals need our protection at this point.
As far as reducing cruel and unnecessary animal suffering, the most logical solution is to support local, humane farming. Yes, they still kill the animal, but they do it with less suffering to the animal and have better conditions for the workers (in case you give a shit about humans, which most vegans don’t).
Humans are always going to eat meat. If you want to reduce animal suffering, instead of aiming for the unrealistic goal of getting everyone to stop eating animal foods, your efforts would be better directed at movements to re-establish local slaughter facilities and encourage people to buy more of their animal foods from local farms that raise animals in humane conditions. Enormous, centralized slaughter facilities and CAFOs create unnecessary suffering for animals and humans and environmental damage. Working to improve the system that provides animal foods is a more realistic goal, and will do much more to improve the lot of animals than simply campaigning against the consumption of animals by humans.
Veg*ns, I understand your passion and extreme empathy. I know it stems from compassion for animals and I think it’s important. I also think it’s important to not be unrealistic in your expectations. We need to work together to effect real change.
Jim Crow Corn Flakes
Yes, veg*ns, your spiritual diet was popularized by evil, horrible white men. John Harvey Kellogg (Corn Flakes), CW Post (Grape Nuts), and Sylvester Graham (Graham Crackers) are easily the most important reason for the popularity of vegetarian diets in America in the early 20th century. They are mostly known for their famous breakfast cereals and crackers. What you may not know is that they also tried to convert the world to their white supremacist and vegetarian ways.
Yes, Hitler was a vegetarian and an animal rights advocate. At least for some time, probably during the war. Clearly, a vegetarian diet doesn’t make one virtuous, but yes, you’ll hear veg*ns make this absurd argument:
Vegan Gurus Stink like Rotting Vegetables
No, really they do. Here’s the master list of Vegan Gurus and their fraudulent, dangerous, plagiarized advice, predatory commercialism, and sometimes violent, unethical or otherwise illegal behavior:
Vegan Gurus say the Darndest Things
This is one of the funniest videos on the internet (NSFW) of one of the more famous vegan gurus:
Humans are Not Herbivores.
“Elephants, hippos, rhinos, horses and cows are all vegetarian – if the largest, strongest animals on the planet are herbivorous SURELY HUMANS SHOULD BE TOO”.
OK this really needs no response, but since people actually make this claim, let me say this clearly: Humans are not cows or elephants. Moving on…
My bottom line is – do what you want. At least be honest about a few basic things. Veg*n diets are for the most part, a relatively modern, man-made diet fetish based on superstitious reasons and are likely deficient in a few key areas on top of some faulty reasoning. To each their own, I guess. The notion that they are morally, ethically or nutritionally superior is incorrect. A vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy can be healthy for some people, when carefully planned. It takes work, and won’t be adequate for everyone.
We need to be honest and clear about what is fact and what is opinion or myth, so people can evaluate ideas for their own use. Whether we’re talking about health, environmental or ethical issues, misinformation about these diets is rampant. I encourage people to critically examine these ideas, become familiar with all sides of the argument, and be honest with themselves before embracing a diet that restricts them to an incomplete range of foods with a long laundry list of “bad” foods. Humans are biologically omnivores and trying to circumvent that based on faulty beliefs is a recipe for poor mental and physical health.
“Zinc deficiency is also more common in vegetarians than omnivores[7,8]. Not surprising, given that the bioavailability of zinc from meat is four times greater than that from cereals .”
Metabolic syndrome not reduced in vegans
Not much difference in mortality
“mortality for major causes of death was not significantly different between vegetarians and nonvegetarians”
Environment, Habitat Destruction, Biodiversity
75% Return to Omnivorous Diet