Monday, August 1, 2011

Vegan Misconceptions

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about veganism. I address some of the most common ones here. I'm not a doctor. I'm actually not even a vegan - I'm vegetarian. However, I was, for a time, vegan and will perhaps become one again. This post is not necessarily to promote the diet but to dispel some common misconceptions about vegans.

Vegetarianism and veganism are the same thing, right?

A lot of people don't even know what veganism means - yet there never seems to be such a dearth of people who are critical about it.

The definitions are (via Wikipedia):

Vegetaranism: "the practice of following plant-based diets (fruits, vegetables, etc.), with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs, and with the exclusion of meat (red meat, poultry, and seafood). Abstention from by-products of animal slaughter, such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin, may also be practiced".

Veganism: "the personal practice of eliminating the use of non-human animal products for any purpose (including food and food processing, clothing, medications, and personal care products) for ethical reasons".

Veganism is stupid because we are animals and animals eat animals.

This is a non-sequitor. Simply put: just because it is natural (i.e., animals do it), does not mean it's morally right or even makes any sense. Animals kill each other, have incest, rape, and, let's not forget, eat their own poop. We can reason abstractly and otherwise change the course of our primitive drives to more productive and/or socially acceptable activities (such as going out clubbing instead of clubbing a woman in the head and dragging her back to a cave). 

Christians can't be vegans.

Beliefs are personal. Religion is not.

I'm not religious; I'm agnostic. I believe that religion is a static institution that subverts progress in thought (How long did it take the Church to accept heliocentricism? Or evolution as a legitimate theory?) and promotes ancient and wrong ideals (think Old Testament: homosexuality is wrong/evil, women aren't as good as men, an eye for an eye, etc). That's a separate issue, though. I believe it is up to the individual to interpret what he or she believes. If one cannot find a reason outside of "God says so" to do or believe in something, then it indicates that one is being, by definition, unreasonable. Besides, I can't argue against the Infallible One if He says it's OK, so you have to give me a break and be a little reasonable if you want to debate.

Veganism is unhealthy.

Now, this is a reason. It's wrong, but it's a reason, at least.

Health is derived from several factors. Key among these are a varied diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. This is well known. It is easy to see, then, why so many Americans are unhealthy. Variety is not eating at five different fast food restaurants a week. Exercise is not taking the stairs instead of the elevator and sitting on the couch watching TV for hours a day. Adequate sleep is not three hours of shuteye in between partying and work. Most Americans are meat-eaters, and most are unhealthy.

Vegans, on the other hand, tend to be much healthier as a whole. The reason is not just diet - which, abstaining from red meat entirely and eating plenty of nutritious fruits and vegetables, is healthier by itself. However, vegans, in addition, tend to be much more health conscious and more knowledgeable about nutrition and health in general. (They have to be to avoid eating animal products and by-products involuntarily, and perhaps they're, also, concerned or cautious given all the misunderstandings and tall tales about veganism.)

Now, no one is exactly the same; we have differing needs and predispositions biologically. For some, it may indeed be that veganism is not entirely salubrious. This is especially unfortunate if one's ethical beliefs are forced to be compromised. In such a situation, one must play the cards one is dealt. (By the way: Daniel Negreanu? Vegan.)

You'll get a B12 deficiency as a vegan.

Vitamin B12, which helps maintain a healthy central nervous system, is derived from bacteria. This is how (via ingestion) animals (including herbivores) obtain B12. Therefore, B12 is found in animal products: beef, fish, shellfish, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. A deficiency in this vitamin can cause damage to the nervous system, such as myelin decay, fibric sclerosis, as well as other symptoms, such as anemia, impaired sense of touch, etc.[1]

Nevertheless, B12 is capable of being synthesized and is easily obtainable from vegan sources, such as fortified breakfast cereals, soy products, energy bars, yeast, and via supplementation.

You need calcium and protein, which you call only get from animal products.

Not true. You can get calcium from leafy greens (such as spinach, turnip greens, and collard greens), lentils, orange juice and other fortified foods (such as soy or almond milk) and through supplementation. [2] You can get protein from beans, including tofu and soy milk; lentils; whole grains; and many nuts and seeds. [3]

You can't get all you're essential ammino acids without eating animal products.

Actually, a simple meal containing beans and corn contain all the essential amino acids. [4] There are, also, other plant sources that contain substantial levels of all eight essential amino acids, such as soy, hempseed, buckwheat, and quinoa. [5] Vegans need not worry about getting complete proteins. [6]

Veganism isn't manly.

I can't think of anything manlier than standing up and sacrificing for one's beliefs. Being an unhealthy, eat-what-tastes-good non-ethicist is not manly to me.

All vegans are skinny pierced, tattooed punkers. 

There are a lot of these, I admit. I live in New York and see a lot of straight edge vegans around. Yes, most vegans I've seen or met are very skinny, as well. (For some reason, a lot of them, also, have cats, lots of cats - weird.) However, this is more indicative of the type of people that find veganism appealing than anything else; many turn to veganism who are also into punk rock or old hippie music. There are many that do not fall into the usual category, however.

Here are just a few famous vegans (via Wikipedia):
  • Natalie Portman (who recently switched to vegetarianism while pregnant - see next misconception) 
  • Peter Singer (ethicist, philosopher)
  • Gillian Anderson 
  • Kenneth G. Williams (a vegan bodybuilder - and so not skinny)
  • Robert Cheeke (another vegan bodybuilder!)
  • Brian Greene (famed theoretical physicist - suck on that!)
  • Steve-O (a Jackass - suck on ...)
  • Brad Pitt
  • Mac Danzig (a professional MMA fighter - imagine that!)
A vegan pregnancy is irresponsible. You can't raise a healthy vegan child.

There are many reasons why many feel that pregnant women shouldn't be vegan or raise their children as vegans. I think principally it comes from a good place; people, especially mothers, are afraid of doing something wrong and unintentionally hurting their children. The emotion of fear is often more persuasive, especially in the absence of real facts, than reason - look at politics. Veganism is a subset of a minority (vegetarianism) in the diet world and, therefore, is little known and often misunderstood. A series of studies have shown that there is nothing wrong with raising children to be vegan or a vegan pregnancy, and in fact show certain benefits in doing so, such as decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. [7] Like all diets, supplementation, healthy cooking strategies, and plenty of variety are key. In practice, this is often difficult for vegans because, being such a minority, there are not as many adequate accommodations or alternatives (grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, food items) as there are for non-vegans.

There's nothing to eat if you're a vegan.

There is more in the world to eat than meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, honey, and gelatin. Also, there are vegan alternatives for all these things - seek them out; Google.

A few vegan and vegetarian restaurants:
Check out: The Vegan Guide to New York City.

You can't buy dress shoes, nice belts, boots, or ties as a vegan. WTF?!

Nope. Alternatives for these exist, too. 

Some useful links:
Veganism is too hard.

How difficult veganism is as a philosophy and diet to follow depends on several factors, such as where you are (a big city vs. a rural town) and what your diet has been growing up.

If you live in a big city, you will obviously have more resources: vegan restaurants, clothing stores, etc. There will, also, most likely, be more vegans there - a support network, if you will. In a rural town it may be near impossible if there are no vegan restaurants or health food stores around. In such a case, I would consider maintaining a vegetarian diet, for health reasons, until you are able to adapt the vegan diet safely; if you can't do it right, don't.

If one grows up eating meat, especially fast food, then it will almost certainly be difficult to convert to vegetarianism. I speak from personal experience, having been raised a "meat-eater" like most people in the U.S. However, after becoming agnostic and seeing shocking and disturbing videos from a friend of animal slaughter, slowly but surely, I began to question my eating ethics and adapt reform accordingly. The initial transformation to vegetarian was quite difficult. In fact, several friends and even family doubted me. This was not helpful. It took several years and much contemplation, but I became a vegetarian and never looked back. I remember the last meat meal I ate: a hamburger pizza. I'm proud of my sacrifice for my beliefs. 

Big food corporations have been known to manipulate levels of salt, fat, and sugar to develop what David Kessler, MD, calls "hyper-palatable" foods, foods that we want more and more of and change the way we eat.[8] The nature of addiction is that addictive substances make you feel good, releasing endorphins in the brain, while not having them makes you feel bad. [9] In brief, it's only hard to be vegan if switching from a fast food consuming diet, which, one could say, is difficult to abstain from, given billions of dollars spent on advertisement.

Veganism is impossible; animal products are everywhere and in everything.

You have keep your eyes open, yes, look at food labels and all of the ingredients, and learn the tricks of the big food corporations to disguise animal products in plain sight (such as E120 and gelatin, which is not labeled as an animal product, though it's something vegans would obviously object to). An internet connection, savvy, and access to alternatives is all the modern vegan needs.



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