Monday, January 4, 2016

Plant-based Eaters are Selfish

I’ve been vegan for a little over 8 years now.   Seventeen years before that I was what many would call a health nut vegetarian.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I saw the effects of a rich, heavily meat-centered diet on my family and others in the black community. Diabetes and high blood pressure are all too common.
So I was determined to do what I could to escape the same fate.   Already pretty health conscious when it came to food, it wasn’t much of a leap for me to stop eating meat.   That decision was made without the knowledge of the ethical issues with eating meat and as it turned out all animal products.

Fast forward a few years and now veganism has gained more acceptance and no longer seems as weird or militant as it once did.  Are there weird, militant vegans? Sure. They’re just no longer the only type of individual the mainstream imagines when the subject comes up.  In fact, on several occasions when it’s revealed in a social situation that I’m vegan, the response is often one of admiration.

People say things like “wow that’s great. I know it’s healthier to eat that way, but I could never do it. I love ______ too much.”    One reason that I see for the cause of the gradual acceptance of vegan eating is the plant-based health movement of recent years. Raw foodism has had an effect as well. 

Testimonies, books, and documentaries abound with stories of people who made major changes by removing all animal products from their diet, some even at the instruction of their doctors. 

Veganism had finally arrived!  There was now proof that not only was going vegan good for the animals but might be the best thing for our bodies as well.
But when looking closer, most of these new converts were actually plant-based eaters.  And yes there is a difference.  Now, this is not some elitist post on the superiority of true vegans as opposed to those who changed their diet for health reasons.   But, for those who are new to this concept and not familiar with the distinction, here it is.
Modern veganism as defined by the Vegan Society in the UK is: 

"a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."

A plant-based diet and lifestyle are mainly adopted to better the health of an individual, often in an attempt to prevent or treat degenerative disease.

Concern for animals is not usually part of the equation.  Though by default, fewer animals are killed as a result.

So while plant-based, whole foods diets are growing in popularity and acceptance, not everyone is supportive.    
Many of us in the vegan community look on plant-based eaters as selfish, shallow, body conscious individuals who will abandon their diet as soon another food fad comes along or they become convinced they’ll feel better once they resume eating animal products.

But I wonder, is it really selfish to want to increase our chances to have more years with those we love and who depend on us?  Or to be healthy enough to care for our companion animals?

It seems to me that those who have the luxury of youth on their side are the ones who most often tout proudly “I couldn't care less about my health, I’m vegan for the animals”.
Ok, to those people I would say, I know right now old age and the ailments that often accompany it seem like eons away and you’re indestructible.   It’s easy to be careless about your health when you still have it.

I'm not saying that we should all live on nothing but kale and quinoa, striving for some super skinny (unless it’s your natural size) “ideal” vegan body. Everyone should be whatever the healthy size is for them, despite society’s attempts to push us into conformity.   But dare I suggest that going vegan for the animals while giving no thought to our own health can be selfish in the long run?

I think I read somewhere once or heard on a podcast that “what good is it to the animals if there are piles of sick and dead vegans?”  Extreme yes, but a powerful word picture none the less.

Hey, I love Cracker Jack, vegan cupcakes, and the evil purple bagged Doritos as much as any junk food vegan.  So I’m not pushing this issue as someone who’s arrived.  Whatever that means.

But has the importance of sensitivity and not wanting to be guilty of fat shaming, caused us to become completely averse to celebrating with those who’ve experienced positive health changes? (Often including necessary weight loss) What about those who’ve turned their health around so dramatically that they’ve reduced their chances of an early death?   Is it right to attempt to silence their voices?  Their truth?   Believe it or not, I see it all the time on social media.  

As a side note, I think many in the mainstream vegan community don’t realize that often for vegans of color specifically, a plant-based diet is the vehicle by which they seek to decolonize their bodies and souls in addition to preventing or reversing degenerative diseases that plague those communities is such great numbers. 
And let’s face it, for many a plant- based diet is the “gateway drug” to compassionate, ethical veganism…for the animals.

No, becoming vegan or going plant-based is not magic or a guarantee of optimal health. Veganism is at its core a philosophy of nonviolence that includes diet yet goes way beyond what we eat. 

How many things in life carry a 100% guarantee anyway?   We’ve all heard the stories of someone’s cousin’s, friend’s grandpa who smoked cigars, never exercised, and drank whiskey every day of his life, yet lived to be 100.  Then someone else who never smoked a day in her life succumbs to lung cancer.

Recently, a wonderful vegan food blogger that I’ve followed for years was diagnosed with cancer. This blogger specializes in low fat, but super flavorful vegan recipes.

When they shared their story, one of the things they mentioned was the shock of it. They did everything “right”, yet still developed a life-threatening disease that they just knew they were immune to.   Others will swear up and down that becoming a low-fat eating vegan literally saved their lives and they have the medical records to prove it.

Does that mean we should make grand promises to the world, saying that if they just go vegan all their health problems will disappear?  In my humble opinion, that would be foolish and irresponsible.  But let's not ignore or worse attack those whose health has improved as a result of removing animal products from their diets.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the belief that it’s nobler to go vegan for the animals while not caring how or if we nourish our own bodies.  We’re not on this planet for just ourselves, but also for those we love and those who love and depend on us.  And for the many who have no voice, they need us to have the strength to fight for them as long as we possibly can.

Now off to fix me some kale and quinoa..

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