December 03, 2010

Say what? Does a vegan diet make you sick? | Vegan for 40 years and looking good



Sigh. I'm kind of an avoid-er when it comes to controversy, and I've been trying to stay away from writing this, but I have a few comments to make about the recent vegan diet-versus-health post written by a passionate and popular (former vegan) blogger I'll call XVV (ex-voracious vegan). When the post explaining her decision to renounce her vegan diet for an omnivore diet first appeared, I was surprised and amazed. As I read through it, I was taken aback by her ultra dramatic switch from one intense set of beliefs to another, polar opposite, set of beliefs. I respect and like XVV, so I felt compassion for her medical crisis, but still, I was shaking my head. I left a comment of support for her decision to become an omnivore, and her honesty, and wished her well. I still feel that way. But there were so many aspects of her very lengthy discourse that left my eyebrows raised, I just have to say a few words of my own or my poor eyebrows may never go back down. I will only touch on a few of the many issues that bugged me, and keep my comments brief. No long discourses or references to research — I'll leave that to others. I just need to say something. (Just in case you missed it, the original post is here.)

1. XVV has multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies, anemia and depression. I absolutely don't deny XVV's health problems, but I don't think they happen only to vegans, and maybe she should be less cavalier about implicating that because it happened to her, a vegan diet is inherently unhealthy. Her vegan diet didn't work for her, but I've known omnivores with the exact same health issues, and embracing an omnivore diet will not be a guarantee of better health for all. Most of the people I know are omnivores, and they have plenty of health problems.

2. "Animal foods won't hurt me in any way." XVV talks about "wholesome saturated fat" and "nutritious cholesterol" as she describes devouring piles of bacon, eggs and cheese. What can I say? Does she realize that health clinics and hospitals are filled with people who believe that? Did she read The China Study? I hope she will use her animal products as additives to her diet, not the main course.

3. Some popular vegan bloggers, AR activists and vegan cookbook authors are not vegan behind the scenes. She claims that many outspoken vegans eat animals to stay healthy, but keep it hush hush. I don't consider myself an outspoken and popular blogger, so I'll come right out and admit that I AM vegan behind the scenes.

4. XVV thinks it's absurd that a vegan diet requires vitamins and supplements. She feels a vegan diet is inadequate because of the need to take supplements. This doesn't seem like an exclusively vegan issue to me. Go into any supplement store and you'll have to search hard for supplements appropriate for vegans. Most supplements are geared to omnivores, because it's really not that strange for people to need or want a nutritional safeguard. For example, those living in places without adequate sun need vitamin D supplements. Lots of people take supplements to insure their health, not just vegans. Using this as a reason to eat animals seems wrong.

5. "During my time as a vegan I never stopped searching for an even better solution and a more ethical way to live." What does this mean? Was she hoping to find a reason to stop being vegan all along?

6. Raising animals for food has no effect on global warming. In my opinion, no comment is needed.

7. Veganism is anti-feminist. XVV has stated that following a vegan diet makes women weak, thus leading to their further subjugation. You know, it's easy to keep women down when they are physically weakened by their vegan diets. This seems really off-the-wall.

8. "I can no longer think that it is wrong to eat animals." I think not wanting to harm animals is my primary reason for being vegan. She also states that vegans cause as much harm and suffering to animals as do omnivores. Plus, she is gloating over every bite of flesh in the same way she previously drooled over her vegan vittles, such a short time ago. It's as if it's not she who changed, just the food on her plate.

As I said, these are but a few of my problems with XVV's statement. I'll leave you with three links to rebuttals that are much better than mine, and hope you'll take the time to read them. One, from a vegan nutritionist, is really helpful in understanding where XVV may be coming from. One is a very funny, pointed parody. And the last is angry but well thought out. I recommend them all.

The Vegan R.D.2|2Vegan Feminist Agitator2|2Lima's Vegan Kitchen

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OK, so a vegan diet may not be best for everyone, but what happens to those who pursue it anyway? Can it actually be healthy long-term? I'm not saying it is or isn't; I can't presume to tell people what they should eat. But here's a video you might enjoy. Maybe she just has good genes. Who knows?


39 comments:

  1. I too was shocked by the post, and I appreciate everything you say here - you are spot on. As a person who suffered for years with lupus, I can happily say a vegan diet has changed my life (namely through health, but also other things) exponentially. As a strong feminist BECAUSE I eat a vegan diet, I thank you for this post.

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  2. Oh, um, the China Study has been discounted. The issue of cholesterol is another you should research: saturated fat has been considered "evil" and unhealthy only since about the 50s; before we started eating grains and sugar in large amounts and margarine instead of butter and lard, the incidences of heart disease increased exponentially.

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  3. I think everyone has to listen to their own body, and do what it tells you to do. Right now, my body says eating vegan is the right thing. If it tells me otherwise, I'll act accordingly.

    I try really hard not to comment on anyone else's food choices, because I'm not living in their body. How can I know what's right for them? I can only make choices for myself.

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  4. This is an excellent post; thanking you for keeping your wits about you in order to form such a succinct summation of her outlandish remarks, as well as an extremely thoughtful response. I am sharing this post all over!

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  5. Anon,
    Thanks. I'm glad you've found a way to improve your health through diet.

    Anon,
    Thank you for your comment. There is much current debate over the dietary role of saturated fats. Eating a balanced diet low in sugar and refined, processed foods is important.

    Lisa,
    I agree with you, that's why I support VV's decision to change her diet. I think she has to do what she thinks is best for her. I don't think her new diet is "wrong," but I do question some of her ideas.

    Abby,
    I was bothered by some of her remarks, not by her decision to eat meat. She is is person who believes strongly in her convictions, and speaks her mind freely. I still very much respect her.

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  6. I think you picked out great points to address. It's all very bizarre. She had so much support, love, and non-judgment, I don't know why she seemed to portray so much defensiveness. I guess she didn't realize she was going to receive so much support? I understand feeling the need to list reasons WHY, in times of feeling defensive. I don't know why she had to cross the line of explaining HER OWN decisions to criticizing others' decisions. That was a leap and one I am disappointed in.

    I understand that we all have to ability to change our minds and that we should all constantly educate ourselves to make the most informed decisions...but veganism is anti-feminist? Raising animals isn't bad for our environment? Huh?! I think that some people ARE searching the whole time for a reason to justify eating meat.

    I'm ABSOLUTELY vegan "behind the scenes," too. :)

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  7. Thank you Andrea! I too disagreed with a lot of her logic. Her previous post about Clinton stated that eating fish is the same as potato chips. Didn't make any sense to me. Thanks for speaking up about it.

    I love Mimi Kirk! She's now raw vegan, although I don't know how long she's been so. I think it's part good genes but a vegan diet does help!

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  8. ps: there is one raw vegan author (she wrote Live Food Factor) who has come out as not vegan behind the scenes--well, she's out now! most of the people who have come out as not vegan are raw vegans who were not in it for the ethics. There are quite a few people who identify as raw foodists who eat meat once in awhile.

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  9. Love your response, non-judgemental but does address some of the more outrageous claims. Ultimately I think it comes down to one's reasons. For me, not harming animals is and always will be of prime importance. The fact that a balanced vegan diet is also healthy, environmentally friendly and arguably part of the solution to feeding a growing human population helps :-)

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  10. hey andrea--i started typing a comment and it became waaay too long, so i just posted a response to your post on my blog.

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  11. I appreciate the fact that you and this other blogger both decided to share your honest convictions; however, as a person with chronic health problems (and had them prior to becoming vegan, by the way), who is vegan and feminist, I really resent a lot of her arguments passed off as true facts that apply to everyone. Or every vegan. I suppose that's the tricky thing about labels.

    I'm sure she tried, in her own way, to convey her story and be fair.

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  12. Jenny,
    I think Tasha is a very intense, intelligent and passionate woman who doesn't ever do things halfway. When faced with changing something she was so invested in, she needed to dig deep and prove to herself that the change was necessary and justified. Like you though, I found some of her justifications confusing.

    Bitt,
    I know a lot of raw foodists use raw milk and raw cheese. How does a raw foodist prepare meat?

    Evyl,
    Thank you for seeing my response as non-judgmental, as it was intended to be. I don't want anyone thinking I believe Tasha made a bad choice. But I agree with you that a balanced vegan diet can offer many benefits for health and the environment.

    Emily,
    OK Emily, I'll go see what you had to say!

    Jaime,
    I think she did try to share what she feels is her new-found knowledge, but like you, I found myself being offended by some of the ideas she was asserting as absolute truths.

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  13. Hey Andrea

    As a vegan nutritionist myself, I had to raise my eyebrows along with you when she made the wholesome saturated fat comment. I wish her the best and believe she needs to do what is right for her, but I hate it that people might think that saturated fats/animal products are healthy based on her post.

    Courtney

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  14. Very good points! Especially the one about supplements! It's so true vegan-friendly supplements are thin on the ground compared to the thousands of others on the shelves.

    It's almost like she's trying to blame all vegans for the fact that she fell ill while following a vegan diet or something.

    Mimi Kirk is amazing! How wonderful.

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  15. Mimi Kirk is so beautiful!

    #7 is just soooooo freaken ridiculous.

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  16. Courtney,
    Apparently, that is the current thinking for a lot of people.

    Rose,
    It seems that all of the reasons why she chose to be vegan, she now believes are false.

    Mimi Kirk, though perhaps not your average 70-year-old vegan, is very cool.

    Melody,
    Yes, she it! Number 7 really irked me, but so did number 6.

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  17. Great post! I'm not sure who this person is, but regardless, I find it so odd that someone can be fully committed to a vegan diet/lifestyle at one point in their life and then shamelessly go back to eating animals.
    #7 is the worst, I think!

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  18. Great post. I can vouch for you behind the scenes :) But you have more than yourself to show off: don't forget the three beautiful sons!

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  19. Awesome post, Andrea. I just included a link to this post in my blog about this today. http://gigi-2boomers.blogspot.com/

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  20. hey andrea!
    you won some coconut bliss ice cream from the mofo blog...can you please send your full name and snail mail to veganmofoblog at gmail dot come so we can get it to you!

    thanks!
    xo
    kittee

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  21. I heard part of the interview with the author who eats raw meat. She marinates it, others eat ceviche and tartar. Gross. Others just eat cooked meat of course. Yuck on all accounts.

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  22. A very good post on an extremely touchy topic, Andrea. I'm so behind in blog reading I had missed this topic entirely. It was quite interesting to read people's comments and blog responses, both supportive and critical.

    I think this is everyone's private decision, and I would never judge someone for reintroducing animal products to their diet, whatever their reasons - even if I disagreed inside and knew I could never, ever eat a dead animal myself. Likewise, I'll never judge my non-vegan friends for their food choices, even if I have a critical attitude towards it on a more general level.

    That being said, some of the reasons given on that blog were rather bizarre and - in my personal opinion - totally unnecessary. She shouldn't feel the need to explain her decision to others (let alone the whole blog world); and even if she does, she shouldn't criticize and blame the vegan diet on all her problems. I get the feeling that perhaps she was one of those people who jumped on the vegan wagon because it was "trendy", trying to make herself believe that it was for ethical- or other reasons.

    I think you addressed the points very well, without judging, but with healthy criticism.

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  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  24. Bunzofcinnamon,
    It seems hard to imagine but it happens all the time. I see how it can happen that someone is forced by circumstance to re-evaluate a decision, and I don't have a problem with that. I just found some of the justifications used to put down the whole idea of a vegan diet that others choose to follow, unfortunate.

    Claire,
    Thanks! Well, the sons are beautiful but I can't vouch for their vegan diets. They have chosen to eat occasional animal products, and that's their choice to make.

    Gigi,
    Thanks!

    Kittee,
    I did send an email but I'll do it again. Thanks!

    Bitt,
    Ewww, thanks for the info!

    Seglare,
    You've summed up very well how I feel about the diets people choose to follow. I feel respectful of their choices even if they are different from my own. I believe VV has found a new "truth" that she wants to share with everyone because she finds it so important. She's a deeply passionate person who becomes fully invested in her beliefs, and wants to enlighten others. I'm not being sarcastic here. I respect her choices, but question some of the ideas behind them.

    Zoa,
    You were probably just at the Asian store or intently cooking interesting vegan dinners when all this transpired. ;) Thanks for your thoughts. I've been a regular reader of the VV blog and am loath to attach negative labels to her, but those thoughts did cross my mind.

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  25. Thank you for addressing this, Andrea! I couldn't have said it better.

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  26. Well said, Andrea! I've been avoiding the drama (that's what she's after, really) but it's hard to say nothing.

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  27. Mihl,
    You're welcome, but I'm sure you would have said it better. You just had the good sense to avoid it, unlike me.

    Shellyfish,
    I tried to avoid the drama but I couldn't help myself. I've even considered erasing this post, but there was just too much untruth masquerading as truth. Thanks for your comment.

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  28. I know which ex-vegan blogger your post refers to. I used to really enjoy her blog but noticed that the frequency of her posts had gone right down. I was, however, not at all prepared for the shock of finding out she had gone from one 'extreme' to the other.

    Instead of going from not eating any animal products to eating them big time, why could she have not at least tried being vegetarian rather than vegan? She seems to have access to all sorts of specialised veggie food, so I am unsure as to why she did not give vegetarianism a fair trial before deciding she 'had' to eat meat.

    I believe her husband is also vegan so I wonder if he's been dragged down into eating meat as well?

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  29. JB,
    She did explain her reasons for not going ovo-lacto - I think it was because of the equal amount of cruelty involved in raising animals for milk and eggs. And she's convinced her husband to join her in her new diet. She considers eating meat a step up. You can learn more by reading about the paleo diet and the locavore diet. There are so many diets that purport to be healthy, with supposed research to back up the claims, it's hard to know what to believe. I want to be vegan so will continue trying to work out a healthy diet with that as my guide.

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  30. So well said, Andrea. I think you've expressed what a lot of people were feeling about this issue (and that's all I'm going to say about it). ;)

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  31. Ricki,
    Thank you. I wanted to be respectful of Tasha's new found diet even though I don't agree with her ideas, which seem largely based on the WAPF philosophy.

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  32. am learning that grass-fed ruminants, on small sustainable farms do not contribute to greenhouse gases. Your Point, #6, refers to the deforestation for grazing and (of course) factory farms (corn fed).

    It is important to note that the monocrops of the world (corn & soy especially)also contribute to a)lack of biodiversity b)depletion of topsoil.

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  33. Andrea - this is a wonderful reply. Like so many others, I was flabbergasted when I read her post, and I just couldn't, for the life of me, understand or believe her desire to jump back into eat meat after so long as an ethical vegan. If it were me, I know in my heart that I would do every possible thing I could to remain vegan before even considering eating animals or their byproducts. Maybe I'm a lucky girl, but I thrive on a vegan diet. My stomach issues are gone, I have tons more energy, and I rarely, if ever, get sick. It's hard for me to ever see how a diet full of plant-based foods could ever be a detriment to the body, especially when balanced in a healthy way. Thank you for addressing the inconsistencies in her post, and you have gained a new reader and fan in me!

    - Lindsay, founder, www.kissmeimvegan.com

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  34. Disclaimer: I'm vegan, but i'm posting as a technology expert.
    By avoiding referencing this person (and i don't know who it is because i don't follow the vegan blogosphere), you are preventing others from finding your excellent analysis when they search for her. In other words, name this person and let the people who are searching on the web about veganism to read a second opinion. That's my 2 c.

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  35. Practical,
    Even grass-fed animals contribute methane gas, so it's not true they don't contribute to greenhouse gasses. My understanding is that at the current rate of meat consumption, it wouldn't be possible to raise all meat animals on small sustainable farms, even if that were the ideal "solution."

    Lindsay,
    Thanks so much for your response. I like to think she did everything she could to address her medical issues before turning to meat, and I don't have a problem with her decision. It's the way she did it that's got me confused — the inconsistencies in her argument, and the fanatical way she now worships animal food and drools over fat.

    Anonymous,
    Thanks for your suggestion. I did tag the post with her blog name, but I guess I should be less sheepish about the post and just call it what it is in the text, too.

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  36. Thank you for writing this post. I am a new vegan (almost 1 year now) and I've never felt better - but reading her blog post terrified me. Thanks for the reassurance that you really can be a healthy vegan, long-term, and without being non-vegan behind the scenes!

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  37. Suzanne,
    You're welcome. Everyone is different, and what works for some won't necessarily work for all. Figuring out how to make your diet meet your own body's nutritional needs is the goal.

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  38. I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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  39. I am sorry your friend thinks that vegan isn't for her but she shouldn't be putting down the people who follow a plant-based lifestyle. It's her choice to go back to animal eating and it's our choice to eat plants.....

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