Why a Vegan Diet Doesn’t Solve All of Your Problems

Why a Vegan Diet Doesn’t Solve All of Your Problems

By following a vegan diet, I get a lot of feedback. Rather than just accepting my choice to eat no animal products, most people see it as an invitation for debate, which I honestly appreciate. It offers room to understand different perspectives and ideas, which is something I love to explore. In contrast, I often get confronted with three basic assumptions many of us seem to hold towards a vegan diet. Inspired by Sarah Wiener’s article on Enorm a few days ago, I decided to strip down the idea of the benefits a vegan diet supposedly offers and the stigmas surrounding it.

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1. Vegans Automatically Save The Planet

Veganism is centered around sustainability, animal welfare and positive environmental impacts. Since jumping on the vegan bandwagon has gained an incredible amount of popularity over the last couple of years, different approaches to a vegan diet have also had a significant impact on how sustainable this going-green-lifestyle is. Fact is, someone who understands the importance of organic foods, yet consumes animal products on occasions, is likely to have a lower environmental footprint than the average modern vegan. This is not to say that organic meat is superior in any way, but it rather highlights the negative environmental impact of countless vegan alternatives, such as chemically derived vegan cheese products or everything-free, sugar-coated, palm-oil drowned biscuits. Unfortunately, the lack of dairy or animal protein is often substituted with equally unsustainable products, such as cane sugar, preservatives, artificial additives, genetically modified oils, and so on.

“We could save 70 percent on health care costs if we switched to a whole foods, plant-based diet in this country, we could save so much on resources—water, such as, half of the water used in this country (US) is used to raise animals for food—and animal agriculture contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation industry.”

Gene Baur’s quote from his The Daily Show interview is perfectly justified, but most listeners did not realise that a vegan diet does not necessarily require one filled with whole foods and plants, which brings me to the second assumption I most commonly hear:

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2. Vegans Solely Eat Healthy Food

A vegan diet restricts the consumption of anything derived from animal products, such as butter, ham, milk chocolate, … you get the idea. However, most simple carbohydrates such as chips, bread, or even biscuits (I look at you, my dear Oreos) are completely acceptable. The dilemma is that someone who has perilously eaten mostly animal products would now substitute those with an extra load of simple carbohydrates, which have either no nutritional value or less than a steak or a glass of milk has. As a consequence, iron and protein deficiencies soon lead to swallowing even more artificial supplements than before. High dosages of B12, which is the only vitamin hardly found in a vegan or plant-based diet, may result in adverse effects, such as active acne outbreaks.

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3. Vegans Are Better Than Carnivores

Whoever made the decision to judge others by what one eats and what one doesn’t must have been a very popular person since diet-shaming has become incredibly popular. Many vegans, who feel as though they are part of a minority, tend to preach their ideas and motivations. However, accepting a non- vegan’s perspective seems socially inadequate. Those who belief in the importance of eating meat do too feel the need to share their values, even more so with those who don’t share the same opinion.

A few months ago, I booked an overnight train in Vietnam and after some slightly terrifying previous experiences on economy class tickets in China and Indonesia, I decided to spend those extra 10 bucks and reserve a bed in a 2 person cabin. I got to share the luxurious train ride with a lovely fellow solo traveller. When it came to having dinner, I was offered some prawn flavoured chips and kindly declined. He asked why and I explained I don’t really like the taste, and ‘oh, I am vegan’. Never again will I say that. He seemed incredibly offended by my choice to be vegan and went on (for a full hour!) to tell me about his Birkenstocks wearing hippie friends back at home who he thought were very strange, which is why he stopped inviting them to barbecues (“they can’t eat anything anyway”). I explained my food intolerances and how I simply feel better eating this way, but I also noted that I don’t judge other’s decisions. He went quiet for a minute. I was expecting another rant on his hipster hippie mates but instead he stared at me and incredulously asked “So, you don’t hate me for enjoying a steak?!”. I laughed, declined, and ‘smoothly’ changed the topic to more adventurous travelling stories, which was much more enjoyable. I understand that it can be frustrating for someone with a high level of environmental awareness to watch their friend scoffing down, excuse me, devouring their 3rd KFC meal of the week, but I also understand that this friend won’t change his opinion because of my worldview.

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Motivation, education, and personal interest are all crucial factors to living a healthier, more sustainable life. Accepting other’s views is the only way to spark personal interest and internal motivation, so feeling better off after those kale chips is great, but won’t get you anywhere.

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Before shelling out on fake parmesan and vegetarian mince patties, understand your motivation and what impact is has on those around you. There is no one right or wrong. Being vegan does not mean you mostly consume wholefoods and plant-based products. Be easy on yourself and on others. And eventually be easy on our planet; we only have one.

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  • I second Meryl’s comment. We need more non-militant-style vegans. Most non-vegans who ask me about it are generally shocked when I tell them it’s a choice, like they’re on edge waiting for me to try to guilt them.

    I have to argue that protein and iron are super easy to get in a plant-based diet. I didn’t think it was easy for anyone to load up on carbs with most breads and the like containing eggs or dairy ( or their derivatives), but I can see how that might happen. Fats are the usual problem area in a vegan diet, but that’s only when we follow advice about fat-containing foods (like oils and nuts) that’s meant for meat and dairy based diets. I think you just solved my breakout mystery, though. That B 12 is a tricky one!

    Thanks for pointing out the flaw in the “vegan is the best way” thinking. I look forward to reading more!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Evylyn! I hear you. I do really think it’s time to break down those barriers and approach it from a different angle. Yeah, B12 sure is tricky – took me months to figure out what was going on, but I am soo glad I did in the end!