vegans confuse me
It happened again last week. We're at an event where food's involved. We try to be really mellow about without saying a word as we load our plates with plant-based food and skip the meats and creams. Almost inevitably comes the question from someone watching us, "Are you guys vegan?" We object to the mistreatment of animals on their path to our plates. But sadly the vegan label doesn't reflect our deep concern about how food affects a person's health.

vegans confuse me


This scenario happened again last week. We’re at an event where food is involved. We try to be really mellow about what we’re choosing without saying a word as we load our plates with plant-based food and skip the meats and creams, being more willing to eat pesticides on conventional produce than hormones and antibiotics from conventional meat (let alone the cruelty factor). Almost inevitably comes the question from someone watching us dish up…”Are you guys vegan?”

Kelli came up with the best response. “No. Just careful.”

This experience renewed in me the feelings of confusion and longing that I feel when I think about the “vegan” label. I wish it meant more than it does and I’m confused as to why it doesn’t.

Unfortunately vegan as a word doesn’t carry with it any significance as far as the health of the human diet is concerned. You can eat all the candy, drink all the soda, and devour fake meats all you want and be vegan. You’ll still be as sick, and potentially more so, than the average general population in our country.

It’s perplexing to me how someone can worry about animal well-being while disregarding the plight of the human diet, especially their own.

I remember the time a couple years ago that made me a bit mad at the vegan label. After two weeks in New Zealand we were still searching for a healthy restaurant when we stumbled on our worst meal of our whole overseas trip. And it was due to making the mistake of choosing a vegan option.

As we were walking the streets of Auckland we gave a little squeal of joy when we saw a sign across the street saying ‘Be Veg, Eat Green.’ We were so excited by the thought of fresh vegetables prepared in healthy ways that we forgot to check traffic and almost got hit by a car running across the street!

As we skipped to the door, we noticed the lettering on the window claiming this to be as the first vegan restaurant in Auckland, and our excitement quickly waned as we saw that it was basically a Chinese place with fake meats used in place of the real things. We haven’t encountered too many healthy Chinese places (ever?) and the idea of fake meats is never good. But we hoped it’s be compensated with piles of fresh veggies. Going against all of our intuition, we went up the counter and placed our order. When we heard the sound of our food sizzling in an oil pit before we even finished paying, we knew we had screwed up.

There we sat surrounded by a bunch of brochures, flyers, and posters talking about how a vegan diet is the only ethical way to live. We read how eating meat is bad for us and for the planet. Arguments were made using science, religion, and emotion. Then the food came out and all those arguments were washed away in preservatives, unnatural barbecue sauce, and engineered “foods.”

The small amount of green on our plates was doused in some sort of unknown Chinese noodle sauce. The main dish was what set me off. My “Black Pepper Not-Steak” was a fake meat trying to taste like steak, but instead tasted exactly like chicken nuggets, smothered in barbecue sauce and all. And Kelli’s “Almond Not-Chicken” was another form of that fake meat that looked a little like chicken, bathed in the same sauce. Two bites of that “meat” was all it took to realize that that food was going to make us sick. Blech.

This is where I’m so confused by the vegan movement. It’s a lot of work and sacrifice to eat differently than everyone else, and that’s an honorable endeavor. For us it’s worth it because we have the benefit of personal experience knowing how impactful food is on our health. If you’re going to go to that much trouble to eat differently than everyone else, then why not go all the way and actually eat food that will make you healthy?

Eating an organic, pastured chicken raised on grass and bugs is far healthier for you than replacing that meat with a lump of genetically engineered soy that has been processed to hell and back to make it taste like a chicken nugget. Vegans argue that livestock should be left to feed on what they evolved to eat. Well how about the humans? Do you think we evolved to eat Frankenstein versions of plants?

I cringe when I’m asked if I’m vegan because it implies nothing about health or the way I feel about food. Kelli and I are hard to define because we don’t fit any well-known labels (still working on getting “Fooducian” world famous 🙂 ). The closest thing we have to a label is calling ourselves “gluten-free, dairy-free, picky occasional meat eaters which means we’ll eat it as long as it is drug and chemical free and has been raised humanely, but we draw no permanent lines in the sand and will eat whatever we want if it’s time for a treat and worth it.” [See what a pain in the butt we are to invite over for dinner?]

It would be nice if the label of vegan worked for us and came along with a feeling of caring for the human diet as well as that of the animals’ well-being. Vegans want to end animal cruelty. Every salesman knows that you sale to the prospect’s selfish desires and needs, not his own. Everyone cares about his own health and that of his family. Not everyone cares about animals. It is the human health factor that will cause the masses to change the way the world does things in regards to the way we eat and treat animals, and with that being the goal, the vegan message needs to incorporate that aspect into its cause.

I care deeply about how food affects a person’s health. And I also object to the mistreatment of animals on their path to our plates. The good news is that humanely, cleanly raised animals are healthier to eat than their feed-lot alternatives, and it’s healthiest to make meat a complement to veggie heavy meals rather than the main dish, so it’s a win-win. But to simply cut out meat without changing the emphasis of your diet to a healthy, plant- and whole-food based alternative, a vegan is on the same path to fat and sick as the rest of those eating the modern Western diet.

End of the story…yes, that vegan lunch made us sick. Ruined half a day in New Zealand!

So how about this message: “Stop eating so much meat and be aware of how it was raised. Stop eating so much junk food. Stop eating out of cans, microwaves, and deep fat friers so often. Stop treating animals like crap. Start eating more fresh food. Eat organic. Eat veggies, eat veggies, eat veggies.”  That’s what ‘live long, eat green’ should sound like. That’s a message that makes a whole lot more sense and is one the masses can embrace to effect major change in our country’s health and the well being of animal. Yes, we can all get along.

6 thoughts on “Confused For, and By, Vegans Once Again

  1. I agree. I overheard a conversation with some teenagers who wanted to go vegan and talking about how you can still eat “fake meat” but are still made from veggies or tofu. I have nothing against vegans, I just hope some would do it not just because it’s “fashionable” to be one, but because they really want to eat healthier food. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks Alisa. Yeah, I’m seeing that a lot too. It’s “cool” to not eat meat in a lot of places. I certainly get that, but the human health factor definitely needs to accompany it.

  2. The vegan word needs to be reclaimed. What the vegans needs to declare is that vegan means– as a moral baseline we should not use animals for convenience, pleasure, or entertainment. It should have nothing to do with health at all, and didn’t when the word was first coined. Health is an entirely different subject and I find it unfortunate that people call themselves vegan if they are doing it for health reasons. They should say they are on a plant based diet. A vegan will go to reasonable lengths to avoid animal products not just in their diet but for clothing and entertainment (zoos, circuses, sea parks, horse carriages etc), and in personal care products and I feel should also advocate for the abolition of their use. So it confuses the message when people declare they are vegan, like Bill Clinton, who on top of not doing it for animal rights, also supposedly still eats fish on occasion — yet the media says he’s vegan. People who go vegan for diet are also likely to have cheat days or eventually leave it off all together, they’re only motivation is dietary so they’re likely to see a little chicken here and there or a little cow butter on their veggies at a restaurant to be excusable.

    I know many vegans who eat pretty crappy, but they aren’t vegan for health reasons nor claim it’s healthier, they’d be eating crappy no matter if they were vegan or not. Only recently has the word vegan become associated with healthy eating. I agree it should be considered no more healthy than any other diet, unless you are specially eating a varied whole foods plant based vegan diet.

    Humanely raised meat is an oxymoron. Sure there’s a few farms out there that give animals a fairly good life, but still the animal’s life is snuffed out against their will and to the dismay of any animal companions or family they have, often including human children on that perfect little countryside farm. However 99% of humane meat is not coming from some idyllic farm on the country side. If you research so called humanely raised anything, it’s not the case. It’s a “proudly family run farm since 1965” operation where animals are possibly treated slightly better, given a little access to sunshine on a concrete slab or put in one big cage with others instead of separate cages. Vegans, in the true sense of the word, don’t care if you give them daily massages and play relaxing music as you slit their throat or if you let them live 2 years of their lifespan or even half of their life span. While it’s not possible to ethically raise and kill — even if it were it would be impossible on a global scale. If you treat animals as a commodity there’s going to be corner cutting, people who look the other way out of laziness or profit, people who just don’t give a crap, etc. And then take milk for example, we can’t produce milk without impregnating cows and making more cows, many of which will be born male and be useless to raise for meat. Many organic egg operations are getting chickens from breeders, these operations are horrendous. 1/2 of baby chickens are male, and egg-laying males are not worth raising for meat as they are different from the broiler breed we’ve created, so they are simply ground up or discarded in dumpsters. Furthermore animal farms, no matter how quaint, require hunting, poisoning and or trapping nearby wildlife (foxes, coyotes, wolfs, birds) who stalk the corralled animals or the food. I’ve spoken with hunters who in the Midwest are hired to, get this — shoot and cull a feral cat population that the farmers purposely introduce to combat the mice who target the feed given to the dairy cows.

    Anytime you use living, feeling, emotional creatures as a product, it’s going to be problematic. We need a movement that as a moral baseline says it’s wrong to commodify animals and treat them as property, without any so called “humanely certified” exceptions.

    1. Peter, thank you very much for this comment and for taking the time to write a thoughtful and meaningful reply.

      I always knew that the vegan word was more associated with the animal rights aspect as opposed to human health concerns, but I hadn’t heard that it was never intended to cross that line. I definitely see the value in fighting for humane treatment of animals, but I do think that fight is weakened when you remove the human health element. It makes the fight that much harder because most people simply are not going to make the changes you want to see only for the animals’ sake. We’re all selfish by nature. You get people to buy into an idea by showing what’s in it for them.

      I’m a small town country kid. Having grown up with horses, chickens, goats, and bunnies, I certainly know that animals have their own wills and personalities. But I believe that it is possible to ethically raise and kill animals for human consumption. I don’t mean sport or entertainment, I mean for valuable, human use. Imagine a history where no one ever rode a horse (and I do know horses that love being ridden), or ever used an ox to pull a plow. Where would we be today? Animal use made our world possible. Growing up with animals like I did also taught me that what I saw in Disney movies wasn’t reality. I think we’d all agree that animal intelligence is inferior, and with that also comes emotional inferiority. Assigning human emotions to animal behavior works great in the movies, but it’s just not how animals really work.

      Yes, they can experience suffering. I hate the idea of feed lots, and massive chicken houses, and farm hands who don’t give a crap about how the animals are treated. Those practices have to stop. But all we have to do is watch some nature videos and we see that while they have their own emotions, those emotions certainly aren’t identical to ours.

      All that being said, humans eat WAY more meat than is necessary. We’d all be better off eating less of it and loading up more on greens.

  3. That’s why no one should eat GMO-ridden food. Most vegans that I know already eat GMO-free, and make a point to avoid chemical-filled and genetically engineered food. Meat is still bad for you, and it’s still wrong to eat animals, even if the animals are raised humanely and naturally. Veganism is something that people commit to so they will be healthier, but it’s just as much something that people commit to in order to not support animal cruelty. Why else would we not eat cheese? I mean, it is bad for you, but more than that, eating it is supporting a leg of animal cruelty that doesn’t involve killing the animal. Those who don’t eat it have some serious animal rights devotion. I’d rather eat genetically-engineered soy than farm-raised, vegetarian fed chicken, because then I wouldn’t be supporting animal cruelty. But that’s the power of choice – I don’t have to, and choose not to, eat either.

    1. Thanks for taking time time to reply Francesca. Your experience seems to be different than ours, and since I work with a company that makes what happens to be a vegan food product I meet a fair share of vegans. I do meet some who are concerned about healthy eating and the human element, but most I talk to don’t even know what GMO’s are. There are those who eat vegan for health reasons because they’ve seen the success of Bill Clinton or Venus Williams, but by and large it’s more of an animal rights conversation led by Alicia Silverstone and PETA. GMO soy isn’t healthier for humans, the planet, or animals. And allowing a chicken to roam freely, eating as nature intended, then being humanely harvested for consumption whether by a human or a fox, as nature intended, is not cruel. It’s what’s allowed humans to survive as long as we have.

      Animals have rights and are to be treated respectfully. And yes, the world eats way too much meat from places that support inhumane – and unhealthy – practices. We should all eat more vegetables. But there certainly is a reason why there has never been a 100% vegetarian tribe of people ever found.

      As a side note, here’s an interesting article I literally just came across after you wrote. Brings out some interesting thoughts on the animal lives that are lost due to cultivating crops. You can’t grow any large crop without displacing and killing animals. There’s certainly a balance to strive for.

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