The Illusion of Veganism

I dare say all of us have at least one friend or acquaint who strongly believes that eating meat is murder. While the debate on whether humans as moral beings should consume meat has been going on for centuries, it still pops up every now and then in media, as no resolution seems to emerge. As someone who has tried both ends of the spectrum, it has become clear to me that the utopia of all God’s creatures living in perfect mutualism isn’t as easily achievable as many vegans would have you believe.

When talking about vegans and their near opposites (a.k.a. carnists) one easily forgets that there exists a middle ground. In between you find people who have given up red meat, people who have given up all meat except fish, vegetarians, vegans who eat honey, vegans who wear second-hand leather shoes, etc. There’s a whole range of people who do not identify with either of the extremes. And the closer one gets to the vegan end, the more uncomfortable one might feel for not being “good enough person”. However, one might still easily condemn those “not doing enough”, people who feel that their eating habits are perfectly justifiable.

Evidently, not all vegans practise veganism for ethical reasons. There are cultures in which vegetable-based lifestyle is much more prominent than in others, e.g. in India. While some Indians choose veganism or vegetarianism for economical reasons, there are also others who wish to give up meat for their religion (especially Buddhism) or simply because it is very convenient as their friends and family are already on the diet. I’ve also met people who do not condemn carnivourousness while they prefer not to eat meat themselves; usually they have chosen to do so for health reasons or simply because they do not find it suitable considering their profession. (One of them was a sea biologist).

It is the ethical vegans that most people seem to be having trouble with. They’re much like Jehova’s witnesses (or representatives of any other religion you might disagree with) that come knocking on your door and tell you to change your ways or else.

Therefore it is perhaps hilariously ironical that there’s a study by Alan Levinovitz (Prof. of Religion at James Madison U and the author of The Gluten Lie: And Other Myths about What You Eat) claiming that food and religion are actually quite similar and that diet enthusiasts are more likely to be “prone to irrationality and they were susceptible to promises that in other contexts they’d be more critical (of)”. Obviously, it also does not help that there is plenty of misguided information on nutrition as well as on veganism to be found, which is sometimes further spread by individuals you’d imagine to be credible (e.g. the documentary film Forks Over Knives (2011), which at times uses arguments for veganism that would be more suitable for advocating the pesco-vegetarian diet).

But there are also vegans who are prone to imagine things about their diet, which are simply not true. Usually problems begin to rise if a vegan believes his lifestyle is the way of living ethically solely because he doesn’t “exploit animals”. But the truth is that a simple switch to veganism could be as bad for ecosystem as omnivorous lifestyle depending on what you eat as a vegan. If you’ve been blessed with cold winters you might find it surprisingly difficult to sustain a vegan diet that is good for you and the environment. Take soya, vegan’s “best” friend, for example: not only does it have to be cultivated in the vicinity of the equator but it poses many threats to environment by destroying the living habitat of the locals (meaning all the creatures, men and animals). While it is true that majority of the crops goes to feeding of livestock, a good vegan should not touch tofu with a bargepole. Then add all the other vegetables and fruit that will have to be imported and you’ll be surprised at the size of your carbon footprint.

Levinovitz mentions that by changing one’s diet one might be granted an access to a whole new society. As an example he mentions his own experiences with vegetarianism and the new friends he has gained through the switch in diet. However, if one lives in a culture where vegetarianism is not common, the opposite might be true instead. In urban environment, where a vegan/vegetarian restaurant could be found at every corner of the block, the switch might be relatively painless. On the other hand, if one lived in a more rural area, a vegetable diet might prove more difficult to maintain as one may have issues finding others who share or, at least, understand it. This could result in one distancing himself from a community instead of actually joining one.

The fact is, one doesn’t need to be vegan in order to be ethical but this would mean we would have to reduce our meat consumption drastically and turn Farmville into reality. The key is to buy local, grow what you can on your own and educate yourself on more ethical options. Vegan might be an option but it’s not a solution on its own but merely a basis on which a sustainable lifestyle can be built on. Eventually you might notice that certain principles can in some circumstances be broken. (Honey from spring harvest, eggs from rescued hens, etc.).

Perhaps you might even belong to the group of people who discover that a plant-based diet simply does not suffice, in which case you may have to abandon the idea of veganism altogether. This should not be taken as a discouragement; there are other options available to ensure your and the environment’s wellbeing. But in the end, it’s your life; you choose what to do with it.

Further Reading:

The NY Magazine: Diets Are a Lot Like Religion

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8 thoughts on “The Illusion of Veganism

  1. Good post. While I’m neither vegetarian nor vegan, I have taken a course on these eating lifestyles in college. Yes, while I accept people who choose to be vegetarian or vegan for personal/ethical/cultural reasons, I have no respect for those who believe that their lifestyle is the “best one” to have. It is especially hurtful to those who choose to eat meat and dairy products.

    While I do believe in humane treatment of animals for food, it is especially hard for me to think about the fact that we have to kill lives in order for us to live. It’s a complicated issue, but I thank you for enlightening me more on the subject.

    1. It would not be that bad if that really was the case and I admit it is admirable if one can pull it off. But just because it’s easy for someone, it might be seriously difficult for others, simply because it can be laborious… Cheers!

  2. Yeah I agree, I’m a lacto-vegetarian (no eggs, meat or fish but I do eat dairy products and honey and even occasionally wear leather), and you do find that some vegans and vegetarians are very extreme, act like they have the supreme moral hierarchy and act like anyone who doesn’t subscribe to their diet is evil. You do also get meat eaters on the other side of the spectrum who act as entitled and moral about their diet and are very rude to vegans. I don’t like either extreme, I am not vegetarian for moral reasons, it is a personal choice and it does and only should effect myself. I post food ideas and advise for fellow vegetarians as whilst it can be a very healthy diet, it will only be healthy if you eat the right stuff and have plenty of protein. However, I don’t care if someone eats meat or not, it is not for me to ‘convert’ any0ne and there is nothing immoral or unnatural about eating meat. We all need to live and let live tbh

    1. It’s often considered a moral issue even if it must not be one. It’s kind of a pity really that many vegans are focusing on converting instead of really teaching about the benefits of veganism and how to manage it. Plant-based diet can get quite monotonous after a while and therefore it’s good we have people like you spreading ideas on what to do about it.

  3. This was interesting, but you don’t really present any arguments… I don’t think of eating meat as murder per se but I do believe that we need to respect animals and how we treat them it’s not that black-and-white

    1. Well, I do believe I present at least some arguments for the fact that veganism isn’t a guaranteed way of living sustainably. What did you understand to be my thesis if my arguments do not seem to be supporting it? I do make mistakes and I’m happy to have created some discussion I might be able to learn from.

      1. I might not be the example of the Vegan you are speaking about, I am more plant based… I don’t eat vegan junk food.. no oils and very little fat… I do get all of my nutritional needs from plants/fruits and grains.. there is simply no need for me to eat meat… you speak of harsh winters where plants are hard to come back… I would take a lesson from nature and ants that store food for the cold winters, surely humans are stronger and more capable.. we have even invented things to store food for the harsh winters! but we as humans want the easy way out.. whatever is convenient and right there! its been shoved down our throat the we need protein! milk!…. once you study and educate yourself you will see that The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that men and women obtain 5% of their calories as protein. This would mean 38 grams of protein for a man burning 3000 calories a day and 29 grams for a woman using 2300 calories a day…. there is just as much calcium in plant foods and pretty much everyone is lactose intolerant or on their way to becoming LI…
        Its not just the ethics… that we as humans play god and create life just to take it… its not just the health reasons, its Logical.. I could write paragraphs… but this isn’t my blog and I will certainly write on this in the near future…
        my main point is.. no one ever really chose anything, there was a lot of mis information and false advertising that has lead us here and to now.. to this overconsumption of animals!
        thanks for reading

      2. Thanks for taking time to write this! I do not exactly disagree with you but inconvenience can be a large issue for many people. Of course you could store food if you are equipped with a large enough freezer and some empty shelves that can be loaded with preserved goods (and roots) but it is still considerably difficult to get all the nutrients one needs. But I do not think most people find this kind of lifestyle of eating preservatives for months appealing and I believe that it is fine to admit it; then the rest will only have to imported.
        All I really want is that these things should be at least considered if one wished to be vegan for ethical reasons, because I’ve encountered way too many vegans who believe what they’re doing is the highest form of living when there’s actually still some way to the top. Neither does eating meat mean you’re not doing what you consider to be the best alternative for yourself, the animals or the environment.
        But hey, do write that post! I’ll be looking forward to reading it.

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