Our Vegan Diet Almost Killed Us – No, Really
Okay, vegans. I know what you’re thinking. There have been many articles with similar titles circulating around the internet for years, and after you read the article you realize the person, although technically vegan, also had a serious eating disorder like anorexia or even the lesser-known "orthorexia," or was on a restricted calorie cleanse consisting of lettuce water, or they were homicidal parents feeding their baby one carrot a day - or something like that. Somehow, people like this even manage to wind up on the Today show with book deals, as we saw earlier this week.
Well, this is not one of those stories. For me and my fiancé, our regular vegan diet actually almost killed us. If you’re thinking about veganism, you’ll want to read this – and vegans, please hear us out.
The Best of Intentions
I believe people are vegan for really, really good reasons. In a nutshell, they’ve learned that we make the choice every day to either pay people to breed and intentionally kill vulnerable animals for our pleasure – or to just not do that. After all, these animals value their lives as much as our pets do and are just as worthy of love.
Then they learn that dairy and eggs are as bad as animal meat, because newborn males are an unfortunate byproduct of egg and dairy production and are typically killed – while their sisters and mothers are forced into production before being butchered once “spent” a mere fraction into their lifetime. And they learn that this is part of the typical process even if the farms are "humane," small, local, organic, pastured, cage-free, or free-range.
They learn about the many scientific and academic sources showing that vegan diets represent perhaps the most significant environmental effort one can make, requiring about half the water and emissions to produce compared to typical Western diets. This is starting to become more mainstream information, especially since Cowspiracy hit Netflix.
Oh – and this is not a small point – vegans learn that plant-based diets feed far more human beings. As a recent Chemical and Engineering News cover story explains, producing meat and animal products "requires a lot of animals raised on huge, unsustainable amounts of plant protein," adding, “A switch to plant proteins by those who can afford meat would go a long way to feeding the growing global population while using fewer of the planet’s resources.”
So how could we just sit by and continue to opt in to this human-created nightmare called animal agriculture when we could just make a very simple, doable lifestyle change to create less harm?
With that background, hopefully you can understand why we chose to go vegan. Our hearts were in the right places. I’d been totally vegan for about 3 years after dabbling in varying degrees of vegetarianism throughout my life. My now-fiancé Craig made the shift after we’d been together for a few months, which you can read about here.
What We Ate
Unlike the typical negative stories of vegans eating very restrictive diets, we basically ate everything under the sun other than animal products, of course. Craig’s an amazing cook and I’m not so bad myself. Since there are 20,000+ edible plant species on planet Earth to choose from and tons of ways to enjoy fresh, frozen, and prepared fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, mushrooms, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, it wasn’t hard. We made rich cheeses, sausages, ice creams, gravies and more, all without animals. It’s not like we were stranded on a desert island without a plentiful supply of food. And when we got lazy, there were plenty of yummy pre-made vegan meats and cheeses to choose from at the store, even after we moved from an urban to a rural area.
We stuffed our faces full of delicious, nutritious food basically every day with few exceptions – say, that time on a business trip I was stuck with omnivores who looked pityingly at my wilted salad and plain baked potato at the restrictive omni restaurant they took me to. (I snuck out after for a real meal at Native Foods.) But generally everywhere we went, we could get satisfying vegan meals, even from popular chains like Subway to Taco Bell to Chipotle.
Whenever I used an app to see if I was getting enough protein, I’d usually had more than enough even just by lunch! I’d always tried to take a daily multi-vitamin even when I was omni, and that didn’t change, but I now took a vegan-friendly version when I remembered to (and I admit I often forgot). Like my old supplement – and like those given to livestock themselves – it included vitamin B12. Salt is iodized, folic acid is added to many packaged goods, and vitamin D is added to cows’ milk, so we didn’t find it weird to be getting a nutrient obtained from bacteria in isolation rather than from the flesh and fluids of animals.
So What Went Wrong?
We were getting all our nutrients like everyone else and were totally healthy. I hadn't wasted away, my hair wasn't falling out, etc. When I gave blood at a blood drive, the nurse commented on my high iron levels. At my annual physical checkups, my physician never mentioned anything was remotely amiss. And despite working in offices where colds and flus regularly made the rounds, neither of us had gotten the flu since going vegan, or even much of the sniffles.
Yes, sometimes it was hard socially, like when my uncle asked me why vegans don't care more about people. I told him we don't kill and eat people, either. That shut him up. (I could direct those with further objections here or give them the handy anti-vegan bullsh*t mix n' match for fun.) And that time when the waiter accidentally put dairy milk in my oatmeal, instead of throwing a tantrum, I politely requested another bowl. The struggle is... real?
I should add that Craig is a molecular biologist and I have an MBA in environmental management, so we know better than to intentionally harm ourselves to avoid harming others – or so we thought. After all, despite lots of anecdotal confirmation bias-affirming claims to the contrary, the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals (the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, formerly called the American Dietetic Association) and its international counterparts declare a vegan diet is healthful and appropriate for all stages of life, with not one medical or dietetic association claiming otherwise or that the flesh or fluid of any animal is somehow necessary to cure, treat, or prevent any deficiency, disease, or twinge of discomfort. Not only that, but a growing body of evidence shows that animal products don't do a body good after all.
So how did our vegan diet almost kill us? Well, it was a couple of months ago when we ran out of cashew milk (one of many tasty non-animal milks) and bananas. I really, really like to make shakes every day around midafternoon – peanut butter, dates, vanilla, chocolate, berries, whatever – with a frozen banana for a creamy base. I swear it tastes like soft serve ice cream, but healthy. You can add hemp, chia, and/or flax seeds and a few Brazil nuts for an extra boost of sustenance too, if you’re into that sort of thing.
So we ended up going to the grocery store to get more milk and bananas, and as we were crossing the street to the store after parking... wait for it... a car totally came out of nowhere and almost hit us! It was seriously a really close call. We could have been killed. We almost died!
If we hadn’t been vegan, we wouldn’t have run out of cashew milk, and we probably wouldn’t have been drinking a midafternoon shake because we probably would have still been in a food coma from eating severed birds’ wings or someone’s ribcage with mammary secretion dip or whatever the hell it is omnis eat these days. Am I right?
Ever since that fateful day, even though our vegan diet almost killed us, we’re actually both… still vegan. You heard me right.
We decided that we’d still rather not pay people to do things like fire bolts into sweet animals’ brains and slit their throats, grind up newborn male chicks in macerators, place “spent” hens in gassing chamber units, force females to lactate by impregnating them and then removing and either killing their babies or forcing them into the same servitude based on their gender, turn “spent” mothers into hamburger meat, remove fishes from the rapidly depleting oceans to become “seafood” no one needs (or feed for filthy fish farms for more manufactured seafood no one needs), or heck, even to steal honey we also don't need that bees produce for their own personal use and whom we have to sedate in order to take. That would be like, I don’t know, aliens breeding humans for our ear wax.
In fact, seeing as the global population is now seven billion humans and SEVENTY billion farmed animals, we’d rather not pay people to artificially inseminate animals at all! And if we want to talk about our diets almost killing us, perhaps the focus should be on the many pervasive lifestyle diseases either directly caused or greatly exacerbated by animal-derived foods, many of which actually kill people. In fact, heart disease, which vegans rarely get, is the number one thing that actually kills people!
So yes, even after our frightening ordeal, Craig and I are still eating delicious, nutritious food every day, even though we almost died from doing so. That’s how dedicated we are.
After all, we have somehow managed to peel back multiple, complicated layers of confusion and cognitive dissonance we’d picked up from a lifetime of sensationalist articles like the one you thought you were about to read. Like you, we had constant exposure to the same repeated myths and misinformation about where nutrients must come from, had been told the same fairy tales about farming animals for their flesh and fluids, and we also operated in a social context that reduced our natural wisdom and empathy for animals; animals whose individuality and cuteness we would have otherwise gone gaga over – or whom we would have at least respected enough to just leave the hell alone and eaten or worn something else.
We didn’t come this far to turn back now, careless drivers and annoying lifestyle bloggers be damned.
If you're interesting in going vegan, visit vegankit.com or google "how to go vegan."
This post has gone kinda viral. Holy sh*t. This article was long enough as is (as many have pointed out!), but there's obviously a lot to say about this issue, as many have done far more eloquently than me, and I've barely scratched the surface. Yes, my article was a satirical response to the press surrounding the "Breaking Vegan" gal, which propelled my newfound sense of urgency to come up with a creative attempt to get people to read urgent information the media is overlooking. Although I would address every comment if I had that kind of time, here's probably the most important thing to add:
Veganism isn't about making a random personal choice, and it's not about elitism, judgments, superiority, etc. It's about being a conscientious objector to mind-boggling social injustice that is the product of the exploitative mindset we are born into and accept as normal (as I did for most of my life and as many of those dear to me still do), and there are many, many hurdles to overcome. Yet compassion always makes sense. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This is why his oldest son Dexter Scott King has been vegan for more than 20 years, as was his wife Coretta Scott King for the last 10 years of her life, making it quite conceivable that Dr. King himself would have explored veganism had he lived longer. Vegan 80-year-old Holocaust survivor Dr. Alex Hershaft, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, started the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and the annual Fast Against Slaughter, because he had first-hand farming experience and "noted the many similarities between how the Nazis treated us and how we treat animals, especially those raised for food." Addressing fellow vegans at the World Vegan Summit 2015 and referencing Rosa Parks, Milton Mills, M.D. said: "Take your metaphorical seat on the bus."
Check out "Circles of Compassion: Connecting Issues of Justice" or "The World Peace Diet" by Dr. Will Tuttle.
There are many angry comments below, and some very kind ones as well. But I've gotta speak the truth without being attached to how that truth will affect another person or how we will be perceived. All we can do is speak the truth. This is needless violence and ecocide on the most epic scale imaginable. These practices and their consequences, when made visible, are so horrifying most have to look away. But as long as farm animals are considered generic farm production units, people will continue to deny those traits suppressed by farming practices that we share and relate to, that endear them to us, that make us want to help and not hurt them, and that clearly make animals our friends, not our food. When you treat an animal as an individual and show him or her your instinctive compassion and love rather than anonymous exploitation and death, nothing about the animal has actually changed. It's you that has changed.
The more "livestock" products we eat, the more crops must be be grown and sold – which is why livestock products are pushed on us and subsidized so heavily – yet the fewer people can actually be fed. That's so wrong. Why use meat eating for survival – and cherry-pick behaviors from our ancestors and native cultures – to justify modern-day meat-eating for gluttony and preference? As noted in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the majority of the planet actually lives on a plant-based diet out of necessity due to resource scarcity, with only 2 billion eating a meat-based diet. 91% of the world's resource consumption is done by the top 1/3 of humanity (per the UN Human Development Report), the majority of whom eat a resource-intensive meat-based diet.
I'm not perfect by any means. But I can embrace compassion, health, and resource abundance. I can reject bloodshed, lifestyle diseases, and resource scarcity. That's my "positive no." A million thanks for taking the time to read this long-ass article... and postscript. ;)