Right now, there’s a bit of a divide between “vegetarian/vegans” and “traditional foodies.” And yes, in terms of exactly what they consume, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. Vegetarians and vegans intend to minimize or eliminate their consumption of animal products, while traditional foodies swear by animal products (and often minimize or eliminate grains).
Now, I don’t believe that vegetarianism or, especially, veganism, is a truly healthy diet. With that said, though, we have far more in common than we realize — and, different people do require different diets. So let’s take a closer look at vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as how we can unite the real food movement.
Is Vegetarian Healthy?
In most cases…no. But many vegetarians are a bit mainstream in their approach, and largely consume grains and starches. They avoid meats, but they don’t focus on healthy foods. It’s not going to make you healthier to exclude any food group if what you do eat isn’t any better. (This is more commonly found in teenage girls or those who are becoming vegetarians as a “protest” than a health move, though.)
There are traditional societies where people ate little to no meat. They did, however, consume dairy and fish. Some of the healthiest societies ate this way (fish consumption, especially, was correlated with healthy populations). Choosing not to consume meat can be completely fine, especially for those who don’t like it or don’t have access to high-quality meat, if real butter, raw milk, fish and fish stock and other such foods are consumed. This would still be a perfectly appropriate and healthy traditional diet.
So, the focus of the diet is what matters. If the focus is largely grains and starches with little fat, too much sugar, little to no fish, and not too many vegetables (yes, some vegetarians focus more heavily on starches than vegetables), the diet won’t be a healthy one. But a vegetarian who consumes plenty of butter, coconut oil, raw milk, fish, vegetables and not too many grains can be perfectly healthy.
Is Vegan Healthy?
No. With a complete elimination of animal products, it is impossible to get enough of crucial nutrients. Most vegans also eat very low-fat diets, which in and of itself isn’t good (coconut oil could solve that problem, but most vegans think that fat is bad and are especially afraid of saturated fat).
Only from animal sources can you get adequate B12, iron, and vitamin A. Without adequate fat, you can’t absorb vitamins A, D, E, or K. And I know — “plants contain vitamin A!” Not really. They contain beta-carotene, which, under ideal circumstances has about a 7:1 conversion. Under less-than-ideal circumstances (especially low-fat diets) the conversion can be 25:1 or worse…and some can’t make the conversion at all! To get adequate vitamin A, people require animal foods.
Certainly vegans can do better if they add in coconut oil, properly prepared whole grains, and a wide variety of plant foods. But there were no traditional societies that were entirely vegan. Even those who consumed few animal products knew that they were necessary at certain times — in illness, during pregnancy or breastfeeding, for growing children, and so on.
Although I’m sure vegans don’t want to hear this, it is the truth and we need to know it.
Uniting the Real Food Movement
There are plenty of vegetarians and vegans who have chosen this lifestyle in the pursuit of health. They know that meat produced on factory farms isn’t healthy — which is very true.
There is another option, though: locally and sustainably raised animals. They can produce very healthy meat, milk, and eggs. They live under ideal conditions and are healthy and well-treated. This is a great alternative and one that we choose for our family. I’d never encourage anyone to choose industrially-produced animal products (unless you absolutely have no options, but even then, see what you can do).
It’s important to remember, though, that we can have different ideologies about health and eating and still work together. I’m sure vegetarians want to see healthy animal products (even if it’s just milk and eggs) as much as the traditional foodies do.
We all want to see more local, organic produce; more organic whole grains; more local raw honey and real maple syrup. Why can’t we unite over these facts and work together to make them happen? We may disagree on the consumption of animal products but we also have a lot in common!
Let’s use all our power to create real change in the food industry. When we’re busy fighting with each other over exactly what we should eat, we’re a movement without much power, and the government and major food producers don’t have to pay attention. When we work together, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with!
What do you think? Are you vegetarian or vegan? Can we unite the “real foodies” to force real change?