I get a lot of mail from vegan-curious people who have a lot of questions. They usually will say that they are really interested, and I have a lot of good arguments, but their doctor/trainer/nutritionist/TV show have other things to say about it that contradict what they read hear, or what they read in new books or see on documentaries.
I’ve been to countless doctors and I’ve seen and consulted with at least 8 nutritionists (that I can remember). I have been to weight loss groups, actually I’ve been to them all. I have been to nutrition talks, I’ve gone to high priced seminars that talk about the best ways to lose weight or to control diabetes. I’ve read almost every book in the health section at Borders. You could call me an expert in knowing all that is out there.
For the vegan-curious:
It’s not your fault. You can take a big sigh of relief and stop feeling so much shame or if you are like me, feeling stupid for not seeing some of the truths of the animal products you are consuming. It’s not your fault, because every time you turn on the TV, every doctor you go to, every nutritionist you see and pay money to consult with, every (well almost every) weight loss group you go to, tell you the same thing. Almost every nutrition/diet book and magazine repeat the same thing over and over, in all sorts of ways: eating meat is just fine. The only way to really live a healthy life is to consume animal products.
And if you are like me, you go home, and you might feel this bit of guilt, you really don’t want to eat the chicken for dinner, but your trusted healthcare provided has told you that it’s healthy, a good source of protein, and that really there is no other way to eat. This person that you trust may have even told you that going on a plant based diet is not realistic, or that it’s dangerous. And you go back and forth, thinking that yes, you know that it’s bad in a lot of ways, but you don’t want to risk your own health, or the health of your family, and sadly, maybe that is just the way it needs to be. I understand this, because that’s how I thought for a long time.
Not only is it in your doctor offices, or in your nutrition consults, or from your gym trainers, it’s all over the stuff you watch and read. I decided to watch 2 hours of morning television programming today. On the plus side I saw an add for Kashi which is a 7 grain cereal. On the negative? The commercials I saw were sick. Almost every commercial was about food or medication. I counted in 2 hours 8 depression medication adds. EIGHT. And then adds that had something to do with food and how that particular food was good for you? I lost count. Every single food commercial (with the exception of the ONE Kashi add) was an add for an animal product that would help make you healthy. Including at least 7 fast food commercials. FAST FOOD companies claiming how healthy and good their product is, showing thin, fit, happy people eating their grilled chicken, drinking their diet cokes. And I won’t even get started on the morning show itself. Food sections all with how to cook some sort of animal product, and a health section advocating consuming animal products.
So, what you see and hear every single day completely goes against every thing that you might be newly reading or watching in regards to being vegan. It’s saturated in our society – eat and use animal products, because it is the only way. Health care experts, and even shows like “The Biggest Loser” push using animal products to live a healthy life, and all of this information leads to a lot of confusion. It leads to knowing that it’s bad that animals suffer and die so that you can eat, but there really is no other way around it.You might even feel selfish for thinking this way, but you still have to make a decision between your health and your life, and a way of eating that you might not even agree with completely, but have been told so many times that it’s completely normal, and the only way to eat healthy.
Personally, I started to do my own research in regards to all of the health sides of it. Being an obese diabetic, I could not risk doing anything that was dangerous in regards to my health. I started to really dive into exactly how the body works, and how my body processes food. I had to understand the health part of being vegan in order to understand the ethical side. For me, I could easily say that while I knew consuming animal products was not ethical, every single trusted source in my life was saying it was the only way for me to be healthy, and for me to control my diabetes, and so I just had no other choice. I could not, for me, go from the ethical part of being vegan at the start, because of all of the conflicting information.
Not to mention, that I thought I was doing good, by only buying “happy meat”. Meat that was organically raised and fed. I could agree that, yes there is something wrong with factory farms, and the ways that animals were treated there, but it was okay to buy and consume animal products from farms where they were grass fed, or free range, or any other number of things that eased my conscience.
It is why the health part of going to a plant based diet is so important. And it’s important for you to understand that as you start to do your own research regarding all that it means to be vegan. Because, honestly, why would you put your own health or your families health at risk, if going vegan meant they would not be able to eat properly, and if it did not contribute to their overall well being?
When asking yourself if you can trust advertisers, doctors, nutritionists, I would encourage you to take a trip back in time to the golden age of the tobacco industry. I don’t think you would find ONE doctor in the United States that currently would suggest smoking cigarettes for any reason. And likewise, you won’t find advertisements on TV celebrating smoking any kind of tobacco. For the most part, you won’t even see it on your favorite TV shows, and if you do, it’s generally not a character who is associated with health and happiness.
But, not to long ago, advertisements were run on TV, radio and print claiming the wonderful health benefits of smoking. Most of these advertisements featured doctors in them, saying that “4 out of 5 doctors agree that X brand of cigarettes is the best!” or some other claim. People went to their doctors and they were told to take up smoking to relieve stress, help lose weight, and my personal favorite? Help with the after baby blues.
My Grandfather was one of the people told to take up smoking to relieve stress. It was during WW2 and everyone smoked, and was encouraged to smoke. And he said that there were people that would say that they thought it wasn’t healthy, and those people were considered to be the “Health Police” and what did they know? They weren’t doctors. Now, if a doctor suggested smoking, I’m guessing that they would not be in practice much longer. Likewise, if NBC ran commercials for cigarettes all of a sudden, that claimed the great health benefits of smoking? How many of you would call in and protest?
The first step for me in becoming vegan was deciding that the people that I trusted for my nutritional advice, could be wrong. And the second step was starting to care enough about my body to figure out how it worked, and figure out why it wasn’t working the way it should be.
I read a lot and researched a lot about going plant based, and in each step made sure I understood what was happening with my body. Being diabetic, I had a great measuring tool – my blood sugar. I was able to see first hand what eating a HEALTHY plant based diet was doing to my body. I stress healthy, because YES you can be an unhealthy vegan. Potato chips and vegan ice cream are not going to win you smaller pant sizes, even if they are vegan. But, more importantly, I could immediately see the effects of eliminating meat, dairy and eggs from my diet. It seemed easy after that, it was easy to understand how my body worked. Going on a plant based diet, was basically going on a low stress diet for my body. All of those animal products (no matter how healthy they claimed to be) were stressing out my body. A stressed out body leads to a body that has to work on digesting foods that don’t belong on it, so it might not have time to do other things, like lose weight properly or heal itself. The bottom line, was that I found out eating a plant based diet meant not stressing out my body, and that lead to my body starting to work the way it should.
When I understood that going on a vegan plant based diet was indeed healthy, that I could eat, that it was the way my body was supposed to work, I was then able to start to understand the ethical side of being vegan. More so, I was able to really research and find out truths, that I could not have done before, because it just lead to shame, but shame I thought I could do nothing about, so I would step further and further away from the ethical arguments, because I could not understand them, and then think that eating meat was still the only healthy way to live. It was when I was able to go plant based because of health reasons, that the cognitive dissonance was able to stop for me, and it was only then that I could start really understand the ethical side of being vegan.
If you are vegan curious, I just wanted to let you know that the way you think about your food is not your fault, and has been formed over many years of bad information from trusted sources.
I would encourage you to really start doing your own research, figure out how your body works, and read up on exactly how someone who is a healthy vegan eats. You might need to first understand how it’s all possible, and understand that eating a plant based diet is indeed healthy, and normal for our bodies, before you dive into the ethical side of consuming animals. Maybe, you are like I was, and you know that consuming living beings is not ethical, but you have been told so much that there is just no other way, that you force yourself to ignore it all.
It’s an uphill battle for a lot of you who are vegan curious, because it’s not yet the “norm” in society. Just like people who did not smoke were once not the norm. I hope that one day when my kids or my grandchildren are looking at advertising from my generation, they will be just as repulsed by a commercial for “milk doing the body good” as I am repulsed by this:
At times, it might seem like a lot, and you might get discouraged. But I want to encourage you today that just by being vegan curious you have already made a huge step. You’ve opened the door, and now it’s up to you to continue to research, learn and understand. The further you walk down this path the more and more reasons you will have to be vegan. It might have started because you care about your health, but I can assure you that soon, you will understand many more reasons, and you will start to see things that you have not before. That is where I want to remind you that it is not your fault for not knowing all of it before this point, but now that you’ve opened the door? You also open the door to responsibility and learning, which is all, in the end, being free.