Being Vegan Doesn’t Make You Sick And It Doesn’t Make You Healthy
I used to have friends that would tease that vegans could be spotted by their blue-tinged skin tones, thinning hair, and the way their bones stuck out at their ribs and hips. These misconceptions were fuelled by the way society, and big business, framed anyone who dared not to participate in the animal exploitation done by agribusiness.
A quick google search of “is eating vegan healthy” will bring up article after article of defence for meats role in brain production, animal proteins necessity for physically fit bodies, and how b12 deficiencies are parallel to a diagnosis of early death (I exaggerate, obviously). But as time passes, I’ve noticed a shift in the stereotype. As science continues to work on backing up plant-based diets, people are forced to find more creative ways to counter the claims. What used to be an argument about protein and eating enough calorically, is now more commonly focused on “safe” amounts of carbs, how natural supplementation is, and whether cooked or raw produce is a greater necessity. The thing is, with a vegan diet being vastly different from one person to another, it’s incredibly speculative to pigeonhole all vegans as having one set of advantages of disadvantages. In comparing vegan eating to non-vegan, vegans are also often expected not to just live a balanced life, but to exceed the nutritional requirements of any diet it’s compared to. And in those comparisons, disease prevention is taking a back seat to the hyped up aesthetic benefits of cutting back on animal products. As it does, vegans are expected to have the qualities of an athlete, nutritionist, and health practitioner all in one. I want people to understand that going vegan isn’t something that should be encouraged for health or physical gains, as they are not a guarantee. It’s the removal of violence from one’s life, and the well-being of animals that vegans share a common goal and success in. And it doesn’t guarantee any one person will be sick, or healthy, because of it.
In 2009, The American Dietetic Association published that a vegan diet “[Properly planned vegan diets] are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases….are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” As more organizations of their size and recognition come forward with evidence that it’s not only achievable, but beneficial to go vegan, the understanding of what vegans eat does not become any clearer. Sure, people are hearing that you can live without meat and dairy, but these same institutions aren’t showing them how. When people follow food pyramids, paleo plans, and other meat-centric diets, the switch can appear to have a hole. Then, the misconception is that that hole is best filled with tofu and processed faux meat products, starting an argument for how unhealthy being vegan can be. No one is claiming that vegans need any less protein, carbohydrates, or fibre than a meat eater does, and yet, we’re constantly measured not on how we stack up, but in whether we can surpass others in our eating habits. Are all meat-eaters immediately in balance from their eating? No. Are all vegans immediately out of balance? Also, no. Rather than measuring the worth of a vegan diet on how similarly it can mimic a non-vegan one, people ought to remain focused on why they’re choosing to eat vegan in the first place, and eat to support that. Then, they can better appreciate the impact of what they eat on themselves, and the world around them.
Some of the benefits of going vegan are public knowledge, with lower risks of cancer and heart disease being commonly celebrated discoveries across studies. But I’ve noticed that for every Facebook post on the dangers of loading up on bacon, there’s one celebrating the promise of clear skin, stamina, or the lose of those “last ten pounds” in eating vegan. Besides the obvious benefits of getting more greens in your diet, people claim you’ll look younger, find definition in your abs, and some even go as far as saying you won’t experience gas, stomach aches, or bloating (absurd). Look, I couldn’t be more pleased with the results people have when they eliminate animal products, or the fact that more people are seeing these excuses as ways in the lifelong veganism (and not just a plant-based diet). But to promote these unrealistic standards as absolutes doesn’t help the current vegans, who are expected to live up to a false standard, or the animals we should naturally be all about. There are many more factors at play than the foods we eat, or the weight when we carry, when talking about the subjective qualifications for “health.”
Have you noticed how vegans are the only people expected to drop nutritional information at a moment’s notice? We’ve somehow become the model for health, when the diet aspect merely focuses on the exclusion of animal products, and the not the specific inclusion of anything else. But as the popularity of plant-based athletes and celebrities rise, more misinformation is being published by way of meal plans, recommended daily amounts of supplements, and before and after shots. It’s a really good idea to learn the requirements for your body to thrive, but that’s not done online, or at the recommendation of someone you’ve never met. Where we all meet is at the elimination of another’s unnecessary suffering, not in the pursuit of finding our abs or living to one hundred.
With ethical veganism at the helm of my motives, giving up animal products was easy. That being said, considering the well-being of animals also made the difficult work of educating myself in my own needs, cooking, and healthy living habits that much easier. Although your Instagram feed might say otherwise, you don’t have to eat avocados to be vegan. Likewise, you might not reach a goal BMI, lower the symptoms of an illness, or suddenly sprout mermaid-length hair. But that’s okay – because choosing veganism is about rejecting the violence society so commonly tries to convince us to be comfortable with. That violence extends into practices of compassion for ourselves, and knowing when a stereotype is just a stereotype. We may look up to vegans who have forged a path of wellness for us, and we may choose to eat our weight in vegan cheese. Being vegan is not about eating better or being better than your neighbour, it’s about doing everything we can as individuals to fight to end animal exploitation. Whether or not that subsequently benefits humanity, is for another generation of vegans to find out.