Someone I know sent me an article from the Waikato Times – Five Reasons Why Vegan Diets are Terrible (dated September).
Knowing that the next time I see them in person I’m going to get a somewhat smug, “Did you read that article I sent you?”, I would like to be able to counterpoint this dick move with a little self-righteous smugness of my own.
Not only did I read your article, I also traced it back to its source, and then some.
This article was not written by anyone from the Waikato Times (or Stuff where the article is posted). It was written by an Icelandic medical student named Kris Gunnars who runs a blog called Authority Nutrition, where he posted the same original story.(I’m not sure when as no date is given.)
Kris really has something against vegan diets. There are several articles with more or less the same information in the same vein. Oh, and vegan information on Wikipedia is “propaganda”. [The author does know that Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced wiki, right? If it is wrong, you can just go in and change it.]
When I was starting to explore the arguments for veganism (and to a certain extent I still am) I deliberately went looking for the counterarguments. Finding anything that has had more than five minutes of thought put into it is surprisingly difficult. For the most part, I think the culture at large either simply ignores vegan issues or is completely unaware they even exist – I know I was. To date, I have not been able to find even one counterargument that really holds up. Some are definitely tougher to address, and with only a handful of exceptions, invariably turn out to be some version of “but I want … !!!!”.
So far, no matter how I slice it, veganism is the most rational option. It is also the most moral and the most compassionate.The more I think about it, the more I am starting to believe that ‘vegan’ has to be the basis from which all other issues and decisions start. Vegan as the baseline for everything.
The most common counterarguments I have found are the “arguments from nutrition”. Like Gunnar, most of these nutrition writers often (but not always) simply ignore all the other issues, or dismiss them as being some sort of personal opinion. Ironically, almost all vegans I read, even those who are primarily interested in nutrition, seem to still care about these other issues, even when disagreeing passionately about how to approach or deal with them.
Anyway, getting back to Gunnars and his five reasons why vegan diets are terrible.
1. Vegans are deficient in many important nutrients
Several are listed in the article including the usual suspects B12, animal protein and creatine.
Short Answer: Yes, vegans can have nutrient deficiencies, but their diet doesn’t have to be deficient. That is basically down to education, eating healthy food and supplementing with B12 or whatever. All of these deficiencies are so easy to fix it is almost laughable.
As dietitian Ginny Messina writes in her response to another Gunner article:
“Regardless, the need to supplement with vitamin B12 and possibly DHA is really all that divides us from the carefree life of a meat-eater. Gunnars’ reaction to this is that it makes a vegan diet a “pretty bad idea.” Mine is a shoulder shrug. As always, when you recognize the moral imperative of veganism—and Gunnars admits that he doesn’t—then whatever little tweaks you need to make to your diet to keep it healthy are not that big a deal.”
You could also flip this counterargument on its head. Plenty of non-vegans are also deficient in essential nutrients, but nobody is freaking out about that. No, they are just calmly told to fix their diet, get an injection or take supplements. Ironically, they are usually advised to increase their intake of vegetables and plants like legumes and beans – more fibre and the other essential nutrients found in plants; along with being told to cut down their consumption of saturated fats, salt and processed foods. [Also, good advice for vegans, by the way.]
2. There are no studies showing veganism is better than other diets
Short Answer: Kris you completely miss the point. I have read doctors that would dispute how some of the information in the article is interpreted, but I won’t go into that right now, because it doesn’t matter. This is the wrong question. The real question, and the only one that matters, is – Can a vegan diet be healthy? Everything I have read appears to conclude that yes – if you do it right.
There are also no studies that show veganism is worse than other diets. There are plenty of bad diets that include animals. There are also bad diets that don’t.
I will let Ginny Messina weigh in again:
Nobody knows what the single best diet is. The only question that matters is “Can you be healthy on a vegan diet?” And the answer is “yes.” There is nothing in the Authority Nutrition blog that disproves that.
3. Vegan Diet Champions Use Lies and Fear Mongering
Short Answer: Unfortunately, apart from the China Study, Gunnar never actually says who he is referring to. I know very little about the China Study, so don’t really feel like I have anything to add here. I have become a fan of Michael Greger M.D. at nutritionfacts.org and he does address the particular things mentioned in this section of the article. Greger’s perspective is somewhat different to Gunnar, but I doubt that he is using “lies and fear mongering”. However, I will take the point that there is a lot of ‘muddy’ information on nutrition bouncing around the Internet.
So to those vegans, whoever you are, that “use lies and fear mongering” – stop it! There is a mountain of factual information and strong rational arguments to support the argument for veganism – you should those use instead. Maybe the diet arguments are less strong than the others – not really sure – but a lot of the other stuff is very strong,
Anyway, this particular point only becomes an issue if I am too lazy to fact check, consult actual experts and apply my own critical thinking skills to the information I encounter.
4. Vegan diets may work in the short term, but for different reasons …
Short Answer: I am not really sure I understand this point. I think Gunnar is saying that vegan diets “work” (by which I assume he means keep you healthy) because vegans do all the other things like exercise and cut out processed foods. Okay, but that’s not really an argument for why a vegan diet is a “terrible idea”. Also, there are plenty of unhealthy and unfit vegans – hello :).
I am not going to argue the extent to which eating animals is the variable between healthy and unhealthy, since I really have no idea. Again, the crucial question is – Can a vegan diet keep you healthy? The answer appears to be yes, as far as any diet and lifestyle is capable of keeping you healthy. Your diet is more like a life bonus card; there are no guarantees, but it does improve your odds.
5. There is no health reason to completely avoid animal foods
Short Answer: Whatever. There is nothing here that tells me anything about a vegan diet or why it is “a terrible idea”.
Anyway, to the person who sent me the link. Thank you for your concern – I think. I have looked into it. I have a lot more I could say on the individual points raised in the article. I am happy to discuss it with you when we next see each other. And if I do happen to bore you with fascinating facts like how the body absorbs B12. which I plan to tell you all about, in detail, since you forced me to look it all up – you have nobody to blame but yourself.