Veganism: Fact and Fiction

For many people, animal rights are extremely important, and part of being a good feminist and skeptic. In fact, as science learns more about animal brains, perceptions and sensations, it’s becoming more and more apparent that the harsh line we have drawn between human and animal in the past may not be tenable based on the evidence. One reaction that some have is veganism, and on the internet, as with so many movements, people have become militant with their beliefs. On both the pro vegan and the anti vegan sides, there are myths, uncertainties and confusions about the health benefits, availability and repercussions of vegan foods. Some argue that we all have an ethical obligation to be vegan because it’s easy and everyone can do it. Others suggest that what you eat is a personal choice, and there are many obstacles to veganism. I’m here to try to look at some of the major confusions of veganism and try to get to the heart of the matter: sometimes veganism is possible, and is probably better for the world around you. In other cases, there may be hindrances to veganism. 


One of the main debates about veganism centers around health. One of the major problems in ascertaining whether veganism is a healthy diet is that different people need different diets to be healthy, and the small sample size of vegans available makes it difficult to study what some of the more general health effects might be. That being said, there are some potential health risks with a vegan diet, especially for the very young or very old. These include B12 deficiency, iron deficiency, anemia, and calcium deficiency. There are few plant based sources for these vitamins, and none that are as high as animal products. As of this point there is conflicting evidence over whether or not a carefully planned vegan diet can provide all of these vitamins adequately, especially for high risk groups. In addition, if someone is already anemic or has problems with one of these vitamins or other health conditions, veganism may very well exacerbate that condition. Talking to a doctor before moving to veganism and planning how to get all of one’s nutrients is extremely important. Veganism is not healthy for everyone, but it can be healthy for many people. While it’s true that the health risks associated with veganism are overblown, it’s also true that there are circumstances in which being vegan can have adverse health affects.
As an addendum to the discussion of health, many vegans extoll the many benefits that they’ve found through a vegan lifestyle: weight loss, improved blood pressure and cholesterol, and generally improved health. But it’s worth noting that veganism by itself is not a recipe for health. It’s possible to be vegan and eat only french fries and sugar every day: just like any other diet, a vegan diet requires some planning and attentiveness to the necessary nutrients, as well as exercise. 
In addition to physical health, there’s also the question of mental health. This can be a serious problem for some people. Veganism is likely not a good choice for people who have eating disorders, particularly orthorexics. While it’s true that some people recovered from eating disorders can maintain a vegan lifestyle, it’s also true that mental illness affects people differently, and some eating disorders are more triggered by types of food, rules, or restrictive diets than others. Pushing someone with an eating disorder towards veganism could be dangerous to their health.
Another question many people have about veganism is its affordability. Looking at some of the more gourmet mock meat options and vegan aimed products, it can look pretty expensive. Cutting out things like fast food or prepared foods is daunting for people who rely on these cheap options. However as Jai Lifestyle points out, a lot of the more simple options that require home cooking can lead to savings over a meat-based diet. Many people have found ways to eat vegan and cheap. There are however downsides to a cheap vegan diet, and it is not something that is possible for everyone. Eating rice and beans every day can be monotonous, and it certainly will not keep you healthy. Having a variety of vegan foods that provide all the important nutrients may be a bit more expensive than the most basic vegan diet which would save money. In addition, many people don’t have the time or the resources to do a lot of home cooking. It is a privilege to have a working kitchen and the time to use it, and some vegans would do well to remember that. Finally, there are such things as food deserts, or places where access to varities of food is limited, and most often healthy food is very difficult to find. In these cases, buying vegan cheap could be difficult if not impossible. Just as with health benefits, there are ways to eat vegan cheap, but these options are not always available to everyone.
Finally, there is the debate over whether veganism is a moral obligation for everyone or not. I’m not going to get into any great depth here, because animal rights and the industries that surround our food are complicated. However I do want to make one final remark about veganism: often vegans like to portray themselves as living a morally superior or even morally necessary lifestyle. Those people who aren’t vegan, or who are anti-vegan like to portray vegans as uptight and holier-than-thou. Neither of these stereotypes is accurate. Veganism is a lifestyle that can bring many benefits: personally, environmentally, and for the other creatures living around us. However veganism is not morally pristine. There is some evidence that eating a strictly plant-based diet may have negative environmental impacts, as there is some soil not useful for plant production. In addition, the soy industry is replete with human rights violations. Veganism may reduce the negative impact a life has on the world, but no choice, even an extreme one like veganism, is entirely perfect. Because veganism is a complex choice that has both positive and negative consequences, none of us should accept stereotypes of veganism that paint it as either puritanical or as holy.
Choosing to be vegan is a personal choice that involves weighing personal health, access, and the pros and cons for the rest of the world. Each human being only has a finite number of resources, and every choice we make about where to expend those resources means there's another problem that doesn't get our energy and resources. Beyond that, every choice we make has both positive and negative consequences. No lifestyle is without negative consequences, and no lifestyle can solve all the problems in our world. While veganism may do a great deal towards alleviating one or two problems, it is still reasonable for a moral person to choose to use their resources and energy in working at another problem. It may be controversial to some vegans, but veganism is to some extent a privilege, and also a personal choice. At the same time, it may be more pressing to move towards veganism or vegetarianism than the meat-eaters among us may want to admit.
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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at

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