Friday, May 22, 2009

Vegan:Extreme?

Last night, an old friend of mine responded to this video that I'd posted on Facebook:



She wrote,

I'm glad when anyone is happy and healthy, but my non vegan children are also happy, healthy, veggie loving kids who don't live on diets of Happy Meals and white flour. Not letting the child have a cupcake at a one off birthday party seems a little extreme in my book. I think there is a happy medium to be found in most things, and extremes at either end.

I didn't really feel I'd have enough room to respond the way I'd like over on FB, so I am posting my response here, because I'm sure there are others out there who feel just as she does.

First, I do believe that your children are happy and healthy. But I also believe, from the huge number of studies out there, that a plant-based, whole foods diet, is the best one for us. High cholesterol is being found more and more in younger and younger children (another friend of mine has a son who was diagnosed with high cholesterol when he was four) and heart disease and others are diseases that develop over a long period of time. I believe they are diet related. Heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. have been called "diseases of civilized man." They are highly preventable and many doctors (Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Neal Barnard are some )believe the best way to do this is through a plant-based, whole foods diet.

As for extreme diets, if one is defining "extreme" as "going to great lengths" or "far from a normally practiced standard," I think there are a few things to consider regarding this matter. One, is that the American diet is culturally and habitually based, rather than being based on health or necessity. Using it as a standard of normal is not one that I want to choose.

In the video, they talk to a little girl (around age 4) who says that she thinks a vegan diet is hard because she sometimes doesn't get to have cookies or cupcakes at a party. While I know that it may be challenging for a 4 year old to see brightly colored, frosted goodies at a party and want them, I think there are a few responses to this:

1) The parents have the responsibility, same as the parent who brings the cupcakes for the celebration in the first place, to provide a vegan alternative. There is absolutely NO reason for that child to feel left out, because there are amazing baked goods and other treats available to vegans. I make a number of these snacks myself for my family and friends and regularly get asked for recipes, including some awesome cupcakes! :)

2) There are plenty of other people, for various reasons, who also cannot or do not, eat all the food this particular culture uses for its celebrations. For health or allergy reasons, there are those who avoid all sorts of things and have dairy-free, peanut-free, shellfish-free, gluten-free, tomato-free, etc. diets. There are others, such as Orthodox Jews or Hindus, who, like vegans, avoid certain foods by choice. I wonder if all of these people are considered extreme?

If, on the other hand, we are thinking of word, "extreme" to mean, "existing in a very high degree," then I would consider a meat-based diet to be extreme in regard to risk. There are the health risks inherent in consuming animals that are not only dietary, but also sanitary. The conditions of the slaughterhouses are to be considered. The sanitary habits of the low-wage, slaughterhouse workers ought to be considered as well.

Then there are the preparations necessary for cooking the meat to be sure that it has been cooked well enough to destroy the various bacterias that live in animals, ie. salmonella, e. coli, mad cow, influenza, and many, many others (have a listen to the latest Vegetarian Food For Thought Podcast in my sidebar for further and fascinating information). Then, of course, while one shoud be careful not to under-cook meat, one also should not over-cook the meat, because then carcinogens are know to form.

Finally, I guess I would like to say, that yes, I have an agenda. That agenda is one for promoting the best diet I believe is available to everyone as well as the most compassionate to everyone, human and non-human as well. When I share this information here on my blog, on Facebook, or with my family and friends, it is not meant to insult or judge anyone, but instead inform. I do this because I care about the health of family and friends and because I feel deeply about the unnessecary pain and suffering of the animals that occurs daily on a global basis. It seems illogical to me that the diet that is the best for our bodies, for the environment, and for all life, should be seen as something less desirable, lacking in flavor or nutrition (consider, for a moment, that we use primarily plant food to flavor all our dishes, including meat ), or extreme in any way.

So, I will continue to share here and there from time to time and I hope that we can continue to engage in discussions as friends regarding these issues that seem to ignite such passion.

6 comments:

Marianna said...

Great post Nicole! We avoid pork and alcohol for religious reasons. If need be I make alternatives available for my children when we attend parties. When my daughter was in preschool she had a classmate with a severe dairy allergy. His mother always brought an alternative for him.

I think if kids understand the reasons behind not being allowed certain foods they adapt quite easily coming to see things as "just the way they are" if you will.

I can remember having a coversation with my then 4-year-old neighbor about what we were having for dinner. It happened to be chicken. His family was vegetarian, and he really gave me something to think about with our discussion about why we ate animals! My point being that even at such a young age he was fully aware of his families convictions and more than ready to keep them.

Anonymous said...

Well said! It is sad that people think that being vegan or using food to heal your body is extreme, but they think it's OK to take pharmaceutical drugs every day or accept surgery for diseases that have been caused by their poor diets (excessive meat/sugar/alcohol/fat intake). And if by being extreme I can save thousands of animals' lives, then I'll be happy to stay that way :)

Karen said...

what a great response, nicole. after eating meat for 27 years and then being vegetarian (now somewhere halfway between this and vegan) for two and a half, i can say with absolute conviction that I will never eat meat again. the more you know, they say .... another reason i don't eat meat (aside from the many you mention here) is the amount of electric energy it takes to keep up the slaughterhouses, and also how the CAFOs can easily contaminate groundwater.

thanks for being so thoughtful.

Karen said...

i actually just now watched the video. what a great video. i'm trying to go vegan, but cheese stops me ... i do try my best to buy organic and/or local cheese not CAFO cheese. and actually i only buy cheese at all when i'm having guests over. one day i'll stop eating it. however i don't think i'll ever give up eggs, which i eat ONLY if they're absolutely small family farm or backyard and they MUST be local. they're a great B12/protein source. i know this isn't a vegan choice, but if 99 percent of my choices are vegan for me that's doing the right thing, regardless of what anyone else says. sorry to be going on at such length ... healthful, compassionate eating is just something i've been really passionate about for a long time now. have you read the omnivore's dilemma? great book. very informative. (though of course i tend to disagree with some of his personal opinions in the "ethics of eating animals" chapter...)

in respectful response to the person who wondered what was wrong with "once in a while" letting your kid have a happy meal or birthday party cupcake .... why would you want that poison in your child's body at ALL if you could help it? obviously as they make their own choices they're going to eat this stuff but when you're still in charge i just can't justify knowingly letting your child consume hydrogenated oils, food dyes, etc. sorry, i just can't accept it.

tonia said...

as our diets have become more restricted (in the form of intolerances to gluten and dairy), i've noticed that some people are just very reluctant to be inconvenienced when it comes to food - whether it's *your* dietary preferences/needs or their *own* need to be mindful of what's going into their mouths.

i wonder how much of it is tied into our cultural relationship to food and our national habit of being driven by our hungers instead of self-control.

anything that seems restrictive is looked down upon and immediately tied into "not having fun" or needing "to relax." it says a lot about our priorities, i think. perhaps our appetites really do rule us, as the NT says.

Polly said...

what a thoughtful response. We are vegetarian, and my children know the reason's why.

They never feel left out if we are at someone elses house or a party - if need be I make sure I take supplies along with us. At my daughters 6th birthday party all of the food was vegetarian, and healthy even the baked goods and everyone tucked into them with gusto - even those used to eating sugar laden food :-)

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