Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dietary dogma and disrespect

I still haven't written the negative aspect of veganism post yet, but I felt inspired to write after going to a vegan event at the college I went to.

Around this time last year, I saw a flyer for a vegan thanksgiving event on campus, and being semi-vegetarian, I wanted to go. There was free food, a speaker, and a raffle. At the time, I was afraid to give up animal products because I thought that vegans are doomed to failure on an inadequate diet. This opinion changed when I saw that this was no small event, and that no one there looked like a deficient vegan. In fact, it was probably the healthiest looking group of people I've seen. By the end of the event, the speaker asked for the vegans to raise their hands so that non-vegetarians could seek them out to ask questions. My girlfriend and I both felt awkward not raising our hands, we likely knew just as much as everyone else there, but we failed as vegans.

This year, I went with my girlfriend who still isn't vegan, and a dedicated omnivore friend. This time the food was essentially an all you can eat buffet, and the food was incredible. If I would have known I would be writing about this event I would have taken pictures while I was there. Also, by the time the speaker was doing Q and A, I wish I had recorded it. The speaker was a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic. She admittedly was mostly vegan with an occasional slip, but the important thing was that she is a doctor in one of the most respected medical establishments in the country. She spoke of the importance of veganism in her life, and how veganism is starting to become more respected among doctors, especially as they face failing health as they become older. Compared to last years speaker, the speech seemed a little less vegan, and showcased more of the issues of veganism. Veganism is becoming more accepted, but it's still a difficult diet to make work in different settings, and the tendency for purity and dogma easily turns into disrespect.

The first question was about the decalcification of the pineal gland, something that is hardly scientific. The next was about artificially sweetened pop replacing sugar sweetened pop at the Cleveland Clinic. The next question raised hell. It actually wasn't a question, it was a criticism. The lady began by criticizing the speaker for her occasional slips eating eggs and dairy, and then moved on to say the speaker was wrong with her nutritional advice. B12 is supposedly not something vegans need to supplement, it can be obtained with nutritional yeast (fortified with b12) and seaweeds and algaes (analogue b12). Calcium is a non-issue for vegans because the lack of animal protein prevents calcium from being drawn from the bone (Dr. Gregor explains how this is simply not true on nutritionfacts.org). When it seemed like this lady was done, she took a breath and continued to criticize the speaker for wearing leather. By this time, I think the microphone was yanked from her hand, and the speaker was given a chance to address the criticisms.

Given being put on the spot, she did an excellent job responding to the criticism. She addressed the nutritional concerns as you would expect a doctor to, and moved on to the accusations about wearing leather and about not being truly vegan. She was in fact not wearing any leather, and as far as not being truly vegan, she owns up to it, but doesn't see an issue when she's fighting for the same team. Thankfully, it appeared the amount of applause she got for that meant that the majority of people there were not judgmental.

This is an issue of veganism that I haven't seen addressed enough. Veganism is an ethic, a way of life that is meant to inflict the least amount of harm. Many take it much further, and add an element of purity. Some won't even buy something if the label says it may contain trace amounts of dairy. I've recently been criticized for taking a sleep aid that contains gelatin, which was purchased before I went vegetarian. The closest I can come to explaining this without simply saying it's a cult-like influence is that some vegans are more like Kant, and can't see how a utilitarian perspective can be useful in this situation. If the goal is to inflict the least amount of suffering, then the goal should be to educate people about CAFO meat, and to get people to limit their intake of meat, not to criticize others for not being vegan enough. Being vegan is a personal choice to live according to ones morals. Being judgmental is forcing ones beliefs and values on others. Being an activist is opening the eyes of others to a problem. Live according to your morals, don't be judgmental, and educate others without letting your morals become emotions that blind you when dealing with others.

I saw the speaker leaving the event, and while a few people went up and said how they enjoyed her speech, I got the feeling that she left a little scarred by judgmental vegans. She did more to promote veganism and educate people about the cruelty of meat production in that one event than the judgmental vegans will ever do in their life, and yet she was the one criticized.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ex-ex vegan story

I've written and rewritten this story, so hopefully this one will stick. There is so much I want to write about, so I'll have to spread it out over a few posts. I've had both positive and negative things happen since going vegan again, and while I feel the negative isn't talked about enough among vegans, I'll start with the positive. A balanced vegan diet that incorporates a b12 supplement is a diet that I believe can bring about optimal health. I accept that one doesn't need to give up meat for optimal health, and it may be more natural to obtain b12 from food sources rather than supplements, but I was never able to maintain balance as a non-vegetarian. I grew up eating mono-meals of whatever I can throw in the oven, foods such as pizza rolls, mini corn dogs, and popcorn chicken. The lack of balance in what I ate explains why I've been underweight most of my life. Going vegan is in line with my personal views, and was a choice that helped me gain balance with my diet and improve my health.

I have my ex-vegan story still saved, but I'm not sure if I'll post it again. Basically, I was vegan for a year, but I struggled to eat enough food, especially living in a dorm on a tight budget. a couple months before going back to meat, I donated blood, which I felt I never recovered from. I had no energy, and I was losing more and more weight. I went back to eating meat when I started having chest pains from what I assume to be weakened muscles (doesn't help that I've had collapsed lungs and two lung surgeries in the past). Like other ex-vegans, the paleo mindset made me skeptical of veganism, which made me blame veganism for my failing health. After I got past feeling like a monster for eating meat, I quickly embraced a meat heavy diet low in carbohydrate. To make a long story short, I lost even more weight and I started smoking. I thought it was bad enough being vegan, but it was worse eating low carb. I eventually gave up trying and started falling back into my old diet of processed mono-meals. Unless you are surrounded by health conscious people, it's hard getting out of the cycle of processed food, fast food, and greasy take out food. Needless to say, I never felt good during this time and frequently wondered why I was inflicting myself with food that made me feel miserable. I remembered how being vegan at least cured my IBS, so why couldn't I stop eating the foods that caused IBS?

Eventually, I decided out of nowhere that I wanted to start eating less meat and more vegetarian foods that I previously gave up because it doesn't fit in with paleo or low carb eating. I noticed a spark of energy as I ate a veggie burger instead of a beef burger, so I kept eating vegetarian foods in place of meat whenever I could. I continued eating this way even though I was worried the extra carbs would cause insulin resistance. All I knew was that I felt better, and I was able to give up smoking. I did however have terrible anxiety at this point, and become very much out of shape.

This continued until the end my second to last semester of college when I decided that I desperately need to get in shape. I was going up the stairs heading to class when I started getting palpitations bad enough that I needed to sit down at a lounge area to catch my breath. I decided to quit caffeine, go January without alcohol, go lacto-ovo vegetarian, and start exercising. I never had a real new years resolution before, but I was determined this time. I immediately went vegetarian, and gave up alcohol and caffeine. I made it through January without alcohol, but I only lasted a week without caffeine. I didn't notice any change until I started exercising halfway through January. I felt inspired to run ever since going in to class early in the morning, and seeing how many people where in the rec center on treadmills that early. Even though I was told it was unhealthy to run, I did it anyway. With the addition of exercise, I started turning around all the health problems I previously had. I started gaining muscle, which meant I was no longer underweight, my anxiety disappeared, and so did my palpitations. I started eating vegan most of the time, and started eating less processed food. I quickly noticed that eating vegan meant running would feel easier, so I stuck with it as much as I could. When January was over and I allowed myself alcohol again, I was surprised that it didn't affect me as negatively as it used to. Moderate alcohol and caffeine no longer made me horribly anxious, I was still energetic and generally in a good mood. I finally was more balanced.

Veganism wasn't without its negative side, but the negatives didn't start until I started listening to vegans on youtube promoting a restrictive form of veganism. I'll post about that next.