February 1st, 2012 by Gary Smith
Yesterday, a blogger wrote a piece about green smoothies. Her conclusion was that combining a couple of pieces of fresh fruit with handfuls of leafy greens in a blender is bad for you. Yes, that was her conclusion, and the conclusion of a couple of health gurus, based on specious science such as chewing those same foods would burn 100 calories.
Now, I don’t really care if you take that information and cease making green smoothies. What I do care about is when veganism moves away from ethics and towards some sort of dietary perfection. What I care about is the perception of veganism to the mainstream population. Whether we like it or not, vegan diets are perceived as extremely radical and restrictive, and that vegans only eat salad. When we ask the public to stop eating meat, dairy, eggs and honey, we are asking them to remove foods that have been part of the culture’s diet for thousands of years. We are asking them to go far outside the mainstream.
My concern with the cult of health is that its outspoken advocates are conflating a vegan diet with limited diets that abstain from all oils, sugars/sweeteners, salt, gluten, soy and/or other foods. The same goes for popular “vegan cleanse” products and protocols. At best the public is led to believe these foods are not vegan and cannot be eaten if they choose to try a vegan diet. At worst, it makes it appear like we truly only do eat salads – and makes us look a little crazy.
This is destructive to our goal of converting people to a vegan diet and lifestyle.
The cult of vegan health is very similar to what happened and continues to happen within the raw food community. Gurus emerge, disparage perfectly healthy foods, and confuse the public; raw foodists choose gurus and take sides, while the ethics of eating a vegan diet are lost. The no oil/sugar/salt crowd is getting louder and more strident about their dietary beliefs. It’s an ego- and vanity-driven “my diet is cleaner than yours” competition, and it ultimately hurts veganism.
As an ethical vegan, I don’t really care what you eat – as long as you aren’t eating meat, dairy, eggs and honey. If you want to eat soy and gluten meats, non-dairy milks, oil, vegan sugar and sweeteners, salt, baked goods, dog bless you. The goal is to create vegans and save animals, not create healthy eaters. The goal is to make a vegan diet and lifestyle more mainstream, attainable and practical, not bamboozle people into thinking that they need to achieve dietary perfection. Banning veggie burgers, agave syrup or green smoothies is certainly not helping animals any.
I happen to eat a very clean diet because I didn’t get the vegan superpowers that many claim to get by eating a vegan diet. This is fine, since I did it for ethics. I don’t write about what foods I omit from my diet because I see that as being harmful to my message, which is that it is unethical to eat and use individuals. Period. What vegan foods I eat or don’t eat is immaterial to that message.
Registered dietician and animal rights activist Ginny Kisch Messina wrote on her blog The Vegan RD, “Ten billion (land) animals live and die under the most horrible conditions imaginable in the United States every year. So obviously, our efforts should focus on getting people to consume less…olive oil?” For more of her wisdom on the flawed “health argument” for veganism, see our interview last year here.
So, please be cognizant in your outreach about what a vegan diet and lifestyle are, and if you wish to follow a guru or decide to eat a highly restrictive diet, keep it to yourself.