More Green Smoothies for Me!

By on February 1, 2012

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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.

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Comments

  1. DaveDandelion
    February 1, 2012

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    This is a big problem. I personally got sucked into rawfood as a new vegan and my mission now is to make sure others don’t fall in the same trap. Our first campaign to attempt to do so is to try to advocate critical thinking (a la Carl Sagan) in our Baloney Detection Guide. http://www.veganchicago.com/pages/Baloney_Detection/

    Virginia Messina is one of our favorite science-based experts and in fact we’re hosting her for a speaking engagement coming up soon!

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Kezia
    February 1, 2012

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    P.S. – about those smoothies? Here’s Ginny Messina’s response:

    “The idea that chewing a meal costs 100 calories is beyond ludicrous. You could walk a mile in 15 minutes and you wouldn’t burn that many calories!

    “I think this anti-smoothie stance is pretty simplistic. Yes, they can be a way to pack in some extra calories, depending on what you put in them, and maybe some of the fiber is destroyed (although I’d want to see some actual research on that; even juices can retain some fiber). But that doesn’t mean that having a nutrient-rich smoothie for breakfast is going to be harmful – especially on a vegan diet which is already rich in fiber.

    “And, while juicing or blending can reduce some nutrients, it also makes other nutrients *more* available by breaking down plant cell walls – something for which there is real research. (Adding some fat to your smoothie enhances absorption even more.)

    “Packing raw veggies into a juice or smoothie is certainly a way to boost nutrient and phytochemical intake and to get more of certain compounds that are reduced by cooking. Most people are not going to eat two cups of raw kale, but they might drink a smoothie that contains that much. Seems like a good thing to me. And, while it’s true that breaking food into smaller particle sizes raises the glycemic index, this doesn’t mean that all juices or smoothies have a high GI. For example, the GI of apple juice seems to be about the same as for whole apples.

    “There is nothing wrong with drinking a smoothie every day, and probably some good to be gained. I don’t understand this continued emphasis on micromanaging every single detail of vegan diets in order to make them as restrictive as possible!”

  3. Rebekah
    February 1, 2012

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    Great post. I agree that the vegan diet seems restrictive enough to most people, and there is no need to push the no-oil, no-salt, no-sugar, and now no-smoothie mentality. I think sometimes we get caught up in our little vegan bubbles and forget what the rest of the world is eating – pizza with mounds of cheese, bacon (in almost everything nowadays!), full sticks of butter, etc.

    Besides, I think the nutrients I’m getting in the occasional green smoothie outweigh the possible risks. I’m sure that chewing up a big bowl of raw kale, flax seeds, and other fruit might be healthier than drinking it all blended up…but really, would anyone eat that bowl of food for breakfast?

  4. Sebastiaan
    February 1, 2012

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    There is a basic difference between two movements here. One is ethically driven, the other medically driven. They have different constituencies and outcomes. The medical doctors who are promoting plant based diets are dealing with the sick people, those who have had the massive heart attacks, have advanced Type 2 diabetes etc. So of course they are restrictive, they are about saving lives. This is why they craft their diets the way they do, they are not dealing with normally healthy people. For their patients juicing is probably not appropriate. I am not an MD.

    This is not to deny the ethical case for Veganism. I am trying to point out a difference in motivation.

  5. Jo Tyler
    February 1, 2012

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    Great points, Gary. While I think there is much benefit in demonstrating that a vegan diet is healthful (as I recently blogged about), obsessing over which limited form of veganism (raw, macro, no fat, etc.) is the MOST healthful is not really useful and can actually be harmful in that it makes veganism seem all the more unachievable and unrealistic.

    That said, health is important. A vegan cannot live on Oreos and french fries alone. It’s probably better to toss in a little fresh spinach and make an Oreo/French Fry Green Smoothie instead. 😉

  6. Lisa
    February 1, 2012

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    agree a million times over – when we make it seem like being vegan also means being an extremely healthy person, it makes veganism sound even more unappealing. speaking from the point of view of a vegan who basically lives on tofurkey and vegeneise sandwiches just because my schedule doesn’t allow me time to eat anything better, we should be more concerned with getting people not to contribute to animal suffering and less concerned with promoting as healthy a diet as possible – that is for the person to decide for themselves.

  7. Kezia
    February 1, 2012

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    Sebastian, I agree with you; there seems to be good cause to adopt a restrictive diet for therapeutic reasons such as managing cancer, heart disease, Crohn’s disease, etc. I get that. This particular hit piece on green smoothies, and this response, isn’t about therapeutic diets for those who would benefit. (The original blog is no longer online as I type.) This health movement today is not targeting sick people, it’s bordering on bashing other vegans for ignorantly poisoning ourselves with – pick your passion – cooked food, wheat, soy, olive oil, coconut oil, sweeteners other than dates, the occasional vegan cupcake from a bake sale, french fries, potato salad with vegenaise at a potluck, and so on. It’s adding a layer of “holier than thou” based on not eating the “right” vegan diet.

    Those who have recovered from a disease by changing their diet have every right to ‘crow’ about it. But it’s not veganism, and I fail to see how presenting an appropriate vegan diet as one that’s overly restrictive advances us in any way in the eyes of the mainstream.

  8. Kezia
    February 1, 2012

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    Here’s another example: if someone has a legitimate food allergy or intolerance, then of course they should avoid it. But don’t tell me I should also avoid it, that it’s killing me, and if I don’t then I’m obviously under the spell of a dangerous food addiction.

  9. Daniel
    February 1, 2012

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    Amen! It is kind of interesting though that even ethical vegans tend to be more health conscious than average.

  10. Tracy
    February 2, 2012

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    This is a wonderful, wonderful peice. I literally found myself reading it and saying out loud…”this is so on target”. Really great job. Really great.

  11. Amy Guidry
    February 2, 2012

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    Being healthy and being vegan are not necessarily the same thing, as there are many high-fat, sugar, salt, etc. foods/meals that we can have. I agree, it shouldn’t be a competition. The focus is that we are working together for the same cause- animals- not having the best body mass index.

    That said, depending on my audience, I’ve found that emphasizing the health benefits of a *healthy* vegan diet piques their interest when they automatically assume vegans are weak and anemic. That’s one of the arguments that I often hear as to why they won’t be vegan.

  12. Jared
    February 2, 2012

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    I think this is a great piece and I agree with a lot of what is covered. I appreciate Kezia pointing out Ginny Messina’s beliefs, Ginny is very grounded in research conducted over time, which is clearly where a significant amount of the ‘blended-bad’ arguments are constructed without.

    I agree that there is a separation between ethical vegans and medically driven ones. What I believe is continuously overlooked is that the author of the original article never aligns herself with “the vegan community” or “the vegan movement”. She sees herself as a plant-based, whole-foods individual leading her own movement, empowered by physicians as her own sources. I don’t believe this marginalizes any messages of the vegan movement; rather, I believe it serves as guidance for those who follow her own movement and notions of “healthy eating” which happens to abstain from animal products for the most part but specifically does not label itself as VEGAN.

    For me personally, I will continue to drink green smoothies because I can’t truly stomach kale/collards in enormous quantities and believe they are beneficial to my diet (as well as fairly cost-effective) and delicious.

  13. Kieran
    February 3, 2012

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    Hear, hear, totally agree. I became vegan for ethical reasons not because I’m a health nut.
    Many vegan places now have desserts that have no sugar and are a grim taste experience at best.

  14. gina
    February 3, 2012

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    This is a great piece. I have a vegan business that was attacked in a comment under an online review of my products by a couple who called themselves “The Healthy Vegans”. The attack had nothing to do with having used my products but was more a holier-than-thou attack of the ingredients (all vegan, organic). When I went to their blog, it was full of self-righteous manifestos calling for boycotts of numerous vegan or vegan-friendly businesses because they didn’t meet their criteria for what constitutes healthy. Even though a vegan diet has come to mean an animal-free diet that may be used to describe a medically healthier diet, it started out as a term with a definite animal-rights bent by the British Vegan Society that included “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.” The average person doesn’t differentiate between you is using the term “vegan”. Vegans parsing themselves out as somehow a “better vegan”, doesn’t do the movement any good.

  15. Heather
    February 3, 2012

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    You are brilliant, Gary. I agree 100%. I will continue to eat my vegan health AND junk food. After all, I am doing it for the animals, not for personal purity.

  16. Diana
    February 3, 2012

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    Thank you for a great piece! We can’t get our compassionate message across if we are being slammed by “holier than thou” type vegans at the same time.

    Also, when anyone calls my vegan food choices “restrictive” it totally cracks me up! As a vegan, I eat a healthier and much more varied diet than I ever did as an omni( or even as a vegetarian)!

    I wish that the vigilante vegans would just stop a moment and go back to what the big picture is–saving our co-inhabitants on this planet that cannot speak for themselves. We are their voice and that is all that really matters.

  17. Abigail
    February 6, 2012

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    Gary, I’ve been following you for a while on Facebook and am so grateful for all you do to protect animals. I love your unabashed and unapologetic stance on veganism, and watched with joy as you helped the Beagle Project free 40+ beagles from a life of misery. I donated to the project because YOU brought it to my attention.

    I was moved to respond to your post because I am one of those healthy vegans. I am also an ethical vegan. I would love to see you embrace healthy veganism because I believe it complements ethical veganism and brings folks over to your cause.

    I originally turned to a whole foods, plant-based diet 4 years ago to improve my overall health and prevent myself from getting the diabetes, heart disease and stroke that my parents suffer from. Changing my diet has been one of the most joyous experiences of my life—even without sugar, oil, salt and processed foods, my diet is one of tremendous variety and deliciousness. And while my diet is predominantly healthy (most people would say I’m pretty hardcore about it), I by no means practice dietary “perfection”—I indulge some of the time and believe it’s okay to do so.

    As I am a voracious reader, it was a natural and inevitable progression that books on plant-based diets also discussed the treatment of animals and the effect of agriculture on our environment. Of course I became mortified—how can you not, right? The clincher for me was this line in Will Tuttle’s The World Peace Diet: “If our only motivation for not eating animal foods is our own health, it’s easy to ‘cheat’ a little here and there and pretty soon go back to eating them again.”

    That line spoke to me and I realized I was guilty of “cheating.” I have not touched an animal product since then. I am grateful to my healthy eating background because it brought me to this next level of awareness. I have a sense finally of being in alignment with my truest self, and a greater sense of connection to our planet and the beings on it.

    When you write, “It’s an ego- and vanity-driven ‘my diet is cleaner than yours’ competition,” I see that as an unfair generalization. Of course there are some people like that, but there are many non-vegans who would say the same about us! There are self-righteous and overbearing people in any group, but that doesn’t make them typical. Among ethical vegans, I see incredibly compassionate animal lovers who go to great lengths to help make our world a better place. Among healthy vegans, I see incredibly caring people who go to great lengths to help themselves and their families/friends reverse horrible, debilitating and life-threatening diseases.

    You write, “As an ethical vegan, I don’t really care what you eat.” If you are looking within that narrow construct, I see what you mean. Certainly each human being gets to decide what goes in their bodies. But is it really so terrible to widen the construct to acknowledge the healthiest version of that diet—which helps millions of people save themselves from unnecessary diseases? I don’t in any way see that encouraging people to eat healthy is bamboozling them. And I find it lovely that the healthiest diet is also the most peaceful one. ☺

    I also find it lovely that, thanks to my healthy diet, my cholesterol and blood pressure are wonderfully low, my antioxidant levels are very high, and I have the body age of an 18-year-old (I’m 43). This matters to me! And I think it’s evidence for a vegan diet. (As I’ve read elsewhere, the animals do not care how you come not to eat them.)

    In your blog, you only identify the smoothie blogger as “a blogger.” What you don’t mention is that she is a popular cookbook author whose specific focus is healthy eating via a whole foods, plant-based diet. While pondering the merits of smoothies seems like a fine point, it is entirely appropriate for her niche. If it turns out that the fine particles in smoothies do damage to our blood vessels, then it’s useful to know this! Her audience genuinely wants this information, and you can still have your smoothies. (I’m still having my smoothies for now, too.)

    In that blog, the doctors she mentions are Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. T. Colin Campbell. These are not “gurus,” but rather highly respected professionals who have done groundbreaking studies and peer-reviewed research. What they offer is not specious science. I agree with you that there are folks out there promoting strange stuff not based on science, but these two men are not among those.

    Look, I understand that your goal is get more people to be vegan, and you don’t want anything to stand in the way of that. I want that too and, as I’ve said, I applaud your amazing efforts in this arena. Ultimately, I believe that healthy veganism often leads to ethical veganism and, because you have a strong voice, I encourage you to see this, too.

    For me, I cannot separate what’s good for the animals, the planet and my health. I’m not asking you to be healthy; all I’m asking is that you welcome us as allies in this critical journey. Thank you.

  18. Tom
    March 1, 2012

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    Many raw vegan gurus have major issues with integrity (or complete lack thereof). Here is an article that documents this issue:

    Investigating Raw Vegan and Other Diet Gurus:
    Can You Trust Them?

    Overview:
    A collection of offsite links documenting questionable and/or bad
    behavior by raw vegan diet gurus: fraud, incompetent and dangerous
    health care and advice, using psychedelic drugs, plagiarism, selling
    inappropriate and/or mislabeled products at high prices while reaping
    huge profits, violence/alleged threats of violence, and other
    behaviors. Many raw vegan gurus are less raw and less vegan than they
    claim to be. Is this behavior consistent with the principles of
    compassionate, ethical veganism? Or – in figurative terms – do some
    raw gurus behave like predators with the raw foods community their
    prey?

    URL (short):
    http://goo.gl/O6cMn

  19. VeganGod
    March 15, 2012

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    Agree! The focus needs to be on how EASY it is to not consume or use any animal products. Getting caught up in the ‘healthier than thou’ trap is almost certain to turn many people away from veganism.

  20. NewVegan
    October 20, 2012

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    But Gary, are there not products besides meat, dairy, eggs and honey that still are unethical to consume or that may not even be considered vegan? What about palm oil, the harvesting of which has wiped out a considerable percentage of the orangutan population? If I eat palm oil in a ‘vegan’ pasty, am I not still contributing to the death of an animal, or at the very least the loss of its home? And are there not certain products or industries that have terrible track records with unethical treatment of workers (unfair working conditions, unfair wage) and poor environmental practices (unsustainable or toxic agricultural methods)? Can we still buy these things and feel okay with ourselves? I know vegans can be very compassionate and moral people. I just think maybe there are things inherently wrong with globalization and profit motive economics that vegans could consider when making their dietary choices.

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