diets · eating · weight loss

“Vegan” Is Not a Fad Diet

cake I’m vegan. And that’s my birthday cake (back in September) from my favorite vegan restaurant.  It’s bar none the very best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten.  And it’s vegan. No eggs, no dairy.

You’ve probably heard by now about Beyonce’s 22-Day Vegan Challenge with her hubby, Jay Z.  I heard about it when it was announced, and I’m hearing regular updates about how it’s going for them on what is often described as their “health kick.”  The Daily Mail (I know) reported that one week into her vegan “health kick,” Beyonce is flashing her abs.

Everywhere I turn these days I’m reading about how losing weight is one of the big reasons to become vegan.  It’s starting to drive me to distraction!

See that chocolate cake? It’s not health food.  Vegan is NOT a sure fire way to drop pounds.  Losing weight isn’t even the best reason to eat a vegan diet.  Why? Because french fries and potato chips are vegan. That cake is vegan.  Coconut milk ice cream is vegan. Vegans, no less than anyone else, don’t just eat fresh fruit and vegetables.

Now I think it’s a good thing that you can still find all sorts of indulgences and follow a vegan diet. But what that means is that you need to do a lot more to drop pounds than switch to a plant-based diet.  I myself didn’t lose a single pound when I become vegan.  Nothing. Nada. Rien. 

So why become vegan?  The two primary reasons have nothing to do with your health: 1. animal welfare reasons and (2) environmental reasons.  I won’t go into all the details here, but billions of animals a year suffer unspeakably and unnecessary cruelty in industrial farming.  I’m not talking about cruelty inflicted over and above the regular conditions of their lives. I’m talking about the very conditions they live in day to day.  If you’d like to know more about that, read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation or Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation or even just go to the Vegan Society website.

Livestock farming is bad for the environment and the atmosphere. It’s a huge contributor to global warming.  There’s that great statistic: a vegan who drives a Hummer makes a smaller carbon footprint than a meat-eater who drives a Prius.  Yes, there are other variables, but there is no question that mass livestock production is hurting the planet.

And yes, there’s lots of evidence that it’s good for your health. But there are still all kinds of not-great-for-your-health choices available on a vegan diet. So there is no automatic free pass or anything like that, and some things, such as lean protein, become a bit more challenging (not impossible with some knowledge).

Back to the 22-Day Challenge that Beyonce and Jay Z are on.  If the reasons for being vegan are compelling (and they are!), then being vegan for 22 days just isn’t quite “getting it.”  I mean, I’m glad that Beyonce and Jay Z are bringing some good press to being vegan. They’re even saying they feel great and it’s not difficult. Lucky for vegan PR that they aren’t having a negative experience — if it was a struggle and they had an adjustment period where they felt bloated or tired what have you?  Animal welfare and the environment would still matter.

But you don’t hear about animal welfare or the planet when you hear about their vegan challenge.  Given the facts, it’s just irresponsible to promote veganism without even mentioning these other reasons for being vegan.

Most ethical vegans extend their vegan choices beyond their diet, making an effort to avoid animal products in other areas of their lives. You’re unlikely to find a leather couch in a vegan home, and if you look on-line you can find all sorts of vegan footwear.

Another misconception that needs clearing up and now’s as good a time as any to do it: being vegan doesn’t mean being gluten free.  Gluten is from wheat; wheat is not an animal product. Therefore, you can be vegan and not be gluten free.  It’s very disappointing to someone like me who loves baking to go to a bakery where all the vegan options are also gluten free. Worse yet if they’re also raw.  There are raw vegans, but most vegans are okay with cooked food. Why? Because there is no animal welfare or environmental reason to go raw.

Here’s a nice article where the author promotes the idea of veganism as a lifestyle change, not a diet.

There are also successful vegan athletes like ultra-triathlete Richard Roll (author of Finding Ultra) and the no-meat athlete, Matt Frazier (author of The No-Meat Athlete). Although both emphasize “plant-strong” over “vegan” (see Sam’s posts about the difference here and here) the point is, you can be a vegan athlete.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming vegan, in addition to the resources above that outline some of the ethical and environmental reasons, I found these books to be really helpful:

The Ultimate Vegan Guide by Erik Marcus

Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World by  Victoria Moran and Adair Moran

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy, Plant-Based Diet by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

And some good vegan cookbooks:

Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitch and Terry Hope Romero

La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer

The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay Nixon

Bon appetit!




12 thoughts on ““Vegan” Is Not a Fad Diet

  1. I agree that concerns about animal welfare can motivate someone to eat vegan. However, one must be careful about the environmental argument. Meat-eaters can make choices that reduce environmental impact. For example, whose carbon footprint is greater: a vegan who eats produce from Mexico and Peru (don’t get me started on the almond tree farms in California) and drives a Hummer, or a meat eater who walks to work and who only buys from a local farmer who has 10 cows in his production?It’s a difficult argument to make. I think we can make environmentally responsible decisions if meat is part of our diet.

  2. Thanks for this comment. Yes for sure. I agree that there are more responsible ways to eat meat. It’s not wrong in itself. And there are environmental damages associated with industrialized agriculture re. vegetable/fruit production as well. So yes, there are definitely other variables at play. I just think that it’s irresponsible not to even mention the ethical arguments when speaking of veganism.

  3. I’ve been an ethical vegetarian since I was 12. I tried being vegan for a while, but just couldn’t manage it. Partly this was because I wasn’t a good enough cook to come up with interesting enough meals, and I was always hungry. But mainly it was because it made eating out or eating at a friend’s house almost impossible. From an ethical point of view I know I really ought to be vegan, but I like eating out and I like eating with friends and I’m not prepared to give that up.

  4. I wonder if you would find it any easier now (eating out, anyway) since there is slightly more awareness than in days past. But I know what you mean, it’s a bit more challenging, and eating at someone’s house creates all sorts of etiquette issues. I have a work-in-progress called “The Ethics of Vegan Etiquette” where I explore these issues. Also, I once met someone who called himself “an unprincipled vegan.” He made every effort to be vegan at home, but when out, he would eat what was available to eat or what was given him, regardless of whether it was vegan or not. Though I don’t follow that practice, I did think there was something almost admirable about his flexibility. But then I also think that it’s part of the vegan thing to be a bit inflexible, just for the sake of principle!

  5. Well said! I totally agree with you that it’s wonderful to have such positive PR about veganism but I’ve always seen it as part of a bigger picture – good for the animals, good for the planet and good for your health… well, mostly anyway 😉 That cake does look amazing!

  6. I agree, people really like to de-politicise veganism by talking about it as a diet rather than as the end result of concerns about animal rights or the environment. (Not that I am convinced that it’s the most effective or well-organised movement – people aren’t fond of change or inconvenience, and animal-based foods are big business – for me, though, it was the only logical thing to do when I started thinking more about animal rights.)

    One point that I would add, as this is coming up in the comments, is that the environmental impact of a food isn’t just about how far that food travelled to get to your dinner plate; it’s also about the resources used to obtain the food. So, there’s still the question of what the animal was fed, how much, where that food was grown, and whether it could’ve been used to feed humans instead. I suppose that hunting/fishing eliminates that concern, but of course brings up other environmental issues such as over-fishing.

    1. I first encountered the environmental issue in Diet for a Small Planet many years ago, and I don’t consider it very convincing. It may apply to factory farming in some cases. But, to give a specific example, very often cattle are grazed on non-arable land. Or goats are used to eat weeds in fields. In those cases, eating meat is very sustainable. The environmental issue may be valid when arable land is used to grow feed for livestock. But I honestly don’t know if that is energetically any worse compared with the vast swaths of arable land used to grow NuLeaf potatoes to make McDonald’s fries, for example. Or trucking bees from Vermont to pollinate California almond trees.

  7. I’m seriously thinking about becoming vegetarian, but vegan….that could be difficult. But as I recently commented on another blog, I’ve really been put off lately by my vegan sister attacking us meat-eaters and calling us sick, so much so that I’m starting to even take offence over things like this blog. I mean – it’s your blog and you are certainly always allowed to express your opinion. But this blog is at least ostensibly about feminism and fitness – and it seems like your blog started out talking about fitness but then made a right turn to discuss your own political/ethical views on veganism. I know I’m just very seriously offended by my sister as of late, and so I may be taking undue offence here….but still…..I don’t know. My bad self is starting to go to the point of simply rejecting everything any vegan or vegetarian has to say about anything. I know it’s wrong and I’m being irrational, but I’m having a hard time with it lately. So….I don’t know. I suppose you’ll respond and say it’s your blog and you can say what you want, whether it’s at all related to fitness or not. And the thing is – you can. But when something really good and wothwhile degenerates into propoganda (whether you’re right about what you say or not), I just feel something has been lost. What if you were a political conservative in many regards? Would it be unproblematic for you or another on this blog to start espousing these views? Or is that different is some way? I don’t see how at the moment.

    1. It’s very much on point in that many of the celebrities on vegan diets boast of health benefits and weight loss. Yet, Tracy’s point is that vegan choices extend beyond food and that there’s no connection between weight loss and a vegan diet. I thought Tracy was pretty brief on the ethical arguments for veganism.

  8. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just over-sensitive about these things. I read the blog starting out as talking about how a vegan diet won’t necessarily cause you to lose weight, but I thought the main point of the blog was the ethical considerations underlying veganism, specifically, how some celebrities are irresponsible and unethical for promoting veganism without promoting animal rights and environmental concerns. And that to my mind is nothing other than a political statement that has absolutely nothing to do with a feminist perspective on fitness. That said, and again, I’m probably just over-sensitive these days, and it is your blog and site, for certain. So of course you have the right to make it about more than a feminist perspective on fitness, and to advocate your own political views on certain matters, if that’s what you want to do.

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