Monday, June 4, 2012

5 Reasons I Don't Like Veganism

What do I want for dinner... lamb or anemia?
Let me first say this.  I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians; I respect everyone's dietary choices.  I have a lot of friends who are vegan/vegetarian, and, aside from the occasional accusation that I murder animals (kidding), we get along just fine.  They eat their veggie burgers, I eat my grass-fed beef burgers; they run their marathons, I do my Crossfit; they poke fun at Dr. Oz, and I, well, poke fun at Dr. Oz.  See... we're not so different after all.  Having said that though, based on my research I can't imagine a situation where I would recommend a vegan diet to anyone.  That's vegan, not vegetarian.  Vegetarians typically eat dairy and eggs, vegans don't eat any animal products.  It's the vegans I'm talking about here (although some of this applies to both) .  So without further ado, here are 5 reasons why I don't like veganism.

1.  Humans are not herbivores.
This myth just won't go away.  Every once in a while I get this argument from some fool trying to justify a vegan diet as the best diet on the planet.  It typically sounds like this... "You know some people think humans are carnivores, but they're not.  They're herbivores."  There's so much wrong with this, I don't even know where to begin.  Okay first of all, nobody thinks humans are carnivores.  We're clearly not.  But we're not herbivores either.  This argument completely neglects the fact there is another option:  an omnivore, which eats both plants and animal foods.  Humans are most definitely biological omnivores.  Just look at our teeth... mostly flat like herbivores (think about a cow's teeth) but with a few canines like carnivores (think of a cat).  Then there's our digestive system... it's definitely nothing like that of an herbivore.  Here's a picture of a cow's digestive tract:

You can see here that a cow, designed to eat grass, has four stomachs (not to mention the spacious interior and giant cecum).  If you're counting, that's three more than we humans have, and those extra stomachs serve to ferment fibrous plant material for digestion and absorption.  Humans don't have this ability, which is why insoluble fiber goes through our guts undigested.  What humans do have, however, is the ability to produce HCl, aka stomach acid, to break down protein from animal products.  Cows and other herbivores do not.  I won't go into detail about any carnivorous digestive systems, like that of a cat, but I will just say this:  I had to dissect cats many times in Anatomy lab.  I can tell you first hand that their digestive system looks very similar to ours.  Here's some evidence, courtesy of catlas.

Point made, humans are most definitely not herbivores.  We have the teeth of both herbivores and carnivores, and our digestive machinery is closer to carnivorous than herbivorous.  We are fully equipped to digest and assimilate animal foods.  There's more to this argument of course, and if you're interested I recommend this article, written BY A VEGETARIAN, explaining the fact that humans are indeed omnivores.  So seriously, cut the herbivore shit.  It just makes you look uneducated.

2.  Avoiding animal products will not save the environment.
Another common argument to support a vegan diet is the environmental impact.  Vegans argue that producing meat is a highly wasteful and environmentally damaging process, and they're sort of on to something.  Conventionally farmed meat is indeed a disaster for the environment.  Now I'll admit I'm no expert on the topic, but it doesn't take a genius to see why.  We have to grow all of this corn and grain (in and of itself an environmentally damaging process), just to feed the cattle to make them fat, just to eventually feed ourselves.  So it's not difficult to see a solution in there... just feed the corn and grains to ourselves, don't waste it on the cattle. 

But again, this argument has holes... it says nothing about naturally raised livestock, like grass-fed beef.  The production of grass-fed beef is exponentially less input-intensive; all you really need is cows and an open field, and a place for shelter.  In addition, cattle grazing can actually have a positive impact on the land and can help rejuvenate the nutrients within the soil.  Not to mention the vastly improved quality of life for the cows, compared to a factory-farmed life.  As I hinted at before, growing corn, wheat, and other grains isn't exactly environmentally friendly either.  Clearing land to grow annual crops like grains destroys entire ecosystems.  That means animals die because you've destroyed their natural habitat.  So don't think you're saving animal lives by going vegan; that's just not the case.  Then there's also the extensive use of pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides on these mass-produced grains and the impact that has on the environment.  And the depletion of nutrients in the soil over years and years of intensive grain agriculture.  It's not exactly a pretty picture.  Not pretty like the one vegans will try to sell you.  Producing grains does more to destroy the environment than to save it.

3.  Avoiding animal foods doesn't save animal lives.
I may have jumped the gun with this one in the previous section, but here's a more in depth explanation.  As I've been told a million times...  "If I don't eat meat, I won't be contributing to the death of innocent animal lives."  Well I admire your compassion, but I think we need a biology lesson here.  Death is what makes the world go 'round.  There is no life without death, and there is no death without life.  Rabbits eat grass and vegetation, wolves eat rabbits, bears eat wolves, hawks scavenge these animal remains, and bugs in the soil recycle the nutrients from said remains.  It's just how biology works.  You cannot separate the ecology of plants and animals; they work together to balance an ecosystem.  When you clear land to grow massive amounts of corn, you're destroying the former ecosystem, which was likely full of all kinds of cute squirrels and mice.  It's a mass homicide!  When you spray these massive fields of corn with herbicides and insecticides, killing EVERYTHING but the corn itself and polluting the air... mass homicide!  No matter how you slice it, whatever you choose to eat, something is dying to feed you.  This is just one of those times when the human capacity for emotion gets in the way of the realities of biology.  I know death is sad.  But without it, you wouldn't have life, so thank those that died to provide you life and get on with it.  And no I'm not talking about Jesus.  But thank him too if you want, although he's probably sick of being thanked at this point.

Oh and one more important point... we use animals for much more than just food.  Here's a quote from a Weston A. Price Foundation article that sums it up quite nicely:  "Cows are slaughtered not only to put steak on the table, but to obtain components used in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, plastics, pharmaceuticals, waxes (as in candles and crayons), modern building materials and hydraulic brake fluid for airplanes. The membrane that vibrates in your telephone contains beef gelatin. So to avoid hypocrisy, vegetarians need to also refrain from using anything made of plastic, talking on the telephone, flying in airplanes, letting their kids use crayons, and living or working in modern buildings."  Good luck.

4.  The people most likely to adopt a vegan diet are the same people who need animal products the most.
This is perhaps the most unfortunate part of this issue.  To me it's obvious that the people most attracted to veganism are young females.  Probably due to socialization and this new age "everybody's a winner" mentality we're teaching our kids these days, girls seem more likely to have compassion for these cute, poor little animals that we're all killing and eating.  But we need to grow up.  Ethical issues aside, we humans have nutritional requirements that simply cannot be ignored.  And one of the most important nutrients for maintaining health, especially in young women, is iron.

Iron is the backbone of hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen in blood.  Without sufficient iron, oxygen transport is impaired, and we develop iron-deficiency anemia.  Symptoms include chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, shortness of breath... exactly what you would expect when your body is having trouble transporting oxygen.  And since women bleed every month (hence, they lose iron), they have a significantly higher requirement for the stuff.  Women ages 19-50 need 18 mg/day.  For comparison, men ages 19-50 only need 8 mg/day.  According to this paper, women are 6-10 times more likely to develop iron deficiency anemia than men!

The problem with vegan diets is that they almost assuredly are deficient in iron.  All of the best sources of iron are from animal products:  clams, oysters, organ meats, red meat, etc.  You'll find some in plant foods as well, like beans and leafy green vegetables, but the type found in plant foods is poorly absorbed.  Sure, it's possible to get enough iron from plants.  Just not easy, especially if you're bleeding some out every month.  In addition to iron, there are some other things like vitamin B12 (completely absent from plant foods) and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (you'll have to eat algae) that will be nearly impossible to get enough of on a vegan diet.  A little grass-fed meat would take care of all three... easy solution right?

5.  Veganism is a very recent phonomenon.
Enter the evolutionary perspective.  Humans have been around on this planet for at least 2.5 million years at this point.  For the vast majority of that time period, we have been eating like the omnivores that we are, consuming both plant and animal foods.  Now think about that... 2.5 million years eating animals and plants... there's no question that we as a species are designed to be omnivores. Now, according to Wikipedia, the first recorded individual eating a vegan diet was Dr. William Lambe in 1806.  That's 200 years ago.  In other words, vegan diets have been around for 0.008% of our human history.  That's only 10 generations or so, and with only a tiny proportion of us choosing to eat this way.  So looking at this from an evolutionary biology perspective, how in holy hell is an herbivorous diet the best way to go for an omnivorous animal??  It's not.  It's just not.

Here's an example of the importance of animal foods, based on the wisdom of traditional cultures.  Since we can't go back in time and study past hunter-gatherers, these modern societies still living as foragers offer us some insight into what it was like.  In the 1920s when Weston A. Price traveled the world to study these indigenous cultures, he fully expected to find a vegan or vegetarian society out there.  He even expected those societies to be the healthiest on earth.  To his surprise though, such a society did not exist; every tribe he found consumed both animal and plant foods.  The closest to vegan was in the South Sea Islands of southeast Asia.  He found that when the people on the interior of the islands faced the possibility of losing access to animal foods and going vegan, they instead opted for cannibalism. According to Price, "the livers and other organs of their enemies from the coast provided the much needed chemicals which were requisite to supplement the plant foods."  Gross?  Yes.  But also very telling of the nutritional shortcomings of a vegan diet.  I just hope this doesn't start a new diet fad...

Alrighty, there it is, 5 reasons I don't like veganism.  Actually I can think of a few more, but this post is too long as it is.  I guess that means I'll have to do a volume 2 at some point!  If I offended anyone, I'm sorry I'm not sorry.  I'm not trying to put anybody down... just laying out the facts as I see them.  Oh, and in all seriousness, don't go eating other people's livers.  Don't do anything to others you wouldn't want done to you, that's what my mama says.


  1. HA I love it! I like the bit about the teeth and the digestive tract. I never thought about our teeth! But clearly our GI tracts are meant for meat.

    I also love the biology stand point. It is NOT bad to kill animals for meat..we have been doing it forever, literally. And yes, I am going through each section and writing a comment because I like this so much. I wonder if our vegan friends have read this?

    HA JESUS..thank jesus if you want too. balls that was funny.

    I was thinking of the cannibalism thing the entire article and was going to write it as a comment and then I saw it in the last point. It just blows my mind. Not really because it makes sense but jesus people doesn't it just seem so obvious that our bodies need meat?

    Good yob.

  2. There's a fun internet meme that says how "Most people don't know this, but it's possible to be a vegan/vegetarian without telling everyone about it." But in all seriousness, Mark Bittman has a reallly good TED talk where he explores meat's role in our diets and how much meat is really sustainable.

  3. What do you think about this article?

    Btw. I'm not vegan. I'm just interested in your opinion about this.