Are Some People Not Fit to Be Vegans?


Photo by Takver via flickr and Creative Commons license.

What to eat? It's still a touchy subject, and posts about food choices here at TreeHugger tend to draw (at best) sprited debate and at worst, heated ire. So here's more fuel for the fire - dedicated vegan food blogger Tasha at the Voracious Vegan has turned her back on 3.5 years of veganism, drawing support but also ire from her readers. Some people say veganism doesn't meet the nutritional needs (especially for B-12) of its practitioners. Others, including medical expert Dean Ornish, swear that a low-fat plant-based diet is better for the body and for the planet.

So, what happened to Tasha?Here's how Tasha described her experience:

"Many of you know that I have recently been struggling for the first time in my life with health problems. When I discovered that my problems were a direct result of my vegan diet I was devastated. 2 months ago, after learning the hard way that not everyone is capable of maintaining their health as a vegan, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life and gave up veganism and returned to eating an omnivorous diet. My health immediately returned. "

Of course, that's a summary - Tasha said she for a long time tried to deny that her health problems - low energy, hair loss, and depression - had anything to do with her diet, which was very clean, and impeccably vegan. It took her repeated urgings by the doctor to get her to put a bit of animal protein back into her diet. What was most surprising to her, however, was that she said there seemed to be a secret vein of animal-protein eating vegans doing so to keep their health. (The most recent study to try to determine how many people are vegans, in 2008, estimate .5% of the population, or about one million vegans.)

Here's her description:

"I delicately broached the topic of my ill-health with several vegan friends. I even made comments on other blogs and on twitter highlighting my struggles. The response was nothing short of shocking. In the span of just a few days I received an outpouring of emails from fellow 'vegan' bloggers, who told me in confidence that they weren't really vegan 'behind the scenes'. They ate eggs, or the occasional fish, or piece of meat, all to keep themselves healthy, but were too scared to admit to it on their blogs."

That wasn't her turning point, however. Tasha relates in her blog post that she continued for many months trying to find the supplement or food change that would allow her to remain vegan and regain her health.

Finally, she gave in to a steak, and she says her world changed. While she felt terrible eating dead animal flesh, her body also felt fulfilled. She added a serving of fish, meat, or eggs once a day to her diet, and her health continued to improve, along with her digestion.

Of course, one person's choice to be vegan or to refute veganism is just that...personal choice. But when all of us embrace an omnivorous lifestyle, well that's what has led in part to widescale factory farming. But Tasha's conversion to a non-vegan lifestyle was also accompanied, she says, by her realization that world veganism might not equal sustainable food systems.

As Tasha puts it:

"The need for the entire world to go vegan in order to stop global warming or prevent chronic hunger is simply and irrefutably false."

She now advocates for sustainable local food systems and control of population growth. Her conclusion is interesting to me, as in a recent conversation I had with a wonderful local farmer, he dispassionately declared that local would never, never be able to feed our specific region - it would be too costly, he said, and isn't practical.

In addition, while the idea of keeping our population at a manageable level may sound good in theory, in practice it is one of the personal choice issues that humans hold dear.

After agonizing for some time, Tasha came out with her story. She also changed the name of her blog, to VoraciousEats.

While Tasha has turned to sourcing locally-produced meats to go along with her plant-based eating, there is another option TreeHugger founder Graham Hill espouses the idea of weekday vegetarianism, reserving meat eating for the weekends.

What do you think? Is veganism non one-size-fits-all? Is a locally-sourced diet more important than a vegan one?

Read more about veganism and local diets at TreeHugger:
Looking at the Beef in the Vegetarian Argument
Eating Local Food: The Movement, Locavores and More
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70%

Tags: Vegan | Vegetarian

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