November 1 marks the celebration of World Vegan Day and the wrap-up of Vegan Awareness Month (October). This is just one of many national day celebrations throughout the year to promote a chosen diet or lifestyle when vegan myths are shared online. As someone who eats a plant-based diet, I always find these types of food holidays worth addressing.
While many people will take opportunities like these to advocate for vegan lifestyles and others may taunt vegans for their lifestyle choices, I’d recommend considering this as an opportunity to address a few of the misperceptions surrounding veganism and claims made by animal rights activists.
Vegan Diets and Healthy Lifestyles
There are many claims that a vegan (or vegetarian) diet is healthier compared to other diets that include animal products. I wish the world was that clear-cut on divisive issues, but it is not when it comes to these vegan myths.
Vegans can lead a healthy lifestyle with close attention to their diet and food choices. Omitting animal products from your diet does not make you weak or malnourished. A well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet can include sufficient amounts of nutrients, including protein and calcium. However, just because a food or meal is vegetarian or vegan, doesn’t make it healthy. Myths about veganism are common, but that doesn’t make them true.
This position statement on vegetarian diets, including veganism, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is helpful in understanding nutritional science behind the diet choice.
Omnivores can lead a healthy lifestyle with close attention to their diet and food choices. Including animal products in your diet does not make you obese or stricken with heart disease. Those health conditions are culminations of multiple environmental factors, genetics, and lifestyle factors – not just the food we eat.
If you search for health problems associated with eating meat, those are the results Google will show you. But meat absolutely can be part of a healthy diet. For example, beef is a nutrient-dense, versatile protein that is often readily available for most Americans and can be used in a variety of meals. I’ve strived to show how beef can be part of a healthy, balanced diet through my life as an endurance athlete.
Even though moderation and balance are not marketable in today’s world of extremes, working with dietians has shown me how all foods can fit in healthy diets and lifestyles. When the conversation swings to vegan or vegetarian diets, consider taking an opportunity to evaluate where you are getting information on diet choices and choose to be respectful of others who choose to eat differently.
Animal Rights Claims By Vegan Activists
Vegans often get a bad reputation due to the position and protests of animal rights activists, using treatment of farm animals as a reason to choose a vegan diet and lifestyle. These activists often utilize graphic images and stories to depict animal agriculture as cruel and unnatural. As I’ve shared previously, the undercover videos shared by these activist groups, and increasingly the use of online documentaries, often do not depict the realities of animal agriculture.
Animal rights activists often ignore efforts made by family businesses and the animal agriculture industries as a whole to address and stop animal abuse. For example, when raising beef or dairy cattle, farmers and ranchers have invested in defining and implementing guidelines for proper animal care based on scientific standards. Beef Quality Assurance and the National Dairy FARM are examples of two programs that train employees working with livestock to handle animals properly and to hold us accountable for inappropriate actions. If we’re not taking good care of our animals, they will not perform well or take care of us in return.
Animal rights activists often succeed in promoting veganism by appealing to our emotions, ignoring science, and failing to include perspectives that do not support the position they wish to promote. When we address or encounter vegan myths, be sure you’re making it clear that proper animal care is and should be a priority for those involved (or not) in agriculture.
Animals and the Planet and Vegan Myths
Eating for the planet is another common appeal used to justify a vegan diet and lifestyle. Celebrities and online influential voices have been known to speak out and suggest that giving up meat is the best way to save the planet and the animals. Old reports with inaccurate numbers are used for the justification of big headlines. On occasions such as World Vegan Day, those voices with extreme opinions often receive greater attention. But just because someone’s soapbox is taller or their megaphone louder, doesn’t make their opinions a truth or fact.
Yes, it is true agriculture has some work to do toward sustainability, however, big numbers without context often make great headlines. But the fact is that sustainability is never clear-cut, nor is it a goal that will ever reach an endpoint. Sustainability is a goal that we must continually work toward and science shows there are many other sectors of our society that have a far greater contribution to greenhouse gas emissions compared to agriculture.
Livestock organizations and environmental scientists are doing great work to better define sustainability metrics, measure how livestock industries are addressing opportunities to improve our sustainability, as well as show how much progress we have made toward being more sustainable.
Taking care of the planet is a goal we should all have in common. Animals and livestock have an important role in our cultures, societies, and food supplies, and an approach of elimination isn’t very realistic for most when millions across the globe still face food insecurity and hunger.
Addressing Vegan Myths
On World Vegan Day, and every day throughout the year, consider taking an opportunity to evaluate where you are getting information on diet choices. Ensure that you are looking at peer-reviewed scientific sources and that your Google searches aren’t seeking out only information to support your chosen perspective.
As always, choose to be respectful of others who eat differently. Food is a very personal and emotional topic. If we resort to shaming others for their choices and only telling others how their choices are inferior, we’re unlikely to move the conversation in any direction except away from us.