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Conflicted about Veganism

This public confession by 13-year vegan and health coach Alexandra Jamieson has captivated my attention for the last couple days. I had been following her for a few weeks after listening to one of Kris Carr‘s telejams in which Jamieson was introduced as “the Cravings Whisperer.” While I’m surprised by her announcement that she is no longer vegan, I’m more astonished by the hundreds of comments, some of them vicious attacks by vegans who feel betrayed and disappointed. 

In her letter, Jamieson talks about how her cravings for meat began a few years ago, but she was afraid to tell people for fear of judgment. She secretly started eating meat and then realized her body was telling her that it needed animal products. Though she built her reputation and business on the vegan diet, she decided she would not be ashamed about living “her truth.”

Immediately in the comments I saw a huge backlash from the vegan community, calling her selfish, weak, undisciplined, a sellout, not truly ever a vegan, not really caring about animals, not doing the vegan diet correctly, and so on. There are a lot of supportive comments, too, from vegans, vegetarians, or former vegans/vegetarians who identify with feeling sick or weak without animal products.

I admit that I find the more militant or aggressive vegan comments pretty scary. It sounds like they are quoting from dogma, and it sounds like a legalistic religion. Others respond that they are being hypocritical and uncompassionate toward their fellow humans, or joke that they are bitter and hungry. Or that they are actually less healthy than omnivores for eating so much soy and wheat.

This blog post and its comments were so fascinating to me because I never thought about our food choices as moral choices, as our current food culture would have us believe.

I was seriously thinking about becoming vegan, but just for the health benefits and not because I consider animals our equals like they do (though I do think factory conditions are horrific and I would try to buy only organic, pasture-fed/raised meat from Whole Foods or the farmers market). But this article makes me hesitate, which is exactly what the vegans are bemoaning–that it will stop people who would otherwise have become vegan or vegetarian from doing so, giving them an excuse to keep eating meat.

I also feel pretty relieved, because I wasn’t sure if I could go the rest of my life without eating meat. Also, every person’s body is different, and if I happen to be of the type that needs animal products to thrive, I probably would have felt guilt or shame. There are tons of comments by people who were feeling weak and sickly without meat, and felt much better after they started eating it again.

This article made me realize that veganism is not for everyone, and there is no one no one diet for everyone. I wish it were so simple as finding that one perfect diet, learning it, and following it for the rest of my life. Rather, it really is up to us to take charge of our own health and take the responsibility for figuring out what works for our health and what doesn’t.

In the comments, I found out about the primal diet, which is similar to paleo. I also learned some new terms: flexitarian (a vegetarian that eats meat sometimes) and nutritarian (a healthy mostly plant-based diet, with reduced animal products). There are a few references to Dr. Fuhrman and the Weston A. Price traditional diet which I plan to research.

In the end, I don’t think labels are healthy, even though they let you feel a part of the community. Once you become known for eating a certain diet or promoting it, it seems like there’s all this pressure to adhere strictly and be perfect, that can lead to orthorexia (obsession with eating only right or perfect foods).

The incendiary comments from vegans and all the debate really made me think about how huge a role our beliefs play in food, which in turn is such a big deal because it’s a daily ritual and highly personal.

I think Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, said it best: “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” Everyone can agree on that. In the meantime, I will continue on my path of discovery and keep experimenting with different foods and holistic/natural healing.

14 comments

  1. paleohuntress says:

    There is also “[I]f our goal is to kill as few animals as possible, then people should eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least intensively cultivated land: grass-fed beef for everybody. ~An Animal’s Place, Michael Pollan

    • Chanlee Sutoyo says:

      Thanks for the comment! That is an eye-opening article that I will need to study carefully. I read many of your comments on Alex’s post and appreciate your candor and thoughtfulness. If you don’t mind me asking, though eating a vegan diet ultimately caused health problems, are you glad that you did it looking back, at least for the period that it helped you?

      • paleohuntress says:

        Chanlee Sutoyo,

        I’m grateful for every step that ultimately took me closer to good health and compassion, though the primal diet I follow now would have taken me to good health and compassion sooner. Still though, the path is what’s important rather than the destination. The empathy I feel for vegans who fail to thrive in veganism is something I never would have known before being vegan myself– and my path to paleo/primal diets was found through vegan communities- so yes, I’m glad I did it, for the time it helped, for the network that ultimately took me to paleo/primal and for the friends I made. Thank you for asking.

      • paleohuntress says:

        Jacqueline,

        I saw your question at Alex’s page, but I didn’t see her respond to it. How did you learn that she didn’t go to a vegan nutritionist? FWIW, I saw a vegan nutritionist every two weeks for 18 months of my veganism, and all the tweaking in the world didn’t help.

  2. Jacqueline R says:

    All I asked her as a vegan was if she went to a vegan nutritionist. She did not and so I personally feel that she should have to see what could be done. It is her life but it is also her life affecting beings that cannot speak for themselves.

    • paleohuntress says:

      (I meant to post this here–)

      Jacqueline,

      I saw your question at Alex’s page, but I didn’t see her respond to it. How did you learn that she didn’t go to a vegan nutritionist? FWIW, I saw a vegan nutritionist every two weeks for 18 months of my veganism, and all the tweaking in the world didn’t help.

      • Chanlee Sutoyo says:

        What about seeing a naturopath doctor, like this vegan who had mysterious health issues after giving birth? http://bonzaiaphrodite.com/2013/01/facing-failing-health-on-a-vegan-diet/

        The naturopath doctor gave her blood tests that showed she had very low cholesterol and protein levels, so she corrected it with food, still within the vegan framework. Her improvement was so dramatic, I think she makes a strong case for sticking to the vegan diet. It definitely makes me think twice.

          • Chanlee Sutoyo says:

            She increased her intake of saturated fat such as coconut products and the cacao butter so that her body could naturally manufacture the cholesterol. She also ate more healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Even though doing so goes against the teachings of famous vegan proponents Dr. Campbell and Dr. Esselstyn, she argued that a low-fat vegan diet is not right for everyone. She writes, “A diet for healing is different than a diet for maintenance, is different than a diet for building (pregnancy) and is certainly different than a diet for growth (children). I feel like a lot of vegans, and vegan leaders, overlook this important point. And in my own anecdotal experience, the vegans who most often get sick are of the low-fat and/or all-raw variety.”

          • Very kewl… vegan guru Gabriel Cousens is a proponent of high fat (35-60%) vegan diets and has been curing diabetics with his research. He says the typical vegan diet is WAY too high in carbohydrate and that adding the fat improves the carb ratio. He’s a smart cookie.

    • Chanlee Sutoyo says:

      I like your post; it did a more thorough analysis than mine. I’m not giving up on the possibility of going vegan just yet…this all just makes me realize I need to learn more and make changes slowly. I tend to go to the extreme with things, and I don’t want to add nutritional deficiencies (due to lack of information, not due to veganism per se) on top of the health issues I already have.

  3. Kathy says:

    Hey Chanlee, loved this article. I’ve been trying to live a more Nutritarian diet (via Dr. Fuhrman) for health reasons and really love the way I feel when I actually stick to it. I would love to be a pure vegan (I have a soft spot for animals), but I have to admit that I do occasionally get very strong urges for beef and steak if I haven’t had it for a few weeks. I never get these cravings for any other type of meat, which is kind of strange. I did take a test once that suggested I have a body type that requires beef in particular, so that made me curious. I don’t have any answers, I just wanted to commend you for continuing an open dialogue about this 🙂

    • Chanlee Sutoyo says:

      Thanks! I’ll have to check out Dr. Fuhrman’s work. Out of curiosity, what test did you take that suggested you require beef? I’ve been reading about eating for your blood type, before I learned that theory has been largely debunked. I have blood type A, which supposedly means I am best suited to a vegetarian diet.

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