I recently finished a book called “Veganist” by Kathy Freston, and I felt the urge to share some of my insights while listening to the book. The subtitle of “Veganist” is”Lose Weight, Get Healthy, and Change the World”. Wow, it sounds like this book is right up my alley! I was very open minded about the idea of going vegan, and even agree with the author’s philosophy of “leaning” into the new lifestyle. However, the further into the book I got, the more uncomfortable I became with the “All or Nothing” mentality of going vegan. Or any environmental, fitness, or other life-altering change you practice.
I don’t truly believe in an “all or nothing” mentality. I think the one thing I become adamantly against is palm oil, but even in that instance, I am open to products that label their goods as sustainable (like Justin’s Almond Butters), or in health and beauty products, provided they, too, are made with sustainable sources. It’s not an all or nothing practice.
Unfortunately, the all or nothing attitude is too prominent with fitness, health, or environmental activists. And I don’t believe the world is that cut and dry, black and white. I don’t believe that cutting every type of fish out of your diet just because one or two species are in decline is the right answer. I don’t believe that you shouldn’t eat eggs, dairy, or meat because factory farms are so prominent. If your neighbor has a flock of chickens in their backyard, or you have met the farmer/rancher that produces beef cattle, I don’t see anything wrong with helping promote and support those that are farming sustainably and ethically.
I see posts from fitness sites and environmental sites that preach the all or nothing agenda or go too far with it. But we as society go through these phases all the time, especially with diet and fitness. “Carbs are bad!” “Fat is bad!” “Do only yoga to lose weight!” “Do only cardio to lose weight!” It’s not an all or nothing.
I have come across all or nothing attitudes in my field as a zookeeper, too. Too many times, there have been accusations that all zoos are horrible jails for animals. And that is simply not true. Are there zoos in the world that need drastic improvements on animal welfare? Yes. I’ve been to a couple. Does that mean that ALL zoos are in need of improvements? No. Does having a couple zoos that don’t meet standards mean that every zoo should shut down? No. However, this attitude infiltrates many people’s minds and I have met several folks with the attitude that one zoo equals all zoos and if one is found wanting, then all of them must be bad.
I might have been able to get on board with going vegan after reading “Veganist”, if, well, number one, she didn’t have such an all or nothing argument against eating meat. She can preach about leaning into the lifestyle as much as she wants, but she was adamant that there were no sustainable or ethical ways to eat animal products. But there were other factors, too. For me, the first thing that bothered me was her reference to buying all these processed food products from big companies. They might be vegan and plant-based, but it’s not as healthy or sustainable as getting your food local and non-processed. And, maybe this is a personal viewpoint, but I firmly believe that veganism should embody absolutely NO HARM to any animal. That’s the point of not eating eggs, dairy, and honey. So, vegans, in my opinion, would want to also avoid products that have negative impact on animals, like palm oil. Sure, palm oil plant itself isn’t hurting the orangutans, but the plantations that produce the palm certainly are. I adhere to my “no palm oil” policy in even my vegan choices. So, I stay away from most of the vegan dairy products, as they have palm oil in them, and they aren’t labeled sustainable.
Another thing that irked me about “Veganist” was her ethical reasons. The author said point blank that even if the meat or eggs were produced in an ethical and sustainable way, she feels it’s wrong to eat another animal, as it is inherently cruel to end the life in order to eat it. How does she feel about carnivores? Are lions the heathen spawn of Africa? Maybe she “forgives” them because they aren’t designed to eat anything but meat. What about the omnivores? The brown bear? Raccoons? Crows? They are designed to eat both plant material and animal products. Is it okay for the animals you are pompously saving to eat meat, but morally wrong for humans? And the argument that “we weren’t meant to eat meat” is lost on me when I research human culture throughout the centuries, and eating meat has ALWAYS been something our ancestors have done. They didn’t eat meat daily like we do today, but they have always eaten meat. Tofu and beans, and even bread weren’t readily available to paleolithic humans until we started cultivating our food and started agriculture.
Do I advocate eating LESS meat? Absolutely! I loyally practice Meatless Mondays and I’m thinking about adding “Animal Friendly Fridays” which will be vegan days. But my diet and eating habits are used to reflect on my impact. I get my meat from the farmers market. As well as my eggs. When we move to Whidbey Island, my landlady has her own flock of hens, and I’ll be able to visit a goat cheese dairy farm. I’ll get to know where my food comes from. That’s the biggest step in eating healthy, sustainable, and conscientiously. Get to know where your food comes from. Not just your meat, ALL your food! I do believe we need a revolution to help the environment. We also need to take some drastic measures, for environmental reasons, ethical reasons, and for our health and well-being. We are slowly killing ourselves with the food we eat, the way we eat it, and where it comes from. But cutting off the whole arm because the hand is the issue doesn’t help matters. Instead of adopting an all or nothing mentality, let’s see what the alternatives are. Let’s see how we can promote a healthier solution that will enable us to meld our health, fitness, diet, and environmental conservation attitudes to connect to the earth in healthy ways. Let’s go get EarthFit!