Vegans And Meat-Eaters: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Last week I wrote an article about my personal experience with going vegetarian and some of the vitamin deficiencies I experienced as a result, including low levels of B12 and Iron. And wow, what a debate it sparked between vegans and omnivores! Can’t we just all get along? Judging by the comment thread, it doesn’t appear so.

Gina wrote:

Are you some kind of idiot? A vegan/ vegetarian is WAY more healthier than the average omnivorous lifestyle. You get all the vitamins your body needs + more! Learn your facts, or better yet, educate yourself! Good luck!

To which many people responded, including Jill:

The author is FAR FROM some kind of idiot, she is just mentioning what nutrients are needed for optimal health. Vegans often take offense to this because of the mention of these nutrients found in animal products.

JC added:

Good points about making sure that vegans are getting adequate nutrition. It should also be pointed out that most omnivores have far higher risks of nutritional deficiencies (many of which are the same for vegans).

And Mila wrote:

Although the article is not anti-vegetarian/vegan and the author is vegetarian, the title is totally offensive to non-meat eaters. Going vegetarian/vegan does NOT automatically mean you will be missing ANYTHING! I went vegetarian 9 years ago and my iron levels have always been super high and much higher then my red-meat-eating dad’s! FYI, most meat-eaters are deficient in B12!

The vegan controversy has been around for a while, but it seems like lately it’s been heating up more, thanks in part to organizations like PETA that make eating meat a battleground. They are famous for telling people that killing animals for their meat (or skin or fur) is cruel and unethical, and they have even gone so far as to tell us that it can make us fat (as evidenced by their “Save the Whales” billboard depicting a fat person who obviously eats meat).

To those who eat meat, going vegan can be seen as “extreme” and it can leave people asking, “What’s left to eat?” or “Why would you do that?” Some believe a diet devoid of all animal products, including meat and dairy, is simply unhealthy and could lead to malnutrition. Some even say that eating meat is natural; otherwise, why would these animals be put on the planet? (I’ve heard that one quite a bit in my days as a vegetarian.)

Others, like Paleo fans, believe that skipping the dairy and eating more meat is the way to go, as evidenced by the war that was created from a prior post when we asked, Why anyone would follow the Paleo diet? Wow, did that draw a lot of comments and controversy. Readers responded with everything from “For all of you who poo poo the Paleo diet and low carbing due to health reasons, enjoy your heart attacks” to “Why would anyone NOT follow the Paleo diet? It works!”

Nevertheless, the wars continue. Non-meat-eaters live this way due to ethical and/or health reasons, claiming that it’s simply wrong to eat animals, and/or eating meat will give you all kinds of health issues, ranging from heart disease to diabetes, to obesity to cancer. Meat eaters don’t believe that and claim that eating meat is a natural and healthy part of our diet.

So what’s the right answer? To be honest, I don’t know. What I do know is this: I am a vegetarian because it works for me–even after finding out I had low B12 and iron levels. Was that enough to make me give up my veggie diet? No. Did it mean that I didn’t thoroughly research the vegetarian diet before launching into it? Of course not. It simply means that I had to make some adjustments based on what works for my body. Everyone is different, and to assume that we all need exactly the same diet or the same level of nutrients is probably the most damaging diet assertion of all.

Likewise, we all have different beliefs and motivations for doing things. If you believe that eating meat is right and it works for your body, then that’s your choice. If you believe that it’s morally wrong and it doesn’t keep you at your healthiest, then that’s your choice too. The only time someone is wrong in their meat-eating or non-meat-eating diet is when they don’t listen to their bodies and their hearts and continue to do something that doesn’t work for them.

Let the wars continue…although I wish we’d worry about taking care of our personal health, instead.

Photo: cavementimes.com

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    • Leila

      Great post! Although I am disheartened by the harsh, rigid comments from both the vegetarians and omnivores. The reality is this: there are 7 billion different diets for the 7 billion different people.

      • Chrus

        No love, your genes do not differ to any greater degree than the other 6,999,999,999 people on this planet… your needs are the same as theirs…

      • Andrea

        Actually, Chrus “love,” you’re wrong. Everyone’s needs differ based on everything from simple factors like body size to complicated factors like hormones. And haven’t you ever met someone with food sensitivities or allergies? Everyone’s genes are different; if you’re going to make a condescening critique, then get your facts right.

    • John

      I follow a paleo diet and could care less what anyone else eats. To each his or her own. Unfortunately those that are really dedicated vegans do not seem to feel the same way. At least the ones I’ve spoken to. For them it is a philosophy about animals and their place in the world. Vegans are about a philosophy, animals should not die to feed humans. For those who follow Paleo or similar diets for the long term it’s all about what they see as the health benefits, the nutrition. They see the death of animals as necessary and in the natural order of things. Animals die, other animals eat them. The “eaters” include the human species. These two groups are so fundamentally opposed that there can never be a middle ground.

      • Amanda L

        Actually, many vegans, like myself are in it for the nutrition reason, or for environmental factors. Although saving the animals is a nice byproduct of my diet, I see it as an added bonus. Personally, skipping meat helped me beat a heart condition that I previously needed to manage with prescription drugs.

    • Amy

      I had awful nutritional deficiencies BEFORE I became a vegan. Post-vegan, I dropped all my excess weight, reversed my allergies, and am much more nourished than ever before. For me, the trick is avoiding the fake meat (treat only), but including soy milk for the extra vitamins. Soy/almond/coconut milk can fill in any gaps.

      • rob

        “Soy/almond/coconut milk can fill in any gaps.”

        no

      • truth

        Meatheads may not know that soy/nut milk is fortified. As if most tofu and nutritional yeast.

    • Wenchypoo

      When it comes to B-12, I’m afraid we’re ALL missing out–we may be taking it in (in various ways), but we’re not ABSORBING it too well…meaning hardly anybody is getting enough. Because it dies off in the digestion process, only those taking shots or sub-lingual pills are getting anything close to what we really need.

      Like John, I too follow a Paleo diet, but for food allergy reasons–I can’t tolerate dairy, grains, beans, or certain fruits/veggies. I don’t care what anybody else eats, and I’m glad someone is able to benefit from the foods I can’t eat. Also, I’m glad there is someone to rid the world of starches, just as I help rid the world of methane-creating farm animals.

    • GT

      First, thanks for your first-hand appraisal and at least briefly going veg. Very often temporary experiments lead to going veg permanently.

      Not caring about the impact of human habits on the rest of the planet is the antithesis of being vegan, and a frequent argument heard. It is not giving equal consideration or being open-minded.

      Take a vegan multivitamin. They’ve been around for years, and work just like vitamins for meat-eaters. Vegan dairy subs like almond milk and veg cream cheese are also fortified with B12 and D. Most vegans never have a problem. It usually takes years for B12 deficiency to occur, in the rare cases that happens.

    • ReasonableThought

      It’s so ridiculous, all these people commenting on what diet is the best for other people

      In terms of diet, there is no “one” diet that human beings as a whole can subscribe too. There are lots of vegans/vegetarians who have insufficient vitamins and nutrients… and the same goes for meat-eating people. With the exceptional range of allergies, deficiencies and all the different ways people react to certain foods- it’s no surprise that some people cannot adhere to diets of others.
      Have you ever traveled to other parts of the world? Ever notice how your body can tolerate some things, but not everything?

      And I’m not going to share my dietary habits, just as I don’t care whether you live off celery sticks and soymilk, or raw beef and vodka. If you can sustain a healthy diet, good for you!

    • Mark Demma

      The irony here is that both the vegans and the paleos both generally have the same intentions: better health and environmentally conscious. When comparing themselves to your typical MacDonald’s loving Standard American Diet eating omnivore, veggie folks could proudly, dare I say smugly, feel confident that the way they ate was superior. Now here comes all these paleo people, a lot of them former veggies who switched because their health was deteriorating, who are saying “now wait a minute, we’ve found something that is healthier AND more sustainable”. Gasp, blasphemy! See, the problem is, as the author of the article shows, it becomes a belief system for folks, and once some one is a true believer, then facts, logic, reason and a dozen copies of “The Vegetarian Myth” you throw at them won’t budge them. Lierre Keith, the author of the before-mentioned Vegetarian Myth says that she wouldn’t have even considered quitting being a vegan until after her health had severely deteriorated. Because belief systems don’t trump a few million years of evolutionary biology and our bodies simply weren’t meant to eat soy franken foods or go without any animal products any more than they were designed to eat fast food. The problem is that folks have made whether it is an “animal product” or not the dividing line of whether something is healthy and eco friendly and that’s just the wrong paradigm. Instead they should be asking “is this real food”. If the ingredient list is one or two words you can pronounce, it is something your great-great grandmother would recognize and is from a farm where you could conceivably drive out to on a weekend (because it’s that close) and they’d show you around … then you are probably doing pretty good. But that requires more thinking than the dogmatic, fundamentalist realm of “meat bad”. It requires an evolving, changing, growing belief system that is open to self experimentation where you see how different foods make you look, feel and perform rather than just adhering to what you’ve been told.