Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Continuing Thoughts on Veganism

Yes, adopting a vegan diet can help save the planet, eliminate unnecessary cruelty to animals, aid in feeding the world’s hungry, and reduce the blobs of fat that currently hang on American’s guts and posteriors. The choice to eliminate all animal products from one’s diet is probably one of the most moral decisions that any human being can make in this age of planetary distress. I congratulate anyone able to forsake the flesh and by-products of the beast, whether they do so for moral, health, or aesthetic reasons.

My own little experiment with veganism, however, has convinced me that it is damn difficult to put into practice if you don’t have the luxury to live in more enlightened parts of the country like California, Oregon, or Vermont. Even here in New York—supposedly a bastion of progressivism in the United States—it is extremely difficult to find places to eat suitable for those practicing veganism (good luck trying to find anything even remotely vegan on the menus at Applebees, Friday’s, or Friendy’s!). Vegan meals are also much more labor intensive to prepare and require much more forethought than other kinds of food choices.

That having been said, we Americans can no longer afford to continue to eat the way we have since the 1960s with animal products and fast food making up the bulk of our food choices. In his provocative article in the New York Times, “Unhappy Meals,” Michael Pollen gives the most practical tip on how to eat a healthy—and fairly planet-sustaining—diet:

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Although this may sound a bit simplistic, if more Americans tried to put this advice into practice, the entire planet would ultimately benefit. The key to success seems to be to take incremental steps in reducing one's overall consumption of animal products. There is absolutely no reason why an ecologically conscious person couldn't limit his or her consumption of animal products (dairy, eggs, and cheese for example) to two or three times a week, and perhaps reserve the consumption of animal flesh to the odd special occasion or holiday. This compromise would probably not satisfy a hard-core vegan, but it would be a dramatic improvement to the typical American diet and would significantly reduce the amount of animal cruelty currently practiced.

Is this a reasonable compromise or a cop-out? Let me know what you


  1. I recently made the switch to a vegan diet for all the reasons you mention in your first paragraph, and found it actually not that hard - I think it depends on a change in perspective and how you think about what makes a meal, what is complicated about preparing food. I have simply changed my way of thinking about a lot of things. The hardest thing for me has been the reaction of other people (L'enfer, c'est les autres?) but in general that has not been too bad.

    As for how far is far enough with a vegan diet/lifestyle, I believe any step in the right direction, like Michael Pollan says, is positive. Everybody has to make their own decision as to how far they want to take it. But I understand that for those who main motivation is animal welfare that 100% is the only acceptable way to go (like in the book Vegan Freak) I think the risk with that kind of position is that you might then scare off a lot of people who could never imagine themselves being that dedicated to veganism.

    PS: Where were you in Belgium?

  2. You are a much better person than I am. I tried the vegan route a few times and had to give it up because I couldn't be consistent with it. I agree, however, that anyone who is really committed to eliminating animal cruelty would have to adopt a vegan diet. Half-way measures just aren't enough.

    And to anwer your question: my time in Belgium was spent in the beautiful--and very ecologically oriented--city of Leuven....right next to Kessel-lo, as a matter of fact!

  3. You're copping out, Mike. Yes, it requires a bit more planning to go vegan, but the benefits are definitely worth it. I live in New York myself, and have absolutely no trouble finding food that doesn't involve gutting poor animals.

    Besides, vegan guys are much sexier than carnivores and smell better too!

  4. Sara, your final argument is the best one that I have heard for giving up my carnivorous tendencies. If I can become sexier and smell better at the same time, imagine how popular I am going to be with the ladies! I guess that now all I have to do is find some exciting tofu recipes and my life will be set.

    Does this mean that we can go out for some barbecued tempeh in a few weeks when my caveman smell finally wears off?

  5. Narcissus - It takes at least 12-16months for the caveman smell to dissipate from a carnivore like yourself. So check in with me in 2010 and we can talk about tempeh options then.


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