Am I Vegan?
That is a very common question that I receive, and I believe that this question deserves a very thorough response. It is a simple question, but generally there is a lot behind that three-word question for those asking me.
The simple answer is no, I’m not vegan. Throughout my life, my diet has changed quite a bit, as it does for most people. In 2011, I awoke to the destruction of our globalized, industrialized food system. Documentaries like Food Inc. and Earthlings opened my eyes to the truth about where the meat I was eating was coming from and the harm that I was causing to these animals as well as to our Earth, our global humanity and my own body through eating this meat. I was deeply disturbed by factory farming and decided to take a strong stance and remove factory farming from my life. I didn’t do it overnight, but over the next few years I transitioned to a more plant-based diet.
Along with the changes in my diet, I made dozens of other changes in my life and I found myself becoming healthier and happier. I was in my mid-twenties and was finding myself to be the healthiest I’d ever felt in my life. I attributed much of this to eating a more plant-based diet, but just as much to eating far less processed and packaged foods, giving up alcohol, being more physically active in my daily life rather than just through “exercise” and to living a life in alignment with my passions and purpose. It was a beautiful transition in life of breaking free from oppressive, exploitative systems and striving to live in a more harmonious way with Earth, humanity and our plant and animal relatives.
Over a period of a few years, I ate less and less factory-farmed meat and foods from animals and shifted into a fully plant-based diet. In about 2014, I transitioned to a nearly 100% vegan diet. I considered myself to be vegan at that time.
I remained “vegan” for about two years from 2014 to 2016 and then things shifted for me – both in my health and in my beliefs around veganism. I’ll share more on the health aspect later in this writing.
At this point, I want to share clearly what my intentions are for writing this article.
I’ve been deeply immersed in understanding the food system for over a decade, and I have done this truly immersed in my food. My experience has included:
Why? Because I’m a seeker of truth. I want to understand how I impact everyone and everything else I am involved with through my daily actions. I want to understand the world I live in and the society that I am a part of. I want to see an end to oppressive, exploitative systems – like the globalized, industrialized food system we have today – and see it replaced with systems that are truly harmonious for Earth, humanity and the plants and animals we share this home with.
And as it stands, veganism can be a part of these systems of mass destruction that I seek to overcome or veganism can be a part of these systems of deep harmony that I am embracing and striving to help others embrace, too. Veganism can exist anywhere on the spectrum in between mass destruction and deep harmony.
Yet, in the mainstream society and even on the fringes of society, the conversation around veganism is rarely treated as the complex topic that it is. Instead, there are often just two polarized viewpoints of “right and wrong”, “good and bad” or “better and worse” in the discussions. When it comes to headlines, short videos and much of the media, the content is focused around concrete statistics that have a much deeper story behind them to explore. The two different sides often have a strong agenda, and sometimes it is just stubbornness that drives the conversation. But often, it’s a stake of millions or billions of dollars that drives the conversations around veganism in the mainstream.
I’m sharing this writing with you because I believe that I have a well-balanced viewpoint on this often polarized topic. I don’t believe that any issue is black and white. I believe that there are many shades of gray behind every topic – and that includes veganism. I don’t believe there are concrete, clear or yes and no answers to most of what veganism seeks to explore. There are about eight billion humans living in an incredibly diverse number of biomes and habitats and there are thousands of cultures of humans living upon this Earth. We interact with millions of different species on this shared home we call Earth, with a near infinite number of relationships being carried out at every second of existence. This is an incredibly complex interwoven thing we call life.
As someone who has been immersed in the basic rights for Earth and humanity for over a decade, veganism is one of the most heated points of conversations that I have come across. My intention is to be a balance to that heat.
I am not trying to get anyone to stop eating meat or to get anyone to start eating meat. I am an advocate for a diversity of diets – and that can include a diet with – or without – food from animals.
My Agenda in this Writing is to:
- Create critical thought around our food system and veganism
- Contribute to humanity in a way that moves us into a more harmonious way of existing with the animals and plants we share this home with
- Share my personal reasons for choosing the diet that I have and why I am not vegan
- Provide my views that counter some of the polarized beliefs commonly discussed in the vegan movement
I Support Being Vegan
I want to be clear, I am in support of people who choose to be vegan, vegetarian or embrace any diet that reduces their harm to animals. I agree with an incredible amount of what the vegan movement stands for and I am part of this movement. I stand against factory farming, torturing of animals, animal slavery, speciesism, mass extinction of species and the pollution and destruction of our shared Earth. I honor all who are choosing this path to live in harmony with our animal relatives. I believe that boycotting the factory farming of animals is one of the most important and meaningful things that we can do as individuals for the benefit of all – Earth, fellow humans and the animals and plants.
I Don’t Believe that Veganism is Inherently Superior or Morally Sound
With my support of the choice to be vegan and my support of much of the vegan movement, in the pages ahead I will also be providing my strong rebuttal to the beliefs that:
- Veganism is inherently the most ethical diet.
- Veganism is inherently the most sustainable diet.
- Veganism is inherently the most healthy diet.
- All humans would benefit from a vegan diet.
- All meat and food from animals at any level are unhealthy for the human body.
- All meat and food from animals at any level are environmentally destructive.
- Meat is murder.
- A person can’t eat meat and be an environmentalist at the same time.
- Simply being vegan is a wholistic solution to the problems we are facing as humanity.
- Veganism versus eating animals is as clear cut as often made out to be.
I am not refuting the many benefits a vegan diet can have for many people and many animals. I am not refuting that veganism can be the most ethical and environmentally harmonious diet in many cases. But I am clearly standing up to the black and white viewpoints that some vegans take on in a world that is not black and white. Before going further, I want to acknowledge that these black and white viewpoints do not represent all vegans, and if I had to guess it is likely the minority of vegans that hold these polarized views. I think that perhaps some of the most vocal vegans have these views and that a great number of headlines take a polarized stance to get more views, which has resulted in these perspectives becoming a larger representation than the beliefs the general population of vegans actually holds.
I also think that the demographics of vegans in the USA and Western countries has changed substantially over the last few decades, and many more people are vegan for environmental reasons than in the past. I think that there is a whole spectrum of beliefs that vegans have and that people who eat a vegan diet are a very diverse range of people and so are their beliefs.
For the many people who have asked me why I’m not vegan, and for the many people who question how I can possibly not be vegan as an environmental activist and someone who respects all species, here is a simple summary of this, which I expand on more throughout the post.
I believe that:
- Meat and food from animals can be eaten while holding a strong set of morals and ethics and that killing an animal is not inherently morally wrong.
- Meat and food from animals can be eaten in an environmentally sustainable way.
- Meat and food from animals can be part of a healthy diet and that it has been for billions of people for countless generations of humanity and still is for billions of people today.
- That we can regenerate our Earth through working with animals that we eat.
- That humans can have harmonious relationships that do involve the death of animals.
- That living independently of globalized, industrialized systems is central to living truly harmoniously and that most, if not every, culture that has ever lived independently of these systems has worked in localized systems with animals in a way that included eating them.
- That an industrialized and globalized vegan diet – which represents the vast majority of vegan diets today – is far more destructive than is portrayed in vegan narration and often kills and harms as many or more animals than people who raise or hunt animals to eat directly.
- That personally my body is healthiest with meat and food from animals in my diet.
- That personally the most ethical and sustainable diet for me includes meat and food from animals in my diet.
- That embracing the practice of nonviolence toward animals that some spiritual practices hold, including sects of Buddhism, is not the only path to spiritual evolution or enlightenment.
For those of who you made it this far, I would understand if you chose to stop reading here. You’ve heard a fair bit of my viewpoint already. However, I invite you to keep reading. This is where the depth begins.
One small note: You may notice that I do not say “animal products” which is a common phrase for dairy, eggs and cheese. Instead I say “food from animals.” The reason why is that I don’t look at any of my food – from plants or animals – as products, but rather as intricate life forms.
The Polarized Focus of Factory Farming in Many Vegan Films …
Through five years of transitioning to being plant-based/vegan and being vegan and now another seven years of being an omnivore, I have been quite immersed in this topic and lifestyle. I am no longer vegan, not due to a lack of education, but due to having taken my education much deeper, opening my mind more, and taking a much broader, global humanity perspective on the issue. When we learn how awful something is, we often have a tendency to be drawn to the polar opposite. I see this trend commonly across the consciousness movement. I would say I did this to an extent when I went vegan. But the polar opposite is typically not the truth either. Issues tend to be far more complex than that.
My view is that much of the popular environmental and health-focused vegan content out there today is based on a narrow perspective, and that perspective is factory farming. Factory farming is inhumane, torturous, a highly misguided human act, and in my perspective would be criminal in a society that was truly guided by basic rights of life. The disturbing visuals of factory farmed meat are enough to make millions of people sick to their stomachs. It’s enough to turn a lot of people vegan overnight. I’ve met a large number of people who indeed went vegan immediately after watching Cowspiracy, Earthlings and other documentaries.
I understand why these films are so deeply focused on factory farming. Most meat consumed today in the US and much of the world is factory farmed. However, this is a limited perspective on human’s relationship with animals for the eight billion people alive or for the billions of humans who’ve lived in our long history as a human race. It doesn’t make sense to paint broad strokes of the entire omnivorous human relationship to meat, based on this sole portion of human’s relationship to meat, that only began in recent history. Factory farmed meat, dairy and eggs simply do not represent all meat and food from animals. It is, of course, not that simple.
For many of these documentaries, one of the main objectives is to get people to stop eating meat and convert to veganism. I understand why this is the objective and follow the logic. These documentaries would not be even remotely as successful at converting people to veganism if they showed people living with the land, connected to the animals they depend upon. In fact, many people would watch that and perhaps even gravitate toward eating animals. The more direct correlation of what these films show is to end factory farming, not that veganism is the only ethical and sustainable way for humans to live.
On the effects of factory farmed meat on human health …
A main focus of the popular vegan concept is the effects meat and food from animals has on human health. One of the main focuses is how unhealthy a society we currently are – and indeed we are a very unhealthy society. The extreme levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in our culture are largely due to our diets. And the popular vegan practice often puts the bulk of the responsibility for that disease and sickness on the consumption of meat and food from animals. I don’t disagree. However, the focus of these films is on people who eat an industrialized diet that includes a large proportion of factory-farmed meat.
The call for being vegan in these films is more directly related to combating illness that is induced by people who are over-consuming factory-farmed meat and eating an industrialized diet as a whole. The focus of these documentaries is not on the substantial number of people who are very healthy and eat a balanced amount of meat that they hunt, raise or source from regenerative farmers. The focus is not on healthy people, it’s on a sick society that is out of balance and out of connection with our Earth.
The more direct correlation is that people who are eating too much factory farmed meat need to change their diets if they want to become healthy. Not that veganism is needed if someone is already healthy and doesn’t eat any factory- farmed animals. Or even that veganism is the only way to break free from the extreme levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer in our society – there are a lot of other factors in these industrialized diets that play a role in these diseases.
This is what I am referring to when veganism is portrayed as a black or white issue with a black or white solution, often being a short-sighted way of thinking. Again, I’m not saying that being vegan is short-sighted in itself. I’m stating that the extreme black or white viewpoints and conclusion that I shared above are short-sighted.
On the large studies that point to veganism as the healthiest diet …
To continue with that along the lines of health, I’d like to point out a few things.
Studies are used time and time again to “prove” that veganism is the healthiest diet. But when I really look at the studies, the most common theme is one showing that eating a diet with drastically less meat and food from animals than is standard in Western diets is typically the healthiest. It doesn’t prove veganism. It proves a predominantly whole-food diet that includes substantial fruits and vegetables and some meat or food from animals such as dairy and eggs. Those are two different diets. The studies point to balance, not strict veganism.
Blue zones, which are regions of the world where people live much longer than average, often to the age of 100, are often referred to by vegans. They are considered some of the healthiest cultures on Earth. However, the majority of their food is from plants, but not all of it. Again, this points to a balanced diet, not strict veganism.
Absolutism is a central theme to this extreme vegan viewpoint that has taken over much of the headlines today. But when we really look at what we know, there is no absolutism. It always points to balance. A common narrative that I’ve heard from extreme vegans is something like this, “Meat is making people unhealthy. Studies show less meat makes a person healthier. Therefore, eating NO meat will contribute to the healthiest people”. But I hope anyone who reads that logic can see where it falls short. Here are some examples that would not be true using the same logic.
Exposure to the sun for long periods consistently can burn our skin and result in skin cancer. But small quantities of sunlight provide vitamin D, an important vitamin, and are part of overall good health. The answer is a balanced amount of sun, not no sun.
Too much alcohol can destroy our liver and take years off our lives. But small quantities of quality alcohol can be extremely beneficial for health. The answer is a balanced amount of quality alcohol or no alcohol – both are options.
Exposure to a powerful bacterium in large quantities can kill someone. But a small amount of that bacterium exposed to a healthy immune system can improve the immune system’s defense to later exposure. The answer is not to create a war on germs and hide from all bacteria, the answer is to create systems of balance with bacteria.
Quantity is key. Quality is key. Situation is key. None of this is black or white. I hope anyone reading this can see that.
Seeing Health Declines from People Who Became Vegan
As I’ve said, I’ve had years of experience in the vegan circle. And again, on a personal note, veganism did not turn out to be the healthiest diet for me. Since I began speaking about this openly and publicly, I have been truly amazed by the number of people who have shared similar stories with me.
I’ve seen a scenario play out quite a few times where someone says they tried veganism for a while, but they started to become less healthy. Sometimes there’s a minor reduction in health and sometimes there are substantial repercussions. These are often highly privileged people with access to the highest quality foods and education. They are often people who have put in substantial effort and dedication to a vegan diet. Vegans on the internet jump on them and say that veganism is right for everybody and that they were just doing it wrong.
After years of talking to people who are vegan or who have tried veganism, it seems quite obvious to me that veganism works well for some bodies and not for others. If our bodies are designed to be vegan, then logic would tell me it shouldn’t be so complicated and difficult for intelligent, well-resourced and dedicated people to pull it off for a long period of time. But it is.
Lately when I discuss veganism with my vegan or formerly vegan friends, more often than not I hear a story of how they found themselves feeling depleted, tired, and feeling very unhealthy and sometimes much worse. Many of these people took substantial vegan supplements, including vitamin B-12 and many of them did not. Then once they introduced some meat, eggs or dairy back into their diet they started to gain their health back. I’ve heard this from hundreds of people over the last seven years and I heard from people when I was vegan, too. I just didn’t believe them. I would estimate that of all the people who I have spoken to who are vegan or were vegan, well over half of them started to feel a decline in their health after one to three years of strict veganism.
When I was a vegan, I never would have wanted to admit that about myself or believe it from others. And I don’t have a desire for that reality to exist for so many people who did choose veganism. It’s an objective observation that has come up time and time again, provoked or unprovoked, and an observation that I believe is very worth sharing.
The Global, Industrial Vegan Diet
When we zoom way out to look at the 21st century human’s relationship to food, whether vegan or not, we see that we are part of an extremely globalized and industrialized agricultural system. This very system encompasses factory farming – of both animals and plants – and is the source of an incredible amount of destruction to our Earth and the species we share the earth with.
That is a perspective that many vegans have. But the perspective that many of them may not have is that veganism is a product of this very industrialized and globalized food system. I have searched for examples of vegans who are largely independent of this system and I have come up with just a very few isolated examples. On the other hand, there are countless examples of people and societies that work with and eat animals that are completely or largely independent of these destructive systems.
I believe that by living a life that involves the direct death of some animals, a person can actually cause less indirect and total deaths of animals. A person, community, or larger society living largely connected to their land, hunting and/or raising animals can live in a manner that harms and kills fewer animals than a vegan or vegan community or society that lives in a city that is entrenched in the globalized, industrialized food system. Sure, that vegan or vegan community does not see any blood on their hands directly when they eat and they don’t have a death tally directly associated with their food. But when we look deeper, we all have death on our hands through the food we eat, and far more death than most of us would like to believe. The more entrenched we are in these systems of globalization and industrialization, the more death that is happening in our name, out of sight, out of mind.
Let’s ask a few questions:
Are oil spills really vegan?
Is plastic really vegan?
Are pesticides (organic or not) really vegan?
Is farming grains, vegetables and fruit on land where animal habitat has been cleared really vegan?
Is building a house or community on land that was occupied by a diversity of animals really vegan?
From a deeper perspective, the answer to these questions is undoubtedly no.
But sure, from this definition of vegan, “a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals ; also, one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather)” those scenarios above are all vegan. From the The Vegan Society definition, “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” These scenarios still sort of pass, but only at a glance.
The idea of veganism is to not kill animals and to not make animals suffer or be cruel to them. But our globalized, industrialized lives kill animals and inflict immense cruelty on them in hundreds of ways that are much more complex and easier to ignore, than to just whether we eat them, eat from them, own them, or wear them.
To dive into those questions a bit:
Routinely there are 10,000 oil spills every year. We all know what oil spills do. They kill millions of animals. Oil spills happen routinely, as we fuel our cars (even most electric cars, because most of our electricity is made from fossil fuels), to build our homes and cities, to provide our entertainment, to give us internet and so on. The second definition of veganism says “to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable”, Certainly flying is 100% possible and practicable for any vegan to exclude. A single flight in an airplane causes harm or death to far more animals than eating many meals with meat. Any food that is produced using the production of fossil fuels is not truly “vegan”.
We’ve all learned about how our oceans are filling up with plastic to the level that in our lifetime there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish. We’ve all seen how plastic kills fish, seals, turtles, birds, and countless other creatures. Indeed, most of our plastic does not indeed make it to the ocean, but it all comes from fossil fuels, which clearly harms and kills animals. Any that is packaged in plastic is not truly “vegan”.
Most of us would be surprised about how destructive our fruit, vegetable, nut and grain farming is and how many animals have died for this food to get to us. Most, if not all, vegan foods have a footprint for how many lives they have taken. USDA Certified Organic food in our grocery stores isn’t nearly as pure as one might imagine (read The Omnivore’s Dilemma for the truth of this). First, all farm land was once animal land. All of those animals were exterminated or displaced (which results in a lot of death) to provide us that land for growing vegan food. Then that farmer routinely prevents animals and insects from eating the crops that end up at our grocery stores. Farmers do the killing for the vegans and for any of us living this modern life. If it’s organic and vegan, animals are still dying to grow that food. That’s just on the farms, not to mention everything it takes to get the vegan food to the distributors, then to the retailers, then to the person who’s going to eat the food. For those that shop for vegan food at the grocery store, that think they do no harm, I would say take a visit to all those farms, sit in those semi-trucks, and don’t forget to check for rat traps and poison at the grocery stores.
Now, I’m not saying that we need to give all of these things up. What I’m saying is that for vegans, death is on their hands, too, perhaps just not as directly. Our world, our relationships, our ecosystems are far more complex than any label or generalization can protect us from.
“You can’t be compassionate and eat animals.”
I’d like to continue with a few more of these viewpoints that are used to argue that veganism is the only way you can be a compassionate human being or an environmentalist. I’m again using these viewpoints to demonstrate how this issue is not as black or white as the documentaries, videos, and articles may make it appear. The purpose of laying these out is not to later argue each of these individual points. This is about the bigger picture and demonstrating that our diets and life on Earth is far more complex and interwoven than simply a diet without animals versus a diet with animals.
“Going vegan saves 100 lives per year.”
I’ve seen statistics like this floating around on the internet. I get the sentiment, but consider this:
An average deer or wild boar yields around forty pounds of meat. That is over 200 three-ounce servings of meat. One hunter could get all of their meat needs from one or two deer per year. That’s one or two lives, not one hundred. (Not to mention all the organ meat, bone broth, clothing and tools that a deer yields.)
One cow could provide enough meat for a family for an entire year. That is a fraction of one life taken per person.
In any of these scenarios, if these people chose to go vegan, they would not be “saving enough lives” to form a statistic.
“Our global fish stock is exploited so ALL fishing is unsustainable.”
In Cowspiracy, they share that “roughly 75% of all of our fisheries are either fully exploited or over-exploited”.
This means that the oceans, lakes and rivers are being pillaged for fish, and humans are taking far more than the ecosystem can regenerate. This is true. But Kip Anderson then says that since the global stock of fish is so depleted, there is no such thing as sustainable fishing anymore on Earth, anywhere. The logic is that any fishing contributes to the depletion of our already depleted global fish stock in the oceans and it is, therefore, wrong to fish under any conditions.
Of course, I get the sentiment. But we live in a diverse world where there can be abundance in one place while there is a complete shortage in another. In one region of the world we can have desertification while in another region we can have extreme flooding and in another we can have a perfect balance of moisture. With animals, we can have populations that grow substantially – and even out of ecosystem capacity – with a decrease of other species or the changing of the ecosystems. This is standard biological cycles. Fish stocks can be depleted or pushed to extinction in one region, while other regions can have a substantial abundance. Of course, there’s also “invasive populations” of fish. Fishing for “invasive” fish, and eating them, can actually contribute to habitat regeneration for native fish.
Simply put, global statistics can’t be used as a blanket statement for every community across the world.
“A pound of meat takes __x___ gallons of water to produce.”
For example, it takes 2,400 gallons to produce one pound of beef. Chicken and pigs also have huge water footprints. It is truly astounding how much water it takes to raise factory-farmed meat. These are statistics that I would like to have widely known. However, these statistics are based on industrial factory farming. In truly regenerative systems, water cycles are worked with in a manner that utilizes local water in a way that does not overdraw any water from the aquifers or return polluted water into the waterways. Through understanding and working with animals, not a single drop of water needs to be “used”. When two million wildebeests travel hundreds of miles across Africa, not a drop of water is “used”. When millions of buffalo roamed the Great Plains, not a drop of water was “used”. In both scenarios, the water was cycled in a way that created biodiversity and a thriving habitat for life. And humans were eating and working with these animals. Today, humans still know how to do this and many are through purely traditional practices and through newer approaches that are ultimately based on traditional practices. In fact, through cycling water and nutrients in this way, a substantial amount of fruits and vegetables can be grown in high abundance while also raising goats, sheep, cows, ducks, rabbits and many other animals for food, clothing and insulation for shelter. The water can be cycled right into the soil where it is naturally returned to a pure state before it enters the drinking water supply.
“It takes ten pounds of grain to make one pound of meat.”
It’s commonly stated that it takes up to ten pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Furthermore, we should only eat grain, and it is immoral to eat meat when there are people who are hungry. Again, this is based on the factory farming models. Hunting wild animals – such as deer or wild boar – requires no grain at all. Raising cows or sheep on pasture requires no grain at all. Raising pigs on food waste requires no grain at all. These are just a few examples of meat that do not require grain. In many of these situations, no crop needs to be grown at all and no water needs to be “used” at all.
Equally important, a pound of grain is simply not the same thing as a pound of meat. Meat is densely concentrated with vitamins and minerals that are not found in these grains. Red meat is one of the most nutritionally whole foods that exists. Grains are incredible. They are often worshiped as a food of the gods. Many traditional cultures have been based on grain crops over thousands of years. But grains are not meat. They are different. A pound of kale is not a pound of coconuts. A pound of carrots is not a pound of B-12 supplements. A pound of grains is not a pound of meat.
“Eating one egg per day is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes per day.”
In What the Health, they claim that eating one egg per day is the equivalent of smoking five cigarettes per day. There is a scenario where I could see this being accurate. That is, if someone is already so out-of-balance – suffering with diabetes and extreme obesity – through an over-saturation of their body with factory farmed foods. If they are existing in this state of toxicity, each factory farmed egg could be substantially detrimental to their body. However, at this stage, their body is in a very different situation from someone who is at a healthy weight and does not have any health issues. For those with a balanced diet, eggs – especially eggs from chickens that live active outdoor lives and eat balanced, natural diets – can be truly beneficial to the body. An egg a day can contribute to their health. Five cigarettes will not.
“You don’t have to be vegan to eat vegan food. Or buy vegan stuff. But every time you invest in vegan merchandise you invest in the health of the planet and the animals that live on it, including ourselves.” – Brian May, guitarist for Queen
I love Queen and I love Brian, but this oversimplified belief system is just not accurate. Most vegan merchandise may make some investment in the plant, but often it causes a greater destruction. Today, through veganism being a multi-billion dollar industry, much “vegan merchandise” has no true investment in the planet and causes only harm. With this simplified form of thinking, all of humanity could go vegan tomorrow and we’d still be seeing the mass extinction of species that we are seeing today and we could be just as close to extinction ourselves.
The Vegan Label – A Safe Zone
In our increasingly oppressive and exploitative society, those seeking harmony may feel a desire to gravitate toward a practice (or label) that removes them from the destruction. Vegan is a label that can allow us to feel like we are not causing harm. It’s a label that can help us to take some of the weight off our shoulders knowing we’ve done a really BIG thing to stand against the exploitation. It’s a label that can help us to make sense of the hard-to-comprehend globalized, industrialized food system. And it’s a label that can help us belong to a group of like-minded people and to distance ourselves from the oppressive group that we no longer want to be a part of.
But labels are just human made constructs and behind every label there is a lot of complexity. There is a lot more depth than a label could ever truly cover. Behind every label there is still destruction. There is still harm. There is still oppression and exploitation. Truth does not fit into any label. Truth has far more complexity than any one label or grouping of labels can ever signify.
Less Death by Eating Animals?
I’m certain that many people share my belief, but I have not heard it frequently vocalized that a person can actually live a localized lifestyle that results in less death and suffering of animals, while embracing and taking part in the direct death of animals in their own life. When I say less death and suffering, it is compared to a vegan diet that is involved substantially in globalization and industrialization – which in my experience is the vast majority of all Western vegan diets.
Simply put, a meat eater can create less death and animal suffering through the choice of eating meat than by embracing the vegan diet that is generally shared as the solution in Westernized nations by vegan culture.
I’ve already shared that there is a death toll behind every food or product that we buy at the grocery store. But when removing ourselves from these industrial systems and embracing closed-loop natural systems with the earth – which involve animals – we can actually increase the population and biodiversity of animals through the killing (the cycling) of life. This is undoubtedly how natural systems work without humans – and as much to the contrary of modern humans’ belief – how natural systems can work with us as a part of the system. After all, we are animals, too. We came from the earth and we return to the earth just like the rest of the animals. We are not inherently separate and we can embrace our interdependence with these natural cycles of life.
And yes, we can do this in a vegan manner theoretically, but when you examine humanity on a global level and deep into our ancestry, that is not what we find. I have yet to find a currently existing, or historically reproducing society on earth that is strictly vegan and lives in an environmentally sound manner. I have researched this in depth and not found an example. I also have called out to the vegan community in search of examples. I have indeed received many examples from vegans, but with just a slight bit of research on my end, I always find that these “vegan” examples eat some meat or food from animals. There are plenty of societies that eat minimal – a balanced amount – but I have yet to find any strict vegan long-term existing societies. I’m not talking about a bunch of individual vegans living in the city, of course. I’m talking about any society that lived for multiple generations, and lived a 100% vegan life for their lifetimes. To me, this points to the reality that veganism is not the one and only superior form of eating, given that it doesn’t seem to even exist in the bigger picture. And even if we do find just a few examples within the eight billion of us, that still doesn’t provide much of a reason to believe that veganism is the one and only way.
To the contrary, when you look at the societies that have lived most harmoniously with Earth and who live the most harmoniously today, you see diets that included some meat or food from animals, and often substantial amounts.
There is the common saying in the vegan movement that “meat is murder”. If meat is murder then all Indigenous people – the 500+ cultures that existed in a more harmonious state before the arrival of the colonizers, were all murderers. All of the Indigenous people of Africa, of the Amazon Rainforest, of every region of the world, were murderers. All Indigenous people today that have retained their traditional foodways are murderers. The people of coastal Africa who harvest fish as an integral part of their diet are murderers. The people living in the High Andes, who subsist almost completely from llamas, and do not destroy anyone else’s land, are murderers. But the wealthy Western vegans buying quinoa, who have caused the locals of the Andes to no longer be able to afford their staple crop of quinoa and are forced to convert to an industrialized unhealthy diet, are not murderers. In my view, this is very short-sighted and polarized thinking. In my view, this veganism may actually be a form of white supremacy.
When I refer to Native Americans, I am not doing it in any way to justify the actions of any modern white person. This is often the belief of urban vegans who have very little relation to Indigenous people. I’m bringing it up because this modern vegan knowledge, without actually saying the words, claims to supersede all Indigenous knowledge, because meat eating is absolutely central to their existence and to the culture of most every Indigenous culture. So, to say that veganism is the only ethical, compassionate, acceptable way of living, says that veganism supersedes all ancient wisdom, all Indigenous wisdom. Ultimately, the logic says that Native Americans and Indigenous people globally need to leave their traditional foodways behind and assimilate into the industrialized Western culture. On this stance of veganism that “meat is murder”, I disagree with every ounce of relationship that I have to Earth and our diverse humanity.
And as much of mainstream society believes Indigenous people are not people of the past, they are people of the present. The land where I grew up is Anishinaabe land. Although they have lost much of their knowledge of their traditional ways due to colonization and genocide, they have never stopped having a deep relationship with the land. We do live in a disconnected society, but Indigenous lifeways and foodways do still very much exist across Turtle Island and all around the globe. I am fortunate to be a part of the Anishinaabe foodways through many of my Anishinaabe friends and colleagues. We eat a lot of plants together with Manoomin (wild rice) being one of the central plant relationships and we also eat deer and fish. In these foodways that are connected to Earth and have continuously existed for many, many generations, the eating of plants and the eating of animals is not separate, they are inseparable.
Note: when I’m using the term “harmonious”, I am not speaking of some utopian place where nothing ever died or suffered. I believe that suffering is as much a part of life as is the state of non-suffering. I believe that dying is as much a part of life as living.
Privilege and Accessibility of the Vegan Diet
What we do see as the common theme in the vegan diet is that because veganism is largely a product of our globalized, industrialized systems, it is almost exclusively a very privileged group of people that are vegan. It is mostly the top percentage of the wealthiest people in the world that are vegan. It might have to be noted here that someone who is a broke college student in the USA, or even someone living at the federal poverty threshold, is still in the top percentage of wealthiest people in the world. (If you’d like to dive deeper into the topic of privilege, I write about that here: On Understanding and Acknowledging My Privilege.)
When vegans say that anyone can or should be vegan, I take substantial issue with this statement. Ultimately what I see is a very privileged person telling all underprivileged, who don’t have the same access as they do, that they are inherently immoral, as well as just about every culture that lived before them.
Veganism is not very accessible – or more often is completely inaccessible – for people living with low income in an area without access to healthy vegan options. I once tried to live off $4/ day in a community that lacked healthy food options, which is the average amount of money someone gets from SNAP. It was when I was vegan, and I did manage to eat a relatively healthy diet with no highly processed foods, no chemicals, no “food like substances” and no meat, eggs or dairy. But, I had a very substantial amount of time on my hands to dedicate to my diet as well as many other privileges. And I had no money left for any vegan supplements. The diet was incomplete even with my high level of food education, and I could feel that my nutrition was depleted through this diet.
Sure, there are people with substantially less privilege who manage to eat a healthy vegan diet, but it is incredibly challenging for most underprivileged people and fully inaccessible for many.
It’s been a little while since I said it, so I want to say it again in case someone may have forgotten. I support veganism. I don’t support the black or white thinking that veganism is the only ethically or environmentally superior way of eating or living. I have to go to these depths to explain the short-sightedness of this thinking, because the short-sighted thinkers have gone so far as to say they are right and everyone else is wrong. The environmental movement has in some areas been hi-jacked by this way of thinking. And I know a lot of people who are probably only vegan because they feel like they have no other choice due to pressure from the pushing of these polarizing beliefs.
Veganism as a Product of Globalization
Today, fake meats are one of the crazes of the vegan movement. It is seen as great progress that fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Burger King are serving these fake meats as alternatives to factory-farmed meat. However, in my view this is actually contributing to the power of multi-national corrupt corporations and contributing to the industrialization of our food. It is also contributing to globalization. These fake meats can be made in a lab anywhere and shipped anywhere in the world. It is part of the homogenization of our food.
This globalization – including the industrialization and homogenization that goes hand in hand – is the very source of the human race’s systematic destruction of entire ecosystems, mass extinction of species, animal slavery and has been a detriment to billions of people throughout the last few generations of humanity. I see modern veganism not as the solution it is hailed to be, but as a contributor to these problems.
As I shared earlier, history finds no vegan cultures in existence. There are no long withstanding cultures of humans on Earth known that consumed solely plant matter. Not only that, but to go further, every culture ever known was dependent on animals for their very survival. Culture was largely created out of the basic necessities for life. Animals were an integral part of the basic necessities of life, and thus culture.
It is well known that biodiversity is one of the single greatest factors in the survival of any ecosystem and thus in any single species or individual.
Globalization is the antithesis of biodiversity.
Globalization is what has allowed for the creation of veganism. The only way 20th/21st century humans have been able to become vegan is by standing on the foundations of globalization. That is slavery. That is the outlaw of cultures that lived in balance with their land, with animals. That is a global trade of foods that pillaged people and land who weren’t white, for the sake of affluence of white people. This is, in my view, the foundation of what allows 21st century veganism to exist.
Any idea that “the world should go vegan” and that “veganism will save the world” depends on the very system of globalization to continue and to continuously strip away the Indigenous cultures that have existed in a much more peaceful manner with the world than the 21st century Western privileged vegan. This mindset is a continuation of colonialism past and present. The idea that “meat is murder” blindly states that white 21st century wisdom is far superior to every culture of humans that existed before us.
I am not understating the value of choosing to live a vegan lifestyle for those for whom it is within their means. But I am deeply repudiating the idea that veganism is what is needed to save human life on Earth and the millions of species that the human race is putting in danger of extinction.
Vegans Return to the Land
There has been a very common theme that I’ve seen over the last decade of being involved in the movement of people trying to live more harmoniously with the earth and animals. That is a desire for reconnection with Earth and live on the land.
What I’ve seen is that when people move closer to the land to try to live a more environmentally friendly life that causes less harm, more often than not, they find themselves working with animals. Permaculture, regenerative farming and Indigenous foodways work with animals in their systems and typically involve eating animals or eating eggs, dairy and other food from animals. I’ve met many vegans who have left the cities to live on a little farm and, much to their surprise or expectation, realized that it made sense to eat meat, eggs and/or dairy. Not because they were craving the meat, but because it was the way to produce food in the most environmentally sensitive manner, that utilized resources to the fullest extent, and therefore, caused less animal suffering in the bigger picture. At the same time as there are many people converting to veganism, there are potentially just as many vegans converting to living closer to the land and raising animals, hunting or sourcing meat, eggs and dairy from within their local community of farmers, gardeners and practitioners of Earth skills.
What I’ve generally seen over the last seven years is that once people gain a deeper connection to the earth, by becoming deeply part of a variety of cycles of life – not separate from them – veganism no longer seems to hold the moral high ground or to be the most sustainable option for them.
People are realizing that it’s not just what we eat, but what we eat eats, too. Meat, eggs and dairy from the factory is wildly different from animals that spend their lives on the land eating their food directly from the land. Not only is this food not detrimental to the human body, but it is a life-force for the human body.
What most find is that permaculture, regenerative farming and Indigenous foodways typically do not go hand-in-hand with strict veganism. On the contrary, they often clash.
My Personal Transition To and Away from Veganism
I have waited to share my personal experience with veganism until this late in the article in order to reduce the focus on the experience of just one person. I share my personal experience with veganism to do just that – share my personal experience – not a belief that my example represents the global population. As I’ve shared, I believe that humans are a widely diverse group of people and that our diets vary within this wide diversity. Depending on hundreds or thousands of years of genetic evolution, regional ecosystems, cultural practice and many other factors, a vegan diet may or may not be a match for different humans or groups of humans. I don’t want there to be too much focus on me, when my experience is largely irrelevant to the bigger picture of veganism and our global humanity, but I do also have a desire to respond to the thousands of people who have asked me if I’m vegan, why I’m not vegan or for my general stance on eating meat and food from animals. With that very strongly emphasized, I will share my experience with veganism.
As I shared earlier over a period of a few years from 2011-2014, I began eating less and less factory-farmed meat and foods from animals and shifted into a substantially plant-based diet. In about 2014, I transitioned to a nearly 100% vegan diet. I considered myself to be vegan at that time.
I remained “vegan” for about two years from 2014 to 2016 and then things shifted for me – both in my health and in my beliefs around veganism. I have shared about the evolution of my beliefs in great length already. Now I will share about the shift in my health.
My health was at top levels of my adult life in the beginning stages of transitioning to veganism and then being vegan. This came through many other lifestyle practices as well, as I had shifted a substantial amount of my habits and practices including my food, water, exercise, usage of alcohol, usage of chemicals, my thoughts and so much more. After about a year of veganism, my health started to decline. I wasn’t seeing it clearly at the time, but over the next couple of years, I could look back and see the decline quite clearly. After perhaps a year of being vegan, I started to have less energy. I was constantly tired, never feeling like I could get well-rested. I was much more agitated and easily annoyed. I had lost my sex drive. My body was often achy. I had lost a lot of my strength. I felt that I was constantly just under a healthy weight for my body. I remember thinking that I felt like an old man. This was at the age of thirty. During that time, I never thought it could be because my body was deficient because of my diet. I was pretty sure that veganism was the healthiest diet for me and that I didn’t need to eat animals or any food from animals.
In Fall of 2016, I was embarking on a new project, Trash Me, where for a month I’d live like the average American and wear every piece of trash that I created. The purpose was to create a striking visual of how much garbage the average American creates and inspire critical thought and self-reflection. To make trash like the average American, I chose to eat like the average American, which meant eating meat for the month.
Before the project began, I got a basic blood test so that I could compare my health before the month and after the month. We were creating a documentary, very much like Supersize Me. That’s when I learned that I had a B-12 deficiency. I was very deficient, and this, in part, explained why I’d been feeling the way I did. Note: I didn’t end up having the funding to do blood work at the end of the month like I planned.
It was a coincidence that I discovered this just days before I was about to immerse myself in this project where I’d be eating meat. I was not excited to eat meat and was only planning to do it for the month, and then go directly back to veganism. I felt sure that the impact I could have through this project was worth the harm I’d do by eating this way for a month.
One might expect me to feel horrible eating like the average American, after multiple years of eating a primarily plant-based, whole foods, organic diet. I certainly expected to feel horrible and, in some ways, I did. But the surprising thing was that my body started to feel better also. Even though it was factory- farmed, low-quality meat, I quickly started to feel more energy. I gained about four pounds during the month, and a good portion of that was muscle. I was less tired, less agitated, less achy and had more of a sex drive. I didn’t feel so much like an old man.
After Trash Me, I did not go back to being vegan, even though that had been the original plan. For the next two years, I still ate a primarily plant-based diet, but not vegan. I avoided factory-farmed meat and food from animals almost completely, but I would eat meat that would otherwise go to waste so that I could still source my meat without contributing to cruelty toward animals. Overall, I almost never purchased anything that wasn’t completely plant-based, whether at a grocery store or restaurant. I ate some local meat, eggs and dairy, whether it be from a small farm or friend I was visiting, or fish that I caught myself. Although my diet was substantially more sustainable than the average American’s, it was still a largely industrial diet. I found that incorporating meat, eggs and dairy into my diet felt in alignment for my body. My health was far from perfect (what is perfect health anyway?) but I felt substantially better than during my chapter of being deficient on a vegan diet.
My diet radically shifted on November 11th, 2018, when I began a year of growing and foraging 100% of my food. I removed myself completely from the global, industrial food system. For one year, I was my own farmer, my own grocery store and my own food processor. There were absolutely no food scientists in my kitchen and I grew and foraged my medicine as well, so I was my own pharmacy. This was a truly radical shift from my time as a vegan and the few years after that.
Note: When I began this project I did a full blood work panel and found that I had numerous deficiencies including being low in Vitamin A, D3 and E, Omega-3, Manganese, Carnitine, EPA, DHA and BUN. This is primarily due to my mostly plant-based diet. The simple solution to most of this was to eat more fatty fish and other meat. Note: I didn’t end up having the funding to do blood work at the end of the year like I had planned for comparison.
My Non-Industrial Diet
I ate a lot of plants during this time – I grew over 100 different plants in my garden and foraged 100+ from many ecosystems. But meat became much more central to my diet. I fished, I ate squirrels from my garden and I harvested deer that were hit by cars.
I didn’t choose to eat more meat solely because of this immersive project though. I chose to eat meat because it is what I felt was ideal for my body and most harmonious with Earth. Unlike what some vegans claimed, I did not make this change primarily for the taste, nor for pleasure. My favorite foods and the foods I craved the most at the time were all plants. I made this choice not out of a lack of education on our food system and human health, but out of having deepened my knowledge.
I did struggle to meet all of my needs at times throughout the year – primarily it seemed to be fat that I struggled with the most. However, I finished the year feeling the healthiest I’d felt in my entire adult life, having made only one exception to growing and foraging 100% of my food (that half a loquat from a friend’s garden once).
Through immersing this deeply in my food, my views of the world changed substantially. I became certain that my personal means of living the healthiest and most harmonious with the animals and plants that I share this Earth with includes eating animals and food from animals. The statistics used by mainstream environmental veganism simply do not apply to the food systems that I am involved in.
The Meat I Eat Now
Since 2018, my primary source of meat has been deer that are hit by cars. In Wisconsin alone, 20,000 deer are killed by cars each year. This is a far more sustainable source of food than going to the grocery store and buying any vegan food. I harvest these deer with a deep reverence for and connection to the earth and animals. I often make bone broth from the bones. I pressure can and dry the meat so that I can take it with me on my travels, or freeze it if I am staying in one location for a time, and make the deer last for months. I have many friends who were formerly vegan who eat deer that are hit by cars as well and I have many vegan friends who gladly make exceptions to their veganism to eat the deer that we harvest. In fact, I’ve had numerous vegan friends say that the meat from the car-killed dear was the most truly vegan thing they’d ever eaten!
I also eat a substantial amount of fish, primarily that I catch myself. I often catch the fish that are not desired by most of society and are in abundant populations: mullet, ladyfish and jacks in Florida; and bullhead, rock bass and suckers in Wisconsin. I also eat a substantial amount of whitefish, lake trout and Coho salmon in times of abundance on Lake Superior. I generally eat almost the entire body of the fish by pressure canning the meat or pressure cooking fish broth. In this way, I can be nourished by the meat, skin, organs, eyes, brains, bones and cartilage. I also eat the eggs and the semen from many fish. This is truly nourishing food. In fact, there’s really nothing that feels more nourishing or more connected to Earth than eating these fish. I catch most of these fish with friends or purchase from a local fishery. These are fisheries that have no bycatch and distribute the fish locally.
I have many friends and people in my communities who raise beef, sheep, pigs or chickens for meat. I have many more friends who raise chickens for eggs. I also have a few friends and people in my communities who raise cows and sheep for milk and cheese. I eat these foods with great joy and enjoy great health.
I often render my own fat from local cows and pigs, rather than purchasing industrial plant-based oils, like coconut oil and olive oil, although I love these oils as well and source the most sustainable options that I can find. Rarely are these plant options ever as sustainable as the local animal fat though.
Across all communities that I am involved in, there is a substantial amount of waste from vegan farmers to hunters. I utilize this waste quite often. Most fishers only take the filets of the fish and discard the rest. For me this is the most nourishing part, and often makes a substantial portion of my diet. Most deer hunters waste the organs and much of the bones. I eat these organs and make broth from the bones. The organ meat is more nutritionally dense than the meat and traditionally has been the most important meat to many cultures. Bear hunters often hunt only for the sport – something that frustrates me and saddens me greatly. I can go to the meat processor and ask for the fat to render. A single bear can produce my fat needs for an entire year. In this way, I have not had to be involved in an entire industry of agriculture, processing and shipping.
In Florida, I eat some wild boar and iguana, which are both species that are highly invasive to the region and whose numbers are out of balance. Harvesting species that come from other ecosystems and are out of balance in their new ecosystem cannot only be done sustainably, but can contribute to habitat restoration and quality of life for species native to the land.
These are some of my relationships with animals in which I am very happy to be living closely with the earth and in deeper harmony than I ever lived as an industrial vegan. I rarely ever feel a moral qualm with these food sources because I have a deep relationship with, and understanding of, these foods. However, with most every trip to the food co-op, I feel a moral conflict. My body feels excellent with these sources of animal foods in my diet and I expect that I will continue to eat these foods for much of my life. Depending on what ecosystems I live in, which includes what the local animal populations are, what the farming practices are, what the climate is and more, my diet will likely continue to vary throughout my life. At times, my diet will incorporate a substantial amount of meat and, at times, I will have very little to no meat. It is very unlikely that I will ever adopt a strict vegan diet for any extended period of time, but if the circumstances with Earth call for it, I will welcome those relationships with plants and foods into my life.
Over the last decade, there have been thousands of vegans or vegetarians who have decided that I am a person with low integrity or that I am a hypocrite because I eat meat and food from animals. My actions do not align with their belief system and thus I am an immoral person in their minds. I’ve come to expect this. In this difficult and confusing time we live in today, I understand how topics can become so polarized as to write someone off entirely simply for not being vegan. Polarization is often a subconscious coping mechanism used to make sense of life or make life work in difficult times. I simply don’t fall for that coping mechanism. In challenging times, I commit to critical thought about society and deep self-reflection. Although many vegans who could be colleagues in this service have chosen to barely even associate with me because of our differences in diets and beliefs, I know that they are the exception. I’m confident that more people, vegans and non-vegans, read my viewpoints and come away with a deeper perspective and understanding, than there are those who write me off as a misguided, animal murderer.
I have dedicated my life to being of service to humanity, other species and Earth. I know that I will cause harm in my existence, whether directly or indirectly. My goal will always be to live in a deep level of harmony, and to be open to the different options that facilitate this harmony. I can be counted on to live an examined life and to look much deeper than any one narrative or way of thinking. I won’t please everyone doing this. I won’t fall into simple categories. But I will be truthful, and I will be transparent. I will share my true feelings and my struggles. You can count on me for that.
I’ve said it many times in the last 11,000 words, but I want to say it again … if you want to be vegan, I support you in this choice of yours.
This article was written originally in 2014 as An Argument Against Veganism from a Vegan, and was updated to My Thoughts on Veganism … And Why I’m Not Vegan in November of 2018. The article was substantially updated December of 2023.