Dear Surly Amy,

I’m trying to find non-biased sources on health, longevity, etc, related to Vegan/Vegetarian/Pescetarian diets, but am having an incredibly hard time finding any article online that isn’t teeming with bias (Vegan websites are super biased, btw). What are the health facts, pure and simple?

~Patrice

Dear Patrice,

Unfortunately the health facts aren’t pure and simple.

Different people require different types of diets due to allergies, varying metabolisms and health conditions and there is no sure one way to eat for everyone. Vegan diets can be very helpful for people with heart disease or for people who are trying to lower cholesterol but even that statement has a lot of variables in it.

In general, eating a diet with fresh veggies, grains, fish and a minimal amount of meat along with regular exercise is considered relatively sound advice. But again, even that statement varies in it’s specific implications from person to person. Is the person suffering from illness? Is the person obese or underweight? Do they smoke or drink and are they exercising? These and other issues all come into play when choosing what we should or should not eat and estimating what effect that diet will have on health and lifespan.

Personally, I try to maintain a pescetarian diet that sometimes leans toward vegan. My choices are based on weight and cholesterol control, family history of illnesses and the fact that I feel eating animals is morally wrong. But I am no angel and I do slip up now and then, especially when traveling and I also can’t honestly justify why eating fish would be ok but eating a cow isn’t in my mind. These choices I make are mainly my personal decisions that factor into a larger personal health regimen.

As for longevity, anyone who tells you that one diet is objectively better for all people does not have the data to back up that claim. Unless of course these people are telling you to eat butter and sugar all day, then we can find data to prove why that would be very bad. But the general themes of “recommended diets” are usually not that far off the mark.

I asked my friend, a weight-loss specialist and surgeon, Dr Terry Simpson if vegans do indeed live longer. His full response has been posted on his website. He goes over some of the recent and popular studies that people cite when referencing health benefits or dangers of specific diets and then mentions a meta study from 1999:

In 1999 a metastudy combined data from five western countries and reported mortality ratios. This broad study showed fish eaters (pescetarians) had a the lowest ratio of 0.82, followed by vegetarians at 0.84. Occasional meat eaters were at 0.84 and vegans as well as regular meat eaters had a ratio of 1.0. (The lower the number the longer the lifespan.) – American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol 70 (3): 516S-524S – September 1999

He goes on to conclude:

While there are thousands of internet sites concluding that vegans live much longer- there is no study that agrees with that conclusion. What conclusion can you come to? Probably that eating fish is a good thing- eating too much processed food may not be a good thing. Best to pick great parents, don’t overeat, and a bit of red wine and chocolate are not bad things.

In other words, your genes probably play a bigger role in determining how long you will live than what you had for lunch does. My advice? Go to see an MD, get a physical done and then ask your doctor what diet is best for you at this particular point in your life.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and writes about vegan food. She is the founder and president of the Los Angeles Women's Atheist and Agnostic Group: LAWAAG. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+.

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89 Comments

  1. Profile photo of vegaia
    November 9, 2011 at 12:45 pm —

    Actually your genes play a minor role in health. What you eat plays a far bigger role (read “The China Study” It’s the largest study on diet, disease and lifestyle in the world!).

    Additionally, it has been discovered that phytonutrients, found only in plant foods, are capable of upgrading good genes in your body and downgrading bad genes. However, you must eat lots of different color veggies and dark leafy greens to accomplish this. Phytonutrients work synergistically together and orchestrate good health through tens of thousands of these micro-nutrients.

  2. Profile photo of James Fox
    November 9, 2011 at 1:16 pm —

    I’ll have the canned worms. ;-)

  3. Profile photo of Siveambrai
    November 9, 2011 at 1:19 pm —

    It’s important to remember… in this life no one gets out alive.

  4. Profile photo of genjokoan
    November 9, 2011 at 1:38 pm —

    Double plus good summary, Amy.
    Seems to me that we evolved as omnivores. Anything taken to excess makes me wonder, why?

  5. Profile photo of Veronica
    November 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm —

    I decided to lose some weight this year. Not that I was overweight, just in the upper range of normal. I’m now close to the lower end of the “normal” range and plan to stay there :)

    I still eat a lot of junk because I’m busy, but I made one significant change. I eat less. I also exercise a little bit, though I was never really out of shape in that sense.

    I have reduced the amount of meat I eat too, and I reduced sugar intake a lot about 7-8 years ago, but that has nothing to do with my current weight loss.

    The point of dieting should be to be healthier, not to just lose weight. If you push yourself through a diet for then “let go”, you’re back to square one in no time.

    Just my personal anecdotal take on it :)

  6. Profile photo of hkdharmon
    November 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm —

    And I have a friend trying to tell me that grains, dairy and legumes are all POISON! Because of the inflammation and the leptin, oh god, don’t forget the leptin!

  7. Profile photo of sheviper
    November 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm —

    Interesting discussion, decreasing meat definitely seems to be a good idea but it kind of seems being vegan is pretty extreme, (at med school) we often hear “being vegan is incompatible with life.” Seems hard to maintain all the right nutrient levels without supplements, and some don’t believe in taking supplements, but makes for interesting cases for us I guess-tentany and cardiac arrhythmia from low calcium etc.
    I think there are ethical ways of eating animal products and it would be nice to eat meat on special occasions. Although I was wondering about insects, they seem like a good source of protein that other cultures use, and they might be similar to fish in seeming exempt from the emotional/moral thing. Insectarian? Somehow I don’t see it catching on in Hollywood. Personally I feel I could only eat them if they were deep fried, and then the whole healthiness thing may be irrelevant. Would you guys become insectarians if data showed it was the ultimate diet?

    • Profile photo of pentatomid
      November 9, 2011 at 5:37 pm —

      I don’t know whether you eat shrimp or other crustaceans, but if you do, then what could you possibly have against insects? Just think of them as ‘land shrimps’ or ‘terrestrial prawns’ or something. Personally, I wouldn’t really have a problem with adding insects to my diet, but I would still eat meat and fish and other sources of protein, so I guess I wouldn’t become an ‘insectarian’.

    • Profile photo of ihatemusic
      November 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm —

      ” “being vegan is incompatible with life.” ” …. and that view is not extreme just how? how do all vegans cope with life just fine then..

      • Profile photo of crateim
        November 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm —

        Qualification: without the aid of supplements and other modern food technology.

  8. Profile photo of benclimb
    November 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm —

    As a smart guy said once: ‘Eat less cake!’.

  9. Profile photo of davew
    November 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm —

    I come from exactly the same place as the questioner. I had a gut instinct that vegetarianism was better for me, but many of the sources I found were so wooful that it made me want to eat of horse out of spite.

    After much reading I came to pretty much the conclusion Amy did. No one diet is right for everyone. A good diet for the average person involves a great variety of foods. Don’t eat too much of any one thing and try to keep the entire calorie count reasonable. The thing that’s wrong with meat (or worms) other than evilness is it provides so much protein and fat that it makes it hard to get good amounts of the other things you need without blowing your calorie count.

    I know it sounds glib and unscientific, but Michael Pollan’s advice is not a bad rule of thumb: Eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables, with a beer chaser. (Okay I added that last bit.)

    • Profile photo of Stevie
      November 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm —

      It’s been a while since I’ve commented, but I had to come out of hiding for this post. I am in the same boat. I was even vegan for three years (and argued for it on here :-P) The conclusion I eventually came to is there are plenty of sound moral arguments on why we shouldn’t eat meat, but very little convincing health and environmental arguments. Eventually, after having a child and starting to worry whether my choices were going to affect her growth, I came to the uncomfortable decision to start allowing some animal products again. I think education and moderation are the key and the problems with the industry today might not be as bad if everyone just moderated themselves and allowed for variety and whole foods in their diet.

  10. Profile photo of fudgeh0g
    November 10, 2011 at 1:15 am —

    I skipped straight down to the bit that said “chocolate and red wine is OK”

  11. Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
    November 10, 2011 at 2:13 am —

    I’m fully vegan for moral reasons.

    The reason it tends to be healthier is because you are forced to eat nothing but plants, therefore you generally need to mix a lot of different vegetables together in 1 dish to get a good taste, which ensures you get tons of vitamins. And a good taste you can get!

    People who eat more meat are much more apt to rely on a big piece of meat as their main tasty staple and eat vegetables on the side, usually FAR less vegetables than a vegan would eat, so a vegan generally gets better nutrition, less fat. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s the general trend I’d postulate.

    As far as morally, I honestly am not even sure how we can have a debate on gender equality when we support holocaust like conditions for animals. And don’t kid yourselves, no matter how you TALK about free-range you likely don’t take the time to get free-range and mostly buy the horribly killed stuff.

    I think it’s pretty hypocritical if you eat meat to somehow want to talk about equality. It’s basically saying “I want equality, but I reserve the right to eat food that was tortured like jews in the holocaust.” If you don’t then, you’re morally consistent and I thank you!

    If you have any doubts that it is like the holocaust, watch this (for starters). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUkHkyy4uqw

    • Profile photo of Amy Roth
      November 10, 2011 at 3:37 am —

      What is this, an episode of “Name that Logical Fallacy”?

      I appreciate what you are trying to say, really, I do. But invoking the actions of Hitler is no way to get your point across to a room of rational thinkers.

      Also, you can eat meat and still discuss gender equality. In fact, you could murder your next door neighbor and still discuss gender equality. Murder is a very, very bad thing and so is the meat industry (in my opinion) but that does not negate ones ability to have a discussion about equality. And just because things are bad in one arena doesn’t mean we can’t discuss anything else. That is pretty much the Dawkins argument repackaged. Oh, hush with your talk of equality here…. animals are dying elsewhere. Come on. Really?

      And ps…. This post is about health benefits and the longevity effects of various diets. I mentioned my personal eating habits as a way to illustrate that we all make choices based on personal dietary needs and often, our desires.

      I am hoping we can stay on topic.

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        November 10, 2011 at 3:56 am —

        Of course we can talk about it. I’m not saying women should have unequal societal rights just because another group is experiences unequal rights.

        I am however saying it’s hypocritical to stand for the equality one group while you’re actively oppressing another. Which if you’re supporting factory farming by eating meat that comes from there, is most certainly oppressing another group.

        Also, it’s correct to invoke Hilter because the death camp conditions are the same as slaughterhouse conditions.

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        November 10, 2011 at 4:09 am —

        Also, the difference between what I’m saying and what Dawkins was saying is this.

        Dawkins was saying: Women elsewhere are far more oppressed, so you should stop talking about your petty issues.

        What I meant to say: Feminism is a worthy cause that should be furthered, but it is hypocritical to oppress another group at the same time. So as you know how it is to be oppressed, seriously examine how your meat eating habits are contributing to massive cruelty towards and suffering amongst animals.

        I extend my argument to any group really (like tea-partiers by saying “if you value freedom, then how do you oppress others?” etc.) And I agree, just because animals are suffering, doesn’t mean that feminism shouldn’t be continually fought for.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      November 10, 2011 at 7:08 am —

      The whole ethical debate about eating meat is interesting in itself, but you are not being very reasonable about the subject by going completely Godwin on us.

      Yes, there’s plenty of bad stuff being done to animals. Both in the food industry and not least in alternative medicine, especially TCM.

      I do eat meat, but I am conscious about these factors.

      Firstly, not all meat production is cruel. Where I come from there’s still a lot of relatively traditional farming going on. I am quite familiar with it, half my family are farmers. The rules and regulations are strict here. Nearly all animals, i.e. sheep, pigs and cattle, are free range for the part of the year that allows it. Keeping animals locked in and on grain all year is not economically viable anyway. So they’re treated pretty well. But they are being kept in captivity for the sake of eventually being killed and eaten.

      The question then is: is that in itself ethical? I am unsure …

      On one side I see a society that has become increasingly detached from nature and the reality of it. On the other side, eating meat (and getting it) is a part of our biological make up. Our digestive system has adapted to the mixed food most of us (should) eat.

      Another point is the somewhat naive way many people, especially those who have little or no contact with real animals, think of them. They think of them as people with the same feelings as we do, especially if they’re cute. Animals do not have the mental capacity of humans. Farm animals when treated properly, show all the signs of being well content with their existence. They’re getting fed, looked after, treated for illness and protected from predators. From a biological point of view, farm animals are well adapted and highly successful.

      There is a lot of abuse of animals though. Some are closer to us, we don’t usually eat those, we just torture them as misformed pets. I am strongly opposed to the ways dogs are bred these days having once owned a dog myself that suffered from breeding and had to be put down. That is surely torture for the sake of vanity. Dogs aren’t accessories! I am not very happy about the fur-industry either for that matter.

      So, no, I’m not opposed to eating meat generally. I do however strongly believe that as moral beings we should treat them well. We do after all exploit them, but they also benefit from our care when we treat them properly. Nature is cruel. We should not be. But we’re still all part of nature even if people tend to think of themselves as special (thanks to, mostly, religion).

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        November 10, 2011 at 9:42 am —

        Good response. I’ll get back to you with an equally well thought out one when possible.

        Also to Amy, I do understand that the post was about nutrition, but I feel it’s important to bring the moral issue up. I’ll be more coherent when I have time later tonight.

        Sorry about the initial lash-out, I get kind’ve emotional about this issue :).

    • Profile photo of mrmisconception
      November 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm —

      Some studies have shown that plants can feel pain.
      How can you advocate for animal equality while supporting the mass slaughter of our vegetable friends? It’s hypocritical.

      See, any argument can be taken to an absurd extreme.

  12. Profile photo of jalyth
    November 10, 2011 at 3:58 am —

    I’m on the heavy side of healthy. I am a pescatarian. I became one because “white” and “red” meat hurt my stomach. My philosophy has evolved to “go animals” but really, I care about me.

    I don’t necessarily believe in this, but I’ve heard that diff body types require diff nutrition. Seems okay, if not taken too far. (I forget all the specifics). I have a friend I used to go walking with. We used my app to make sure we always walked aerobically fast and were in slight unspoken competition with each other. She is skinny; I am not. She thrives on carbs; they make me tired. She borderlines anorexic, I borderline eating too much. She loves donuts and ice cream and other sweets, I crave salt: potato chips and popcorn.

    Anecdotal of course, but in our many convos about this, I think I should actually be eating more protein, and leave her the carbs. I wonder a bit if the reason I have no sweet tooth is because for me, sweets are unhelpful/unhealthy.

  13. Profile photo of DeadGuy
    November 10, 2011 at 10:21 am —

    Why is a surgeon being used as an authority on nutrition on a site that should be espousing critical thinking? Who’s next, Dr. Oz? If people have diet questions they should find a professional in that area, specifically an RD, LDN.

  14. Profile photo of TerrySimpson
    November 10, 2011 at 11:20 am —

    Well – a surgeon as an authority about nutrition and critical thinking- that would be me- and when your field is weight loss and nutrition is what you write about, have done research, then yes- probably have some authority here- but we try not to speak from “authority” instead it is what we know based upon research – never credentials. While I am on tv, please don’t compare me to Dr. Oz.

    One can argue about animals and abuse – I get bored with that topic. As an Alaska Native (and Native Alaskan) – nature is cruel – when I watch Orcas thrash baby seals and eat them, or eagles take squirrels to their nests, or grizzly bears eating cubs – nature is cruel. City folk tend not to know that – and so that is just not an interesting discussion for me. If you don’t want to eat meat- don’t. In Alaska we call vegetarians bad hunters.

    My fellow skeptic Evo Terra just lost 14 pounds on a diet of beer and sausages. During that time his cholesterol dropped, his triglyceride level dropped, and his liver enzymes didn’t budge. Would a RD say that would happen — nope. But we did the test, we did science.
    Here is the bottom line- we don’t know nearly enough about nutrition as some would make us believe.
    And the China Project; that was horrible work, and the conclusions they made did not correlate with the data they came up with. For a great analysis of that see rawfoodsos.com

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      November 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm —

      //In Alaska we call vegetarians bad hunters.//
      Thus you’re going into your research with bias. I’m guessing the research and data you select make your conclusions will be commensurate with that bias then.

      Comments like the one below are pretty loaded because you don’t quote the data, the study that the data came from, or the fact that other factors that might attribute to that number. However, you immediately correlated it to “veganism may drop your life expectancy”. That’s a dishonest correlation of the type Fox News would do.
      //In fact, vegans have a life expectancy that is less than pescetarians (fish eaters) and omnivores//

      If you’re a doctor then you know that the only thing you can’t get from a vegan diet is B12, and you can supplement that. There are plenty of plant sources for calcium, complete proteins, omega 3s, and other nutrients animals are rich in.

      Both vegans and meat eaters can be just as healthy as one another, the key as your website says is to *get a complete diet and exercise*. It’s bullshit to say that a vegan who eats a well rounded diet, exercises, and accounts for the B12 via supplementation is somehow unhealthy. If you’re saying that, then your moosehead background is definitely affecting your science.

      The honest answer to a healthy lifestyle is PROPER NUTRITION and exercise meat or not.

      • Profile photo of mrmisconception
        November 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm —

        How could Dr. Simpson’s “bias” affect the studies that he quoted when he did not conduct those studies?

        Just because his answer doesn’t match with your opinion doesn’t mean he was wrong.

        I am seeing bias, just not sure it’s the same one you seeing.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      November 10, 2011 at 1:33 pm —

      “One can argue about animals and abuse – I get bored with that topic. As an Alaska Native (and Native Alaskan) – nature is cruel – when I watch Orcas thrash baby seals and eat them, or eagles take squirrels to their nests, or grizzly bears eating cubs – nature is cruel. City folk tend not to know that – and so that is just not an interesting discussion for me. If you don’t want to eat meat- don’t. In Alaska we call vegetarians bad hunters.”

      Well put. As a non-city person who now live in a big city, that’s pretty much how I experience this topic as well. I come from a very very long line of farmers and fishermen in western Norway.

      Some of the arguments I see used against eating meat appear pretty irrational to me, and deeply emotional. These people may claim that I am just desensitized to the killing of animals. Well, I can assure you I’m not. I have had to put down animals a few times, and it is a very hard thing to do.

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        November 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm —

        //deeply emotional//
        Yes, my reasons are deeply emotional. I have great sympathy for animals living in grotesque slaughterhouse conditions. I volunteer sometimes at a farm sanctuary and I see how scared & abused some of these animals are and it makes me cry. So yes, I will attest to it being an emotional thing and yes I think it is quite wrong.

        And while I’m a city folk, I also grew up on a vegetable farm, so I know how to grow my own food sans animal products.

        And yes, I stick to my judgement of simultaneously supporting equality of one group and oppression of another as being hypocritical. Especially in the 1st world where we have all we need and much more.

        • Profile photo of Veronica
          November 10, 2011 at 2:37 pm —

          “Yes, my reasons are deeply emotional. I have great sympathy for animals living in grotesque slaughterhouse conditions.”

          Well, that’s not any different from me. I feel exactly the same.

          But at the same time you don’t seem to be very rational about it. Of course what we feel are important, but that should not control the way you view any issue in society at large. As you may have deduced from my posts, I have very strong feelings about animal abuse as well, and animal cruelty trigger strong emotions in me. But I find your generalizations of farming as entirely cruel not just irrational and flat out wrong, but also deeply unfair to all those who makes a living of farming and greatly care for their animals; and who’s animals do not suffer, on the contrary.

          • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
            November 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

            I actually respect the way you view this, you have a concern and a conscience.

            My general thought is that it’s hypocritical, but that doesn’t mean I hate you or don’t understand where you’re coming from, or fail to recognize that independent farmers do things far differently and humanely.

            I’ll give a more detailed response soon. I hope for this to be an actual dialog rather than a slug fest, so I’ll compose a reply that doesn’t involve m getting overly emotional. Thanks for bearing with.

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        November 10, 2011 at 2:36 pm —

        However, it’s not to say to not support feminism. Regardless of you views on this issue feminism is a good thing that has brought an unimaginable amount of positive societal change.

        All I’m saying (in a crude way, I know, I get reactive about this, I apologize) is as you know how it feels to be put down, try to put yourself in a factory farm’s animals shoes and think about what your quality of life would be. Is that a right thing to be perpetuating?

        Also, I concede that many human populations need to survive on meat, but the way we’ve done it in the first world is horrible.

        • Profile photo of whitebird
          November 11, 2011 at 1:34 am —

          ” try to put yourself in a factory farm’s animals shoes ” – Dr. dr..

          Try to put yourself in a non-factory farmed animal’s , uh, hooves/feet, etc.. I don’t think that you’re going to find much sympathy for factory farming here, but you might find a good amount of rational opposition to emotional arguments against consuming meat/dairy per se (by humans, I mean).

          Why is it always straight to the horrors of the factory farm (with implicit or explicit human analogies) with ethical vegans?

          • Profile photo of AstroCJ
            November 11, 2011 at 3:15 pm

            “Why is it always straight to the horrors of the endemic child abuse (with implicit or explicit sports coach analogies) with ethical atheists?”

            FTFY

          • Profile photo of whitebird
            November 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm

            AstroCJ – huh?

    • Profile photo of DeadGuy
      November 10, 2011 at 4:10 pm —

      “Probably have some authority” is different than actually having authority. As a layperson I wouldn’t be able to tell if your research or experience in nutrition is credible enough for you to qualify as a reputable source. The credentials you exhibit don’t. That’s the difference between speaking as an authority and appealing to it. Which, the latter btw you do seem to have a grasp upon with your “yourdoctorsorders.com” website. All you need now is a big picture of you in a white lab coat and stethoscope. Oh that’s right, you already have that.

      I’m sure mot sure what that tirade on animal abuse was about. Probably not aimed at me, but I can say that in the United States (to borrow your generalization) we call people who troll like that assholes. Oh and people in the medical profession who speak outside their expertise, quacks.

      Your anecdote doesn’t further inspire in me confidence in your ability to practice good science or critical thinking and neither does your disparagement of the field of nutrition study. That’s a classic duck sound.

  15. Profile photo of mrmisconception
    November 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm —

    I wonder,
    Why is okay to equate eating meat with torture and concentration camps but if a pro-lifer were to equate abortion with murder it isn’t okay?
    Just curious.

    • Profile photo of ihatemusic
      November 10, 2011 at 4:03 pm —


      mrmisconception
      11.10.2011
      REPLY

      I wonder,
      Why is okay to equate eating meat with torture and concentration camps but if a pro-lifer were to equate abortion with murder it isn’t okay?
      Just curious.”

      Because abortion doesn’t cause harm that is in any way on the same level as slaughter and murder of humans or pigs/cows, etc.

      • Profile photo of mrmisconception
        November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm —

        I am sure that the pro-lifer would beg to differ.

      • Profile photo of whitebird
        November 11, 2011 at 1:42 am —

        We need fonts to help with communication on the internet, maybe? The lulz might decline, but…I dunno.

  16. Profile photo of TerrySimpson
    November 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm —

    The data is quoted in the article. It was a multi-center analysis out of Europe. – and yes, we assume you can get as much with vegan as non-vegan, although – again – there is a lot we just don’t know. Thank you for comparing me to Fox News (which logical fallacy is that – oh yes).

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm —

      //Thank you for comparing me to Fox News//

      It’s you concluding your bill clinton article with:
      //In fact, vegans have a life expectancy that is less than pescetarians (fish eaters) and omnivores//

      While in the study you quoted, it basically showed that life expectancy doesn’t vary much at all depending on diet. However, you end by saying “vegans have a lower life expectancy” as if it was a significant variation.

      Exaggerating conclusions is what the press does all the time, and exactly what you did.

      However, despite the moral issue we agree, there’s no scientific evidence to say that veganism is better than a well-balanced diet for your health.

  17. Profile photo of ihatemusic
    November 10, 2011 at 4:00 pm —

    I’m a vegan for moral reasons, I’d even be a vegan if scientist discovered it decreased my life span by a year or two. i’d rather cause less suffering in a shorter time span.
    And even if eating fish was healthy in some ways (which I did believe 10 years ago) then it’s not worth destroying the oceans for.

    Regarding the “what food is best for health” discussion I do agree that not everything is right for everyone all the time. Raw vegetables and fruit are awesome and healthy, but not for my friend who’s allergic to pretty much every fruit there is and not for my grandfather with a highly sensitive stomach, etc.

    But really, I’d love to see ONE study that is not funded by the meat or diary industry in any way and still comes to the conclusion that a vegan and/or vegetarian diet is worse than an omnivore one.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      November 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm —

      “But really, I’d love to see ONE study that is not funded by the meat or diary industry in any way and still comes to the conclusion that a vegan and/or vegetarian diet is worse than an omnivore one.”

      Is it really necessary to use the same conspiratorial arguments that the alt. med. crowd uses?

      • Profile photo of ihatemusic
        November 10, 2011 at 5:56 pm —

        “Is it really necessary to use the same conspiratorial arguments that the alt. med. crowd uses?”

        Sorry, I didn’t mean it in a “only then it will be true!” way. I’m just genuinely interested in reading unbiased in-depth studies on this. Something that wasn’t started with an aim other than medical information. Just what the OP asked for (and did not get, I think, or did I miss any links/sources?). I agree that 90% of what you find is a) clearly influences by the meat and diary industry and old-fashioned medicine, the “we have always done it so it must be good” type that clearly is not very sceptic-friendly and b) “Veganism is a good idea morally so let’s just find evidence to support our claim it’s good for everything and everyone”.

        I have found short and (seemingly) unbiased stuff that was mostly pro-vegetarian and “we dont have much data about veganism”-like but nothing I’d bet on. And, as I said, nothing for the pro-dairy side.

        • Profile photo of Veronica
          November 10, 2011 at 6:24 pm —

          There is an inherent problem with the attitude of looking for research that confirms your preconceived opinion as your initial post indicated you were doing.

          Firstly, you will over-evaluate the research you find that agrees with you, secondly you’ll find excuses why the research that disagree with you is flawed.

          When the majority of research disagree with you, it is typical to sort to conspiracy theories. And even an insignificant result that hints in your direction will be boosted and taken as credit for your view.

          I am not saying anything about what research is or is not backing up your position. I have not looked into it, and honestly, that specific topic is of little or no interest to me.

          The reason I am writing this is that your language and justification is typical for someone with that approach. I have spent the better part of this year discussing with the alt. med. folks, and this is almost exclusively the way they argue their case.

          • Profile photo of ihatemusic
            November 11, 2011 at 1:41 am

            Wow, what a way to come across as ignorant. Is there not a shorter way of saying “you may have read about the topic, more than me at least, but I bet you can’t read the scientific data properly since your view differs so greatly from mine” ?

          • Profile photo of whitebird
            November 11, 2011 at 1:47 am

            “When the majority of research disagree with you, it is typical to sort to conspiracy theories. And even an insignificant result that hints in your direction will be boosted and taken as credit for your view.”

            If I get this tattooed on my forehead, I’ll be sure to credit you. Thanks!

      • Profile photo of ihatemusic
        November 10, 2011 at 6:21 pm —

        It’s easy to find an article like this:

        http://tier-im-fokus.ch/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/craigh_2009.pdf

        But I haven’t been able to find something along these lines that says the exact opposte.

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      November 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm —

      Looks like we’re the only 2 speaking out :). What I find a bit irritating is that vegans are one of the few groups that everybody thinks is fair game to insult openly.

      We are indeed fair game if we start making accusations like I did, but sometimes when I or other vegans are sitting passively at a dinner table, or posting recipes online, someone pipes up with the insults. That sucks.

      • Profile photo of mrmisconception
        November 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm —

        If you are doing something simple like exchanging recipies or sitting at table and someone insults you, that would be unfair.

        But this week alone it has been implied that if you eat meat you condone torture, murder, holocaust like slaughter and that it is hypocritical to advocate for equality or human rights. Why? Because we don’t feel as strongly about this particular issue as some others.

        And yet it is the vegan/vegetarian that is “fair game” to be insulted, really? Where?

        I see someone asking if conspiratorial arguments are necessary because a conspiratorial argument was used. Not an insult. But yet the surgeon who deals with weight loss issues had his credentials questioned because he is not a dietician and has bias, and all he was doing was looking at others’ studies.

        I admit that I called @ihatemusic santimonious the other day and that it wasn’t necessary, I will apologize again right now but I am just not seeing a lot of insults.

        • Profile photo of ihatemusic
          November 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm —

          I don’t think it’s you particularly but there’s been quite a bit of aggressiveness all around. I really don’t feel comfortable telling me I’m like an alternative medicine nutcase just because I’m vegan. I’m a sceptic with all my heart and I logically deduct all the time (it annoys most people…), my veganism sprung from that. So it feels especially strange to get such a negative response and have words put into my mouth in a place that claims to be about objectiveness, good reasoning and logic, not hearsay, generally accepted pseudo-truths

          The whole discussion here is weird, especially when it comes to vegetarianism which I thought was pretty widely accepted nowadays to be healthier than meat-based. I just googled one second and found this on a lame site but it still sums up nicely, where is the controversy…? http://www.wisegeek.com/has-it-been-proven-that-a-vegetarian-diet-is-really-healthier.htm

          • Profile photo of ihatemusic
            November 10, 2011 at 6:18 pm

            And I’m not meaning to imply what the side says is right, I just like the listing of generally-accepted health organisations take on these issues. I didn’t know it was still controversial to say vegetarianism is generally healthier than a meat-based one.
            I say generally because it’s obviously just one part of nutrition. A vegan eating sugar, sugar and sugar all day is going to be less healthy than someone eating a varied diet and meat once a week.

          • Profile photo of Veronica
            November 10, 2011 at 6:34 pm

            “The whole discussion here is weird, especially when it comes to vegetarianism which I thought was pretty widely accepted nowadays to be healthier than meat-based.”

            Hardly. Vegetarianism is quite harmful if you don’t know what you’re doing. Our diet requires amino-acids that we usually get from meat. We’re omnivores by nature. If you want to be healthy you don’t need to become a vegetarian. But you do need to be conscious about what you eat.

            For the record, I cooked vegetarian food for dinner today.

        • Profile photo of AstroCJ
          November 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm —

          (Head-in-ass… check!)

          “… but I am just not seeing a lot of insults.”

          I’m vegetarian and I take a lot of shit from people – friends – who regularly take a sideways glance at me and then just happen to casually mention how delicious the meat in their food is, and how it wouldn’t be food if there wasn’t meat in it.

          This, if you are a vegetarian for an animal rights or environmental reason and are constantly treated like a second class citizen by restaurants that you have to eat in because the overwhelming bulk of your friends eat there, feels a lot like someone going “Hey, dickhead, this sangria tastes /great/! I bet you wish you hadn’t donated that money to charity now, hey? Then you’d be able to buy some sangria. Dickhead.”. Vegans are people /trying to do the right thing when it disprofits them and are constantly mocked about it/.

          I didn’t even want to join in with this conversation (see my earlier joking reply to Jacob V) but you really are trying to have a rational conversation with people for whom this topic is extremely sore.

          • Profile photo of mrmisconception
            November 11, 2011 at 7:55 pm

            Really?

            I’ve got my head in my ass?

            The ethical vegans who are making blanket statements about the healthfulness of vegetarian diets are being asked to back it up with facts and they are taking it as an insult. That does not make it an insult.

            I am seeing absolute statements about how veganism/vegetarianism is better for the environment/more ethical/the only right way and I am seeing those same people who are used to taking shit being very thin-skinned and prickly when asked real questions about their assertions and seeing those questions as insults.

            I am also seeing implications that eating meat is ethically and morally the same as condoning torture and murder and allowing a holocaust.

            Look; I get it, you get a lot of people telling you that you’re crazy for your beliefs, that you need to lighten up, that you are ruining everyone’s fun. I’m an atheist, I know what it’s like when you are surrounded by those who don’t think like you do; how easy it is to take well meaning questions as attacks when they aren’t meant to be. I am simply seeing people being asked to back assertions with fact, not insults.

            So please, let’s dispense with the theatrics.

        • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
          November 12, 2011 at 9:33 pm —

          Meh, I’m not complaining about whats being said here on the interwebz. I made the first move here so naturally people will respond/retort. I welcome the discussion.

          What I’m talking about is when I’m eating and minding my own business and people start criticizing. It’s a bit when you say you’re simply say a feminist and having someone say “why? that’s fucking stupid”. See how it’s a bit discriminatory?

          Anywho, I do stand by my stance that if you’re eating factory farmed meat (which do have WW2 death camp conditions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShNFRLCW2as) and supporting feminism at the same time, that you ARE indeed simultaneously supporting the freedom of one group and the oppression of another. And to me that’s hypocritical.

          There’s a big difference hunting for survival and gorging on factory farmed meat man. Americans and Europeans do the latter, and they are supporting an ongoing holocaust because of it.

  18. Profile photo of Amy Roth
    November 10, 2011 at 5:29 pm —

    Just yesterday I was telling the other Skepchicks how proud I was of all the commenters. I had written a post about food and everyone was staying on the actual topic and was being polite and no one had gone on any rants about vegetarianism or meat eating or made any ad hom attacks.

    How proud I was of everyone, yesterday.

    • Profile photo of ihatemusic
      November 10, 2011 at 5:50 pm —

      What did I say that was insulting… ? (I’m actually sincere)

      • Profile photo of mrmisconception
        November 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm —

        I don’t think she was refering to you per se, just the general direction that the discussion has gone in.

        • Profile photo of ihatemusic
          November 10, 2011 at 6:12 pm —

          I thought she was by this line on the side…. I still can’t “read” them properly :x

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      November 11, 2011 at 10:40 am —

      Seriously? You make a post on vegan/vegetarianism and you expect it NOT to get derailed?

      I think you definitely had unrealistic expectations going into this Amy.

      • Profile photo of Amy Roth
        November 11, 2011 at 1:50 pm —

        Seriously, I wrote a post on which basic diet would increase longevity.

        It’s true that most diet websites are full of crap because whenever the topic of food comes up, so does the appeals to emotion, the toxin fallacies and the anger on all sides of the debate. You would think someone is trying to snatch people’s food dishes out from under their noses.

        At least you guys have been, for the most part, well behaved. Kudos. Off topic a lot but at least you’re not acting all crazy. I’m gonna go have lunch…

        • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
          November 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm —

          Well then since you took the time to give a post to procrastinate on (This site is like mind candy, I often use it to fill moments of boredom) I will respond with something ON topic.

          As a vegan, I often run into a lot of other vegans who have it in their heads that vegan fads like raw vegan/fruititarianism/gluten-free/whatever-the-fuck are somehow much healthier. this is most always believed to be true solely because they want it to be true and because they *love* the self-image it provides. It miffs me a bit as a rational vegan that people believe that. At vegan social gatherings like potlucks, I often end up in conversations about such fads and have to weasle my way out of them.

          However, our whole society operates on believing things to be true because people want it to be OR because people were well-marketed to. People will choose whatever diet they want (vegan or not) and justify it any way they want, science be damned. So my thought is that a bit more focus needs to be put on making kids think critically and skeptically, so they don’t grow up to be adults who believe anything.

  19. Profile photo of ihatemusic
    November 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm —

    Re: what the OP actually was asking for. Here’s “Health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets” from Timothy J. Key*, Paul N. Appleby and Magdalena S. Rosell
    Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford

    http://www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/july2008/epic_veg.pdf

    and they conclude

    “Cohort studies of vegetarians have shown a moderate reduction in mortality from IHD but little difference in other major causes of death or all-cause mortality in comparison with health-conscious non-vegetarians from the same population.”

    which does suggest that for your health the main concern is not going to be vegan, vegetarian or meat but something else (though you might want to take other factors like co2 and all other moral stuff that I wont bore you with right now).

    Then there’s also WHO’s “DIET, NUTRITION AND THE PREVENTION OF CHRONIC DISEASES” which can be accessed here:

    http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/download/en/index.html

    It talks mostly about “modern” food preparation as a bad idea for your health (no surprise there) but there’s also

    “The broad parameters for a dialogue with the food industries are: less saturated fat; more fruits and vegetables; effective food labelling; and incentives for the marketing and production of healthier products.” &
    ” Those who are not vegetarian are advised to moderate consumption of
    preserved meat (e.g. sausages, salami, bacon, ham).” &
    “Have a diet which includes at least 400 g -500g per day of total fruits and
    vegetables.” which is of course easier for vegans but still possible for everyone else.

  20. Profile photo of ihatemusic
    November 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm —

    @veronica (since I can’t comment straight to what you wrote).

    “Vegetarianism is quite harmful if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
    How is vegetarianism done wrong any more harmful than meat-eating done wrong?

    “Our diet requires amino-acids that we usually get from meat.”
    That we “usually” get from meat? How did generations of people in India and China get their amino acids then?
    You can get all amino acids from vegetables and fruit and you don’t need to consume all amino acids at once as has been scienficially shown many many times by now.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      November 10, 2011 at 7:26 pm —

      You completely missed my point …

      “You can get all amino acids from vegetables and fruit and you don’t need to consume all amino acids at once as has been scienficially shown many many times by now.”

      Yes, but as I said, you need to make sure you do that when you eat vegetarian food. Otherwise it is harmful to you.

      With a regular varied diet you’re fine. Health is not a very good reason to be a vegetarian. Watching what you eat is however important.

      It seems vegetarians (at least you) like to compare their diet to an unhealthy diet containing meat. Why not compare it to a healthy diet containing meat?

      • Profile photo of ihatemusic
        November 11, 2011 at 1:39 am —

        “Yes, but as I said, you need to make sure you do that when you eat vegetarian food. Otherwise it is harmful to you.”
        The same goes for a diet containing meat. Not regarding the amino acid, but other things like cholesterol. You can’t get a cholesterol level too high no matter what you do on a vegan diet, and you don’t have to think or worry about it either. I don’t see overall how it’s supposed to be easier. I, like most vegens and vegetarians, have been an omnivore myself, and it is not more difficult to eat healthily and I’m not sure where you’re getting that from.

        “Why not compare it to a healthy diet containing meat?”
        Because it is a easier to eat a healthy diet without meat, since most vegetarians do base their food around actual vegetables and not Standart American Diet-y food. The standart omnivore in the world does not eat meat once a week or so, so of course I compare it to the standart.

        • Profile photo of whitebird
          November 11, 2011 at 2:02 am —

          “The standart omnivore in the world does not eat meat once a week or so, so of course I compare it to the standart.”

          Define standard. Almost everyone in the world eats as an omnivore. What? Esplain?

        • Profile photo of Veronica
          November 11, 2011 at 5:29 am —

          If you want to compare diets you need to compare diets. Not compare a vegetarian diet to someone who do not care what they eat and overeat. You’re comparing vegetarianism with obesity.

          I’ll repeat myself for the last time: A regular diet consisting of all the things we ought to eat: fruit, vegetables, meat and fish; will provide you with all the nutrients you need. No need for special considerations, and no special risk of deficiencies and malnutrition. If you want to remove something from the natural diet of humans, you need to replace it with something similar to make sure you get the nutrients you need.

          • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
            November 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm

            Veronica, speaking simply on health grounds here, going vegan or vegetarian helps a lot of people’s nutritional profile because a lot of people eat like shit (lots of meat and processed shit food) and when they go vegetarian they are forced to eat more veggies and often times, less fat.

            So is vegan somehow superior to a well balanced omnivore diet? No. But for those millions of people who don’t eat well like you & Dr. Simpson, it can sometimes help change their eating habits towards healthier foods.

            I appreciate your compassion btw, I don’t think I can convince you to be vegan, so I’m happy that you are conscious and compassionate.

        • Profile photo of Veronica
          November 11, 2011 at 5:36 am —

          “Because it is a easier to eat a healthy diet without meat, since most vegetarians do base their food around actual vegetables and not Standart American Diet-y food.”

          That is a pretty silly argument. Firstly, I’m not American, and don’t eat “Standard American Diet-y food” whatever that’s supposed to be. You’re grossly generalizing in order to make a point. Secondly, to eat healthy you only need to reduce the amount of meat. If you remove it you introduce new risks.

          “The standart omnivore in the world does not eat meat once a week or so, so of course I compare it to the standart.”

          Your generalized misrepresentation of a standard that is. The American diet is not the standard across the world. Not even in the western world, maybe with the exception of the UK.

        • Profile photo of crateim
          November 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm —

          “You can’t get a cholesterol level too high no matter what you do on a vegan diet, and you don’t have to think or worry about it either.”

          Trans-fats and smoking. Neither one will necessarily be cut out by a vegan diet, and both will completely wreck your lipid profile. “Don’t eat meat” is simply not a magic bullet.

      • Profile photo of whitebird
        November 11, 2011 at 2:00 am —

        “Why not compare it to a healthy diet containing meat?”

        Probably for the same reason that all meat is from factory farms and all dairy producing animals are slaves, etc.

  21. Profile photo of earthling
    November 11, 2011 at 7:17 am —

    So, the meta study quoted in the OP concluded that a vegan diet is no worse than the average meat-eater’s diet in terms of life span. Then scroll down, and someone says ‘being vegan is incompatible with life’. Hmm. That doesn’t really seem to fit, does it?

    I’m vegan for moral reasons, but part of the decision has to be, can I survive and be healthy on this diet? The answer is yes of course. There’s no reason why not.

    Someone posted about amino acids and frankly it’s extremely simple to get all the necessary amino acids as a vegan. Half of them are in beans/pulses, the other half are in grains, and quinoa has all eight. Eat wholemeal carbs and include beans, pulses, nuts and/or seeds in your diet and you’re golden. Of course there are also a multitude of soya products to choose from too. You don’t even have to combine them in the same meal, that’s been shown to be a myth.

    For example: breakfast, baked beans on wholemeal toast, lunch, houmous salad with oatcakes or cous cous, dinner, mixed bean chilli with brown rice. This would take you over your recommended protein intake for a day. Obtaining and preparing such meals isn’t particularly challenging.

    I think we have to be careful when we declare any diet as ‘unnatural’ (as people often do with veganism) because it’s very difficult to define what ‘natural’ means. It seems that when it comes to diet, people would rather cite evidence from aeons ago (‘My cave-dwelling ancestors ate meat, therefore I should’) rather than think about the evidence of the modern day (‘Can I be a healthy vegan in 21st century America?’).

    For example, I supplement with vitamin B12 but I don’t see what the big deal is about that. The modern world we live in enables bacteria to be farmed and the vitamin they produce to be harvested and produced into pills for humans to take. This then enables me not to have to (by proxy) abuse animals in order to survive. That to me is progress, in much the same way as modern medicine or the declaration of human rights. If it’s good for technology to make our lives better why is it wrong for it to also make animals’ lives better?

    Veganism does very often attract negative attention, but as far as I can see this has nothing to do with whether the diet is nutritionally sound, because evidence suggests that it is. Not a miracle cure for cancer, or a silver bullet for weight loss, but nutritionally sound. That’s good enough for me.

    One also has to wonder about the studies being done, in terms of how long the vegans had been vegan for. Were they all lifetime vegans (quite a rarity really, most vegans were brought up eating meat)? If not, then meat or dairy consumed before the change to veganism must have an effect. Just something to think about.

    It seems that veganism suffers a bad rep not because everyone looks at the nutritional evidence dispassionately but because many people have a knee jerk reaction based on social convention, their own tastes and preferences, defensiveness about animal welfare, and the association of veganism with woo and other non-skeptical things.

    • Profile photo of ihatemusic
      November 11, 2011 at 9:55 am —

      ” Not a miracle cure for cancer, or a silver bullet for weight loss, but nutritionally sound. That’s good enough for me.”

      This and this:

      “It seems that veganism suffers a bad rep not because everyone looks at the nutritional evidence dispassionately but because many people have a knee jerk reaction based on social convention, their own tastes and preferences, defensiveness about animal welfare, and the association of veganism with woo and other non-skeptical things.”

      nicely sum it up.

      I’m going to stop arguing here now because it’s plain to see people just want to argue for arguing’s sake. Earthling said everything there is to say, really, and I don’t feel talking against the agressive omnivore front here is doing anyone any good.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      November 11, 2011 at 11:40 am —

      Some of what you mentions refer to posts I’ve made in response to ihatemusic. Keep in mind those were responses to specific and unsupported assertions by ihatemusic.

      I have not claimed you cannot get the nutritions you need in a non-meat diet. I simply said that if you’re not aware of these factors, it can be harmful. Neither did I claim that non-meat diet is unnatural. I said we are natural omnivores. There is a difference in those two statements. Vegetarian food is natural as it is a subset of our omni-diet.

      I think you make a good case for veganism, and I am not disagreeing with you to any significant degree. I have been arguing with ihatemusic on the basis of their arguments of conspiracies and because they made assertions like “everyone knows” … which is a logical fallacy appealing to popular opinion, or perceived such.

      I have no problem with vegetarianism, I eat vegetarian food myself. But I also eat meat from time to time.

      The best argument against large scale meat consumption is in my personal opinion two-fold: It is a heavy drain on resources, and large scale meat-production does not treat animals well. I am especially appalled by the way chickens are raised. I rarely eat chicken for that reason.

  22. Profile photo of whitebird
    November 11, 2011 at 8:17 pm —

    Eating three hot dogs a day is very different from eating a small steak of venison once a week. Besides quality, quantity seems to make a huge difference in the detriments associated with meat-eating, no?

    As far as ethics go (I know, not in the OP, but it came up in the comments), I don’t see how vegetarianism is any less harmful than meat eating to the animals being eaten or milked or having eggs collected from – if a vegetarian is drinking factory farmed milk and eating FF eggs, how is that better than eating a fish that you catch or beef from a farm with humane practices?

    The idea that killing an animal for food is inherently wrong kind of boggles my mind and raises the question: if it’s wrong for a human to kill a deer, is it wrong for a wolf to? I realize that humans have a choice, but so what? It doesn’t matter to the deer who it is killed by.

    I’ve seen amazing acrobatics of logic by hardcore vegans in defense of their position. It’s pretty interesting.

  23. Profile photo of prtsimmons
    November 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm —

    Good article, but you did put in one sentence that I’ve heard before, and it bothers me every time:

    “I also can’t honestly justify why eating fish would be ok but eating a cow isn’t in my mind”

    Really? You don’t think there’s a difference in a mammal’s capacity to feel pain, empathy, or awareness of its fate is different than a fish’s capacity? There are plenty of scientific studies about the relative awareness and conciousness of animals, and they generally conform to our own biases about other animals (i.e., a human deserves more consideration than a chimp, which deserves more consideration than a dog which deserves more consideration than bird which deserves more consideration than salmon which deserves more thought than an insect).

    I’m a pescetarian, and I sometimes get asked why I would eat a fish but not a cow (“Do you think the fish wants to die any more than the cow does?”) I think this is a false equivalence; nobody asks why it’s okay to swat a mosquito or kill bacteria, but not okay to kill an annoying office mate – so everyone obviously draws the line somewhere. I have no problem justifying why I will eat a shrimp or a fish, but not an octopus or a pigeon or a cow or a dog or a human or a horse: there is a line, somewhere between a lettuce and a human being, that everyone draws, and I choose to put it somewhere between birds and fish. Some people would say that anything more sentient than a cabbage deserves to live, while others would say anything that isn’t human is okay to cook. I think an animal that can experience the anticipation of pain shouldn’t be subjected to that if it isn’t absolutely necessary. I realize that this isn’t a totally clear-cut rule, but to suggest that a fish and a cow have the same levels of cognition and sentience (and hence, are due the same consideration) seems disingenuous and demonstrably wrong.

    • Profile photo of prtsimmons
      November 14, 2011 at 4:59 pm —

      The second sentence of the third paragraph should have read: ” You don’t think there’s a difference in a mammal’s capacity to feel pain, empathy, or awareness of its fate versus the capacity of a fish to feel those things?”

      Oops.

  24. Profile photo of antikythera
    November 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm —

    Thanks for this. I’m a lapsing vegetarian myself. I used to read Vegetarian Times and other similar magazines, hoping for recipes and ethical discussions, but the vast majority of what I got was so. damn. much. WOO. It’s not only the dodgy claims about whether it’s healthier to avoid meat. Why do they think vegetarians are all into pyramid power and crystals and vedic medicine? All that garbage was the reason I stopped reading.

  25. Profile photo of Prod to be a Merkin
    November 30, 2011 at 12:40 am —

    I’ve been semi-veg since I was 20 (no red meat – i.e., no mammals) – decades now. I’ve always eaten eggs and dairy and seafood, went back to eating occasional poultry after a number of years of not eating those. Now I buy only free-range organic poultry and dairy products. I also studied biology for 3 years in high school and a year in college, even taking the elective biology SAT (690) and briefly considering a career in biology before ultimately going to music school.

    The thing that’s significant about the vegetarian part of my history was that it required me to be more thoughtful, more scientific about nutrition, to learn about the 19 (yes, not 18 as it used to be thought) essential amino acids (which we can’t synthesize internally, unlike, let’s say, cows) and what combinations of vegetarian sources give you the complete mix, as well as about vitamins and minerals, etc. (At this point, the combos are second nature to me.) As an impecunious student, I effectively lived on beans & rice and similar combinations, with far less from animal sources than I get today.

    As omnivores, historically we haven’t had to know anything about nutrition; often we were just lucky enough to get the right combos to get complete protein even when animal sources were scarce or expensive. The Chinese and Indian cultures referenced above happened to have the right combinations of legumes and rice or wheat and other grains to get the full range of amino acids; in the Americas, it was corn and beans. Basically, this was just evolution at work: people who didn’t eat the right combinations tended not to live as long, and reproduced less. And cultural traditions of eating these combinations were passed down; absolutely no biochemical knowledge required. People didn’t know their eating habits were nutritionally sound by doing biological & biochemical analyses; they just sort of knew it by the fact that they weren’t getting sick & dying.

    But fast forward to modern Western culture with our enviable plethora of food choices; mix in (in the US particularly) a fairly high level of scientific illiteracy with the accompanying seductive appeal of various flavours of woo-woo, young idealistic outrage at factory farm abuse, etc., and a large part of the population raised on an animal product-centric diet and thus unmoored from those cultural traditions that perpetuated sound combinatory practices in the past, and you get a significant of young people going into being vegetarian or vegan without a) the basic nutritional knowledge necessary to get all the necessary nutrients, and b) the folk traditions of cultures that have been semi-vegetarian for millennia. The woo many of them tend to embrace means that any suggestion to them that it might be a good idea to learn something about nutrition, so that they can make the most of their diet and not run into unnecessary problems, is met with disparaging remarks about “Western” medicine and science.

    Thus you get a Steve Jobs living only on fruit for periods (as his body no doubt cannibalized his muscle and fat tissues to compensate) or people claiming that raw foods are better because you don’t lose the enzymes (which are in the plants for the plants’ use, not yours; at best, enzymes being proteins, they’ll provide only as much benefit as they would cooked, like any other protein source, and like many foods which are easier to digest when cooked, they may actually provide less in their raw state.)

    They lack either the scientific literacy or the evolutionarily-selected cultural veggie-combo practices to eat wisely. When you’re young, you can get away with this for a while; our systems are pretty resilient, but it will catch up with you.

    There are plenty of vegetarians and vegans who aren’t science-phobic, who don’t reject basic nutritional advice, but I still see too many who are, and do. This worries me.

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