Despite the antagonistic appearance of the title, this article is a parley to the growing cohort of environmentally and/or health conscious individuals convinced adopting a plant-based diet for non-religious reasons is part of the solution to healing an ailing planet.
Let’s Wake TFU
The key here is first to realise that our beliefs are not our identity. You are not the name of your diet. It is something that you follow and this can change if you decide it will be so. If we update our beliefs around something, we do not disappear in a puff of salt. To better understand my take on this, see the beginnings of that idea in Linguistic Relativisms.
If you find yourself in opposition to this article’s stance, take some deep breaths through your nose, take in your surroundings, acknowledge that reactive feeling of discomfort you simultaneously love and hate. Ask yourself if you’re interested in examining the language and claims used in vegan diet culture as they relate to Eurocentric bias.
As a temperature check, let’s make a list of things the self-respecting modern human should be able to agree on:
- The death of a living thing is a tragedy
- The suffering of a living thing is a tragedy
- The wilful pollution of our planet is a tragedy
- Hunting for sport is barbaric
Clean Our Glasses
When taking a shot at writing on a subject like this, strawmanning is the simplest way to make a self-congratulatory point. It’s lazy but very common – especially on this subject matter. I’m going to do my best to avoid an asymmetrical war of words regarding veg*nism (vegetarianism or veganism). I’m not going to lump all veg*ns together. I’m not going to suggest that activists physically assaulting authors are the same people that are trying to do their part for the environment. There may be overlap or a spectrum of ideas and ideals. It’s my duty to ensure I shed light on the overlooked corners of the discussion to provide a heady dose of reality to the subject matter.
But the Evidence
The second item of worthless trash as it pertains to this subject matter is either providing evidence or quoting documentaries. Invariably, evidence is skewed in a direction that suits the point, because modern science appears to revolve around proving a hypothesis for notoriety instead of disproving it in a search for truth. Evidence in this article will come in the form of common sense. Something missing from most discussions on the internet. Documentaries, especially on this subject, are probably the worst that exist on streaming services. Shock tactics and gotcha plays maketh no truth but create spectacle. It would be easy enough to point a dimwit at a documentary or piece of supportive (for or against) evidence and have them swallow it. That’s not where the real truth about veg*nism lies. It’s up ahead, hiding in plain sight. Let’s get started.
Death Comes to Us All
As far as I know, there is no escaping death when it is our time. Some of us may be fortunate enough to die in our sleep. The majority of us are likely to be faced -at the very least- with the knowledge we are dying and will suffer the associated terror of our departure. Face that. Think about it. This is how the planet works. A life that may have been mostly concern and worry free is likely to escalate to panic in our final moments. Then it’s over. This is true of all animals, whether there is human intervention or not. They may starve to death. They may be torn apart after an uneventful life. They may sink in a muddy swamp and drown as they try to free themselves.
Death is Apparently Also Bad
We’re in a time where death denial is at a historical peak. We see tech moguls TED talking their consciousness into the cloud, preserving their (not your) immortality, Covid hoaxers deny thousands of deaths occur each day, diet and beauty culture revolves around anti-aging formulae and starvation models (low-carb, keto, intermittent fasting, veg*nism) to elongate lifespans. I don’t know why. Perhaps many of us have lost the reliable religious backstop of life after death so now fear the end. Perhaps it’s simply the brain’s left hemisphere denying the fact a time will come where it can no longer continue to grasp for personal wants. Whatever it is, we lack the emotional equipment to deal with the single most natural occurrence on the planet.
This is a painful, perhaps traumatising truth, but truth nonetheless. Death is tragic in all it’s forms, but everything has to die.
Veg*nism for “Environmental Reasons”
Factory Farming ≠ Regenerative Farming
Just as we can’t suggest a v*gan activist attacking farmers is the same as an v*gan influencer touting pea protein to turn a sponsorship buck, we cannot suggest that factory farms are remotely similar to organic farms and regenerative farming practices, yet that’s exactly what “evidence” of environmental impact against farming practices does. These two things are not the same. One is exploitative in nature (you can guess which). Animals suffer, are fed poorly, are pumped with antibiotics and hormones to protect against the farming practice itself, pollution is pumped into ground and sky.
The other is self-supporting. Animals graze freely and care free. They eat the grass and bugs (herbivores are not veg*n), they fertilise the soil with poop and pee, helping to balance the ecosystem and feeding the environment rather than exploiting it. Chemicals are used either sparingly or not at all. It’s the pinnacle of a functioning biosphere’s lifecycle and is hugely unpopular with those who have something to do with any kind of “industry”.
If you find a graph showing a large environmental impact associated with meat producing farms, guess which type of farm you’re looking at. That’s right.
Large scale mono-crop agriculture is environmentally destructive, and furthermore not that bright. To clear pastures of trees, flora and fauna results in vast loss of life. Insect, worm, hedgehog, fox, badger and birds all starved out, murdered and maimed by large scale agriculture. Topsoil is destroyed over time resulting in acres of void, the lack of biodiversity accelerates this, water costs are high, pollution is high – fertilizer is required because the land is broken. The chances of crop failure are high – especially in genetically modified-for-yield crops – if disease can take one plant, it can take the entire diversity-free crop. Most mono-crops end up as constituent components of junk like ‘disposable’ cups, plates cutlery, junk food in bright plastic packaging or feed for animals. Guess where the animals are. Are they out in the pasture eating the grass? No. They’re trapped in cages eating feed produced by mono-crop agriculture. Good for industry, useless for the planet and the animals upon it. Like I said, not that bright.
Veg*nism for “environmental reasons” is opting out of advocating to push farming practices and technology back towards regenerative farming by either burying our heads in the destroyed topsoil or by being duped by the mounting disinformation posing as evidence.
Veg*nism For “Health Reasons”
One can virtually guarantee moving from consuming processed foods to consuming less processed foods and more vegetables is likely to improve short term health markers. The prototypical stories that affirm veg*nism improved health markers is one example of how this happens on name your fad diet. It is always trotted out, usually with before and after pictures or anecdotes about “How much better I feel.” These so called “health markers” are typically blood pressure and BMI: your GP’s quick rubric to either prescribe something or to tell you to lose weight. We are told to lose weight because they have a wee table that says so. That’s the extent of the scientific and medical rigour behind it.
For those unaware, BMI is probably the greatest example of Eurocentric bias (keep hold of this phrase because it’s the cornerstone of veg*nism) that somehow ended up in medicine. It was created by, you guess it, a Belgian astronomer in the mid 1800’s as part of social physics(???) and was based on a cohort of 20-something white Belgian males. It is so bereft of worth that even the notorious Ancel Keys – the doctor responsible for erroneously suggesting that fat caused heart disease by skewing his own data – called it into question as “unsatisfactory.” It’s used today to put us in higher insurance brackets or to avoid providing lifestyle advice in any meaningful way. It’s also biased towards heavy. Underweight people are not treated in similar fashion.
Given that white people (myself included) all over the world are somehow only now discovering that systems of oppression, fatphobia and racism exist, imagine how a non white person in a bigger body feels when they are told off by their overworked pez dispenser GP1 that they “need to lose weight” based on a metric created for 20 year old Belgian males from 200 years prior.
Studies (real ones) show an actual indicator of health and longevity is muscle mass. If we fall prey to one of the ‘penias2, it’s a strong indicator we’ll be stacking comorbidities and punching an early ticket. The best protective mechanism against this is regular movement and a protein-anchored3, diverse, vitamin rich diet. This is impossible on a veg*n diet without supplementation. Aside from having to supplement B-12, veg*n diets are missing essential Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – which are the core evolutionary component for growth and maintenance of function. Without them, the body breaks down over time with disastrous effect (death).
When one looks at the under-appreciated, under-studied, never discussed long term effects of a veg*n diet, it’s not only lacks the basic building blocks required to just be alive, it is restrictive diet culture in it’s most absurdly contradictory and privileged form.
Veg*nism For “Moral Reasons”
Now the facts are out of the way, here’s where things get super interesting. Why is vegan food not just called vegetables? Because it’s processed food. It comes packaged. Labelling is usually a riff on the concept or word pure or cruelty-free or both. One would assume the ‘cruelty free’ aspect is a claim that nothing died in the production of the food. We all know this isn’t true but rather is designed to keep the wide asleep consumer snoozing in the aisles of the super market while feeling good about themselves. We know packaging has an environmental impact. We know factories pollute the environment. We know shipping boatloads of sterile looking cruelty free packaging across oceans has an environmental cost. We know mono-crop agriculture destroys local flora and fauna (plants, flowers, trees, feathered friends, creepy-crawlies, little furry animals, big furry animals). This is cruelty-free vegan produce – it only indirectly causes harm.
Veg*nism is the drone strike of diets.
Purity and cleanliness are very common themes with veg*n products. No blood, no guts, no barbarism, no savagery, no direct murder. Cleanliness was a concept that materialised in the 50s, along with a vast array of industrial chemicals that destroy bacteria and the environment. The inner city cleanliness obsession helped to sell household pollutants and detach inner city Westerners from the toil of small scale regenerative farming, the husbandry, killing and eating of animals. This type of work was (is) viewed as the domain of a lower class of human. An uncivilised or poorly educated one. A murderer of animals is low on the social scale. The unwashed. The impure.
But Meat is Murder
A common activist trope that highlights a deep truth. To produce meat is to commit murder. It is to take the life of another living thing and that is a tragedy. This is the cognitive dissonance experienced by any emotionally functioning human animal. This is one of the reasons the concept of “grace” exists. Grace, before it was associated purely with Christianity was to thank the animal for it’s life, to respect and mourn it’s passing and to downregulate our nervous system into ‘rest & digest’ mode before eating.
It’s a common practice for surviving indigenous people to repeat invocations passed through generations at the death of the prey they hunted. Tattered versions of it still exist in functioning households who still eat together instead of hunched at a computer by themselves. It is the celebration of food and the mourning of the life that was taken so that others may live.
Not according to the clean and pure morality argument though. Meat eaters are at least an accessory to murder or if you kill and eat meat you’re barbaric. That’s interesting isn’t it? Concepts of cleanliness, purity and the suggestion that others who do not follow the same ideals are morally inferior. Those ideas sounds vaguely familiar.
Navigating Morality With a Broken Compass
If I were to quietly or loudly chose not to eat meat for “moral reasons” there materialises a de facto immoral other. It suggests that meat eaters are morally lesser than non-meat eaters. This extends to subsistence hunting. Subsistence hunting is killing a living thing to provide food. In city dwelling society, there is no necessity for this. In rural, under-privileged, remote or developing places, subsistence hunting can be how communities survive.
Imagine being privileged enough to choose to follow a diet based on the premise that other cultures and communities are morally inferior because they hunt and kill animals. Veg*nism on moral grounds is the pinnacle of privileged, sterile, robotic, puritanical, racist Eurocentric supremacy.
It’s my hope the points made here shed some light on the darker corners of what seems on the surface to be the most logical choice for the triumvirate of environment, health and morality. The driving force behind writing this article has been seeing this warfare conducted on three fronts.
Well meaning but siloed scientists, economists and policy makers are latching on to the environmental angle hoping to positively influence decisions made by governments based on parroted, faulty and skewed data.
Influencers and health practitioners that can see no further than five years ahead of them are using 200 year old health metrics based on Eurocentric idealism and inadvertently deepening diet culture shouldisms to suggest that following their meat-free plan (plus supplementation) will be the panacea we have been waiting for.
Finally, kind hearted souls have been led to think they are doing the right thing but are instead perpetuating delusions of Eurocentric supremacy.
Should anyone wish to discuss this or provide further insight, feel free to either comment or spark up a real long-form discussion by reaching out to me directly.
1 Doctors are typically expected to treat as many patients as possible. Patients expect to be handed a prescription. The non-specialist doctor patient relationship has become transactional largely due to systemic bureaucracy, not through the fault of either doctor or patient.
2 Look up sarcopenia and dynapenia.
3 The term Protein Anchor was coined by a dear friend and mentor Jamie Scott.