Science Matters Ė for Vegans and Everyone Else
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From Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD
April 2017

While I do want to pull out all the stops when it comes to advocating for animals, Iím not convinced that exaggerations and half-truths are the stuff of good advocacy. Iím not convinced that the long-term impacts of these efforts will be positive ones for animals.

Itís sometimes exasperating to advocate for science-based vegan nutrition in a world where many vegans prefer to rally around hype, hyperbole, and conspiracy-driven drama. But, when I whined about this on Facebook last week, the reaction was downright heartening. What I heard from my community is that Iím not alone in this concern. And that I actually have many allies in this work that we do to advocate for animals from an evidence-based perspective.

It made me feel better. But it doesnít change the fact that there continues to be a lot of misinformation circulating in the vegan community. Much of it comes from hardworking, compassionate activists who want to create a rosy view of vegan diets. That is, itís meant to convince people that they should eat a vegan diet because it has one-of-a-kind health benefits. Itís also meant to create a sense of comfort around veganism by assuring newcomers that itís not possible to be nutrient deficient if you are eating all whole plant foods.

The truth is way less dramatic. There is no body of evidence to suggest that you have to be vegan in order to be healthy. The evidence does not suggest that every disease in the world is reversible with a low-fat, whole foods plant-based diet. And, yes, it is possible to fall short of nutrients on a vegan diet if you arenít paying attention to food choices.

Understandably, though, a lot of people are annoyed when I point this out. And Iíll admit it: Itís not all that much fun to be a vegan party pooper. Whenever I see that I have a new follower on twitter whose profile rhapsodizes about the ďpower of plants!Ē I feel a twinge of angst. I know Iím going to be a disappointment to them.

But I donít have a choice. While I do want to pull out all the stops when it comes to advocating for animals, Iím not convinced that exaggerations and half-truths are the stuff of good advocacy. Iím not convinced that the long-term impacts of these efforts will be positive ones for animals. Here is what I think can happen when we build activism around unsupported claims:

  • It undermines our credibility. If we get caught making easily-refuted assertions, itís a good bet that anything else we declare will be viewed with suspicion and skepticism. Animal activists are already often perceived as more emotional than rational, and I doubt that over-the-top claims about diet and health or dismissals of established science do much to counter that image.
  • It creates resistance to real solutions for animals (and the planet). New products in the works sometimes depend on plant-derived versions of ingredients that are associated with animal foods, like heme and casein. Vegans who insist, without evidence, that itís dangerous to consume these in any amount are hindering support for these ethical alternatives to animal use.
  • Itís harmful to some vegans. Believing that food is a cure-all for every disease known to humankind or that bad health is nothing more than the result of bad choices, can encourage vegans to ignore real health issues. It can convince them to decline helpful medical treatments. In the discussion on my Facebook page, for example, one person suggested that a vegan diet can reverse stage IV cancer. (Seriously.) Believing that eating whole plants guarantees adequate nutrition can (and often does if my email is any indication) cause health problems for vegans, many of whom are on their way to the world of ex-veganism.
  • Itís hurtful to some vegans. Not everyone who eats a healthy vegan diet enjoys robust health. We do not have all of the answers about how to eat in order to achieve perfect health. We donít know that every single ailment has a dietary cause and a dietary cure. Not only is it naÔve to believe that we do have this information, itís also incredibly insensitive and alienating to many of our fellow activists.

These last two issues about the health of vegans have been on my mind even more than usual since Iíve just finished writing a book that addresses these and a number of related concerns. Please stay tuned for more on my new book, to be announced in the next couple of days, and also for more on this topic. And thank you to everyone in this community who advocates for animals and good science.

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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.