***To read my follow up to this post where I address many of your questions and concerns please click here – Vegan Defector Talks Back***
UPDATE: Thank you all for your comments, I never expected this post to get so much attention. However, I do not have the time nor the desire to continue moderating comments. Some of you have been amazingly supportive and have shared many thought provoking ideas, and I really appreciate that. Unfortunately, others have made threats against me and my family and that I cannot tolerate. So, thank you all very much for reading my post but I am going to be turning off the comments. I hope you can understand.
Many of you know that I have recently been struggling for the first time in my life with health problems. When I discovered that my problems were a direct result of my vegan diet I was devastated. 2 months ago, after learning the hard way that not everyone is capable of maintaining their health as a vegan, I made one of the most difficult decisions of my life and gave up veganism and returned to eating an omnivorous diet. My health immediately returned. This experience has been humbling, eye-opening, and profoundly transformative. To hear the whole story just keep reading…
Part 1 – Health Shock
When the doctor first told me that I had numerous vitamin and mineral deficiencies, that I was almost anemic, and my B12 was so low she wanted to give me an injection immediately, I refused to believe her. I actually asked her to show me the blood test results because I thought there had to be some sort of mistake. But there was no mistake, it was right there in black and white; deficiencies and abnormalities across the board.
The results explained perfectly why I had been feeling weak and exhausted for more than 6 months. Whereas I had previously lived for working out and even an hour on the elliptical wasn’t enough for me, lately doing more than 20 minutes at a leisurely pace caused me to yearn to spend the rest of the day in bed recuperating. When I could I slept till noon, I felt lightheaded when I stood up, I couldn’t remember simple words or the names of my friends, and I was freezing cold even in the midst of a sweltering Saudi summer. Of the myriad symptoms I’ve listed here and the ones I will not be describing publicly, the absolute worst of all was my depression. This awful, lifelong foe I’ve been battling on and off was sneaking back into my life, painting the edges of my world a sickening black and stealing the joy that I had fought so desperately to regain.
The doctor, who was kind and very understanding, was surprisingly knowledgeable about vegan diets and had a career long specialization in nutrition. After ruling out any other possible medical condition, she patiently spoke over my tears and my hitching sobs and explained that yes, humans are healthiest when eating a large amount of varied plant foods, but that we would be wrong to ignore the small amounts of animal products that many of us so essentially need. “Most human bodies run optimally on the occasional animal product. Eggs and bits of meat every so often are small but very important parts of a healthy diet.” she said, a look of sorrow on her face. She could see how hard this was for me.
She told me that while there are people who can be quite healthy on a vegan, or predominantly vegan, diet, there were many people who simply could not. After all, every human is biologically and physiologically different, she explained. I listened patiently, refuting her claims with the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years. After all, I wasn’t just a regular vegan, I was a hardcore, self-righteous and oh so judgmental vegangelical. I never passed up an opportunity for some preaching. She was prepared. Just as patiently she explained how many of the ‘facts’ I was quoting were just plain wrong, or had been presented in a way that distorted the truth. It was horrifying and I almost passed out in her office because I was so worked up.
She respected the fact that I was committed to staying vegan and worked with me for over an hour to figure out how I could maximize the nutrients in my already superbly healthy vegan diet. According to her, I was already doing everything right. Along with the minor dietary suggestions, she also recommended a variety of supplements in addition to the ones I already took everyday, including iron tablets.
I remained silent when she gave me the B vitamin injection, I tried not to cry as I waited in line at the pharmacy for my iron tablets, and when I arrived back home I hid the papers and the box of pills in the back of my bedside table. I didn’t tell anyone for days, not even Cody. I had failed and it would be my dirty little secret.
For a week I took the iron pills dutifully, somehow ignoring the fact that they weren’t vegan. I had felt a small measure of improvement immediately from the B vitamin injection, and was hoping for the same affect from the iron pills. Unfortunately, it was obvious after only a few days that they were making me ill. I couldn’t keep food down, I was spending hours a day in the bathroom, alternately hunched over or perched on top of the toilet. I was losing weight and feeling worse than ever.
I went back to the doctor and, just as patient as ever, she said that I was obviously not handling the pills well. I’m sensitive to just about all medication, even Advil has been known to make me sick, so this was no surprise. She asked me if I would consider adding a few eggs to my diet every day. I shook my head, a few eggs couldn’t really be that important. She explained that yes, they really were. But I still said no. Absolutely not. After another lengthy counseling session she wrote another prescription for another kind of iron supplement. Once again I tried to fight back tears at the pharmacy.
The new round of pills was even worse. I would rather feel weak, dizzy, and depressed, than this violently ill. After 2 weeks I threw the pills in the trash and returned to the doctor again.
She spoke to me for a long time, explaining again in great detail exactly how and why a vegan diet was damaging my body. Nutrition is a shockingly inexact science; no one completely understands the complicated dance of vitamins and minerals, much less the synergy of whole foods and their role in our health. But she tried to give me as comprehensive a breakdown as I would understand. She discussed heme iron, the lack of specific nutrients that lead directly to depression and anxiety, she talked at length about vitamin A, taurine, retinol, beta carotene, vitamin D, omega fatty acids, as well as B12 and the disastrous and irreversible results that occur when the body finally depletes its last stores of that crucial ingredient for health, and much more.
She explained how the health problems we are plagued with in the Western world are not caused by animal products, far from it. Humans have been consuming animals (in much greater quantities than we do now) for millions of years without ill effect, and historically there has never been a single vegan culture. We need to look at the recent additions to our diet to uncover the causes of our sudden modern plagues: refined sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fats, refined flours, chemical toxicity and the industrialized denaturing of all forms of food. According to her, avoiding healthy, organic animal products was not only unnecessary for good health, but in most cases positively detrimental to our well being.
“You see,” she concluded, “for many, if not most, people a totally plant based diet is not a good thing. It obviously is not working for you and that is nothing to be ashamed of. The body has evolved to utilize meat efficiently and healthfully, not tablets or pills. You’ve been taking B12 supplements for years, and you’ve been trying to take iron supplements for weeks, and they haven’t been utilized by your body at all. Supplements are a very poor substitute for whole foods. Taking medication is not the best option and it is not necessary; you could almost certainly regain your health on a balanced diet. It is my recommendation that you try that.”
I shook my head in silence.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t. I won’t.” I said to her for the millionth time, wiping the tears that were flowing down my face. “It just isn’t going to happen. I don’t care how sick I am. It’s wrong to eat animals!”
She leaned forward on her desk and made one more plea for me to think more carefully about my health and well being. “Natasha, you are hurting yourself. You are very, very sick. Your hair is falling out, your depression is back, and you are making yourself ill. You cannot go on like this.”
I stared at her for several long seconds, then got up and left the room.
I returned on schedule for my follow up B vitamin shot (and several visits with several other kinds of doctors including a cardiologist – more on that later), but I was only going through the motions, I always stopped myself from dwelling on the serious health problems I was having, it was just too painful.
I kept eating healthfully, as I always have. An entire head of greens every morning in my fruit smoothie, beans almost every day, tons of citrus fruits in my lunch snack plates, tofu, soaked nut pates, whole grains, sprouted grains, and roasted veggies, and of course my daily vitamins, all of the delicious, beautiful food that I loved. This diet was supposed to make me healthy in addition to saving the world, not make me ill. Everything I had ever been told by vegans had said that this was the optimum way for humans to eat.
I wanted desperately for it to be right, for my ethics to outweigh my physiology.
Of course, I never questioned why I was constantly hungry. Why 2 veggie burgers, a giant raw vegetable salad, and a bowl of nuts, couldn’t keep me full longer than 2 hours. It was exhausting, physically painful, and tedious trying to keep myself fed, but I figured it was worth it. I was healthy. Or at least, that’s what I thought until it was proven otherwise. I’m still not sure why I accepted for so long that fatigue, exhaustion, and growing depression were a normal part of life that was to be expected as one grew older. After all, I am only 28 and I’ve never in my life suffered from ill-health. But the fact is: I wanted veganism to work. I wanted desperately for it to be right, for my ethics to outweigh my physiology.
I delicately broached the topic of my ill-health with several vegan friends. I even made comments on other blogs and on twitter highlighting my struggles. The response was nothing short of shocking. In the span of just a few days I received an outpouring of emails from fellow ‘vegan’ bloggers, who told me in confidence that they weren’t really vegan ‘behind the scenes’. They ate eggs, or the occasional fish, or piece of meat, all to keep themselves healthy, but were too scared to admit to it on their blogs. I even received emails from two very prominent and well respected members of the vegan AR community. One a published and much loved vegan cook book author, the other a noted animal rights blogger, their emails detailed their health struggles and eventual unpublicized return to eating meat. Many people sent me links to other vegans who had struggled with veganism related health problems and had been forced to return to eating animals and animal products, or had decided to stop following a vegan diet, such as: Raw Model, Debbie Does Raw, Daniel Vitalis, Sweetly Raw, Chicken Tender, The Non-Practicing Vegan, and PaleoSister, to name just a few. It was refreshing to know I wasn’t the only one suffering from this problem, and the more I heard, the more it seemed I wasn’t even in the minority.
Unfortunately, there were also masses of people who contacted me to offer unsolicited and often insultingly patronizing advice. They made sure to let me know that I was only sick because I was ‘doing veganism wrong’. ‘Have you tried more greens/beans/tofu/nuts?’ the questions were relentless. I was baffled by the suggestions to eat imported goji berries, use maca powder in my smoothies, or eat more spirulina. All these exotic recommendations were supposedly needed to make me healthy on a diet that is heralded as natural and ideal; it absolutely did not make sense.
Many more vegans just rolled their eyes, blatantly skeptical that I was feeling ill in the first place. The realization that people I had previously considered friends were now flat our refusing to believe in the veracity of my health problems was shocking. Could they honestly think that I would give up on veganism right away? Did they truly believe I hadn’t tried everything in my power to make this work? ‘Spend 1 day in my body barely able to walk from exhaustion, feeling dizzy, cold, and depressed, and then judge me!’ I wanted to scream at them. But I didn’t. I just stopped talking about it.
As a feminist, this body hating rhetoric infuriated me.
After that, I soldiered on in silence for many months. I lied to myself, to my readers, to the world saying I felt healthy and fine, when in reality I felt worse than ever. During this time I saw doctor after doctor and tried every suggestion and recommendation, desperately hoping for a cure. I was determined to make veganism work; I was always convinced that just around the next corner I would find the solution. I tried to skirt the issue of my health problems with fellow vegans, cringing as they insisted that anyone who couldn’t be healthy on a vegan diet obviously ‘wasn’t doing it right’. I wanted to scream, but instead I kept my mouth shut, and listened to their arrogant and ignorant opinions on why so many people ‘failed’ at veganism. Some people even suggested that those of us who couldn’t remain healthy as vegans should willingly sacrifice our health for the cause. As a feminist, this body-hating rhetoric infuriated me. The willing participation in the denial and degradation of my bodily needs smacked of misogyny, patriarchal control and violence against the female body, and everything that I fight against. But still, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t know what else to do.
For 3 years I built my entire life on the premise of veganism. It was my life’s passion, my guiding light. Being a vegan was everything to me. I believed my actions made me an animal rights crusader; I was saving lives, and changing the world Now, I know otherwise, but it took a very long time to realize that. For months I was consumed with my self-induced illness, but I still couldn’t abandon veganism; I couldn’t stop fighting for what I believed in. Even if it was hurting me.
Part 2 – Healing
My first bite of meat after 3.5 years of veganism was both the hardest and easiest thing I’ve ever done. Tears ran down my face as saliva pooled in my mouth. The world receded to a blank nothingness and I just ate, and ate, and ate. I cried in grief and anger, while moaning with pleasure and joy. When I took the last bite I set back and waited to feel sick. I had just devoured a hunk of dead animal, the most evil thing I could conceive of, surely my body would reject this debasement and I would feel vindicated that I truly was meant to be a vegan.
I felt profoundly joyful in finally listening to the wisdom of my body.
Instead, my face felt warm, my mind peaceful, and my stomach full but….I searched for a word to describe how it felt….comfortable. I realized that for the first time in months I felt satiated without the accompaniment of stomach pain. I had only eaten a small piece of cow flesh, and yet I felt totally full, but light and refreshed all at once. I reveled in that new and unexpected combination of sensations. How amazing it was not to need to eat for an hour solid till my stomach stretched and distended over my pants just to buy an hour or two of satiety. How beautiful it felt to be able to eat the exact thing that for so long my body had been begging for. I felt profoundly joyful in finally listening to the wisdom of my body.What a revelation.
Then I noticed something else odd: my heart was beating slowly, steadily. Normally, after a typical meal of veggies, rice and beans, or other starchy fare, my heart would race and skip for an hour or so afterward. Several visits with a cardiologist, more blood work, an EKG and an echo-cardiogram had confirmed that my heart was in perfect shape. The cardiologist explained that the unnerving post-meal palpitations were a symptom of my deficiencies, as well as a sign of blood sugar instability caused by the massive servings of carbohydrates I was consuming. Now after eating a single piece of steak, my heart thudded on, steady, strong, and slow. It made me cry all over again, this time in joy.
Every day for the past 2 months I have eaten fish or a piece of meat or eggs. To my never ending shock I have found that I digest a meat and veggie meal far, far better than I ever digested a whole grain/nut/veggie meal. I know that the lipid hypothesis is completely fallacious, these animal foods won’t hurt me or cause me ill health in anyway, in fact, the vitamins and minerals they provide, along with the nutritious cholesterol and wholesome saturated fat, will restore my health. And they have. There are few things as healthy and nutritious as grass fed, organic animal products. So, for these past months, I ate animals and animal products every single day. And, I say with a huge, grateful smile on my face: I’m back! After 1 month on my new diet my blood levels were either normal, or almost normal. After 2 months every single deficiency and out of whack number was completely restored to the healthy, normal range. Not one problem. Not one.
They always say you don’t really know what health is until you’ve lost it. And I never realized how unhealthy I actually was until I started feeling better. Glowing is the only way I can possibly begin to describe the way I feel now. If I was a religious woman, miraculous would have to be my word of choice to express the transformation I’ve undergone in the past 2 months. I’m now reveling in my health; basking in the clear headed precision of my thoughts, the strength of my legs when I run, the warmth radiating from my skin, the slow, melodic power of my heart, and the perfect knowledge of my body when it tells me exactly what to eat, how much, and when.
Eating meat everyday turned out to be incredibly easy because it was exactly what I had needed all along.
My diet is now, obviously, very, very different than what it was before. At first, when the doctor suggested I eat small servings of meat or eggs everyday to regain my health I was panicked. How disgusting, I thought. Surely I would have to force it into my mouth and it would be a battle just to swallow without vomiting immediately. The doctor just smiled and told me to listen to what I wanted. Not what I thought I should eat, but what I actually, really wanted. This immediately struck a chord with me. So, with my doctor’s permission, I really listened to my body for the first time in years. And, perhaps not so surprisingly, I found myself reverting right back to how I had eaten all of my life before going vegan, back in the years when I felt healthy and invincible and never had to deal with sugar crashes, mood swings, and ravenous hunger with the accompaniment of a stuffed and bloated belly. Eating meat every day turned out to be incredibly easy because it was exactly what I had needed all along.
The changes that I experienced were manifold and occurred so quickly and decisively I almost couldn’t believe it. Within one week I was able to stand up without seeing black spots in my eyes, and I was sleeping peacefully through the night. To my relief, my constant stomach pains and bloating completely vanished. Within 2 weeks I noticed my allergies were diminishing, even at a time when all the trees and flowers in our community were beginning to bloom. Also at 2 weeks I no longer needed a sweater just to sit on the couch, my toes and fingers had stopped feeling like perpetual icicles. At 3 weeks I could complete a light 20 minute cardio workout without feeling dizzy or nauseous, something I had been unable to accomplish for months. At 3 weeks I also noticed the most amazing change of all: my depression was diminishing. Days would go by when I wouldn’t succumb to hours of sobbing or listlessness. At 4 weeks I noticed three very strange things: my mysterious lower back pain that had been bothering me for nearly a year had vanished, even though I hadn’t changed my shoes or done any physical therapy; the skin on my face was plump and full and the fine lines that I had figured were just a sign of being nearly 30 had faded so much they were barely discernible, even though I had not changed anything about my skin care routine; and finally, I noticed my hair was thicker, shinier, and much fuller than it had been in years, even though I hadn’t changed anything about my hair care routine.
And now, after 2 full months of non-veganism I can honestly say I feel reborn.
At 5 weeks I noticed a steady, permanent buzz of energy that carried me throughout the day. I started being able to run errands, work out, and do my writing, all in the same day without needing frequent rest stops. I kept waiting for exhaustion to sneak up on me…but it never once reared its ugly head. After 6 weeks I was reveling in my strength and stamina, I literally walked around the gym with my mouth hanging open in awe of my endurance and new found strength. I was unstoppable. Also at 6 weeks I knew for sure, in the way that only a person with the battle scars of depression can know, that my feelings of sadness were gone for good. Joy and the most indescribable sense of relief and tranquility were now just a given when I woke up in the morning. And now, after 2 full months of non-veganism, I can honestly say that I feel reborn. Healed doesn’t even begin to describe it, because I have so surpassed even my most wild expectations. I am healthier and fitter and happier than I ever remember being. My days are jam packed with hours of working out, riding my horse, hiking with my dogs, laughing with friends, working, writing, and just plain living. I feel healthier and stronger (so much stronger that I can’t even describe it) than I have in years, and it isn’t something I’m going to ever give up again. I’m back!
Part 3 – Rethinking my Beliefs
3.5 years of veganism didn’t just leave me exhausted, depressed, and very sick, it also filled my head with doubts and questions about the ethics of veganism. If I actually need to eat animals to be healthy, how can it be so wrong? It has been a complicated and eye-opening journey, and I now find myself in a much different place than I was 3 years ago, a year ago, or even several months ago. Perhaps if my health hadn’t improved so dramatically upon the reintroduction of animal flesh I wouldn’t be so sure, but it did improve remarkably, and now that I have my life and my happiness back, I will never give it up again. Ultimately, I can no longer think it is wrong to eat animals.
Several years ago I believed veganism fit in perfectly with my determination to drastically reshape the world. As a revolutionary feminist and anti-imperialist, veganism seemed to be yet another way I could fight the injustices we are facing. But as the years wore on and my body began devouring itself for the sustenance that my vegan diet couldn’t provide, I began to lose the will and the energy to do the vital work I had so loved. I no longer had the mental clarity to write my famous scathing exposes, or the physical energy to teach, organize, and build solidarity. I was sputtering out, grinding to a screeching halt. I realized that veganism, my choice to buy ‘cruelty free’ foods, was quickly becoming my only avenue for activism. It was the only thing I really had energy for anymore. As a staunch radical I’ve always been opposed to capitalism’s emphasis on the personal solution, I refuse to buy into the mainstream myth that we can shop our way out of catastrophe. And yet…with my dwindling energy reserves and devastating health problems I realized that was exactly what I was doing. When I stumbled along this quote about veganism by Megan Mackin it seemed as if it had been written for me: “It begins, eventually, to look like a very effective way to co-opt a movement: take the most passionate activist-minded, girls especially, and get their focus on a way of living that drains energies and enforces conformity in others. The Big Boys still run things, but now even more freely – with out much interference.”
I eventually forced myself to apply the same ethics I had used to analyze animal foods to the analysis of plant foods, and tried to calculate the macro impact of my food choices. I soon realized that I had to make a serious change. As I’ve written about before, the foods I was eating as a vegan saved no more animal lives and were no ethically better than the foods I am now eating as an omnivore, with two main differences. First, I now no longer lie to myself about the fact that life requires death. Second, I am now healthy. Just like always, I still care intensely about the environment, the well being of animals, and the politics of food, but my ideas of how to do the most good and effect the most change have drastically transformed. I reexamined the party line of veganism, that it is the moral baseline, and admitted to myself that I had never been comfortable with the arbitrary declaration of drawing a line in the ethical sand. In fact, during my time as a vegan I never stopped searching for an even better solution and a more ethical way to live. I definitely believe I’m on the right path. My new thoughts don’t have veganism’s catchy slogans like ‘Meat is Murder’, but here’s a quick wrap up:
In one of those strange circumstances of serendipity that life is always throwing our way my veganism induced health problems coincided with a period of intense food justice activism in my own life. During this time in my work as a food rights advocate I had many, many discussions with agronomists, farmers, agroecologists, and global south advocates, and I learned how very wrong I was in my previous conviction that veganism would save the world. While veganism presents a very simple and easy to understand solution to the world’s problems, and has therefore become the go to politically correct strategy, it is at best a band-aid for the ecological and world hunger crises we are facing. The need for the entire world to go vegan in order to stop global warming or prevent chronic hunger is simply and irrefutably false.
As I learned while sitting at the metaphorical feet of the world’s leading revolutionary ecologists and food rights advocates, the only way for humanity to survive in any meaningfully sustainable way is for us to live entirely within our local food systems, eating the plants and animals that naturally live on our immediate landbase. And this most definitely does not include millions of acres of grains, the cultivation of which is amenable to only very small parts of the globe. To produce the vegan foods that I used to consider so cruelty-free; modern, industrialized agriculture forces land to grow crops that are alien and unnatural to it, robs the planet of its resources, destroys whole eco-systems, wipes out entire species of plants and animals, and creates a chaos of death and destruction as more and more wild land is needed to replace the devastated cropland.
This planetary devastation (and the resulting socio-cultural ramifications) has been going on far longer than the advent of factory farms, which were only introduced in the past several decades. Of course, just like any decent human being, I abhor the evil that is factory farming, and I stand opposed to their slavery, torture, and abuse. I also recognize that the massive production of grain is what led to the creation of factory farms in the first place; they simply would not have been possible otherwise. We do not grow so much grain because we want to have factory farms; we have factory farms because we are growing such an avalanche of grain. Veganism, while coming from a decent place of compassion, is ultimately short sighted and does not fix our problems. Truly local, preferably wild food is the only way we can live without causing devastation to this planet. And living truly locally, without massive consumption of monocrop industrialized grains or soy, in almost every part of the world necessitates the use and consumption of animals for us to be healthy.
As a vegan I didn’t like to think about the fact that without animals’ waste products, bones, and blood, farming is literally a zero sum game.
It broke my vegan heart to learn how unavoidably essential it is for humans to stop the use of fossil fuel fertilizers and reintegrate animals back into farm life. As a vegan I didn’t like to think about the fact that without animals’ waste products, bones, and blood, farming is literally a zero sum game. Without organic matter to feed the plants and the hungry soil, the precious topsoil will die and nothing can grow, a fact of life we are seeing play out around the globe as the millions of fossil fuel dependent farms collapse. When we expend resources like water and food on animals we are repaid tenfold. Not only does the water and food get used again in the form of manure that nourishes the soil in a way simple water never can, but the animals are eaten by us, and the remnants of their bodies used to feed the hungry earth. It was shocking to realize I had been expounding on the need to transform agriculture and farming without even knowing the bare minimum of what it takes to keep an ecosystem healthy. I now realize that the statistics I used to quote about environmental devastation, grain and water consumption, pollution, and ill health, were all based on numbers from factory farms, not from the realities of traditional land base specific farming, which is the only kind of farming that can heal our planet and us.
From now on I will choose the deaths that keep me and the planet healthy.
When I stopped merely talking about food advocacy, and started listening to people living on the front lines of the global food justice struggle, I had my eyes irrevocably opened. I realized that in many ways veganism removes us from our place in the natural scheme of things, denies our necessary participation in the food cycle, and makes the natural world into an alien realm that we can no longer fully understand. Vegans like to say that it is our intentions that matter, but I ask ‘matter to who?’ I now believe that instead of arbitrarily deciding that the deaths caused by veganism are okay, while the deaths caused by omnivores are unforgiveable, and that some animal deaths should be prevented at all costs while others are a necessary evil, we have to abolish the entire fabricated hierarchy we have constructed and come to terms with the cycle of life and death. We are all of us on this earth connected, and ultimately, death is a necessary, unavoidable part of life. Whether it is the animal deaths caused by a vegan diet that forces the planet into an unnatural and unsustainable cycle of production while failing to provide many of us with necessary nutrients, or it is the deaths caused by a close looped animal integrated farm cultivated to grow its natural bounty in traditional ways, there will always be death on our plates. From now on I will choose the deaths that keep me and the planet healthy.
Obviously, the planet cannot support 7 billion people in any meaningfully sustainable way, vegan or not. Therefore, an integral part of us being able to live in a genuinely environmentally respectful way is not for us all to go vegan, but for us to lower the birthrate and the population so we can live truly locally. First and foremost this will require the advancement of women’s rights and the global empowerment of women. (It really is amazing just how much feminism can accomplish!) As for world hunger, all of you who have read my world hunger articles know there is already more than enough food produced to feed everyone on the planet generously. Capitalism has turned food, and especially grains, into a commodity, a weapon of war, and a way to make a profit, instead of the inalienable right it should be. The way to prevent hunger is not to feed the starving masses the food we currently feed to animals (excess food production and the resulting food dumping is one of the causes of hunger in the first place), but for the chronically hungry people to throw off the shackles of neo-imperialism and to gain back control of their local food systems.
Most ecosystems on this planet simply cannot support annual grain agriculture, and the urging by vegans for the inhabitants to adopt a vegan lifestyle anyway is damning them to an eventually desiccated land base and inevitable starvation.
In my own life my decision to return to my omnivorous ways is drastically shrinking my carbon footprint. The truth that as a vegan I did not like to face is that most places on this planet are not suited for annual grain agriculture, but for a mix of plant and animal husbandry. Most ecosystems on this planet simply cannot support annual grain agriculture, and the urging by vegans for the inhabitants to adopt a vegan lifestyle anyway is damning them to an eventually desiccated land base and inevitable starvation. Saudi Arabia, where I live, is one of those places. Now, instead of relying on grains and beans grown overseas with pesticides and seriously unsustainable farming methods to form the bulk of my diet, I can now turn my focus towards local animal products, such as goat, lamb, or chicken. For example, I can go to the local market and buy goat meat from goat herds that graze just a few miles away over the open desert, herded by Bedouins from oasis to oasis in a centuries’ old tradition. These goats make use of the dry and scrubby land that would be completely unsuitable for crop farming and they drink ancient artisanal well water. If the land they use was transformed into huge swathes of crop fields it would require staggering amounts of synthetic fertilizer and imported water, and it would wreck the delicate ecosystem that currently exists in the desert. Not only do I feel better physically and mentally as an omnivore, but my choices are much more consistent with my conviction that we need to live as ethically and sustainably as possible within our local community.
Whether it is the staggering destruction caused by factory farms, or the slightly less staggering but no less devastating destruction caused by vegan agriculture, our planet is being irrevocably annihilated and we must stop treating the symptoms of this disease and abandon short term solutions. We can’t shop our way out of this crisis, personal solutions are not enough. Presenting veganism as a panacea that will stop global warming, save all the animals, and feed the starving masses is nearsighted and unfounded. And it shames me, as an academic, that I ever let myself believe it. We must instead focus our efforts on a complete reimagining of the way we live on this planet. Anything less is suicide.
Part 4 – Where Do I Go From Here?
While my original choice to be a vegan stemmed from the always noble impulse to do the right thing and be as compassionate as possible, it was a mistake and a choice I should never have made. If I had done my research and actually asked the hard questions from the beginning instead of letting the graphic images of factory farms guide me, I would have saved myself 3 years of misguided efforts as well as the deterioration of my physical and emotional health. If I had adhered to the rigorous academic standards that I hold myself to in all other aspects of my life I could have spent this time fighting effectively towards real solutions, as well as feeling healthy and happy. I wish I had also taken a look at myself and how I had always felt the best. I spent my life thriving on meat and was healthier than anyone. I should have recognized that I come from a long line of preternaturally healthy and impervious meat eaters, from as far back as anyone can remember. My body has always known what I need to be healthy, and yet I ignored that and for far too long sacrificed my health.
Many people have suggested that I should only eat animal products that I loathe or that disgust me, so I would be sure never to take pleasure in the act of eating meat. It saddens me now that I actually considered this for a while. After giving it some thought, I wondered why should constant revulsion and grief at every meal be the price I pay for staying healthy? Why shouldn’t I cook the most delicious meals and revel in the pleasure of eating fabulous, healthy, and amazing food? I eventually realized that it is okay for me to take joy in cooking a steak, or daydream pleasurably about all the many ways to cook my evening salmon. I refuse to play the game that so many women (vegan or not) are forced to play by our violently woman hating society; I will never feel shame or guilt for eating what my body wants and needs to be healthy. I will take joy and shameless, undeniable pleasure in every glorious bite. I will be grateful and thankful and celebratory at all times, while never forgetting the lesson that I learned about listening to my body and respecting the fact that I deserve to be healthy and happy.
I am sure that many of you will be upset or disappointed about my announcement. Some of you might even try to rationalize my ‘failure’ or ignore my experience so you don’t have to face the possibility that veganism might not be the only way to live. Many of you might even be angry with me, after all you thought of me as an ally, some of you even went vegan partly because of me. I hope you are able to realize that I have to do what I believe is best, and what I believe is right for me. And if you happen to be a healthy and happy vegan, then I am happy for you! Keep on doing what works in your life, but maybe take away from my story that veganism is not always the best thing we can do for our own health or for the planet or for the animals. And if you are vegan and you don’t feel as healthy as you used to or as you would like, don’t waste any time in figuring out what is wrong and doing whatever you need to do to get better. You deserve to be healthy and happy, too.
The past few months have been humbling and painful, but ultimately happy. I started on this path in the depths of despair, my eyes almost permanently swollen shut by so much crying, wondering where to go from here, what to do. Who could I tell, what would they say? Should I keep it a secret or blog about it, or just drop off the face of the earth and never update my blog again? I thought long and hard about my blog, my precious personal space for sharing my silliest stories, goofiest photos, and absolute favorite recipes. I didn’t want to let it go, but how could I continue? As soon as I made this announcement I knew I would get hate mail. In fact, just from remarks on twitter and other blogs, I’ve already been inundated with angry letters accusing me of being an anti-vegan troll who has been plotting this for years, or in the employ of the meat industry.
So, I knew I would get hate mail as soon as I made this announcement but I didn’t feel right keeping it secret any longer. I am by nature a painfully honest person. But once the announcement was made, I wondered, what do I do then? Keep blogging? Stop blogging? Do I take pictures of the meat, or only show my vegan meals? I didn’t want to hide a part of my life as if I was ashamed of it. I didn’t want to deny the very decision that has restored my health and happiness by never breathing a word of my food choices to anyone. Most of all, I wanted to keep blogging because I love food. I love thinking about it, writing about it, cooking it, and most of all eating it. I love food and I love being a food blogger. I adore the community, the friends, the laughs, the memories. I don’t want to give any of it up. So, I’m going to continue. As you can see I’ve revamped the blog, obviously changing the title and a few of the pages to reflect my changing life. I will be permanently moving to a new url (www.voraciouseats.com) within the week. But no matter what I’m going to keep on blogging the meals and recipes I love. My life is so yummy – I want to share every single bite!