Are you vegan – enough?
Are you eating healthy – enough?
This topic has been brewing in my heart and mind for a while. After returning from Vida Vegan Con, I thought it was a good time to open up this discussion.
You see, before leaving for VVC, I had some trepidation. I’ve been vegan almost 20 years, and yet had never been to an event that signified and exemplified veganism in its entirety like VVC. As most of you know, I came to veganism through my health, and later learned and integrated the animal ethics rooted in the word and movement. Talking with some colleagues before VVC, I was concerned that I wasn’t “vegan enough”.
Recently someone asked me on twitter why I never use the word vegan in my tweets. I was quite surprised. While I know I use the terms plant-powered and plant-based in my work, my cookbooks all have the the word vegan in their titles. I always shop for vegan shoes, clothes, and cosmetics, and choose the same options for my family wherever possible. Yet, in that moment I felt I wasn’t vegan enough.
One morning at the VVC conference, I was working out at the hotel fitness room while listening to Our Hen House. Who should walk in? Jasmin Singer. There were only three people in this fitness room. I laughed at myself, that here I was listening to her podcast with Mariann – and there Jasmin was, a few feet away. Yet I felt completely awkward to interrupt and introduce myself. Perhaps because I felt most of us don’t want to be bothered with introductions while working out. Or, perhaps because I felt I fell short in my vegan-ness. That might sound silly, but truthfully I have much gratitude and respect for people like Jasmin and Mariann, Victoria Moran, Jonathan Balcombe, and Gene Baur. They are the educators about veganism at its core, covering a breadth of vegan living topics including, but not limited to, the vegan diet.
I focus my time where I know I’m most effective – creating recipes and sharing food inspiration. I try to keep abreast of current issues surrounding animal rights and vegan activism, but often fall behind. My work has always teetered between the vegan and plant-based realm, so I guess I have felt connected to both without being attached to one exclusively. Alas, my work is an expression and reflection of being a Libra!
Backtrack to twitter. Shortly after receiving the question about my vegan-ness, I receive another addressing a nutritional issue with my recipes. I’ve always thought my work was healthy, and it certainly has evolved through my books and years of recipe development. Yet in this moment I felt it was not healthy enough.
I realize some of this is social media, and we need to temper the feedback we get and remain grounded in what we do. Yet, after my VVC trip, I realized that I am not the only one that has these insecurities about vegan and health absolution. I talked to some other bloggers that were also concerned that didn’t feel educated and informed enough for the vegan community, and likewise bloggers that felt they were committing health crimes in the plant-based community.
Vegans that aren’t healthy enough. Plant-based people that aren’t vegan enough.
I returned from VVC invigorated and feeling renewed in my connections to veganism. Yet, I wondered if many of us in the community are having these thoughts (myself included), are we alienating those new to the plant-based diet or vegan lifestyle with notions of impossible perfection?
I’ve heard from many that eat plant-based but don’t want to identify with the word vegan for this very reason, because they are afraid they will be judged for not doing enough, not being vegan enough. And, I understand that, because the word encompasses far more than our diet. It is a life philosophy, a full belief system and change of consciousness. But if I sometimes feel not vegan enough… do you feel the same? Are you discouraged from making worthwhile changes in their lives and diets for fear of being judged that you aren’t entirely there?
I hope not.
But, let me return to the health component of eating vegan. Healthy vegan eating does matter in the long-term, because it is the only way to sustain and uplift the vegan movement. And, it matters even more when raising children. Yes, more. When you have children, those little lives become paramount in your life. Your compassion can extend to all living beings, but not at the expense of your own children. So, there is no point in discussing the welfare of pigs or chickens or dairy cows if a parent cannot believe that this way of eating can be optimally healthy for their child.
That in itself is entirely ironic when we look at the nutritional standards of the standard diet. But, as parents, we have believed that this is the cornerstone of health for our families – forever. As Dr. T. Colin Campbell writes in Whole:
Our society believes so passionately in the health value of milk and meat that it is hard for us to conceive that we might be wrong – that these foods might, in fact, be very unhealthy. It is too far outside of what we have been taught for decades for us to believe it easily, no matter how true it may be.
We have a lot of work ahead, to demonstrate to parents that a vegan or plant-based diet IS indeed healthy – the very understanding of healthy foods needs to change. Our food choices as a larger population will not change until we have a new definition of “healthy”, one that does not include meat and dairy.
So, we work to educate about the nutritional excellence of whole plant foods. Do our efforts communicate a standard of purity, leaving others to feel not healthy enough? We are so passionate about the nutritional beauty of our whole foods like beans and whole grains and leafy greens that we may very well communicate a message of perfectionism. There is no perfection in any diet. There is practice. If we are losing readers because of perceived notions of perfection, then we are failing our causes for improved health and animal welfare.
What also matters is helping people sustain this vegan lifestyle through beautiful, appetizing, sensory-pleasing – and healthy – vegan food. Not every food boasting a V is healthy! Doesn’t mean we cannot eat it, but it does mean we should know the difference. One of my personal food mantras is to focus on eating 90% whole and minimally processed foods. We have room for the treats, sure. Yet, we need to fuel and nourish our bodies for long-term connection and vitality with our vegan diet. I have noticed the more I eat lesser processed and whole plant foods… the more I want them! It might feel a chore at first to move away from the processed choices and make that big salad with beans and leafy greens and veggies for lunch. But not for long! Our bodies adapt and respond. The more we choose healthy foods – foods that ARE ingredients, not FULL of ingredients – the more we enjoy them, and the better we feel. We even begin to crave them.
Here’s what I realized after reflection on my week at VVC. It doesn’t matter that I am not the most educated about vegan activism. What matters is knowing that animal agriculture is warped and cruel. What matters is that eating animals is not necessary. What matters is choosing not to eat meat and dairy every meal of every day. And finally, what matters is helping to show others the same.
Vegan food is my activism. My goal is to share whole-foods recipes that will excite you – treats included! And to share messages about real, clean foods to inspire you to grow and thrive in this beautiful diet. Not to be perfect. But to come to understand and love the vegan basics – beans, grains, veg, fruit, nuts and seeds, and greens. To show you how they are the heart of the vegan diet. Whether you come to that diet from an ethical place, or for health reasons.
Is it naive, idealistic, and simplistic to think there is a place we can connect and support one another? That we can find common ground and build on that foundation for the greater good of better human health and also animal welfare?
Probably so. Here’s the thing. My heart is in both places. So, I will continue to reach out to you from both perspectives, with optimism.
That is vegan enough for me. And healthy enough for me. How about you?
Do you feel these dietary and ethical pressures? How do you resolve them? Please share your insights with others.