The Challenge of Talking About Going Vegan

There’s been a fair bit of backlash to Tara Parker Pope’s NYT article on The Challenge of Going Vegan (over 1200 comments and counting). And it’s plain to see why – veganism can get quite a bad rap in the mainstream media, and so when it’s featured in such a prominent publication the natural health community certainly takes notice.

The article (from last week) alludes that we, at least in the western world, are born meat- and dairy-eaters, that all of society raises this way. That meat and dairy alternatives provide a sensory “shock” to the system and are all pretty nasty. That you either eat a fat steak for dinner or a bowl of spinach. That eating no meat or dairy (or god, even no honey! the horror!) is astronomically expensive and requires eating GardenBurgers and “weird” foods like miso paste.

I’m not a vegan. Hell, I’m not even a vegetarian. And that’s fine. But I think this article, while drawing attention to the area of food and food politics, could make a better point.

The reason I started this blog was to share ideas and ideals about the way we eat, ones that help health and the environment. But nothing here is too radical or extreme, nor is it meant to divide people into elite groups based simply on their dietary choices. It’s here because I’ve made positive, incremental changes in my life and if people want to make some changes for themselves, try something a little different, or add a new recipe to their well-stocked box then I am happy to share with them—it’s a source of happiness for me.

Personally, I think that better food choices are simply about just that—choosing them when the time is right, but allowing yourself to slip up every now and then. I have no problems with veganism, vegetarianism, or other diets regardless of whether they’re based on ethics, environmental activism, health choices, or other reasons, and I respect those who are able to maintain such a lifestyle for their discipline. Sometimes, though not often, I think a pulled pork sandwich looks really frickin’ scrumptious, so I’ll have it. The rules aren’t what really matter IMO.

But here’s the main thing.

Everyone making these choices has some degree of consciousness in mind in terms of food and its greater effect on the world. So while we’re focused on this area, can’t we draw attention instead not to the qualities that separate us, but rather the most pressing needs of our society as a whole? That this “weird health food” is, in fact, more expensive than a pound of ground red meat or dollar menu meal at McD’s? That so much disease (cardiovascular, diabetes, cancers) has been inextricably linked to poor food consumption and mainstream society and the government refuse to recognize the oft-proved connection, let alone do anything about it? That food stamps in the US are on the chopping board and families with children who are already food insecure face worse fortune?

Recent reaction to pink slimetuna scrape, and arsenic-laced chicken are at the very least a good draw to food matters in the public eye, and at the worst a poor scare tactic – my only hope with these issues being drawn out to media’s forefront is that they are used to bring attention to our flubbed food system, to make us recognize that something is really wrong here. That such viral media can actually produce feasible social action is surely a positive sign, suggesting that the masses recognize the need for and do want change, and perhaps just simply need a little boost to do so. And that’s a good start.

Now, perhaps if our food system were to change a little for the better, maybe going vegan wouldn’t be such a chimerical challenge after all.

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Mark Bittman on what’s wrong with what we eat

Love this. Persuasive, informative, and demystifies one of the most basic things in our lives that has become far beyond complicated: eating. A back-to-basics, traditional approach to taking the food out of the hand that’s not steering, and putting it back on the table. (More on Mark Bittman here.)