The Bizarre Irony of Omnivorous Eaters Harping on Veganism and Nutrition
No one cared where I got my nutrients when I was eating the Standard American Diet. Then I started eating more plants, and suddenly, everyone was a nutrition expert, and I could do no right.
I realized, fairly early on in my vegan journey, that attacking meat-eating folks wasn’t going to work. Much as I might enjoy hollering at some of them — and I might derive some form of satisfaction in doing so, if I’m honest — it isn’t the way to do things. People have to come to veganism and be ready and receptive; you can’t force it. And so we tend to live by some version of the Serenity Prayer: we must change the things we can, accept the things we can’t, and hope we have the wisdom to know the difference.
Not only that, but we need to acknowledge and appreciate the progress that has been made. I’d love to live in a vegan world, and I don’t love that people eat animals when they have the choice to do otherwise. But the world is moving, in the broad sense, toward the plant-based, and that’s not nothing.
I grew up eating huge, thick cheeseburgers with piles of greasy fries, super-supreme pizza, deep-fried everything, and pretty much anything put in front of me. I would at least try new foods. My dad enjoyed cooking, and he and I appreciated novel and experimental combinations and flavors.
On the other hand, my mom and brother were quite picky. They were both quite weird about food. Mom wanted salt on everything, in ridiculous quantities. My brother’s thing was always ketchup. He would dip broccoli in the stuff, and he would make ketchup sandwiches, which were one piece of bread, folded over, with ketchup inside. For a long time, he didn’t eat turkey sandwiches during the holidays like the rest of us, but then he tried it with ketchup and was sold on it.
Predictably, as a foodie and as someone who preferred reading to exercise, I was overweight. My parents made me go on the low carb diet, which I hated and which made me sick of meat, especially processed and red meats. It also taught me that it didn’t particularly matter if I liked it or not. The point was to lose weight, and if I was unhappy, who cared?
No one cared for my nutrition. They only cared about how I looked, and if food was mentioned, it was only in relation to that. Food was neither for pleasure, nor health, nor function, aside from making me smaller.
Then I decided I didn’t want to eat or otherwise consume animals or animal-based products. Suddenly, no one would shut up about nutrition and health, and everyone was concerned about protein, iron, B-12, calcium, vitamin D, and so on.
As much as I might like to tell them to mind their business, that would be perceived as rudeness and used as ammunition. I personally take supplements, because I have food and eating difficulties that have nothing to do with veganism. But that admission alone is seen as a gotcha or as an implication that veganism is inherently unhealthy and nutritionally incomplete. In reality, I take supplements because I have a screwed-up relationship with food. That has nothing to do with being vegan and everything to do with being taught from the time I was a child that the dinner table is a battlefield, which led to over a decade of anorexia and bulimia.
In the present, what I have is closest to something called Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, or ARFID. Think picky eating, but with a psychological component that makes it several orders of magnitude more difficult to navigate. Much of the time, I have to eat whatever my body won’t reject, and that’s a moving target. It also typically is not nutritionally complete.
Being vegan didn’t cause this, and it won’t solve it, at least in my case. But I find it equally funny and perplexing that no one batted an eye when I was inhaling cheeseburgers and McNuggets and all sorts of fast food and processed meat, and yet they won’t shut up about how being vegan is, in their estimation, unhealthy.
Nutrition interests me for a variety of reasons, although studying it in any capacity as an independent researcher can be quite frustrating. As a science, nutrition is a fairly young discipline, and there’s a lot more work to be done. Big data and medium-sized data, among other things, is going to be core to understanding what really happens given specific diets and specific populations. And we’re bound to make some mistakes along the way.
But people don’t seem to understand this.
We get limited nutritional education in the American public school system. When I was coming up, we were given a short talk on the food pyramid in second or third grade, and that was the extent. In more recent years, the United States government came out with MyPlate, a visual representation of how a typical meal might look. It was a good effort, but we still have a way’s to go in terms of nutritional literacy in the general population.
And that’s the real issue, at the core of the matter: Americans receive little to no nutritional education. That’s also why would-be vegans try it out and decide they can’t do it, and it’s not their fault. American food culture places meat at the center of things, around which everything else in meals is planned and coordinated. My hypothesis is that people think in terms of removing the meat rather than adding or replacing it with plant protein.
Once again: it’s not their fault. There’s a lot of contradictory and confusing information out there in terms of what we should and should not be putting into our bodies. I just find it funny how the cliché is that a kid will refuse to eat their green vegetables, but vegans are out here eating plants all day, everyday, and we get called extremists for it.
Meanwhile, people hit the drive thru several times a week, not a care in the world for the cholesterol or sodium or possible carcinogens that end up in processed foods, and still retain the audacity to question my health and life choices as a vegan.
I’m not out here expecting everyone to switch over to veganism. But people ought to know what they’re putting in their bodies, so as to make informed choices about their health and well-being. If you know and don’t care, there’s nothing I can do. But if not, I think you owe it to yourself to find out.