Friday, May 22, 2009

Vegan:Extreme?

Last night, an old friend of mine responded to this video that I'd posted on Facebook:



She wrote,

I'm glad when anyone is happy and healthy, but my non vegan children are also happy, healthy, veggie loving kids who don't live on diets of Happy Meals and white flour. Not letting the child have a cupcake at a one off birthday party seems a little extreme in my book. I think there is a happy medium to be found in most things, and extremes at either end.

I didn't really feel I'd have enough room to respond the way I'd like over on FB, so I am posting my response here, because I'm sure there are others out there who feel just as she does.

First, I do believe that your children are happy and healthy. But I also believe, from the huge number of studies out there, that a plant-based, whole foods diet, is the best one for us. High cholesterol is being found more and more in younger and younger children (another friend of mine has a son who was diagnosed with high cholesterol when he was four) and heart disease and others are diseases that develop over a long period of time. I believe they are diet related. Heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. have been called "diseases of civilized man." They are highly preventable and many doctors (Dr. Joel Fuhrman, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, and Dr. Neal Barnard are some )believe the best way to do this is through a plant-based, whole foods diet.

As for extreme diets, if one is defining "extreme" as "going to great lengths" or "far from a normally practiced standard," I think there are a few things to consider regarding this matter. One, is that the American diet is culturally and habitually based, rather than being based on health or necessity. Using it as a standard of normal is not one that I want to choose.

In the video, they talk to a little girl (around age 4) who says that she thinks a vegan diet is hard because she sometimes doesn't get to have cookies or cupcakes at a party. While I know that it may be challenging for a 4 year old to see brightly colored, frosted goodies at a party and want them, I think there are a few responses to this:

1) The parents have the responsibility, same as the parent who brings the cupcakes for the celebration in the first place, to provide a vegan alternative. There is absolutely NO reason for that child to feel left out, because there are amazing baked goods and other treats available to vegans. I make a number of these snacks myself for my family and friends and regularly get asked for recipes, including some awesome cupcakes! :)

2) There are plenty of other people, for various reasons, who also cannot or do not, eat all the food this particular culture uses for its celebrations. For health or allergy reasons, there are those who avoid all sorts of things and have dairy-free, peanut-free, shellfish-free, gluten-free, tomato-free, etc. diets. There are others, such as Orthodox Jews or Hindus, who, like vegans, avoid certain foods by choice. I wonder if all of these people are considered extreme?

If, on the other hand, we are thinking of word, "extreme" to mean, "existing in a very high degree," then I would consider a meat-based diet to be extreme in regard to risk. There are the health risks inherent in consuming animals that are not only dietary, but also sanitary. The conditions of the slaughterhouses are to be considered. The sanitary habits of the low-wage, slaughterhouse workers ought to be considered as well.

Then there are the preparations necessary for cooking the meat to be sure that it has been cooked well enough to destroy the various bacterias that live in animals, ie. salmonella, e. coli, mad cow, influenza, and many, many others (have a listen to the latest Vegetarian Food For Thought Podcast in my sidebar for further and fascinating information). Then, of course, while one shoud be careful not to under-cook meat, one also should not over-cook the meat, because then carcinogens are know to form.

Finally, I guess I would like to say, that yes, I have an agenda. That agenda is one for promoting the best diet I believe is available to everyone as well as the most compassionate to everyone, human and non-human as well. When I share this information here on my blog, on Facebook, or with my family and friends, it is not meant to insult or judge anyone, but instead inform. I do this because I care about the health of family and friends and because I feel deeply about the unnessecary pain and suffering of the animals that occurs daily on a global basis. It seems illogical to me that the diet that is the best for our bodies, for the environment, and for all life, should be seen as something less desirable, lacking in flavor or nutrition (consider, for a moment, that we use primarily plant food to flavor all our dishes, including meat ), or extreme in any way.

So, I will continue to share here and there from time to time and I hope that we can continue to engage in discussions as friends regarding these issues that seem to ignite such passion.
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