Becoming vegetarian or, “even better”, vegan, is the trend now in the health and fitness world. Does that mean it’s the best thing ever and we all need to do it? For me, neither my knowledge nor my beliefs allow me to do so.
There are lots of different types of vegans:
- Some are tolerant, some aren’t. In fact, those of us who aren’t vegan can often feel pressured and think we need to justify ourselves.
- Some of them know and admit the scientific data for and against their diet, some just know them but don’t admit them publicly, some of them don’t even know them.
- Some of them are so because of their beliefs about animals, others for the environment, others for health, others for a mix of everything and others (too many) just for the trend and what they hear on social media.
I respect completely those who don’t consume animal products because their ethics tell them that’s intrinsically wrong. We should all be able to act with freedom of conscience. However, that’s the only case I consider really valid. The rest of arguments are quite weak, and in many cases they don’t even serve to defend veganism in its essence: rather, to support a more sustainable production, healthier lifestyle habits, better animal treatment, etc.
In this post, which is Part I, I’ll explain 3 reasons why I’ve decided not to be vegan: the life cycle, my religion and the biological fact that human beings aren’t designed for veganism. In the next one, which will be Part II, I’ll talk about 2 more reasons: health and ecology. I’ll also address the topic of animal wellbeing. And, finally, I’ll tell you the changes I’ve actually decided to make instead of becoming vegan.
Reason 1: plants eat animals
The first argument has to do with the natural world and the way the life cycle works. All living beings are intertwined and our interrelationships are intimate and complex, so in fact we can’t establish firm boundaries. Eating plants is eating animals, and eating animals is eating plants. Why? Because plants feed on the nutrients they absorb from the soil, and that soil is made of rock particles and rests of plants and… animals. Thanks to the death and decomposition of animales, the plants that we can eat are able to grow.
Reason 2: my religion
Forgive me for expanding on this point, but I’ve read too much nonsense that I need to clarify it well. As I’ve said, I’d only consider not eating animals if I believed that was wrong in itself. And the reason I don’t is simple: it isn’t a belief compatible with Christianity. Multiple Bible examples prove it. Let’s see just some of them:
It’s true that the Genesis doesn’t say we ate meat in Paradise (God only gives explicitly to Adam and Eve the vegetables as food), although this doesn’t either mean a prohibition as some want to see. But in any case, this doesn’t say anything about the life of men after the original sin, which is a very different state, with other corporal needs.
In fact, shortly after that passage quoted by Christian vegans (Genesis 1:29) we find the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). Cain was a “tiller of the ground” and offered God fruits of the ground; Abel was a “herder of flocks” and offered the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock. God preferred the second offering. Obviously, this isn’t about the offering itself, but about the heart of each of them… But it also shows that God didn’t find anything wrong with Abel killing sheep.
Indeed, many Jewish feasts implied animal sacrifices. And that had been inspired by God Himself. Why, if God didn’t want us to eat meat for nourishment, would He command us to kill even more animals?
But someone might think that’s only of the Old Covenant and the “new men” mustn’t do it anymore. However, the reality is that Jesus not only doesn’t condemn eating animals, but do so Himself several times in the Gospel, and also gives them to others to eat (as in the multiplication of loaves and fish). Even after the Resurrection, when He appears to His disciples, He asks them for fish to eat (John 21:5).
And that can’t be explained just by the context of that time. Jesus did many things that shocked the Jews, He could as well have established vegetarianism if that was God’s will. He wouldn’t have been the first one to promote a diet like that, either: in the Greek world (with which the Jews were familiar because of the Hellenization) we have the example of sages such as Pythagoras. In fact, Jesus did say something novel in regards to meat: that all of them were allowed, not as in the Old Law, where some of them were forbidden: “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).
He even says to St. Peter, in a vision with four-legged animals, reptiles and birds: “Slaughter and eat” (Acts 10:12-16). The arguments of some vegans saying that Jesus called the fishermen to be His disciples so they stopped doing that job and thus killing fish, or that He expelled the merchants from the Temple not because they were doing business there but just because what they sold were animals… are therefore proven laughable.
This doesn’t mean a Christian has to eat meat or animal products if he doesn’t want to (in fact there are religious orders that are vegetarian)… only that he can’t consider it compulsory for everyone because of religious reasons.
Reason 3: human beings aren’t designed for veganism
It’s just not natural. Another thing would be saying that in the current circumstances men can defy nature thanks to science. Again, that’s a personal choice. But what can’t be argued is that it’s by itself the best diet for men.
We don’t need but to look at our bodies and compare them with those of carnivore, omnivore and herbivore animals to realize that biologically we are the second. We don’t have carnivore teeth, say vegans correctly. We neither have the long digestive tract of herbivores. Which by the way is what allows us to have the brain thanks to which we can think about these dietary diatribes. “Brain expansion was possible because of the parallel reduction of the size of the digestive tract” (p. 16). Something impossible for an herbivore, that needs a very big one, since vegetables require a greater processing than meat. Moreover, this huge brain we got needs omega 3 fatty acids, but we didn’t develop in parallel a mechanism to produce those. Why? Because it wasn’t necessary: we had fish.
Diets around the world
We can as well check that there are no traditionally vegan cultures. Each people’s diet can vary a lot depending on its geographical location and its available resources, but none excludes animal foods completely. In the intertropical zone, plant-based diets are prevailing, such as the one of the Kitavans of Papua New Guinea —who also eat fish, mind you—, with exceptions such as the Masai; whereas as we ascend towards the Arctic, the consumption of animal products increases, being for example the basis —and practically the only kind of food— of diets of peoples such as the Inuit.
And that doesn’t mean ones are healthier than others. For example, if we compare the Tuoli of China with other nearby peoples that consume much less animal products (they’re an exception in the area), we observe there are no significant differences regarding mortality or incidence of illnesses. In some cases, they even come off better than their neighbors.
Furthermore, our body is much better equipped to absorb certain macro and micronutrients from animal products rather than vegetables. The most remarkable case is perhaps proteins: the percentage of animal protein absorption is about 90%, whereas the one of vegetable protein is between 60 and 70%, due to the presence of limiting amino acids. What’s more, vegetable proteins are usually incomplete, that is, don’t have all the essential amino acids (the one the body can’t make on its own and needs to get through food). Of course, they have a lot of other advantages, and this problem can be solved with the right planning; I’m just trying to show how our organism works.
With regard to micronutrients, the same happens for example with iron, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamins such as A, D, K2 and B12. All of which are absolutely fundamental for life. For example, vitamin B12 is essential to ensure the proper functioning of the nervous system, DNA synthesis and red blood cells making, among other things*. All vegans —I’m not generalizing, there are no exceptions here— need to take vitamin B12 supplements. Would our body really have, if it was made for veganism, such a grave requirement?
In the rest of the cases —although it’s unclear in some of them, like with omega 3 fatty acids—, normally we can get the right amounts with some maneuvers (for example, consuming foods with vitamin C together with others with iron in order to ease the absorption of the latter by neutralizing phytates). But again, they aren’t the organism’s preferred source to get elements that are however essential for it.
I hope this post has helped you learn and think! As I said at the beginning, in Part II I’ll explain my arguments regarding health and ecology, I’ll talk about animal wellbeing and I’ll tell you what steps I’m taking or going to take in order to try to minimize the problems that the animal industry indeed has nowadays. See you next time!