I don’t believe vegetarians exist. I know that people exist who self-identify as vegetarians, but if we accept that the term “vegetarian” refers to people who don’t eat meat, then I think vegetarians should be thought of as mythological creatures, akin to unicorns. A study done in American self-proclaimed vegetarians a while ago, found that 48% of them ate meat, poultry or seafood. Just three percent of them could be considered to be “vegan”. You can find a whole list of studies demonstrating that roughly half of self-proclaimed vegetarians regularly eat meat here.
The problem with this simple fact, that self-proclaimed vegetarians often eat meat, is that it casts doubt on all the studies done that proclaim vegan and vegetarian diets to be healthy. If studies proclaim that substance X is within the range of normal values for vegetarians, the exclusion of vegetarians who actually eat meat would reveal a much greater difference between the actual vegetarians and omnivores.
In addition to this, there is the problem that very few people have a lifelong plant-based diet. An estimated 86% of vegetarians eventually return to eating meat, so we tend to look at people who have had plant-based diets for a relatively short time. As an example, some studies show that omnivores mood improves when they stop eating meat for two weeks. This doesn’t surprise me, as all sorts of blood values probably shift back towards a healthier range.
In contrast, I think long-term plant based diets end up causing significant problems. There’s not much of a point in regurgitating all of the existing studies. You’ll find studies that show plant based diets lead to deficiencies in zinc, iron, vitamin B12, iodine and many other nutrients. More importantly, the different deficiencies interact. As an example, your body might not need creatine from your diet because it can make its own creatine. However, what does your body use to create creatine? Amino acids like arginine. It might be possible for your body to synthesize a large list of substances found in meat for itself, but the metabolic burden this imposes on you can be significant.
So perhaps you’re able to get the nutrients you need from a vitamin pill. I have a vegetarian supplement pill in my house here. Here’s a list of some things it doesn’t contain that a plant-based diet tends to miss: Choline, taurine, creatine, iodine, vitamin K2, DHA and EPA. That’s a list of nutrients just from memory, that you’re not getting. I guess it’s theoretically possible that you take four or five different vitamin pills and protein powders on a daily basis to supplement whatever you’re missing from your diet. I think it will be a time and money-consuming ritual that primarily demonstrates the point that you should avoid a plant-based diet.
I say all of this, as a unicorn. I’ve been vegetarian since around the age of ten, so eighteen years now. Since about the past three years, I have started occasionally eating mussels and oysters. Other than mussels and oysters, I can confirm that throughout all of these years, I have not eaten any meat and never relapsed into omnivorism. What unnerves me is the realization that throughout all of those years, I had a tendency towards depression and fatigue. What could be the cause? I always assumed vegetarianism can’t be the cause, because I remembered similar episodes from before I became vegetarian.
So what could be wrong? Perhaps I’m anemic and suffer iron deficiency. Low serum ferritin, which is universal among plant based diet-adherents, is linked to depression in Japanese men. Perhaps I’m anemic due to a vitamin B12 deficiency. This isn’t just linked to depression and fatigue, but to irreversible brain damage. Perhaps my body misses the DHA and EPA omega 3 fatty acids, which is also linked to depression. Perhaps the lack of iodine has a similar effect. Perhaps I’m prone to anxiety because of a lack of taurine, or simply due to a lack of creatine.
Or, it’s a bit of everything. It’s the fact that my great-great-great-grandfather merely had to be able to survive for a year without eating deer, but not capable of thriving under such circumstances. It’s the fact that my body has to produce everything on its own, substances it should receive from my diet have to be produced at levels that were not necessary ever since we learned to carve out slices of meat from corpses on the African savannah, millions of years ago.
And perhaps it’s possible to get your serum ferritin levels back to normal by drinking beer daily, starting your morning by roasting some pumpkin seeds to get some zinc, eating seaweed to get sufficient iodine, regularly eating curry full of curcumin to boost the conversion of ALA into EPA fatty acids and then ending your day with a taurine supplement bought online. With the exception of drinking beer daily, that’s not the kind of life I look forward to. If vegetarianism is really so healthy, it shouldn’t have to mean micromanaging every aspect of your diet just to feel normal.
I’ve understood this for a few years now. The problem is that I can’t imagine myself eating meat, because I associate it with severe cruelty. The average pig is about as intelligent as a four year old child. We don’t eat children and I struggle to think of a justification when it comes to eating pigs. Perhaps I could theoretically eat grass-fed beef, but even then I find myself struggling with a form of cruelty that I simply can not purge from my mind. Should you even seek to thrive, if for you to thrive necessarily needs to happen at the cost of others? It’s easier for me to envision myself as an efilist or a nihilist, than for me to live as an omnivore in full understanding of the suffering necessitated by my lifestyle.
Perhaps the bigger issue is that I simply like animals more than human beings. Most people who say this are edgy teenagers, but I am not kidding. It’s easier for me to think of eating humans than animals. Ever since I was a child, looking into the eyes of birds, dogs and other animals left me with the impression that I am looking at a being full of love and innocence. I was always jealous of my dogs, because they did not have to go to school. The birds seemed to go through the motions of life, unfazed by the fact that they will one day die, their bodies reduced to irrecognizable decomposing piles of waste. I would talk to the birds as a child, hoping that they could understand me. In contrast, human beings mostly just look frightening to me. They understand my motives and I am dependent on them in a manner that allows them to exploit me.
It should be beyond evident that I’m impatiently waiting for lab-grown meat. Until that time however, I need to figure out what to do. Despite essentially being a vegetarian, I can’t with a straight face recommend a vegetarian diet to other people. Worse, I find myself tortured by the consideration of how my life might have looked if I had spent my whole life never abandoning meat and having a normal regular diet like everyone I know. In fact, this fear that I set myself up for misery as a ten year old at an age where I couldn’t comprehend the consequences, is so severe that I have always tried to evict the entire question from my mind altogether.
Derrick Jensen has some long passages in his first book about slaughtering chickens humanely!
What about pescatarianism? At least in the states, every grocery store sells wild-caught salmon, and usually many other types of species. Fish are pretty stupid, and the ones you’d be eating weren’t raised on inhumane and unhealthy fish farms. I bet a serving or two of that a week would cover most if not all of your bases in terms of nutrients. I’ve been doing this for years, but do occasionally eat land animal meat when it’s offered or made for me by someone else.
>So perhaps you’re able to get the nutrients you need from a vitamin pill.
Complete vegan diet under $5 with naught but a b12 pill: https://i.imgur.com/NXHKTba.png
Nobody can compete, indeed
My nutrient intake with no pills:
This is by American dietary standards. Over 200% zinc. 50% of the daily value alone is handled by the oats I ate on the day of the snapshot.
B12 is pre-added to protein supplements I take because of athletics (although all plants in my diet have all essential amino acids, and I could just cook beans instead of being a layabout), and even more to nutritional yeast – since b12 is universally known to the vegan community except those who live under a neutron star-dense rock of ignorance.
K2 is created from fermentation of K1 in the gut, to some extend. The optimal dose of K2 or even whether it’s necessary, is not known. Mainly it’s blown out of proportion by the absurdly anti-science Weston A. Price Foundation.
Creatine, I take in micronized form from cheap tubs I buy. I get more than anyone could get out of non-raw meat.
I don’t need to supplement EPA and DHA since I’m not a pregnant women or elderly. I like to eat seeds and nuts and convert it from ALA.
Vegan depression, I looked up studies for. I could barely find anything. The most prominent study stated in the beginning that it didn’t find a causative link. Only that depressed people were more likely to become vegan.
Conversion of ALA into EPA is low, conversion into DHA is negligible, at least from the studies I’ve seen. I’m not convinced.
Low EPA/DHA conversion is the reason for the stratospheric ALA dosing, although DHA should be supplemented in elderly and pregnant/nursing mothers at the very least.
But it doesn’t even have to be perfect. Only a minority will ever go all out vegan. The benefit of having vegans is that that they smash average health expectations enough to discredit any resistance to flexitarianism, lab meat, etc. Thus “vegan” is a poor term. I like to think of them as “dietary frontiersmen”.
That sounds reasonable. You might have changed my mind.
Do you have an email list or will I have to periodically check-in like ranprieurs site? Maybe this is how you weed out the the lesser fans?
Anyways I appreciate your writing and thinking – really good stuff. I think you can totally be healthy on a vegan diet and you’re ahead of the curve nutritionally speaking in terms if awareness. I’ve have yet to encounter any health issue I couldn’t work through and I’m aging tremendously better than all my contemporaries. As you enter your 30s supplementing will really help. Eating raw wholefoods daily like tons of fruit for breakfast really helps with my energy levels and carried me through really intense training in my twenties.
Ethically you could argue eating oysters – read an article on this once. But also saw your oyster regimen in a recent article. How has that been going for you?
Thanks for the nice words. I should probably look into a way to let people subscribe. You can subscribe on Reddit I guess.