The State of Veganism, 2015

Here are some up-to-date observations on the current status of the vegan philosophy from various important viewpoints.

Vegan diets can be healthy or unhealthy

A vegan diet, like an omnivorous diet, can be unhealthy if little thought is given to its planning. Since the beginnings of veganism in the early 1800s until only recently, vegan diets has received criticism from most nutritional authorities for lacking various nutrients, or proportions of nutrients including protein, calcium, iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids. In the past several decades many of these claims have been shown false and it has been demonstrated that a strict vegan diet can comfortably fulfill all necessary nutritional requirements of a healthy human. It is now the opinion of every major national and international nutritional association that a well planned vegan diet can be as healthy, or, as many have stated, healthier in some aspects, than omnivorous and ovo-lacto vegetarian diets.

  1. American Dietetic Association: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” [1]
  2. Dietitian’s Association of Australia: “Despite these restrictions [a lack of animal products], with good planning it is still possible to obtain all the nutrients required for good health on a vegan diet.” [2]
  3. British Dietitians Association: “Well planned vegetarian [and strict-vegetarian] diets can be nutritious and healthy. They are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and lower cholesterol levels. This could be because such diets are lower in saturated fat, contain fewer calories and more fibre and phytonutrients/phytochemicals (these can have protective properties) than non-vegetarian diets.” [3]
  4. Dietitians of Canada: “A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.” and “A healthy vegan diet can meet all your nutrient needs at any stage of life including when you are pregnant, breastfeeding or for older adults. [4]

 


 

Athletes can excel on a vegan diet

Despite vegan diets being widely accepted by all major dietitians associations, there is still a distinct hostility towards the vegan diet, particularly with some online bloggers who feel that the validity of their chosen diet is being threatened by research which supports veganism as a healthy diet. Unable to hold their ground against a number of major studies supporting veganism, some bloggers have turned to new claims that ‘optimal nutrition’ cannot be achieved on a vegan diet. Though we can not, at this stage in our understanding of the human body, know what constitutes an ‘optimal’ diet for the average human, these examples of arguably optimal humans do cast some doubt on the speculatory claims of these bloggers:

  • Patrick Baboumian: Germany’s Strongest Man in 2011 and during 2013 he broke the world record for the most weight ever carried (video).
  • Mac Danzig: World champion UFC fighter, 2007
  • James Wilks: World champion UFC fighter, 2009
  • Lenroy Thompson: World-class boxer and winner the US title in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014 and the Golden Gloves 2009, 2011 and 2013.
  • Jim Morris: World-class bodybuilder who is now vegan (and interestingly was Elton John’s personal bodyguard for more than a decade).
  • Steph Davis: Record breaking rock climber,  the only woman to have free solo climbed a 5.11 climb.
  • Timothy Bradley: Professional boxer holding several titles and, as of 2014, is Ring Magazine’s number 5, Best Pound for Pound boxer in the world.
  • Scott Jurek: One of the worlds most successful ultra-marathon runners. Hold several records and 3 consecutive “Male ultra-runner of the year” awards.
  • David Haye: A professional boxer holding Cruiserweight and Heavyweight world titles.
  • Tim Shieff: 2009 world champion free-runner (and funnily enough, one of the Death Eaters in the last Harry Potter movie).
Patrik Baboumian breaking the world record for the most weight ever carried (2013)
Patrik Baboumian breaking the world record for the most weight ever carried (2013)

Particularly interesting is the proportion of vegan super-athletes. For example, at the time of writing, vegans fighters have won a quarter of the UFC/TUF world championships in the welterweight division in the last 8 years. The proportion of vegan fighters entering these tournaments is significantly lower.

 


 

Eating meat and animal products can hurt the environment

  1. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” and “The livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”[5] and “As a large user of natural resources and contributor to climate change, the livestock sector needs to address its environmental footprint.”[6]
  2. 30% of the word’s total ice-free land surface is used to solely to support animals grown for meat, eggs or dairy products [7]. In Australia more than 50% of the natural vegetation has been turned to grazing, primarily for cattle [8].  In Brazil, 70% of all original rain-forest has been destroyed for grazing [7]. These are very significant and statistics.
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics: “Grazing accounts for just over half of all land use. Environmental issues associated with sheep and cattle grazing include habitat loss, surface soil loss, salinity, and soil and water quality issues.” [8]
  4. Center for Biological Diversity (USA): “Cattle destroy native vegetation, damage soils and stream banks, and contaminate waterways with fecal waste. After decades of livestock grazing, once-lush streams and riparian forests have been reduced to flat, dry wastelands; once-rich topsoil has been turned to dust, causing soil erosion, stream sedimentation and wholesale elimination of some aquatic habitats” [11]
Cattle grazing in Australia
Effect of cattle grazing along a riverbed in Australia. Photo Peter Solness.

 


 

 

 Eating meat and animal products can be unhealthy

  1. John Hopkins School of Public Health: “A strong body of scientific evidence links excess meat consumption, particularly of red and processed meat, with heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and earlier death. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans can help prevent these diseases and promote health in a variety of ways. […] The majority of the protein foods consumed in the U.S. are meat and animal products, which are often high in saturated fat and cholesterol, as opposed to the more nutrient-dense and health-promoting plant-based options (e.g., beans, peas, lentils, soy products, nuts and seeds).” [9]
  2. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “a very low meat intake was associated with a significant decrease in risk of death in 4 [of 6] studies,” and “Current prospective cohort data from adults in North America and Europe raise the possibility that a lifestyle pattern that includes a very low meat intake is associated with greater longevity.”[10]
  3. Harvard Health Publications: “A meta-analysis of 29 studies of meat consumption and colon cancer concluded that a high consumption of red meat increases risk by 28%, and a high consumption of processed meat increases risk by 20%.” [12] and “It appears ‘healthy meat consumption’ has become an oxymoron […] People in the study who ate the most red meat tended to die younger, and to die more often from cardiovascular disease and cancer. […] even when the researchers compensated for the effects of unhealthy lifestyle, mortality and meat remained associated.” [13]
  4. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: “Two themes consistently emerge from studies of cancer from many sites: vegetables and fruits help to reduce risk, while meat, animal products, and other fatty foods are frequently found to increase risk. […] Not surprisingly, vegetarians are at the lowest risk for cancer and have a significantly reduced risk compared to meat-eaters.” [14]

 


 

Veganism is the kind and morally consistent choice

  • Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness: “… the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” [17]
  • Inherent animal cruelty has been documented during hundreds of investigations all over the world at major meat, egg and dairy suppliers.
  • Veganism does not arbitrarily favour any species over any other; it ignores the species label when determining moral worth. Sentience; the capacity to feel and perceive, is used to determine whether an organism has a right to own its body.
  • Death, suffering and slavery of many sentient species (including humans [16]) are all reduced by humans avoiding animal products.

 


 

Veganism is on the way up

Sadly, we’re all subjects of the imperfect human condition and so moral consistency often isn’t enough to change our behaviour. Interestingly, though, the reality or even perception that our peers are changing their behaviour can help motivate us to change our behaviour.

  • The list of vegan celebrities grows:  Ariana Grande, Natalie Portman, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Ellen DeGeneres, Usher, Alicia Silverstone, Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Harrelson, Tobey Maguire, Carl Lewis, Thom Yorke, Russell Brand, Alanis Morissette, Ellie Goulding, Morrissey, Mike Tyson, Carrie Underwood, Paul McCartney, Alan Cumming, Daniella Monet, Sia, Steve-O, Ellen Page, Eric Stoltz, James Cromwell, Prince, Jared Leto, Maggie Q, Pamela Anderson, Rich Roll, Ricky Martin, Ricky Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Silverman, Shania Twain, Thomas Dekker, and hundreds more…
  • Veganism is buzzing in the news:  In 2011 ‘vegan’ surpassed ‘vegetarian’ in news headline occurrence frequency as shown in this Google Trends graph:
Number of new headlines referencing 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' since 2007
Relative number of news headlines containing ‘vegan’ and ‘vegetarian’ since 2007
  • Research by Mintel has found that, globally, the number of vegetarian food and drink products launched in 2013 was double that in 2009. Similarly, the number of new products labelled ‘vegan’ doubled in that 4 year interval.
  • A report by SymphonyIRI Group in 2011 indicated that with the advent of Almond milk in major supermarkets, the milk-alternatives market saw a 13% growth in 1 year. Euromonitor, another market research firm, expects dairy alternatives to continue to grow by another 52% in the 5 years between 2014 and 2019.
  • Big investors are taking notice: Bill Gates, Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone have all recently invested in vegan startups like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods, both of which are developing animal-free substitutes for animal products which are healthier, kinder, and have less impact on the environment. Morgan Creek Capital Management, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (one of the “largest and most established” venture capital firms in the world according to The Wall Street Journal) are among the growing list of investors who are throwing their money at the vegan movement, and profiting. [15]

 


 

Conclusion

Happily, a large body of evidence and support is mounting for a kind, healthy and environmentally friendly lifestyle. If you’re not vegan already, please consider watching this short video and/or this documentary. Both are free, and are guaranteed to give you some important insights into the ways we use animals. If you are vegan, feel free to use the various quotes and references in this article to help in your own advocacy efforts.

If I’ve missed anything, or made a mistake, or for any other reason, you can contact me via hello@josephrocca.com, and you can visit my other blog here.

Thanks for reading!

 


 

References

Apologies for the lack of consistent formatting:

[1] American Dietetic Association, 2009, Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets
[2] http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/vegan-diets/
[3] https://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/vegetarianfoodfacts
[4] http://www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Vegetarian/Eating-Guidelines-for-Vegans.aspx
[5] Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, 2006, ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e07.pdf
[6] Gerber, P. J., H. Steinfeld, B. Henderson, A. Mottet, C. Opio, J. Dijkman, A. Falcucci and G. Tempio. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – a global assessmaent of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. [7] http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html [8] http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4613.0Chapter95Jan+2010
[9] Health & Environmental Implications of U.S. Meat Consumption & Production http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/projects/meatless_monday/resources/meat_consumption.html
[10] “Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans?”  http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/526S
[11] “Grazing” http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/public_lands/grazing/
[12] “Read meat and colon cancer” http://www.health.harvard.edu/family_health_guide/red-meat-and-colon-cancer
[13] “Cutting red meat-for a longer life” http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/cutting-red-meat-for-a-longer-life
[14] “Meat Consumption and Cancer Risk” http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/facts/meat-consumption-and-cancer-risk
[15] “The Bill Gates-backed company that’s reinventing meat” http://fortune.com/2013/10/03/the-bill-gates-backed-company-thats-reinventing-meat/
[16] “UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/02/un-report-meat-free-diet
[17] “Cambridge Declaration On Consciousness” http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

Note: You can copy any or all parts of this blog post for any use what-so-ever. A no link or attribution necessary.

 

March 6, 2015

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