Where Vegans Have It Wrong
Just to get this out the way, I think most vegans are through engaging in fruitless arguments with meat eaters in denial — the factory farming industry is a cruel and exploitative example of capitalism run amok. Even the most staunch, bacon loving, deer hunting, rare steak eater would recoil at the violent images taken by animal rights activists documenting factory farms. It’s hard to face these images and not admit those annoying vegans have a point.
Still, even though most people have witnessed the gruesome realities of the factory farming industry, an alarming small amount of the American population calls itself vegan or vegetarian. Despite the diet’s rise in popularity, only 3% of the population identifies as vegetarian. Even fewer identify as vegan. If vegans have such a strong moral argument, and new evidence of the health benefits of well balanced vegan diets come out every day, how come so few people have adopted the vegan lifestyle?
The truth is many people attempt the vegan or vegetarian diet and fail.
According to statistics, 84% of people who attempt vegan and vegetarian diets eventually go back to eating meat again. Some consume meat again for health reasons, but the majority cave due to weak will.
So if many people are in agreement that the vegan diet is the most sustainable diet for the planet, but can’t stick to the diet, either because of how it impacts their health or through lack of will power, is there a middle ground? Maybe people can incorporate vegetarian dishes in their diet seamlessly, without having to undergo a huge lifestyle change.
The truth is, many people would love to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet but don’t because they feel they lack the willpower to maintain such a restrictive diet. For many meat eaters, the thought of eating their last steak or cheeseburger is simply too big a sacrifice — especially if they have memories associated with a certain protein based dish. Telling your Sicilian grandmother you can’t eat her meatballs because you’re now vegetarian is more difficult than you’d think. Perhaps there’s another way…
There’s a strong urge among more health conscious communities to put a label on their diets: vegan, paleo, keto, etc, and form an identity around that label. Most people, however, don’t assign much meaning to their dietary choices except for evaluating whether or not the meal they’re eating is healthy. For this vast majority of people, going vegetarian could feel like going on another restrictive diet — except without cheat days. A diet for life.
Also, many people may not wish to associate themselves with the cult-like ethos associated with the vegan lifestyle — the sea of Moby clones wielding compassion like a weapon in their faux leather boots. That’s okay though. Why label yourself? Perhaps the whole planet would benefit more if people focused less on forming an identity around the food they choose to eat, and focused more on the food itself.
Many meat eaters, for example, actually enjoy the taste of vegan chickenless chicken once they chuck their preconceived notions about it out the window. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying vegetarian food on a regular basis without fully making the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle.
Also, the health benefits of certain meats are unavoidable. Red meat is rich in iron. Chicken is loaded with selenium and let’s not forget about that precious protein. Cutting out meat entirely is simply unrealistic for many.
The collective mindset Americans have about vegetarian food — the idea that it somehow has to be correlated with a lifestyle choice — has lead to only 2–3% of the population aligning themselves with vegetarianism as an environmentally conscious choice and the rest eating meat and animal products with abandon. As much as vegans are sacrificing in their personal lives, they must admit such a small group also making the commitment is going to have a negligible impact on the environment at best. But if millions of people committed to eating one vegan meal a day and went to the Sunday barbecue all the same, the impact would be tremendous.
One of the main reasons why many people who attempt vegan or vegetarian lifestyles fail is because they fear standing out from the pack. They didn’t like being the oddball among their friends or the fact that their friends suddenly had to consider their dietary needs before making plans. Vegans and vegetarians have to be okay with being a little bit weird to be successful on the diet. People who don’t want to stick out among their friends will have a more difficult time transitioning. This is why, for these people, sticking to a commitment of trying to eat more vegetarian meals, and executing a meal by meal plan, will ultimately be more reasonable than making drastic changes to their diet.
And the thing is, it would actually have a larger impact than 2% of the population trying to convince stubborn people to go vegan. Researchers found that if families committed to eating vegan once a week the environmental impact was akin to not driving for 5 whole weeks. If people just ate one vegan meal a day that would be equivalent to eating vegan two days a week and the positive results would consequently double.
It’s time we rethink this model. Meatless Mondays are great but I think we can even do one better. It’s about being more conscious about what you’re eating without having to uproot your whole life. So next time you’re at Chipolte, try the sofritos. It’s bomb, I promise you. If we all tried it together, we could really make a difference.