Kaleigh Mason was Veganadian for eight years (for anyone unfamiliar with the term, that means a vegan in Canada).
Initially her avoidance of any food with even trace amounts of animal products was for health-related reasons. But lest you think, “Aha! She was vegan for the wrong reasons! No wonder she wasn’t committed at all and thus gave up after 8 years instead of 80,” Kaleigh did come to accept the environmental and animal-rights reasons too, giving her veganism the obligatory 3 unshakable pillars of health, environment and animals.
Nevertheless, what brought her into veganism also brought her out. If you’re thinking of getting into veganism purely for health reasons, Kaleigh’s reminiscences might inspire you to reconsider that.
What got you into veganism?
The book by Harvey Diamond called Fit for Life, and especially his second book called Living Health. After I was vegan for a few years, Harvey Diamond came out with a book called Fit for Life, Not Fat for Life, in which he details his constant cravings for steak. After many years of being a near-vegan he decides to have a steak with a salad. At the time this completely and utterly blew my mind. “But he said you can get everything you need from a vegan diet, why would he crave a steak??” kind of thing.
Is this the quote?
"I was vegetarian for over a quarter of a century, but hey, things change. I’ve always told my readers that if they crave something for a long time, it must be something the body wants or needs, so have it and see how you feel. One day out of the clear blue sky, after not having meat for twenty-five years, I started to crave a charbroiled steak the way a lion craves a wildebeest. I couldn’t get it out of my head no matter how much I tried to ignore the craving or convince myself that it was some kind of aberrant desire. So finally I decided to eat the steak, throw it up and move on. The only thing was, I enjoyed it, and I felt great."
Ha! Yes. That’s the one.
Did you feel better or worse as a vegan?
I felt better for the first four months and then progressively worse for the next seven years.
But did you tell people you felt better?
While I was vegan I worked as a manager in a health food store. I always told myself and others that I felt much better as a vegan (deep down I knew I didn’t). I think I was actually trying to convince myself that I felt better. “I’m thinner, so I MUST feel better.”
Too bad, since it sounds like you initially got into veganism for health.
My main reason for starting veganism was for health reasons. I had been anorexic since I was 15 years old, so when I was 18 years old and I found Harvey Diamond’s book, I thought, “Well this makes a lot of sense.” The reason the vegan philosophy would appeal to someone with an eating disorder is it fits right in with the program. The vegan diet is essentially a starvation diet, even if you eat loads of nuts, seeds, lentils, beans, fruits and vegetables. So in a way it wasn’t from a health perspective, it was from a desperation and obsession to be thin.
I also gravitated toward veganism because it’s not a balanced diet and I was not a balanced person. As an anorexic young girl, the foods that I ate were usually foods low in fat, low in calories and high in carbohydrates. Clinical studies have been done since the ’40s demonstrating that a high carbohydrate diet overstimulates the glands, causing depression, violence, apathy, hyper-sensitivity, hypoglycemia, hypothyroidism, etc. Going from being an anorexic young woman to an extreme raw food vegan was very easy.
Although I started the vegan diet for “health reasons,” the ecological and ethical reasoning for veganism led me to continue eating that way until well past the point of mental and physical illness.
What was your diet like as a vegan?
I ate mostly raw vegan foods like fruit, salads, avocados and superfoods like goji, green food powders, maca, cacao, coconut oil, etc. I ate wheat-free sourdough bread, tempeh and miso. And I did a two-week juice fast every year.
Did you ever find veganism to be alienating?
The most alienating experience I had as a vegan was when I was in Austria. I was with a small group of people and they chose a traditional Austrian restaurant. I ordered the garden salad with no dressing, plain potatoes and broccoli (I had to ask them to leave off any butter or cream). The waitress spoke very little English and did the best she could. (She had never heard of such a thing as “VEGAN.”)
When my meal came, the salad was covered in cream dressing. I sent the salad back and asked for “NO DRESSING.” When the salad came back for the second time it was obvious that someone in the kitchen had simply taken the salad leaves and rinsed off the dressing. I sent the salad back and asked for a new one as the salad still had cream dressing in some places. The waitress was embarrassed and I felt sorry for her, but I thought, “If they had some fucking vegan options this wouldn’t be so awkward!”
I spent the rest of the evening complaining to my group about the lack of vegan options in Austria. I’m not even sure what was talked about that night other than my complaining. Looking back, I wish I had just eaten the salad and thanked the waitress for trying so hard to find me something to eat.
I also remember sending back some fried rice because it had a small amount of egg in it. The cook came out of the back with dish gloves on and said “Why is this a problem?” “Because I asked for no egg,” I replied. She said, “But this is the way my customers like it.” I ended up holding my entire dinner group up because my food came ONE HOUR later than everyone else’s.
Did you think you might ever not be vegan?
I thought I would be vegan for life. I thought my kids would be vegan.
What made you realize that you needed to quit veganism?
I was so depressed I couldn’t laugh at funny things or smile anymore. I had always been depressed, but always able to at least smile. This was a new low.
I discovered I was deficient in a multitude of different nutrients that are readily available in animal products. (b12, zinc, iron, magnesium, vit D, Retinol Vit A). I also found out I had hypothyroidism, and when I did some research I found the link between raw cruciferous vegetables and soy blocking thyroid function. Protein and pre-formed Vitamin A from animal products are critical for thyroid health. When you have a slow thyroid you cannot convert beta carotene into Retinol Vitamin A, the form you need for healthy thyroid function.
Before I was vegan I had ONE cavity. I developed eight new cavities in the first two years of being a vegan.
There’s a lot of myth about vegans getting all the protein and nutrients you require from plants. I ate spinach, watercress, spirulina, chlorella, E3 Live — all supposedly high protein sources for vegans. But how can you possibly get enough fat soluble nutrients for your brain/glands when plants rarely contain fat soluble nutrients? Harvey Diamond, David Wolfe and Paul Bragg would like you to believe you can get everything you need from a raw food vegan diet, but try it out for 10 years and watch yourself turn into a neurotic, nervous, hyper sensitive and adrenally burnt-out mess.
You feel safe on the vegan diet, though, because you’re not eating the so-called fattening/carcinogenic foods the media warns against.
Even though you weren’t healthy as a vegan, did you still think veganism was morally right?
It wasn’t just my own health problems that made me think veganism was not what it was cracked up to be. One of the arguments for being vegan is that killing animals is speciesism. So you only eat plants because plants don’t suffer. But after I read a book called The Secret Life of Plants, I realized that only eating plants, thinking you’re eating something inanimate, without consciousness or feelings, is also a form of speciesism.
One interesting point from The Secret Life of Plants is that when they attach electrodes to animal tissue, plant and mineral, all of them have the same emotional response to stimuli. So what they showed was rose quartz, chickens and orchids all feel. Then after doing some research on traditional diets I discovered that I was actually doing more harm to the environment by eating a vegan diet than by eating a 100 percent local diet.
I live in Ontario, Canada and during the winter the only local vegan foods left to eat are frozen berries, carrots, potatoes, squash, parsnips, turnips, yams and other root vegetables. Sustaining on those foods all winter would be impossible. So you start importing coconut oil, gojis, cacao, maca, avocados, green salads, etc. I realized that driving half a mile down the road to buy some eggs is a better option ecologically than buying all these expensive imported “superfoods.” And when you do the research, the pastured, local egg has more nutrition than any of the superfoods I was paying 10 or 20X more for. So after awhile I felt pretty counterproductive and hypocritical in my vegan stance.
How did you quit veganism?
I biked to the farm that my mother used to buy her eggs from when I was a kid. I hard-boiled them and ate one. I thought I would feel unwell or nauseous after eating the egg because I hadn’t eaten eggs in so long, but I felt great!
I read once that plant foods contain high amounts of copper, and animal protein high amounts of zinc. Zinc and copper balance each other in the body. High levels of copper can cause anxiety and paranoia, plus other schizophrenic type symptoms. So the zinc in the egg was really good for me and has helped to balance my nervous system and reduce my anxiety to the point where the only time I feel anxious or depressed is when I’ve gone too long without eating eggs. But I generally now eat 14 eggs a week. These are local eggs from chickens that forage for their own food and get plenty of sunlight.
I then progressed to yogurt and on Christmas of 2008 I ate salmon and turkey for the first time in almost a decade. They tasted exactly as I had remembered.
What is your diet like now?
I eat protein, fat and complex carbohydrates at every meal, focusing on local, pasture-raised animal products, local butter, vegetables and whole grains. I avoid gluten, white sugar, soy and seed oils. Plus I try to avoid anything genetically modified — which is just about everything in the grocery store when you live in North America.
You still work in a health food store. Do you get a lot of vegans coming in?
A couple of weeks ago a raw vegan came into the store and asked me why I started eating animal products again. I explained the health problems I encountered on a vegan diet and how depressed I felt.
"Well, were you raw vegan?" she asked. "For most of the time I was," I told her. I said that I did everything "right" and took supplements but it didn’t work for me. "Health can only come from whole foods!!!" she said. "Yeah, that’s why I’ve been drinking raw milk and eating animal products again," I said.
But she didn’t understand that one because in a vegan’s mind only fruits and vegetables are whole foods. It makes me sad because this woman is looking for health by following the raw vegan diet but hasn’t found it. She has sores on her face that won’t heal. She buys two large bottles of sleep and pain supplements a month and she’s pathologically miserable. But only raw foods can bring health.
Are most vegans destined for eventual ex-veganism?
Well, if they don’t mind cavities, fatigue, depression, glandular problems, candidiasis and anxiety, plus conflicting, hypocritical ideals they’re not!
Would you ever date a vegan now?
I would definitely date anyone I liked regardless of eating habits or religion. But I would very subtly, in the nicest way…make him not vegan. I would make animal foods but never ever tell him that he has to eat them to be healthy. I would support veganism, but more from the stance that I’m supporting his choices — not necessarily veganism. And then eventually he would ask me to make him an egg.
The key is not telling them what to eat or what to do. For some reason, people HATE that!
How did your omnivore friends react when they found out you were no longer vegan?
They’re still shocked when they see me eating a steak. The vegan diet was so much a part of my personality that people nicknamed me VEGAN. They just sit bug-eyed when I’m explaining how one makes bone broth or pickled heart.
A lot of ex-vegans get into organ meats and other sorts of offal that even most lifelong omnivores won’t touch. Why do you think that is?
There’s something about the personality of someone who gravitates toward veganism. They’re desperate to find the truth and to help the planet and themselves. The information on the health-rebuilding benefits of organ meats is out there and if someone wants to discover the truth about healthy foods, that’s what they will end up finding.
My mother was raised on a farm with her six brothers and sisters. Her mother had been a dairy farmer and her father was an old order Mennonite. My grandparents had their kids eat liver once a week and pickled heart as much as they liked. This is a practice we have lost, not something omnivores have never done.
My great aunt gave me her old nursing textbook from 1920 and it recommended cod liver oil and organ meats on a daily basis, and plenty of eggs and bone-broth-based soups and stews. My friend is taking nursing right now and all of this valuable information has been replaced with “avoid liver and eggs as they are high in cholesterol.”
What do you miss about veganism?
I miss believing in the blanket vegan solution for all of our health and ecological problems. Just kidding. I don’t miss one fucking thing.