Final Thoughts on the American Dietetic Association/Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Vegetarian Position Papers

At bottom, of course, a conflict of interest is an ethical concern. The ability of an individual to perform or satisfy a duty owed to others, in any number of contexts, may be compromised by conflicting interests or obligations that influence, or may be perceived to influence, the individual’s performance of the duty. Consequently, what is at issue is the expectation of the people or audience to whom the duty is owed that the actor will perform the duty with unfettered adherence to their interests or to a particular code of behavior. … There are numerous such scenarios in which a nonfinancial conflict may arise. …If one’s judgment is affected, or might appear to be affected, by another role or relationship in which the individual is involved, the potential for a conflict of interest can exist.

— “Recognizing and Addressing Conflicts of Interest” J. Craig Busey, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, March 2006, p. 351

* * *

There’s an old saying at the American Dietetic Association: if dietetics is your profession, politics is your business. As nutrition issues move into center stage for government consideration and action, this saying could not be truer.

— “ADA Members Make Politics Their Business at PPW,” ADA Times, May-June 2004, p. 1

* * *

Two years ago, I read the 2009 American Dietetic Association vegetarian position paper and recognized one of the two authors: Reed Mangels, a vegan advocate from the Vegetarian Resource Group. This didn’t require any special insight, as she was cited as “Ann Reed Mangels, PhD,RD, LDN, FADA (The Vegetarian Resource Group, Baltimore, MD).” Still, I was surprised that a prominent vegan activist had worked on this paper, even if she was a dietitian. After reading vegans go on about these vegetarian position papers, and how credible they were because they constituted an endorsement of veganism from “even the conservative American Dietetic Association,” I expected the authors to represent the American Dietetic Association as a whole -– and thus be staunch dietary bores, advocating mainstream recommendations like the USDA’s Food Pyramid/Four Food Groups/MyPlate; the impression was that their old fashioned ways would have prejudiced them against veganism, but they took a good look at the science and were forced to admit that abstaining from all animal products was perfectly fine and was perhaps beneficial: the hard facts trumped their conservative skepticism and meat industry ties.

Happy Birthday MyPlate

But now that didn’t seem to be the case at all. Instead, one of the authors was someone I’d already heard of who advocated veganism for ethical reasons and thus had good reason to want veganism to be thought of as healthy. The real shocker would have been if her paper had said veganism was too risky. 

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part Seven: 2009

The American Dietetic Association vegetarian position papers had been accepting of a vegan diet since the first paper appeared in 1980. The 1980 position statement read: 

The American Dietetic Association affirms that a well planned diet, consisting of a variety of largely unrefined plant foods supplemented with some milk and eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarian diet) meets all known nutrient needs. Furthermore, a total plant dietary can be made adequate by careful planning, giving proper attention to specific nutrients which may be in a less available form or in lower concentration or absent in plant foods.

But the 1980 paper fell into disfavor with vegans and vegetarians when the updated 1988 paper came out; the 1988 paper and all that followed were deemed superior because they rejected the need for “protein combining,” and grew progressively more confident at asserting advantages of vegetarianism and veganism. Even though every ADA vegetarian position paper has affirmed that veganism could be fine, it wasn’t until 2009 that veganism was again acknowledged in the position statement. For those vegans who only bother to read the position statements of these papers, this made 2009’s paper seem revolutionary. 

The last two lines of the 2009 paper are: ”The authors thank the reviewers for their many constructive comments and suggestions. The reviewers were not asked to endorse this position or the supporting paper.” If only the 2003 paper had ended with those lines — that would have saved me a bunch of tedious research into those 23 reviewers. According to one reviewer of earlier papers, though, she and the other reviewers were not asked to endorse the position statements, so this sentence may have held true (but been unstated) for the previous papers as well. I’m still waiting to hear more about that from Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics higher-ups.   

2009 paper title: ”Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets”

2009 Position Statement: "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 lifecycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes."

The Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group on changes in the 2009 paper:

The updated position paper was published in the July 2009 issue of Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Co-authors were VN members Winston Craig, PhD, MPH, RD and Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, FADA. Several VN members including Catherine Conway, MS, RD, CDN, CDE, Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, and Elizabeth Tilak, MS, RD were reviewers for this paper. Position paper highlights included:

• Paper was updated using the ADA’s Evidence Analysis Process and information from the ADA Evidence Analysis Library® (EAL®) to show that vegetarian diets:
* can be nutritionally adequate in pregnancy and result in positive maternal and infant health outcomes.
* are associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

• Paper includes new topics and additional information on:
* key nutrients for vegetarians;
* vegetarian diets in the life cycle;
* the use of vegetarian diets in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, and diabetes;
* considerations for vegetarians in programs including WIC, the National School Lunch and Breakfast program, corrections facilities, and the military.

• Nutritional differences of vegetarian diets may explain some of the health advantages of individuals following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet. Vegetarian diets may result in:
* lower blood cholesterol levels,
* lower risk of heart disease,
* lower blood pressure levels,
* lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

• A section on vegetarian diets and cancer has been significantly expanded to provide details on cancer protective factors in vegetarian diets.

• A section on osteoporosis has also been expanded to include the roles of fruits, vegetables, and soy products as well as key nutrients including protein, calcium, vitamins D and K, and potassium in bone health.

• Roles of the qualified food and nutrition professionals include:
* providing information about key nutrients, modifying vegetarian diets to meet the needs of those with dietary restrictions due to disease or allergies, and supplying guidelines to meet the needs of clients in different areas of the life cycle.

— “American Dietetic Association Publishes Updated Position Paper on Vegetarian Diets,” Vegetarian Nutrition Update, Winter 2010, p.18

Authors

Winston J. Craig (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Ann Reed Mangels (Vegan for ethical reasons)

Winston Craig Reed Mangels

Reviewers

Catherine Conway (Vegetarian member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Sharon Denny (non-vegetarian)

Mary H. Hager

Virginia Messina (Vegan for ethical reasons)

Esther Myers

Tamara Schryver (Flexitarian)

Elizabeth Tilak (Member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Jennifer A. Weber

Association Positions Committee Workgroup Members

Dianne K. Polly

Katrina Holt

Johanna Dwyer (non-vegetarian)

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part Six: 2003

2003 was the year that The American Dietetic Association seemed to realize it looked bad that all of their vegetarian position papers reviewers were vegans for ethical reasons or vegetarians for ethical or religious reasons. Whereas the 1988 and 1997 papers had 7 reviewers and the 1993 paper had 5 — all of whom were vegetarian or vegan, with a single exception -– the 2003 paper had 23 reviewers, and not all of them were vegetarians or vegans. 

Another change in 2003 was that the ADA got more dietary practice groups (DPGs) involved with the review process. DPGs are sub-groups within the ADA for dietitians with specialized interests. Despite the almost unanimous dominance of vegetarian and vegan reviewers on all the previous ADA vegetarian position papers, only 2 of the 23 reviewers in 2003 were cited under the Vegetarian Nutrition DPG. That makes it look like 2003 included a mucher wider variety of perspectives than in previous years.

However, at least five (and probably more) of the other 2003 reviewers were also members of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (VN DPG), even though they were listed under different affiliations. D. Enette Larson, who was listed without a DPG affiliation, was the Chair of the VN DPG for 1995-1996. Gita B. Patel, who was listed under the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionist DPG, was one of the VN DPG’s Nominating Committee Chairs in 2003 and is currently the VN DPG’s Chair Elect. Rita Batheja, who was listed as a reviewer under the Nutrition in Complementary Care DPG, has been the VN DPG’s State and Regional Coordinator for New York since 2001.

At least 10 of the reviewers were self-described vegetarians and/or VN DPG members, and at least seven of the reviewers were non-vegetarians. I was unable to get in touch with the others. 

Not all of the reviewers were looking over the 2003 paper for nutritional reasons. For instance, Judy Dausch told me that she was reviewing it for political policy considerations.

It’s unclear how much influence the reviewers actually have. The ADA’s 2009 vegetarian position paper ends with the line, “The authors thank the reviewers for their many constructive comments and suggestions. The reviewers were not asked to endorse this position or the supporting paper.” I asked many of the vegetarian position paper reviewers if they were asked to endorse any of the papers before 2009. Most of them said they couldn’t remember, but one of them said, “In any review, like a manuscript review, I reviewed it thoroughly [and] provided my reactions and reasons for them. The reviewers were not asked to endorse the statement, nor did I do so.”

I am waiting to hear back from Donna Wickstrom –- manager of the position paper process at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) –- about whether reviewers were asked to endorse the vegetarian position papers before 2009.

After this entry, I’ll look at the authors and reviewers of the most recent ADA/AND vegetarian position paper, which was in 2009, and then I’ll write an entry giving my thoughts about these papers. 

2003 paper title: “Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets”

Position statement: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

Abstract excerpt: ”This position paper reviews the current scientific data related to key nutrients for vegetarians, including protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids, and iodine. A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients. In some cases, use of fortified foods or supplements can be helpful in meeting recommendations for individual nutrients. Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Vegetarian diets offer a number of nutritional benefits, including lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein as well as higher levels of carbohydrates, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and phytochemicals.”

AUTHORS

Ann Reed Mangels (vegan for ethical reasons)

Virginia Messina (vegan for ethical reasons)

Vesanto Melina (vegan for ethical reasons)

REVIEWERS

No dietary practice group (DPG) cited

Judith G. Dausch (non-vegetarian)

Sharon Denny (non-vegetarian)

Elaine K. Fleming (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

D. Enette Larson-Meyer (Vegetarian for ethical, environmental and nutritional reasons; member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Food and Culinary Professionals DPG

Robin Kline (Non-vegetarian)

Sylvia E. Klinger (Non-vegetarian)

Nutrition in Complementary Care DPG

Dennis Gordon (Member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Rita Batheja (Vegetarian member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Pediatric Nutrition DPG

Maria Hanna

Cristine M. Trahms

Tamara Schryver (Flexitarian member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Sports, Cardiovascular, and wellness Nutritionist DPG

Gita B. Patel (Vegetarian for nutritional, cultural and spiritual reasons; member of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group)

Pamela J. Edwards (Vegetarian)

Vegetarian Nutrition DPG

Winston J. Craig (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Catherine Conway (Vegetarian)

Women and Reproductive Nutrition DPG

Judith B. Roepke

Dietitians of Canada Reviewers

Karen Birkenhead

Samara Felesky-Hunt

Susie Langley (Non-vegetarian)

Pam Lynch (Non-vegetarian)

Shefali Raja (Vegetarian)

Marilyn Rabin (Non-vegetarian)

Laura Toews

Members of the Association Positions Committee Workgroup

Barbara Emison Gaffield

Suzanne Havala Hobbs (Vegetarian for ethical reasons)

Barbara Baron

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part Five: 1997 (Virginia Messina and Kenneth I. Burke)

There is not enough space to thank all the people who have contributed to my professional growth but I would also like to acknowledge and give special thanks to several [Vegetarian Nutrition Dietary Practice Group] members who have inspired and helped me over the past 10 years. They are Ginny Messina, Sue Havala Hobbs, Winston Craig…Cyndi Reeser and Enette Larson.

— Reed Mangels, Vegetarian Nutrition Update, Fall 2002, p. 8

1997 paper title: “Position of The American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets”

Position statement: “Scientific data suggest positive relationships between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. Vegetarian diets, like all diets, need to be planned appropriately to be nutritionally adequate. It is the position of The American Dietetic Association (ADA) that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”

Authors

Virginia K. Messina (Vegan for ethical reasons)

Kenneth I. Burke (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Reviewers

Winston J. Craig (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Johanna Dwyer (Non-vegetarian)

Suzanne Havala (Vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons)

D. Enette Larson (Vegetarian for ethical and nutritional reasons)

A. Reed Mangels (Vegan for ethical reasons)

Lenore Hodges (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Cyndi Reeser (Vegetarian for environmental and nutritional reasons)

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part Four: 1993

1993 paper title: “Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets”

Position statement: "A considerable body of scientific data suggests positive relationships between vegetarian diets and risk reduction for several chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and some types of cancer. It is the position of The American Dietetic Association that vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritionally adequate when appropriately planned."

Authors

Primary: Suzanne Havala Hobbs (Vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons)

Secondary: Johanna Dwyer (Non-vegetarian)

Reviewers

Phyllis Acosta (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Patricia Johnston (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Mary Clifford (Vegan for ethical reasons)

Winston Craig (Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian)

Virginia Messina (Vegan for ethical reasons)

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part Three: 1988

A milestone for vegetarianism came in 1988, when the American Dietetic Association (ADA) published a position paper written by vegetarian dietitian Suzanne Havala. At last, the mainstream nutrition organization sanctioned the vegetarian diet as healthful. Havala is nutrition educator for Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., and is establishing a group of vegetarian dietitians within the ADA. This past summer, she worked with Cornell University researcher T. Colin Campbell to help compile data gathered for the China Health Project.

— “A Positive Position,” Vegetarian Times, Dec. 1990, p. 55

1988 paper title: “Vegetarian Diets — technical support paper”

Position statement: “It is the position of The American Dietetic Association that vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritionally adequate when appropriately planned.”

Authors

Primary: Suzanne Havala, R.D. (vegetarian for ethical and environmental reasons)

Secondary: Johanna Dwyer, D.SC., R.D. (non-vegetarian)

Reviewers

Phyllis Acosta Dr. P.H., R.D. (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist)

George Eisman, R.D. (vegan for ethical, environmental and health reasons)

Alice Marsh, R.D. (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist)

Connie Metcalf, R.D. (vegetarian at the time for environmental and health reasons)

Patricia Mutch, Ph.D., R.D. (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist)

U. D. Register Ph.D., R.D. (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist)

Kathleen Zolber, Ph.D., R.D. (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist)

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part Two: 1980

The attitude of dietetic professionals towards vegetarian diets has changed in recent years. Compared to the 1980 position statement of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) which raised doubts about the adequacy and benefit of vegetarian eating, the most recent ADA position paper on vegetarian diets, published in 2009, views vegetarian diets more positively.

“The Contribution of Dietary Studies in Seventh-day Adventists to Vegetarian Nutrition,” Ella H. Haddad of Loma Linda University, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietary Practice Group Newsletter, Volume XIX, Number 4, 2011

1980 paper title: “Position Paper on the Vegetarian Approach to Eating”

Contributors: Lydia Sonnenberg (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist) and most likely Kathleen Keen Zolber (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist) and U.D. Register (vegetarian Seventh-day Adventist)

Position statement: “The American Dietetic Association affirms that a well planned diet, consisting of a variety of largely unrefined plant foods supplemented with some milk and eggs (lacto-ovo vegetarian diet) meets all known nutrient needs. Furthermore, a total plant dietary can be made adequate by careful planning, giving proper attention to specific nutrients which may be in a less available form or in lower concentration or absent in plant foods.”

In 1980, The American Dietetic Association published “Position Paper on the Vegetarian Approach to Eating.” However, according to a note in the most recent American Dietetic Association position paper on a vegetarian diet, published in 2009, the ADA’s true position on a well-planned vegetarian diet arrived seven years later, just before the second vegetarian position paper was published in 1988:

American Dietetic Association (ADA) position adopted by the House of Delegates Leadership Team on October 18, 1987, and reaffirmed on September 12, 1992; September 6, 1996; June 22, 2000; and June 11, 2006.

Perhaps the 1980 paper is mostly forgotten now because it didn’t endorse vegetarianism as whole-heartedly as it could have. That’s because it advocates “protein combining” –- making sure that you eat a combination of plant foods that provide all essential proteins at every meal –- and it said vegetarianism could be risky for babies and pregnant women.

Nevertheless, the 1980 paper was mostly positive about vegetarianism and even veganism, and it provided an important groundwork for the later ADA vegetarian position papers, which is why I thought it was worth investigating who authored it. 

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History of the American Dietetic Association’s Vegetarian Position Papers, Part One: Why Seventh-day Adventists Want to Prove That Vegetarianism is the Healthiest Diet, and How They Influenced the ADA/Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Editor’s note: Almost everything in this entry is a quote, because I wanted to let Adventists do all the explaining. The names that initially appear in bold, aside from those in headlines, are Adventists who would later review American Dietetic Association vegetarian position papers. (Though there are other Adventist reviewers and authors of ADA vegetarian position papers who are not mentioned in this entry.) 

New VegeBits

For more than 130 years Seventh-day Adventists (SDAs) have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. Whatever is done in eating or drinking should honor and glorify God and preserve the health of the body, mind and spirit.

“The Seventh-day Adventist Position Statement on Vegetarian Diets,” Seventh-Day Adventist Dietetic Association

* * *

Ellen White [prophet of Seventh-day Adventism] received her first major health reform vision, June 6, 1863, in the home of Aaron Milliard, at Otsego, Michigan. In this vision, for the first time, God’s people were urged to abstain from flesh food in general and from swine’s flesh in particular. Ellen White characterized this vision as “great light from the Lord,” adding, “I did not seek this light; I did not study to obtain it; it was given to me by the Lord to give to others.”

“Ellen G. White and Vegetarianism,” Ministry Magazine, Apr., 1986

* * *

God did not call upon this advent movement to do so unusual a thing as to build medical institutions as well as churches, and to train doctors and nurses as well as ministers and Bible instructors, just because He desired these doctors and nurses to care only for the bodies of men. Such care can be given in numerous hospitals in the land, and in some instances better care may be possible because of huge endowments and special equipment. But God called upon us to foster medical work because, rightly carried on, it can play a part in the divine plan for the salvation of men. The medical and ministerial are not two separate and distinct lines of activity. They are parts of one whole, and the link that connects them and provides the full justification for a medical side to this religious movement, is the fact that all physical woes and maladies are a by-product of our sinful state. The kind of service you render to the cause of God and to suffering humanity will help to reveal whether the goal of Adventist medical work is being maintained.

“Blended Ministry for Body and Soul,” Francis D. Nichol, The Ministry, Page 29, Dec. 1945, Vol. 18, No. 13

* * *

The Lord has given to Seventh-day Adventists the message of health reform, not only for our benefit, but also that we might more effectively prepare the minds of our neighbors and friends to receive the seeds of his love! ‘When connected with other lines of gospel effort, the medical missionary work is a most effective instrument by which the ground is prepared for the sowing of the seeds of truth, and the instrument by which the harvest is reaped.’ MM204

Like the farmer’s plow, the message of health as it centers in Jesus love, will break up the hardened soil of the heart and prepare it to more willingly allow the Gospel message to grow in the hearts and lives of our neighbors and friends.

Today there has been a general hardening of attitudes toward religious thought and experience. Yet at the same time we are witnessing an unprecedented interest in health! This should spur us on to evangelistic methods that capitalize on this manner of preparing the ground. ‘Health reform will reach a class and has reached a class that otherwise would never have been reached by the truth.” CM 134

“Is Health Ministry Important?” Fred Hardinge, DrPH, RD, Seventh-day Adventist Dietetic Association

* * *

The quote from Spirit of Prophecy which most clearly points out where [Adventist] health evangelism should be done and who should be doing it is: ’We have come to a time when every member of the church should take hold of medical missionary work. The world is a lazar house filled with victims of both physical and spiritual diseases. Everywhere people are perishing for lack of a knowledge of the truths that have been committed to us. The members of the church are in need of an awakening, that they may realize their responsibility to impart these truths.’ Welfare Ministry, p. 138.

Handbook of Health Evangelism, by Elvin Adams MD, MPH, 2004, p. 3

* * *

Table of Contents

1. Seventh-day Adventism Prophet Ellen G. White on God’s Preferred Diet and Spreading Adventism Through Vegetarian Advocacy

2. John Burden and the Founding of the College of Medical Evangelists/Loma Linda University

3. John H.N. Tindall Pioneers “Gospel Medical Missionary Evangelism”

4. E.H. Risley and Harold M. Walton Bring Adventist Health Evangelism and Vegetarian Dietetics Together

5. Mervyn G. Hardinge Uses the Newly Formed Loma Linda Division of Public Health and Nutrition to Promote Vegetarianism

6. Loma Linda University’s U.D. Register “Proves” Ellen G. White’s Divine Nutritional Prophesies and Persuades the American Dietetic Association

7. Kathleen Zolber of Loma Linda University Becomes the First Adventist President of the American Dietetic Association, Thereby Enriching Her Service to Her Church

8. Recruiting More Adventist Dietitians

9. The Seventh-day Adventist Dietetic Association

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QuasiVegan’s Christina Arasmo Beymer Discusses Her Thoughts on Healthier Vegan Living

Christina Arasmo Beymer ate eggs just so she could identify as an ex-vegan for this interview. “I figure if I eat eggs a couple times a year, I’m less pure and therefore I’m a better person, my ego is diminished and I can join the ex-vegan club, where the cool kids hang out,” she explained. But I’m going to give Christina the benefit of the doubt and assume the eggs were from a rescue hen who nudged the eggs toward Christina with her beak and clucked with approval as Christina hesitantly reached for them. For all intents and purposes, Christina is still vegan. Or at least, quasi-vegan. 

Christina created the blog QuasiVegan in late 2010 because of the shock she experienced upon learning that ex-vegans exist and that the vegan diet is not the “one diet to rule them all”. Though she doesn’t post as often now due to a shortage of time, QuasiVegan was and is about Christina’s exploration of nutrition within the boundaries of a plant-based diet. She is not an expert, but she reads the good ones and uses their insights to figure out how vegans can live more healthfully. 

Christina-Arasmo-on-4-11-12-at-2.15-PM

Who, what, where, when, why?

I exist the way I am now, because you exist, Rhys. In the fall of 2010, I read the Vegan Outreach newsletter. In the back, I believe, was your interview with Jack Norris. The first thing I noticed was the word “ex-vegan”. 

‘What, the one-diet-to-rule-them-all has failed someone?’

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For Vegans, Human Health Comes Before Animal Lives

Most vegans and meat eaters agree: the lives of animals are not worth enough for us to willingly sacrifice our health for them. Vegans just don’t think that giving up animal products entails such a sacrifice.

In The Case for Animal Rights, Tom Regan writes:

There is no question that meat is a nutritious food. In particular, it is a source of complete protein, containing all the amino acids essential for human health and vitality. If it were true that these nutrients were not otherwise obtainable, then the case for eating meat, even given the rights view, would be on solid ground. If we were certain to ruin our health by being vegetarians, or run a serious risk of doing so…and given that the deterioration of our health would deprive us of a greater variety and number of opportunities for satisfaction than those within the range of farm animals, then we would be making ourselves, not the animals, worse-off if we became vegetarians. Thus might we appeal to the liberty principle as a basis for eating meat, assuming the other provisos of that principle were satisfied.

To concede the necessity of meat in a healthy diet is to concede more than is meat’s due. The essential amino acids are essential, that is true; but there are alternative ways to obtain them, ways that do not rely on meat. … Certain amino acids are essential for our health. Meat isn’t. We cannot, therefore, defend meat-eating on the grounds that we will ruin our health if we don’t eat it, or even that we will run a very serious risk of doing so if we abstain. Any “risk” we run can be easily overcome by taking the modest trouble required to do so. (337)

In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer approvingly quotes the American Dietetic Association’s vegetarian position paper giving its stamp of approval to a vegetarian diet, and writes:

I don’t think that individual health is necessarily a reason to become vegetarian, but certainly if it were unhealthy to stop eating animals, that might be a reason not to be vegetarian. It would most certainly be a reason to feed my son animals. (145)

In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer writes:

Apart from the tastiness of their meals, people contemplating vegetarianism are most likely to worry about whether they will be adequately nourished. These worries are entirely groundless. … Nutritional experts no longer dispute about whether animal flesh is essential; they now agree that it is not. If ordinary people still have misgivings about doing without it, these misgivings are based on ignorance. (179 – 182)

And later in Practical Ethics, Singer persisted:

If animals count in their own right, our use of animals for food becomes questionable. Inuit living a traditional lifestyle in the far north where they must eat animals or starve can reasonably claim that their interest in surviving overrides that of the animals they kill. Most of us cannot defend our diet in this way. People living in industrialized societies can easily obtain an adequate diet without the use of animal flesh. Meat is not necessary for good health or longevity. Indeed, humans can live healthy lives without eating any animal products at all… (54)

In “Vegan Power: Anecdotes of Inspiration”, James McWilliams writes:

Perhaps inspired by Lierre Kieth’s The Vegetarian Myth, a book that chronicles the author’s losing battle with a plant-based diet, bloggers have clogged foodie networks with angst-ridden accounts of fatigue, sickness, hair loss, anxiety, diminished sex drive, and mental breakdown after quitting animal products. The problem with these accounts, as far as I can tell, is that those who made the vegan leap (and I praise them for doing it) did so without doing due diligence on the details of intelligent veganism. Someone can live on potato chips, pot, and cherry soda and call himself a vegan. Many recidivists have evidently tried to do just that.

Whether you are convinced by a book such as The China Study or not, there’s no disputing the fact that a diet rich in plant-based, unprocessed food is a smart diet. My point here isn’t to suggest that a diet including modest amounts of lean meat can’t be healthy. It surely can be. Instead, I want to reiterate the equally healthful consequences of a healthy vegan diet. I can brook a million excuses for why a person simply cannot go vegan — cheese! yogurt! cream in my coffee! — but the assertion that veganism, when done right, isn’t healthy is just plain bunk.

In Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog, Gary Francione writes:

It is in no way necessary for human beings to eat meat or other animal products. Indeed, voices as mainstream as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Dietetic Association have now recognized that a completely plant-based diet, supplemented by vitamin B-12, can provide the human body with sufficient protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to maintain excellent health. For health-related reasons, animal foods have been coming under greater suspicion within the mainstream scientific community. Even the most traditional health care professionals are urging a reduction in our consumption of meat and other animal products; others are calling for the elimination of such products from our diet. It is an uncontested fact that vegetarians have lower rates of many forms of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, gallstones and kidney stones, and other diseases. And we seem to hear on an almost daily basis of illnesses—ranging from simple food poisoning to more exotic maladies such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob (“mad cow” disease)—connected with eating meat. Countries that have shifted from plant-based diets to meat-based diets have experienced increased rates of obesity, heart diseases, and cancer. So not only are animal food unnecessary for our health; they may very well be detrimental to it. (14)

Finally, here’s Francione in an article called “Veganism: Morality, Health, and the Environment”:

We have a moral obligation that we owe to ourselves to be healthy; ingesting products that cause us harm is a form of violence we inflict on ourselves. The empirical evidence becomes stronger each day that animal products are not only not needed for health; they actually cause harm to our bodies in all sorts of ways. Even small amounts of animal products can be harmful. Just as we have a moral obligation not to smoke cigarettes (even a “few”), we have an obligation to make sure that the things we put in and on our bodies (remember that what you put on your skin gets into your body!) do not cause harm. We owe this obligation not only to ourselves, but to the humans and nonhumans who love us and who depend on us. … So, in the end, although I maintain that the moral argument in favor of animal rights and the spiritual argument in favor of nonviolence are the most important notions, we also have moral obligations to ourselves (and to the humans and nonhumans who depend on us) to maintain and improve our health.

Francione doesn’t provide a citation for his assertion that we have moral obligations to maintain and improve our health; but if he’s sticking to that, he’s committed himself to a strange position for someone who philosophizes for soy milk. Not only is meat immoral… so are vegan cupcakes! Even better, if it turned out that a diet with animal products was healthier than one without one, we wouldn’t only have the option to give up veganism: we’d be morally obligated to eat meat!

But of course Francione is convinced that animal products don’t need to be part of anyone’s healthy diet. So are Regan, Singer, Foer, McWilliams, Norris, Messina, Paleovegan and just about every other well-known advocate of veganism.

So what if they changed their minds on this issue and decided that humans, or a lot of them at least, were healthier when their diet included animal products? Apparently, they’d be fine with these humans eating meat. Even vegan leaders allow a health exception to veganism: it’s just that they see this exception as almost entirely theoretical. Notice that when ex-vegans quit veganism for health reasons, most vegans don’t say, “You should have sacrificed your health if you truly cared about animals.” Instead they say, “You did veganism wrong.”

The difference between many vegans and meat eaters, then, is empirical rather than philosophical. No one is saying that animals are worth making big sacrifices over. One side just thinks that veganism is a big sacrifice, and the other side thinks it isn’t.

Yeah, there are plenty of meat eaters who think that meat is unhealthy or unnecessary for health, and yet eat it anyway. And there are also some vegans who would stay vegan even if they started to suspect that it was causing them health difficulties. Those few martyrs aside, though, if vegans were a character in The Wire, they’d be Dante—not Brandon. Vegans are cool with giving up animal products when they think all they’re losing is some measure of habit, convenience, tradition and taste. But if their health starts to nosedive and they don’t think they can fix it without animal products, they’re suffocating salmon and chucking baby chicks into grinders in no time.

Hey, what about the fucking animals, guys? What’s a little brain fog and fatigue when we’re talking about animal lives?

Vegans rarely tire of citing The China Study’s case against animal products or the ADA’s claim that a vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of the lifecycle. But why should it matter whether or not veganism is healthy? It’s not like it would be worth killing hundreds of animals a year just to live longer or have a spring in your step, would it?

Harish at Counting Animals recently crunched some numbers and determined that going vegetarian “saves more than 406 animals each year—a vegetarian saves at least an animal a day!” And that’s just udder-sucking, chicken-period-thieving lacto-ovos. No doubt Harish would find that vegans “save” even more.

Granted, “saves” is a stretch in this context, since what vegans are actually doing is preventing animals from being born through their inaction, something vegans would have been much better at doing by never being born. As for the specific numbers, meat eaters clearly eat less than an animal a day if they’re mostly eating bigger ones like cows, pigs and lambs. Still, meat eating obviously creates a demand for killing animals, whether the motive is taste or health. And if it’s anything like 406 a year, per person—a number Harish says is conservative—that’s a lot of animals to kill just because you feel miserable without a daily dose of flesh to improve your mood. Sure, a lifetime with severe depression sucks, but could that justify taking an animal’s life every day?

For vegans, the answer to this seems to be “yes.”

If veganism were guaranteed to kill you within three months, almost no one would go vegan. If it merely shaved a minute off your life, this probably wouldn’t be much of a deterrent at all. But what if veganism tended to reduce human lifespans by 50 years? At first that seems like a big chunk of your own life to give up for any cause. But look at the trade-off: if you live to 100 instead of 50 because you ate meat every day instead of never, you’ve (arguably) killed at least 40,600 extra animals just to selfishly enjoy a bonus half century. Even if all those animals were killed only a year before the end of their average lifespans, which they almost certainly weren’t, this would imply that 50 years of your life is worth more than 40,600 years of the lives of other animals. Harsh, man. It’s not like it would be these animals’ fault if humans had a nutritional need for animal products.

Yet none of the major animal rights advocates is willing to say that everyone should go vegan even if it kills us.

In veganism, human health comes before the lives of other animals. Vegans just happen to think you don’t need animal products to be healthy. If they thought otherwise, most of them would eat animals… no matter how many animal lives it took to cure their brain fog.

--Tagged under: Vegan Leaders--

--Tagged under: Health--

--Tagged under: Ethics--

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