I’ve been vegan since July 1, 2011, but as of February 4th, 2014, I’ve started including animal products back into my diet. This has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.
I went vegan for ethical reasons, not health, which makes my decision all the more difficult.
It took a lot for me to buy meat for the first time in 2 and half years. I felt “dirty” when I was standing in the meat section looking through all the packages of meat. I felt like everyone in the store was judging me, even though I knew most of them also ate meat. I felt like I was turning my back on the vegan community and all my vegan friends. I felt terrible.
It was just as hard to take that first bite too.
I’ve been doing the research behind this article for several months and my plans to leave veganism has been in my mind for even longer than that, but I wasn’t fully ready. That is until after our baby, Illiana, was born in January.
My wife knew that I was considering going paleo, but we had still planned on raising a vegan child. My wife also had no plans of leaving veganism, but when she struggled to produce enough breast milk to feed Illiana, we thought a diet change might help. Not being able to produce enough milk has been the most emotionally troubling thing Michelle has ever had to deal with. She was distraught and didn’t know where else to turn. We tried all the galactagogues (natural remedies for increasing breast milk production) such as oatmeal, fenugreek, Shatavari, alfalfa pills, goats rue, and blessed thistle with no success. She has since started taking prescribed Domperidone. Needless to say, it’s been emotionally draining and quite expensive.
Food was the next step.
Health Reasons for Leaving the Vegan Diet
It’s proven that a good diet can do amazing things for the body. Dr. Katie Reid cured autism in her daughter by removing glutamate from her diet, such as from grains and pasteurized milk. Dr. Terry Wahls defeated progressive multiple sclerosis with vitamins and minerals and by replacing doctor-prescribed drugs with a paleo-inspired diet.
A healthy paleo diet can help the body fortify its defenses. It can correct hormonal issues (thyroid, testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, etc.), it can prevent/correct gut damage/leaky gut syndrome, repair damaged metabolism and give your body what it needs to perform optimally. This is why we chose to move towards a paleo diet. No grains (except the occasional white rice, not brown) and no soy – just grass-fed meats, eggs from pasture-raised chickens, some organic fruit, and lots and lots of organic vegetables.
It is the benefits of a paleo diet as it pertains to hormonal balance why we felt like it could be of some help to Michelle. Hormonal issues such as PCOS and Endometriosis (PCOS can cause reduced breast milk) can be treated with proper diet.
All the health benefits of eating animal products combined contributed to my decision to change my diet. I’ve had several health problems since going vegan (although I’m not saying that a vegan diet caused those issues). I don’t know if my diet did any damage, but I want to see if a different diet could fix my health problems.
Here are some of the problems I’ve had:
- Constant Fatigue (tired often, low energy)
- Extreme Gas (sometimes painful)
- Trouble Concentrating (so bad that I’ve had to visit the doctor several times)
- Dizziness (only 2-3 times, but one time so bad that I fell)
- Joint Pain (especially in my knees)
I’ve only been on the paleo diet for a month now and I haven’t had signs of most of the issues mentioned above, although those health problems also aren’t constant for me. They come and go, so only more time will tell if the paleo diet is working for me. The gas issue has definitely changed, though. I hardly have any gas at all now, or at least not like I did. So far, digestion issues have just gone away. It’s great.
I still believe that people can be vegan and healthy, as long as they eat good foods and supplement with things that aren’t typically found in a vegan diet, such as Vitamin K2, B12 and EPA & DHA. Vegan registered dietician, Jack Norris, has a good list of recommended supplements and Chris Kresser recently published an article about the important nutrients that are often devoid in vegan diets. I think these are both great places for vegans to start when thinking about the supplements they need to stay healthy. Being healthy is totally doable on a vegan diet, although I don’t believe vegans are as healthy as what is possible.
Do Vegans Cause More Animal Death Than Meat Eaters?
This is the question that started this whole thing. I first heard this idea from Dave Asprey who had made a claim on his blog that more animals are killed when farming soya beans and wheat via accidental tractor kills and harvesting machinery than what are killed on a local farm to feed a person for one year (one cow). That’s not to mention that wheat and soy production is a major contributor to the destruction of our topsoil.
When I first heard this, I sought out to prove him wrong. I did a ton of research but the deeper I dug, the more I started to believe that he was right.
According to the Weston A. Price Foundation (paleo propaganda, I know):
“By some estimates, at least 300 animals per acre–including mice, rats, moles, groundhogs and birds–are killed for the production of vegetable and grain foods, often in gruesome ways. Only one animal per acre is killed for the production of grass-fed beef and no animal is killed for the production of grass-fed milk until the end of the life of the dairy cow.”
Although I did find an interesting comment from “Paul R.” opposing this statement on this page:
“Though I’m an enthusiastic consumer of home reared animals, I have to disagree strongly with the contention that only 1 animal per acre is killed by eating grass-fed (beef). Feed paddocks are traversed by vehicles and implements nearly as often as crop paddocks, and grass fed animals are typically fed hay or cut feeds during the winter. It is this use of machinery etc that kills the 300 animals per acre referred to on the vegetarian side, making collateral damage on both sides of the fence pretty similar.”
While Paul R. makes a great point, I don’t think the amount of hay used to feed grass-fed cows is anywhere near the same amount of wheat used for human consumption or to feed animals on industrial farms.
The big question for me here is if it’s better that I contribute to the accidental death of hundreds (maybe thousands) of animals every year or to purposely killing 1-3 animals per year.
Three deaths sound better than thousands, but is it more ethical?
The animals killed in the field have lived normal and free lives, although they might also be very young and have not lived full lives. They might be killed suddenly or perhaps have body parts chopped off causing them to bleed to death. We can’t just assume that tractor-kills result in instant and painless deaths to these little animals.
If I forgo grains and soy altogether and replace them with meat, I cause only a few deaths. Then again, these are animals that have lived very short and somewhat unnatural lives. Ethically-farmed animals are killed “humanely,” according to current standards, but their deaths are still not very humane. Or at least not as humane as I think it should be.
How to Find an Ethical and Sustainable Farm
PETA has a great article about how organic and free-range animals are often thought as humanely raised, but aren’t. What they claim in that article is true and that’s why you need to really know the farm that you’re purchasing from. Just because your food is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Here are some questions to ask when seeking out a local, humane farm.
- Do they debeak, dehorn, castrate, or remove testicals without painkillers?
- Are there in extremely crowded, filthy housing conditions?
- Are animals fattened before slaughter?
- Do they practice forced pregnancy?
- Are baby calves removed from their mothers? (they don’t have to be. Check out what Jordan Rubin does with Beyond Organic)
- Do they treat infections of udders?
- Do they practice horn and testicle removal?
- Are pig tails chopped and ears notched?
- How are animals fed in the winter?
- How do they handle breeding?
You might not be able to get around some of the above issues, but if you find a farm that aligns with most of your concerns, they are probably a good farm to support.
Are Grass-Fed, Natural Farms Sustainable?
Joel Salatin is an expert on sustainable and ethical farming. You can look to his practices for finding a farm that you can trust. In this interview with Salatin on Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Executive podcast, Salatin discusses the problems with industrial farms, such as how they want people to think that they are self-contained, but those farms don’t show us the miles and miles of corn, soybeans, tillage destruction, and petroleum fertilizers that go into keeping those factories going. Those farms require a ridiculous amount of energy and in the end, produce nutrient deficient meat.
But with smaller sustainable farms, the farms can exceed the production of a factory farm per square foot because everything takes place right there on the farm. There is no manure to haul because animals spread it themselves. No concrete to pour because the animals stay out in the fields. Salatin’s farm has no tillage, no plowing and they plant perennials instead of annual forages in the pastures. The energy that goes into the farm happens in the beginning but once it’s in place, it only needs to be well-managed.
While there are claims that sustainable meat is a myth, most of the info is cherry-picked to support their cause. Sure, the farms that practice sustainable methods are few, but their numbers are growing as more people become aware of their benefits.
You can find local, ethical, and sustainable farms – and the restaurants and grocers who carry their items – on EatWild.com and LocalHarvest.org.
How I Plan To Be an Ethical Meat Eater
Based on everything that I’ve read, I’ve decided that the right choice for me is to no longer be vegan. I believe that it’s the healthiest choice and that I can do it in a way that will result in less animal death than any other diet. There’s only one other diet that might compare and that’s raw vegan, but I just don’t trust that a long-term raw vegan diet is healthy.
As I mentioned earlier, I went vegan for ethical reasons. That means that since I’m eating meat again, I need to make sure that I buy the most humane and ethical meat possible – raised, treated and slaughtered.
Let me be clear that when I say “ethical” and “humane,” I do realize that when talking about animal farming, “ethical” and “humane” are a somewhat contradictory. I’ve been vegan for over two years and have been deeply immersed and involved in the vegan community the entire time. I know that there is no real humane way to farm animals, but when I say “ethical” or “humane,” I mean in the MOST humane or ethical way currently available.
My love for animals is not gone. Being an ethical vegan isn’t just about food. It’s also about fighting against the mass-production of animals for things like clothes, belts, leather, using bugs for coloring, and so on. I will never buy products made with fur or leather and I’ll continue to buy products from vegan-friendly businesses. Whether the vegan community will still accept me, it’s hard to say, but I will always fight to prevent animal suffering.
Here’s how I plan to move forward with this lifestyle choice:
- Buy only from sustainable, ethical farms
- Only eat meat if it comes from an ethical, humane farm
- Eat meat from large 100% grass-fed animals (cow and buffalo)
- Eventually purchase a whole cow, put in the freezer and use only that. No grocery store trips.
- Minimal amount of meat (I believe that overindulgence is destroying our environment)
- Eating eggs from pasture-raised chickens (my stance on this might change)
- Buy organic pasture-raised turkeys for Thanksgiving
- If I go out to eat and the meat isn’t ethical, I will eat vegan
- Eat only wild-caught non-endangered fish
- Consume only organic, raw dairy (maybe)
Just because I’m eating meat again, doesn’t mean it’s free for all. I’m not going to eat shitty meat from Taco Bell or a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut.
If I eat any animal products they MUST be ethically-raised, otherwise I will choose to eat something vegan instead.
Sources and Additional Reading
This is everything else I read that went into my decision. There is a mixture of articles that are both for and against veganism.