To be perfectly truthful, I rarely invoke health as a reason to become vegan. Veganism is not a diet: it’s an ethical response to, and refusal to participate in, systemic violence and exploitation. Human health and wellbeing is obviously very important, but not at the expense of the wellbeing and actual life of another animal.
This isn’t to say that human health doesn’t have an ethical or political dimension that demands attention and restorative action.
Food deserts (urban areas or rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food) disproportionately affect African-American neighborhoods and low-income people. Instead of supermarkets, grocery stores or farmer’s markets, these communities encounter only convenience stores and fast food restaurants with little to no access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
According to the Food Empowerment Project, “ethnic minority and low-income populations suffer from statistically higher rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions than the general population.”
And, as outlined by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: “Research has shown that the impact of race on health stems largely from differences in access to resources and opportunities that can hurt or enhance health. Additionally, researchers have found that racial and ethnic discrimination can negatively affect health across lifetimes and generations…. To reach a Culture of Health, we must both address the socioeconomic factors that affect health and lift the barriers of racism to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be as healthy as possible”
Food-access and health is a justice issue.
The fight for food-access and the obstruction of optimal health is very much a justice issue, and yet another aspect of structural, systemic racism. The fact that health is an afterthought in my decision to be vegan is a product of my privilege, position, and literal place in the world. When I say that I rarely invoke health as a reason to become vegan, I do so with an awareness that health is not a neutral or a-political topic.
What’s more, though I mostly eat a whole foods, plant-based diet, I definitely eat more than my fair share of pizza, cookies and ice cream: i.e., it doesn’t necessarily follow that vegans are inherently healthy or that health has to be a motivating factor in becoming vegan.
Again, health is not a neutral topic, and health-focused people (both vegan and non-vegans) have a tendency to body-shame or judge so-called “junk food vegans.” I am against any ideology that idealizes certain body types and associates health and wellbeing with being young, thin, white, clear-skinned, and/or able-bodied, etc.
Just like omnivores, vegans come in all shapes, sizes, and ages and encompass the entire human experience. You don’t have to eat a diet of raw vegetables and quinoa to avoid facilitating animal cruelty. Plant-based cookies save animal lives too!
You don’t have to eat a diet of raw vegetables and quinoa to avoid facilitating animal cruelty. Veganism is not a diet: it’s a refusal to participate in systemic violence and exploitation of animals.
Having said that, this animal’s life is also worth taking care of, and as I hurtle towards my forties I am trying to eat more conscientiously and (gasp) have even considered checking out this ‘exercise’ thing I’ve heard people raving about.
I’m by no means an expert in nutrition, but becoming vegan has prompted me to do a lot of reading and research, and I’m 100% convinced that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet is not only better for the animals and the planet, it’s also better for our personal health and wellness too.
For a brief primer on Vegan Nutrition, click HERE.
To learn even more, I recommend the following studies and documentaries:
Dr. Greger’s NutritionFacts.Org is the only non-commercial, nonprofit, science-based website to provide free daily updates on the latest in evidence-based nutrition.
In my more conscientious moments, I try to follow Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist, but I use it more as a general weekly guide than a hard and fast daily rule book.
Forks Over Knives
Forks Over Knives (available on Netflix) examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that afflict us can be controlled or even reversed by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.
The China Study
Based on one of the largest comprehensive studies of human nutrition ever conducted, with an enormous amount of data collected over a span of twenty years, The China Study explores the relationship between nutrition and diseases like diabetes and cancer, among others.
The data concludes that animal proteins promote the growth of cancer, heart disease can be reversed with a plant-based diet, and there are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
In short: “People who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest.”
The Invisible Vegan
“The Invisible Vegan is a 90-minute independent documentary by actress and filmmaker, Jasmine Leyva, that explores the problem of unhealthy dietary patterns in the African-American community, foregrounding the health and wellness possibilities enabled by plant-based vegan diets and lifestyle choices.”
Note: if you’re in the Portland/Oregon area on October 4th, Northwest VEG is hosting a FREE screening of The Invisible Vegan and the filmmaker will be in attendance.
What The Health
What The Health is “the health film that health organizations don’t want you to see.” This investigative documentary exposes the collusion and corruption in government and big business that is costing us trillions of healthcare dollars and keeping us sick.