Because of where I am at on my journey at the moment, I am committed fully to a whole-food plant based vegan diet. But I have seen people and I have friends who eat a similar diet but occasionally eat animal’s products like fish and dairy, but are also extremely passionate about their health, the environment and other beings. It had me thinking do you have to be 100% vegan?
Let me preface this, we know from science and ethics that a whole food plant based vegan diet is best for our health, the environment and the animals.
But, I believe to achieve the benefits of this diet, the wider population does not have to be 100% vegan. We need to remember that people’s decisions around food are made with taste, convenience and the pressures of social norms in mind. Not their health, environment or animals (unfortunately). If as vegans we are dogmatic and give people the choice of all or nothing, then they are most likely going to do nothing. That is not to say that people don’t care about these things, they do, it’s just not their priority at the moment.
It is counterproductive if we are ridiculing people for only eating less meat, or occasionally eating cheese. We all hold common values about our health and the environment so it is better to focus on what we have in common. We need to allow people this transitory or flexitarian approach, or the vegan who eats cheese, because a 100% vegan world is not going to happen. But we can have a significant impact on this challenge if people cut down on animal products as a whole.
Let’s look at the three pillars of veganism, animal’s ethics, health and the environment. I will do my best to give an unbiased look into whether you need to follow a 100% vegan diet to impact these issues. In other words, can you still make a difference by not being 100%?
Let’s start with the most contentious and prickly pillar, animal ethics, and although you may disagree with my premise, I believe it is one area in which our inherent ability of cognitive dissonance comes into play. Therefore, understand that I can say this but I understand in reality that there are many other factors which influence it.
If you are reducing the amount of animal products in your diet, then you are obviously reducing the amount of suffering inflicted on animals, that’s a given.
So try stick with me here. This would be the one pillar that if you agree with what I’m about to say then, you can’t simply justify only doing it less as opposed to stopping altogether. What do I mean by this? If you are a human then you will agree with me that you do not want to cause suffering to any conscious being? Yes? Suffering is ethically wrong. If you saw someone kicking their dog in the street then you would do something, right? So, it holds that for any other being you wouldn’t like them to suffer?
If you believe that then how can you justify that doing it sometimes is ok? It’s like saying kicking the dog 5 times is ok but kicking it ten times Is wrong? Ethically that makes no sense.
It holds that you can’t just accept suffering sometimes for your own pleasure then disagree with it other times. This explanation upsets people because they know it is right but it is also really easy to ignore/justify i.e. cognitive dissonance. And the fact is that reducing at least some suffering is better than nothing.
As we understand the ethics, technically everyone should be vegan, but obviously that is not the case, so we need to understand it from the perspective that suffering is being is reduced when less animal products are consumed. People are way more likely to be partly vegan then fully vegan which in the end will reduce the most amount of suffering as a whole
Health? Do you need to be 100% vegan to get the full health benefits?
First thing, a vegan diet does not equal health, health is a combination of exercise, healthy relationships, low stress and many other things. Also, a vegan diet which eats a lot of sugar, refined foods, soda, saturated fat and processed foods is not healthy.
But if we look at the blue zones and the 7th day Adventist study we know that the more plants in your diet means you will be healthier and live longer. In fact, a 100% plant based diet is the healthiest diet you can have.
It is the prevalence of plants and the reduction of animal products in a diet which equals health. That’s why it is important to call it a Whole Food Plant-Based, diet which includes the foods you can eat rather than the vegan diet which looks at the foods you cant eat, ignoring the importance of plants.
But if you are eating a healthy diet of mostly plants can you still eat some animal products? A study done in Taiwan found that eaters of a healthy mostly vegetarian diet who consumed about 3% of the meat of most American, still found significant reductions in the odds of diabetes. And another study found that at the lowest end of a vegetarian diet (still eating fairy and eggs) mortality was reduced by 40%.
So yes, you can be extremely healthy on a diet that includes some animal products but the more plants you eat and the less animal products you eat, the healthier you will be.
It is important to note though that if you are extremely unhealthy, over weight, diabetic, high cholesterol etc. then going 100% plant based is your best option if you want to be healthy again and live past 40.
This pillar would be the one which has the biggest influence on the food choices people make.
Most of us know that animal agriculture is the leading cause of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. contributing up to 18% of all emissions! And if we continue the way we are they will make up for 50% of the emissions we can afford to stay under 2C• warming by 2050.
This a place where personal change can make a difference, but to save the world from a climate catastrophe do we all need to be 100% vegan?
Obviously, this would be the best bet and if the world were to go vegan we would see a 70% cut in GHG emissions. But we can still have a massive impact by simply cutting back on meat consumption and their products. A study showed that if we all followed set guidelines for reducing intake of these, we could reduce emissions by 29% and if we all went at least vegetarian, by 63%.
This again is an important one, where giving people the option that they can simply cut down on their animal product consumption will have a massive global impact, where as telling them have to go 100% vegan might lead to none.
Now in my perfect plant powered world, where everyone is compassionate, caring and lives in line with their values, everyone would be vegan and the world would benefit massively.
But because of human’s flaws where we believe the world revolves around us, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to go 100% vegan, but I can see people quite comfortably cutting back on the animal products they consume.
Because as much as we can complain about everyone, we can’t deny the fact that most of us really do care and we really do want to do our best for ourselves the planet and other beings.
It’s just unfortunate that at the moment most prefer to do this without drastically changing anything or stepping out of their comfort zone.
As compassionate beings (vegans or otherwise) we need to foster and facilitate what people are ready to do, and to look at the wider picture of reducing suffering towards animals, reducing environmental degradation and being as healthy as we can.
I’m not saying if you are vegan start eating animal products again, I’m saying we need to understand other people’s journeys. Let’s focus on our similarities rather than our differences and work together on this.