Friday, December 30, 2011

Bad Reporting Alert:

This one infuriated me.

Yesterday, published an article entitled Vegans at Risk for Heart Attacks and Strokes. Alarming headline, right? The article begins:
Doctors continue to remind us of the increased cardiovascular risk factors from eating red meat and other animal based products, and suggest we eat more vegetables to maintain good health. Environmentalists inform us how large production cattle ranches wreak havoc on the quality of our air and water, and urge us to go vegetarian. Animal rights activists protest the mistreatment of animals from dairy cows to egg laying chickens, in a concerted effort to promote total veganism.
With all of this anti-meat and animal rights campaigning, one might think eating animal products was just wrong, but new research suggests people who follow a vegan diet are at risk for developing blood clots and atherosclerosis, which are two conditions that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Basically, the author is indicating that all the people saying "Give up meat!" are wrong, because vegans are at risk for heart attack and stroke. Clearly, she's indicating that it's a greater risk than carnism right? WRONG.

The abstract that the author based this on - which wasn't even linked in the article, but she later linked to in the comments section - says this:

This review summarizes the effect of a habitual vegetarian diet on clinical complications in relation to chemistry and biochemistry. Omnivores have a significantly higher cluster of cardiovascular risk factors compared with vegetarians, including increased body mass index, waist to hip ratio, blood pressure, plasma total cholesterol (TC), triacylglycerol and LDL-C levels, serum lipoprotein(a) concentration, plasma factor VII activity, ratios of TC/HDL-C, LDL-C/HDL-C and TAG/HDL-C, and serum ferritin levels. Compared with omnivores, vegetarians, especially vegans, have lower serum vitamin B12 concentration and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) levels in the tissue membrane phospholipids, which are associated with increased collagen and ADP stimulated ex vivo whole blood platelet aggregation, plasma 11-dehydrothromboxane B2, and homocysteine levels and decreased plasma HDL-C. This may be associated with an increased thrombotic and atherosclerotic risk. It is suggested that vegetarians, especially vegans, should increase their dietary n-3 PUFA and vitamin B12 intakes.
Did you notice the part where it says that omnivores have a significantly higher number of risk factors?

Basically what this abstract says is that while going vegetarian reduces your overall number of risk factors for heart attack and stroke, there are a few unique nutritional factors that vegans have to watch out for. Vegetarians and vegans need to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12.

But if you're vegan, odds are you already knew that.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Myth of Semi-Vegan and Why Vegans Should Embrace It

Today, an article in the New York Times by Mark Bittman (who should know better) encourages people to go semi-vegan. "Semi-vegan?" Isn't that a bit like "semi-pregnant?"

Let's clear this up right now. Veganism is not a type of diet; it's an ideology. It's entirely possible to consume no animal products and not be vegan; people who do so usually refer to themselves as strict vegetarians. Sometimes they may call themselves herbivores or plant-based eaters. What's the difference?

Veganism is a belief system - albeit a highly individualized and variable one - wherein the vegan person makes a choice to live compassionately, eschewing all use of animals. The consistent tenets of veganism are:

1. Animals are sentient and can experience pain.
2. As sentient beings, animals deserve our care and compassion.
3. We must seek to avoid animal exploitation or suffering in all its forms.

Whatever other reasons a vegan has for not eating animal products - be they health, environment, religious, or based on anti-speciest ideals - are secondary to these essential beliefs. A person may choose a plant-based diet, and still have no ideological issue with cosmetics being tested on animals; that person is a strict vegetarian, not a vegan. Nor is the person who eats plant-based meals a few days a week a "semi-vegan." (Despite what Beyonce and Jay-Z are telling you, there's no such thing as a "partially vegan" diet.) That person is flexitarian.

But does it follow that vegans should reject these erroneous terms? Should we be upset about this corruption of the word? On the contrary, we should embrace it.

Most vegans, with the possible exception of the strictest abolitionists, would agree that each plant-based meal a person eats is a positive step for animals. If Bittman's readers begin to incorporate more cruelty-free fare into their diets, that's automatically a win for animal welfare.

But imagine this: you're a carnist who is intrigued by Bittman's article. You try a recipe or two, and find you enjoy them. You know from a snippet you read about Beyonce or that article in the latest issue of Glamour that everyone is giving this vegan thing a try nowadays. So what do you do? What does anyone do when they need information? They turn to Google. They buy a book. And that's where they'll find out more about the ideology of veganism. That's where they'll find the truth about food production today. That's where they'll be introduced to something other than the ideology of carnism that's ingrained in most of us from birth.

As Marina Bolotnikova pointed out in her excellent article on the false dichotomy between vegan welfarists and abolitionists on TDIV, people tend to arrive at a vegan ideology incrementally. In order to do that, isn't it helpful to first know such an ideology exists? By introducing people to the word 'vegan', even misapplied, the door is opened for them to learn more.

So while I won't be describing anyone as a semi-vegan any time soon (and the editor in me will always find the misnomer somewhat irksome), I'm more than happy to see Bittman or Beyonce nudging the idea of veganism into the public consciousness.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

About Me

Welcome to I Am Veggie-Mightee! I'm your host, Kasey, and this is a bit of information about me.

I grew up working in my father's wholesale produce business. One might think this would inspire a love of fresh fruit and vegetables - unless of course one has kids and knows how incredibly contrary they generally are. Until well into adulthood, you could not have paid me to eat a salad.

Despite a decided lack of interest in eating fruits and vegetables, I became a vegetarian at age eight upon realizing that chicken was actually a chicken. For over ten years, I existed as what Dad called "a Frito Lay vegetarian." Indeed, the corn in Fritos was probably the only veg I ate for long periods of time. I survived on buttered noodles, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Whoppers-hold-the-beef. Perhaps once or twice a year, I'd eat tofu - particularly if my vegetarian auntie made it for me.

At age 20, when I received the joyous news that my husband and I were expecting "an inheritance from God" (or as my Gran would say, "our first brat"), I also received the not-so-joyous news that I was severely anemic. In retrospect, this is hardly surprising. But at the time, I didn't know enough about vegetarian nutrition to combat my OB-GYN's firm belief that I had to start eating meat. Because I will not accept blood transfusion on religious principle, my trusted doctor told me he would refuse to treat me unless I adopted a carnistic diet.

The problem was, once the habit of cooking and eating meat began, it was very hard to break. My husband had always been a burgers-and-fries guy. I had concerns about my ability to raise healthy vegetarian children. (Not other people's ability, mind you. Just mine. I wasn't much of a cook at the time.)

Fast-forward six years. After the birth of my second son, I became debilitated with pain and stiffness. After several years of tests upon tests, specialists upon specialists, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis. I was prescribed nearly 20 pills a day. I spent months in physical therapy to be able to walk without a cane - at age 26. 

Then my hormonal cycle went wild and I was diagnosed with perimenopause - at age 26. My mental health deteriorated from the strain and from constant hormonal fluctuation. Migraines and other health issues prevented me from being treated, and I again become severely anemic, despite continuing to eat a carnistic diet.

I never suspected a link between the way I was eating and the deterioration in my health. In retrospect, I realized I had experienced symptoms of fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis since childhood, but it never occurred to me to wonder what had kept them from becoming as severe as they later became. Now I know better.

In March of 2010, I once again committed to vegetarianism. I didn't have a thought of it affecting my health, or my waistline, or the environment. I just realized that I didn't want animals to die. I've never been comfortable with the idea that any other being should be sacrificed for my benefit. (And I think, in a way, that belief gives a greater significance to the Christian concept of Jesus' willing sacrifice, but that's another subject.) It was only by pushing the thought of what I was eating out of my mind, ignoring it, that I managed to eat meat for the better part of 17 years.

To me, it was simply about empathy. I, personally, empathize with that animal too much to want to eat it. As an adult, and initially for the safety of my child (which was paramount), I learned to push those feelings aside. But that is never a good thing. That sensitivity is a part of who I am and suppressing it makes me a less complete person on the whole. It affects my compassion, my reverence for life, and my sense of wonder at the living world around me. Once my child was safe, I was sacrificing conscience for convenience.

Just a few months after returning to vegetarianism, thanks to some wonderful vegan friends, I learned about the impact of meat and dairy on health, the environment, public safety, and animal welfare. I read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, watched the documentary Earthlings, and made the commitment to a vegan diet. It took me a long time to transition, but I believe in progress, not perfection.

Today, I'm a contributing writer to This Dish is Veg, a frequent baketivist (although in my case, it's more like a cooktivist, because I'm less likely to bake vegan treats than I am to share a tasty vegan casserole), and an avid recipe veganizer.

Oh, and my health? Getting better every day! Going vegan resolved my anemia, completely eliminated the symptoms that were misdiagnosed as perimenopause, and made my fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis practically asymptomatic. My mental health stabilized. Migraines became more manageable. My energy levels soared (to the point that I actually joined a gym!) As an added bonus, it also improved my hearing impairment. (No joke. But read the comments on Alicia Silverstone's post about me for an audiologist's explanation of why and how your mileage may vary.)

Other important context for future posts:

  • My husband of 20+ years and our two wonderful sons are still eating carnistically, though they are supportive of my vegan diet and frequently cook and/or eat vegan meals as a family.
  • I work as the Director of Operations & Communications for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, and it's one of several charities I'm passionate about. Others include the South Florida Wildlife Center and Equality Now.
  • I'm an avid knitter and crocheter. I founded The Humble Stitch Project to provide warmth and compassion for South Florida's homeless.
  • I'm a Christian - specifically a Jehovah's Witness - who believes strongly in tolerance and civil discussion. I come from a religiously diverse family and won't tolerate anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-nontheist, or any other kind of intolerant comments in my blog. Our family has a policy of agreeing to disagree.
  • I'm a native Floridian, born at a time when Fort Lauderdale was still a sleepy little town (outside of Spring Break) with a Tropical/Southern blend of culture. I consider myself a Southerner and get a little prickly when people suggest otherwise.
  • I absolutely love feedback. Please feel free to constructively criticize, offer comments or suggestions, or just let me know that you read something!