More than tofu: a non-vegan’s opinion

Posted on Sep 22 2012 - 7:26pm by Lacey Russell

I should make clear at the beginning of this column that I am not vegan, and I’ve never had any interest in being vegan until I moved in with a family who is vegan. Well, the wife/mother of the family is vegan; her husband identifies himself as “plant strong.” All the same, I have been thrust into the world of veganism for the summer, and to be honest, I’m loving every minute of it. I haven’t had tofu yet (that I’m aware of), but I have had some fabulous food.
Living in Mississippi all my life, I have observed that there is a lot of misunderstanding concerning veganism. Many people stereotype people with plant-based diets as “tree-huggers” or hippies, or other terms with negative connotations; however, that simply is not the case. identifies a vegan as “…someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products.” While animal rights are a perfectly valid reason for someone to lead a vegan lifestyle, there are plenty of people who do it for health reasons as well, particularly people with high cholesterol.  
To be clear, a vegan diet is one that cuts out animal products, which includes dairy. This, along with the exclusion of meat, causes many people to be concerned about a lack of calcium and a lack of protein in the diet. However, some scientists and nutritionists say that as long as a person eats an adequate amount of calories and a variety of whole foods, it would be difficult for them to have a protein deficiency. As far as calcium goes, milk is not our one and only source. And it is possible that our belief that “milk builds strong bones” may be flawed. In a 12-year Harvard Nurses’ Health Study based on 77,761 women aged 34 to 59, researchers found that those who consumed the most calcium from dairy foods broke more bones than those who rarely drank milk. 
I am not necessarily suggesting that everyone should “go vegan.” In fact, I’m not suggesting that at all. I love cheese just as much as the next person, but I do think there are a lot of common sense things to be learned from the vegan diet. 
In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan, who is not vegan to my knowledge, sums up his conclusion this way: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So-called “vegan foods” include things like whole grains, veggies, fruits and beans, all of which are nutrient-dense foods that help our bodies operate efficiently.
Vegan may not be what your body needs. I don’t think that any one diet is perfect for everyone on the planet, but I do think that most of us need to do a serious re-evaluation of the foods we eat. We need to be more aware of food science because statistics show that we are killing ourselves with the food we eat.  
Being vegan isn’t all that bad, especially when the person making the food is an awesome cook. But eating meat isn’t necessarily bad either. Just like anything else, it’s how much you eat that really matters. 
So I guess you can say that thus far in my sort of vegan experience, I’m still on the fence. I still like Parmesan cheese on my pasta too much to give it up entirely, but I am discovering that it’s not the end of the world to not have meat at every meal. In fact, it’s kind of nice.  

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