It depends. Come on, you knew that.
In fact, we really can’t go any further without qualifying that wherever you sit on the moral spectrum – from “meat is murder” to “my truck is made of bacon” – you can do what you want with your stomach (barring some exceptional creativity on your part).
However, since you’re here, it’s safe to presume the question’s been floating in your periphery for a while now. It’s a hard question to avoid these days. Do you want to do right by your body, or by your fellow animals? Whatever your reason for asking, you’ll want your dish with a side of facts.
The plant-based diet
Conversations surrounding veganism tend to center around ethics, as you’ve probably experienced at one point or another. But moral quandaries and subsequent chin-stroking aside, your body has as much of a say in the matter as your conscience. For the sake of objectivity, let’s get analytical with the ever-faithful “pros and cons” breakdown:
– Plant diets are higher in grains, seeds, nuts, and of course, all manner of plant life. Those precious vitamins and minerals that fluorescent bottles and daily supplements promise us are omnipresent in the vegan’s cookbook.
– Studies have shown diets with less red meat to be healthier. Not too long ago, the World Health Organization classified this most malleable of meals as a probable carcinogen – a top contender among foods for causing cancer.
– Vegans experience a lower risk of heart disease (on average, they’re 25% less likely to die of a heart attack). They also tend to maintain a healthier weight than their counterparts; some academics recommend plant-based diets for weight loss.
– The uptake in fruits and vegetables poses a decreased risk of certain cancers. However, the difference between vegans and non-vegans isn’t large.
– If you’re upping your cauliflower to earn a few more years with the grandkids, you should know that there’s no significant evidence that vegans and vegetarians enjoy a longer average lifespan than meat eaters.
– As the team behind Britain’s most affable chef explains, there are quite a few deficiencies that you’ll have to account for if you go the vegan route: “…a vegan diet is at risk of being low in calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.” If all-around health is your aim, you’ll need to supplement those nutrients one way or another.
– People who follow a vegan diet may lack vitamin K, which is crucial for bone health. While your leafy greens contain some vitamin K, vegans may also need to rely on fortified foods… which means you may need to get friendly with soy real fast.
– “Vegan” isn’t a synonym for “healthy”. Tofu-based substitutes and other artificial meats, as well as vegan desserts can be just as high in sodium, sugars and other less-than-ideal ingredients that may be supplemented to compensate for taste.
The conscientious eater
Look, there’s no getting around this one. For all the things that separate our species from those we consume/wear/make children’s movies about, there’s just no arguing that your steak probably didn’t want to be your steak. It might not have understood the word “steak”, or even the frankly rudimentary context behind it…but the spirit of “not wanting to be steak” is present in any species with a survival mechanism.
If being green is important to you, there’s substantial evidence that a plant-based diet is also – you guessed it – green. Researchers at the University of Oxford recently conducted a sweeping study of the environmental impact of roughly 38,000 farms offering a wide spectrum of agricultural goods. Their findings were, in their words, “striking.”
“…impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.”
On a much more personal scale, researchers in Italy monitored the diets of 150+ subjects, evaluating the ecological footprints of omnivorous (all things up for eating) and herbivorous (less things up for eating) subjects. They found the meat eaters’ footprints to be the deepest, noting “The omnivorous choice generated worse carbon, water and ecological footprints than other diets.”
In fact, if you’re looking to knock it out of the park in terms of conscientiousness, The Vegan Calculator can tell you how much your choice has softened the blow to the environment and animal lives, though its formula for calculation is admittedly based on statistics presented in that documentary that everyone’s vegan friend has recommended at least thrice.
The movement isn’t without its detractors though: Some argue that the resources required to generate the amount of produce needed to satisfy a vegan planet is sapping certain countries dry. Others say the amount of fruits and vegetables you’d have to consume to make up for the loss of nutrients provided by meat would be gargantuan, though these claims are less substantiated by current scientific consensus.
Should I go vegan? Pronounce me.
There’s no quantitative or qualitative evidence either way you slice it. No team of lab coats is swapping beakers and poking mice to answer the vegan question, and when they try, the resulting discourse is dense.
For that reason, it becomes a matter of personal philosophy: Do you want your choices to respect that survival mechanism in animals that you do with humans? Veganism is a demonstrably better way to do that.
Do you want your choices to respect your personal values, interests, and preferences? You might still end up with veganism with this one, but there’s a lot more room for discussion.
Whichever path you take to digestive fulfillment, it’s essential to make sure your decisions are in keeping with your bodily health and your personal code. But while the former is pretty rigid, don’t be afraid to challenge the latter every once in a while.