Its kind of ironic that this book was sent to me to review recently, because it addresses a topic I've been thinking about a lot lately. Should people be eating animals?
I have never been a vegan or vegetarian. This surprises even me because as a kid I was obsessed with animals. Now, my obsession was primarily focused on cats, which, in North America, we do not eat. But I loved most animals...at least cute ones, yet I never was compelled to stop eating them. Is this because my parents are staunch omnivores? Certainly they are very intelligent, knowledgeable, socially conscious citizens, yet they never once raised the issue of the ethics of eating animals. In fact, my dad would pretty much eat anything...and he has eaten all sorts of weird animal and insect things I would never touch!
It seems that this issue of whether or not to eat animals and animal products has become an increasingly contentious issue. Especially now, when we have dietary trends that run in opposition to each other: raw/vegan diets and the whole paleo/high-protein/high-fat thing.
After mulling over the whole eating animals thing, even before I read this book, I had concluded that no, it is not really ethical in this day and age. Even ethically treated animals are killed for our consumption and we really can live, and live well, without eating them. As for things like dairy, eggs, honey, etc., I do think if we practice their production ethically than perhaps this is okay, but most of the time we don't do so. In addition, the ethically raised/produced products are extremely expensive, way beyond what most people can afford. Nevertheless, despite my conclusion, I have no plans to become vegan or vegetarian right now. Why? Honestly, I don't know. Yes, I do find a lot of animal products very yummy, but it isn't just that.
At first I was worried this book would be very preachy. I am not a big fan of radicals and there are certainly fringe groups within animal rights and eco circles that go right off the rails (I've heard of vegan bloggers who made the decision to start eating meat again and received death threats because of it). But I was extremely pleasantly surprised by this book.
Author, Victoria Moran, is an author, health counsellor and vegan lifestyle coach in New York, who does a good job considering many factors relevant to our food choices that are often overlooked by health and diet 'experts."
The book starts with a summary of her own journey to veganism, and then a description of what The Good Karma Diet is. Moran describes the theory behind a raw diet and tips for how to keep this dietary approach doable.
Moran sprinkles the book with anecdotes from various well-known vegans about how they found their way to veganism and what its done for their lives.
What impresses me most, is how Moran covers all different issues related to veganism. She spends time distinguishing between healthy versus skinny and emphasizes that being healthy does require avoiding obesity, but does not require conforming to a body image ideal shoved down our throats by the media. Moran, herself, was obese at one time, so she does know first hand about fat-shaming, and about the challenges of losing weight. She stresses that self love has to come before positive lifestyle change, and I have to agree. I see this with my weight-loss clients all the time.
Also, like me, she recommends eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily, and suggests people load up as much as possible on leafy greens and most other veggies, at some fruit, and then smaller ratios of proteins, whole grains and good fats. Moran also urges readers to avoid striving for perfection. That too, is key to developing a healthy relationship with food. We all make less than perfect choices sometimes, and that's okay!
There is a chapter that focuses on the unethical treatment of animals in our food industries, and it is hard to read. I knew all this beforehand, but it is very disturbing. That being said, while she would love to see the world become vegan, she sagely advises readers, at the very least, to cut back drastically on the amount of animal products they consume. Did you know that North Americans eat more meat than any other folks in the world???
Also, in case you weren't aware, one of the best ways to have a smaller foot print on the environment is not throwing your pop can in the recycle bin, but eating less or no meat.
Now, one thing that always pisses me off, is when people drone on about how everyone should be eating X diet, without considering the cost. So many people, even in North America, live with food insecurity. Many of them have little to no control over what they eat. You think folks using food banks can say, "Sorry I only eat organic/paleo/vegan/raw food"? Actually, Toronto just opened its first vegetarian food bank, which is a good thing! Anyways, Moran discusses the issue of cost in chapter 18 and provides some nice suggestions of how to eat a vegan diet on a budget.
Moran also spends some time addressing all the conflicting information out there about vegan versus animal-based diets and our health/waistlines. I am pleased to say she provides a very evidence-based, balanced perspective. She admits that we can be healthy eating small amounts of animal products, but of course, for her that still violates her personal code of ethics. The information she provides about the risks benefits of soy protein and of eating meat are very consistent with the research I have read (i.e. unprocessed soy is fine; red meat, regardless of whether its grass-fed, organic, etc. still contains compounds that increase risk of disease). She also points out the dumb-ass faulty assumptions upon which the whole paleo diet is built. That made me smile!
I also like that Moran discusses the importance of eating a vegan diet based on whole foods, and not just being a 'cupcake vegan'. As she points out, a few decades ago, being vegan inevitably meant eating whole foods, but now we have all kinds of vegan crap out there, and that is not an ideal way to eat either.
On the topic of health, Moran mentions the importance of fitness too. She admits not loving purposeful exercise, but points out that being able to push herself through a treadmill workout builds a mental strength and resilience that helps her push through other tough things in her life too. I couldn't agree more, that's just one of the millions of benefits we get from physical activity!
Moran provides a list of vegan online shopping resources and cosmetic companies to help individuals transform their lifestyle. In addition, there is a whole section of recipes in the back, created by a dietician.
Overall, this book is a very interesting read for anyone and a necessary read for anyone considering shifting to a vegan lifestyle.
So why am I not planning to become vegan myself. I just don't know, but I have come up with a theory. It isn't just that my husband would be annoyed and my kids devastated (dairy and eggs are their primary sources of protein!) because I could do it myself without them if I wished. It also isn't just that I love them and feel they do my body good. I could live without. My theory is that humans are omnivorous animals and that for some of us, perhaps me, this instinct to eat animals is more ingrained. I came to this theory because this issue of primal instincts comes up all the time in my role as infertility counsellor. We always forget that we are, ultimately, mammals, often driven by the same instincts as other species. Some people do not have the instinct to procreate, but most of us do, and if it is blocked, it literally makes us bonkers. Of course, I have no evidence, this is just my working theory. It could simply be that it wasn't something my parents discussed when I was a kid. Perhaps one day I will feel compelled to become vegan, but at least for now, I am content with my already very plant-based diet.
Disclosure: I was sent this book to review, but all opinions on this blog are my own.