Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Veganism in the News

I read a disappointing piece about veganism this morning on the North Jersey website ("It's vegan, but is it healthful?"). Writer Jeanine Stein found a couple to profile in her article about the unhealthiness of plant-based diets. The couple consists of one self-labeled vegan and a fish-eating non-vegan who doesn't eat dairy, eggs or other animal flesh. Stein basically found the vegan naysayers pot of gold in their kitchen, writing that

a lack of time and planning has cornered the couple into relying on fast-food burritos, protein bars and potato chips. They cook few dinners at home, and Watson’s diet is dangerously low in protein and calcium. Neither gets all the vitamins and minerals needed; even some of the processed vegan foods they favor are low in essential nutrients.
The vegan of the two claims to have gone vegan for environmental reasons and is described as a die-hard reader of labels who only checks labels for animal ingredients (i.e. obviously not for nutritional information). When the writer Stein raids their fridge, she finds little produce, but mostly processed foods (albeit, some of it enriched garbage) -- lots of meat and cheese substitutes, soy mayo, some buns and almond milk. Making an assumption that too many non-vegans make that specific plant-based substitutes are also supposed to substitute the exact nutritional value of their animal-based counterparts, she paraphrases a registered dietitian as noting the low protein content of the almond milk and the low calcium content of the cheese.

What's not mentioned is that the meat substitutes in their fridge are very likely very high in protein (check the side of one of a package of some of the stuff and you'll see what I mean). Also, Stein goes on to describe the contents of the couple's cupboard, which include "high-protein pretzels, plus cans of green beans, lentils, garbanzos" -- all high-protein items, thus making the dietitian's fear mongering about the vegan's possible protein deficiency thanks to her almond milks and cheese substitute seem even more pointless.

A token mention is made of a kitchen garden in which the couple grows some lettuce, tomatoes and herbs, but the truth is that they're not eating anything vaguely resembling a healthy variety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables. Along with the aforementioned potato chips, the vegan's favourite daytime snacks are listed as crackers and cookies. And where the dietitian could step up and address this lack of fruits and vegetables in the couple's diet, the focus is left on the protein shortcomings of the almond milk and cheese substitute and it's then pointed out that vegan's diet is also potentially very low in calcium. Considering that a cup of the almond milk in their fridge ordinarily contains 25-30% of the recommended daily value of calcium and that a cup of those chickpeas in their cupboard would provide 8-10%, would it have been so hard to mention that adding a cup of kale or spinach a day to that would add another 22-24% and that a cup of calcium fortified cereal could provide 10-100% while a cup of calcium-fortified orange juice could easily provide 25-30%? Yet, the dietitian suggests supplements, adding that "B-12 and iron supplements might be in order as well".

It's unfortunate that the article will be interpreted by most readers as illustrating shortcomings in a plant-based diet, when it's really an article about people who eat poorly. The focus is kept on the potential deficiencies arising from not consuming animal-based products, and no mention is made of the serious deficiencies that could arise from not consuming fruits and vegetables, which the couple examined in the article are obviously not doing in any sort of healthy way. It's also unfortunate that instead of recommending animal-free options for the couple, the dietitian falls back on pill-popping. Worse, though, as far as I'm concerned, is that the writer presented a horribly lopsided piece dealing with nutritional inadequacies in a plant-based diet without balancing it out with a look at a vegan doing it right.


M said...

I just noticed that my link to the article was wrong and have corrected it. Oops!

sheree boyd said...

what I find interesting is that she points out the couple's diet consists of processed foods yet I bet if you looked into a meat eaters pantry most of their food products are just if not more processed. So how would that be better?

Have you heard about the UN pushing eating insects to stamp out famine and cut global warming? here is the link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1301970/GOOD-GRUB-GUIDE-The-UN-says-eating-creepy-crawlies-save-planet---Our-girl-finds-hard-swallow.html

Vanilla Rose said...

It took me ages to learn how to make a link here. Here is the insect link.