The stigmatized vegan

September 21, 2009

Yesterday I ate:

– Bowl of cantaloupe, apple slices, grapes, and 1/3 banana

– 3 oatmeal raisin scones with a small amount of almond butter and jam. For the scones, I subbed part of the whole wheat pastry flour for flaxseed meal, wheat germ, and 1 tbsp of FitNutz Pro. I also used unsweetened vanilla Almond Breeze in place of the soymilk and added 1 tsp cinnamon (and the raisins). They were excellent.

– 3 beanballs wrapped in nori, some mushrooms with hummus, and a salad (romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, cucumber, tomato, cauliflower, carrot, and hummus)

– 2 1/2 slices gingerbread with icing and peanut butter

– Some almonds and grapes (maybe a couple tbsp of each?), and 2 tbsp PB2 with raisins

– A couple handfuls of Guiltless Gourmet blue corn tortilla chips, a couple falafel balls, and some yam fries

– 1 barbecued Tofurky frank with homemade ketchup, 1/2 beer, a few tomato slices, and 1 barbecued cob of corn

Yesterday was a tough day- I really had the munchies but was having a lot of difficulty being satisfied (as you can tell!). This resulted in me eating far too much and by the end of the day just feeling over-stuffed… though I found that the falafel, chips, and Tofurky really hit the spot, strangely enough. This was the first time in the past few weeks that, although I wasn’t craving meat, I still felt dissatisfied with what I was eating. Mentally, I don’t seem to have any issues with being vegan, but I think that physically my body is starting to wonder where the animal products are. Either that, or being cooped up indoors with studying was making me go stir-crazy and munching out of habit…

Vegetarianism, veganism, and the stigma attached to them

A month(ish) ago, I would have been the first to openly state that I don’t believe veganism is a very healthy way to eat. In fact, looking back at previous posts, I’m sure that I made my position on veganism explicit. I’ve learned a thing or two from eating vegan and doing research, and now I understand that there’s a whole lot more to it than I thought- which is what we always will find when we do a little digging! But I’m shocked at the real animosity that exists between people with different diets.

There was recently an upsetting situation at VeggieGirl’s blog, when she was “accused” of posting photos with meat in them; the commenter slandered her for it and said some rude and hurtful things toward her about displaying photos of murder etc. For the record, these pictures were of meals. Regular meals on a plate. Our dear VeggieGirl is, after all, a food blogger!

Even though she had to deal with the uncalled-for cruelty of the commenter, VeggieGirl handled it beautifully in a follow-up post in which she made it clear that food is nourishment and something to be enjoyed, and no one has any right to judge anyone else based on their food choices.

We all have our own opinions as to what way of eating is a “good” way to eat. Most of you know my personal nutrition philosophy of eating real food and trying to avoid or limit processed food (or rather, *replace it* with the real stuff), but you can read more of that on the sidebar (and, er, please ignore the above tortilla chips/Tofurky etc… well, eating real food is what I strive for; I don’t pretend it’s something I always manage to achieve ;)). I very strongly believe in it, and am wary of diets that are very high or low in any one particular nutrient or of diets that promote processed foods and supplements, but that’s just me. If other people really want to try any of those kinds of diets, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’d urge them to do a lot of research to learn more to determine if it is a safe way to eat, but I think it’s also very important to not assume our expertise on the matter.

Me? I was wrong about veganism. I’m full of energy. I’m able to maintain my weight. I’m not lacking in nutrients. I’m not hungry or weak or ill. At this point I’m prepared to say that eating a mostly (key word!) vegan diet as a rule could quite possibly be one of the healthiest diets, in terms of our own physical health, environmental health, and financial health too.

Most people who, upon hearing I was going vegan for a month, immediately said “Oh but that’s not healthy, you need animals to survive”, probably haven’t done a great deal of research on the subject.* Some became downright hostile and said that they dislike people who eat this way “because they adopt a holier-than-thou attitude”. I think that’s a pretty big leap to make, and an unfair, discriminatory one at that. I don’t believe it’s a valid argument at all.

I recently found a passage from Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential to be absolutely appalling:

Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.

The assumptions he makes are insulting and hurtful, no matter what your diet is like. There are countless reasons for why any of us eat in any particular fashion; there are ways to be healthy and unhealthy for any kind of diet, and every individual has his or her own needs with the way their body reacts to certain foods. There are so many things that are rude, hostile, nonsensical, and just plain wrong with Bourdain’s passage** that I am going to hand over a proper analysis of it to Living Rhetorically in the Real World in the future.

Hearing about how VeggieGirl was treated by another vegan, and hearing omnivores railing against vegans, is very disheartening. Why is there so much stigma? Why is there so much judgment?

I can’t help but think that everyone would have much healthier physical bodies and much healthier body image if we got rid of that stigma.

Questions are good. We learn by asking questions. Asking why one person eats that way and someone else eats a different way can broaden our perspectives and help our whole selves to become healthier. That kind of healthy curiosity is good for us all, especially because it will reduce the likelihood of making judgments and jumping to conclusions. If we find ourselves making assertive judgments on a certain nutrition plan, that’s a good indicator that it’s time to delve into some research on that topic.

Have your thoughts and opinions changed on a particular subject recently after doing more research and learning more about it?

*Yes, I do agree that we need animals to survive. On a number of levels. Hence my earlier statement about eating a mostly vegan diet.

**I’ve read about three pages of Bourdain’s book, so there’s always a chance here that I’ve completely misinterpreted his words. Maybe he has a really warped sense of humour and didn’t intend for the passage to read as it does. But I’m not very impressed with it as it stands alone.

Edited to add: Check out Westwood’s post, Pretty in Plastic, for an interesting discussion on the ethics of plastic surgery!


  1. I love this post! It makes me so happy when awareness is brought to many people’s “new” need to uphold, to the extent of some relgious people, their beliefs behind eating and food. When I went vegan for 2.5 years I dealt with a lot of ridicule, acceptance, and then more ridicule if I ever “strayed” from a vegan diet, as if I was doing something sacrilige etc. etc. It was somewhat irritating to me because I never claimed veganism for moral reasons. Those who do, okay, then I can understand their passion when people attack them.

    In regard to people attacking vegetarians and vegans and vice versa, I think it is silly. It is really the same as attacking someone who likes sci-fi, but I suppose that is what people tend to do. They tend to attack what they think they don’t agree with, though I always ask if people have experienced it properly and understand it as fully as they claim. They usually end up realizing that they do not and I can usually make them shut up pretty quickly. If people realize that eating is just another lifestyle choice, a rather unimposing one usually, and accept its prevalence, then people might chill out about it. I donno why people care so much about what others eat. It must me a control thing.

    I would like to also say that veganism can be healthy just as it cannot be. I’ve known many an overweight vegetarian and vegan. I’ve gained excess weight as a vegan, and been really fit as one too. It all depends on how you do it. In this way, it is simple ignorance (and a bit of laziness) when people say that vegetarian and vegan diets are not healthy. It reflects that the person does not know enough about nutrition and food to understand that they are healthy. In terms of the healthiest diet, I would not claim to know, but from my own experiences, high raw vegetables, fruits, and nuts, along with some animal products has suited me the best=not been sick in 1.5 years now in COLLEGE, that’s crazyness, and high energy, clear skin, etc. etc. When I start eating more processed anything, or fewer veggies, I notice it right away and don’t feel nearly as lively.

    This ended up being a reallly long comment. I guess I just really get worked up about people discriminating against diets. Open-mindedness is key.

  2. I’ve read Bourdain’s book and he really means what he said. According to him, if you don’t eat meat, you can’t be a gourmet eater.

    I’m glad that you’ve come to appreciate that a predominantly plant-based, whole food diet has a lot of benefits, of which health is just one. Animal foods are not part of my daily diet, but I happily eat them when they’re served to me, usually on a special occasion. To my mind, that is the best of both worlds. In those quantities, their negative effect on my health is negligible. I’m much more interested in what I eat and do 95% of the time.

    I do take issue with holier-than-thou vegans. No lifestyle should become a “cult”. Yes, we need to be concerned about the effect our choices have on the environment, the ethical treatment of animals and we should definitely educate ourselves about the health implications of eating a diet high in animal products. But, we also need to respect other people’s choices and meet them where “they” are. You don’t inspire people by condemning them!

    Good post!

  3. Great points! Yes, I think people are very quick to judge others for what they eat and don’t mind sharing their opinions without being asked. (The only other area in my life I have experienced this is when it comes to raising kids. People often lose all boundaries…).

    I think the food we eat is very personal, and we all make the choices we make for different reasons. I think it’s okay to share our own food philosophy as long as we don’t judge (or even worse, attack) others.

    Again, I so enjoy “watching” you go through this challenge, and I have learned a lot. Thanks so much for sharing it with us! 🙂

  4. I really enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s show on television. I think my favorite part is just the way he writes, he’s an amazing food writing. That being said, he, and NO ONE has the right to judge people for what they eat or what they chose not to eat. I would never be vegan, but would I ever put someone down for choosing to do so? No, that’s not my place.
    Great discussion post.

  5. I totally agree with you – people can get awfully judge-y of other people’s eating choices. Because of where I lived at the time, the first time I went vegan I got a lot of commendation (ironically from vegans who ate mostly processed food) and then when I downgraded to “just” vegetarianism (not because I didn’t think I could be healthy as a vegan, but because I simply wanted to eat eggs and dairy again and soy makes me sick)with an emphasis on whole foods, they raked me over the coals. It was so frustrating! Anyhow, I’m glad your experiment was a success!

  6. Thank you for your continued support, dear Sagan xo

  7. Lia- you said it so well. It really IS ridiculous.

    Hanlie- I think you’re completely right that we aren’t inspired if we’re condemned. A holier-than-thou attitude from anyone is frustrating! I’m just shocked when people think that *all* vegans have that attitude.

    Andrea- food choices are immensely personal. As a society we seem to really like sticking our noses in other people’s business!

    Gina- precisely 🙂

    Charlotte- gah. That would be incredibly tough to deal with.

    VeggieGirl- but of course!

  8. Sagan – this was a well-written post. I don’t think I could eat a vegan diet (I love my meat too much) but I agree it’s wrong to condemn people for their food choices, just as it’s wrong to condemn people for their religion, or colour of their skin! (or their height, or lack thereof, or their weight, or…. etc.)

  9. Bourdain meant what he said, but veggies are not the only ones to come under the knife, so to speak, in his book. He slices himself up pretty well also. It’s actually an interesting read.

    I eat meat, and purchase from local farmers. I have no problems with people who don’t eat meat or are strictly vegan. To each their own. I just believe no matter what you eat, you should know where it comes from and how it is processed.

  10. I am nowhere near Vegan, Raw, or Vegetarian…but I have researched my food choices with much more scrutiny than I have in the past and all of these diets have things that make alot of sense. I have realized that when I am doing the research and making the choices for myself, I am much more likely to stick with something than when someone rales at me about what the “best” thing is for me. I have actually seen alot of judgement from people who only eat “organic”, “free range”, “raw” foods and for a long time, this kind of judgement totally turned me off! I guess it also works both ways, because I have experienced some ridicule from those that eat nothing but processed, fried foods when I try to eat healthy!…Either way…I make up my own mind and want to make choices that will work for me and keep me as healthy as possible!

  11. By the way, I’m vegan solely for health reasons (as I state on my blog). I refer to myself as dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, egg-free.

  12. Bag Lady- agreed. There’s way too much of it going on.

    Lori- it’s definitely a way to “capture” the reader’s interest… I might check out his book more completely, though. And I agree, awareness and knowledge are very important with food choices.

    Tammy- I know exactly what you mean! I’ve experienced ridicule from both ends of the spectrum. In the end, SOMEONE is always going to get their back up about something. We just have to slough over it, I guess.

  13. When I was on a 3 week trip to South Africa a few years ago, I was questioned at EVERY meal why I was a vegetarian! I finally broke down and told them better to ask themselves why they ate the way they did (unhealthy–S.A. has some of the highest heart disease rates in the world) rather than question me! They stopped 🙂

  14. This makes me happy. I love it when you get your hands dirty.

    And thanks for the link!

    I have something for youuuuu.

  15. grrr, that makes me so sad/mad that people would judge someone’s food choices like that!

    Everyone is not always going to be in agreement when it comes to food choices. Some rave about the 100 calorie packages of food, others cringe at it. Some love ground turkey because it’s “healthier” than red meat, and others criticize for eating meat at all. Sigh. I guess there is always going to be one unhappy person in the bunch….but, I do agree that all diets (vegan, vegetarian, carnivorous) can be made healthy OR unhealthy. Everyone can eat fruits and veggies! I love seeing how this has affected you, and it’s good to know your energy level has kept up!

  16. Well this is a great article and comments too. We all say to each his/her own but also in reality we are all each to our own too when we personally wade thru all the choices for ourselves. We all make our own choices for ourselves and say to others que sera sera. I’m an omnivore, probably by default, but there are days where I end up eating vegan. I love Anthony for his words and his style and his love of good tasting food. You can see how he must have ‘seen the light’ later when someone took the time to show him or teach him something about it since then. Being originally from Alaska, I probably have a little different take on life, so I can also appreciate that there is some really yummy vegan food too and I really love experimenting with them and sharing them. It’s all an amazing adventure to me! Check out the ‘vegan’ black bean brownie recipe http://myra.icobb.com/?p=456 Rock on ya’ll.

  17. Such a great post! I’ve had people chastise me for celebrating my beloved cake day or splurging on one of the dessert yogurts or any of the other minor (in my mind, anyway, since they occur every month or so) deviations from my normal eating patterns. Someone asked specifically how I could justify it. I told her I didn’t have to, that it worked for me and that was enough. 🙂

  18. For me the key thing is to minimise the amount of processed food I eat. Without wanting to be zealous about it, so many studies seem to show a clear link between processed food and increased susceptibility to a wide range of diseases, and this is a constant theme regardless of variations in exactly what foods are better or worse for you at the margins. But no one ever keeled over from eating one piece of cake or ready meal, and it’s important to keep a sense of proportion about diet as about most things in life!

  19. While I don’t understand why vegetarians/vegans are so hated, I do understand how, from a cooking perspective, it could be stressful to entertain a vegan, if the cook is an omnivore. Also, vegans have a tendency to try and “convert” omnivores.

    I also think that the person with the dietary restrictions has a duty to let the host know before the menu is planned, and/or make their own arrangements for the meal (if it’s a potluck-style get together).

  20. Dr. J- asking WHY we have issues with another way of eating- or why someone else has issues with the way we eat- can be incredibly insightful!

    Westwood- I’m afraid Devin and I broke into your gingerbread. It was calling to us. I’ll bake you something else sometime instead 😀

    Holly- it’s fun to find challenging nutrition plans and to keep them healthy!

    Myra- thanks for the link, they look tasty! So many good recipes out there.

    Cammy- “it worked for me and that was enough”- love it. YOU have it all figured out, my dear.

    Liz- we think so similarly 🙂

    Tricia- this is an excellent point. Respect is essential and clearing up with people ahead of time what our dietary regulations are can save a lot of stress and conflict later on.

  21. Anthony Bourdain can be a pompous ass, can’t he?

    My mom is the most judgemental person ever, so I am very used to (and defensive) of criticism of my eating. I have a few vegan friends, and only one of them lectures me. I just shrug, and chew a piece of bacon. Kidding! Anyone who comments negatively on my food these days has to defend themselves on it. I will play devil’s advocate, I can argue any side. OK, I only know two vegans, and one of them eats completely processed, and I’m not sure what the other really eats. It’s hard to go to restaurants with them, that’s my biggest complaint. But I could say the same about me, though to a lesser degree. I try to eat mostly whole foods, used to be vegetarian, but it was too fattening (always too much cheese).

    And since I don’t like to be judged, I don’t comment on other people’s food. Generally, I can eat anything for a meal or two, it’s very rare that I can find nothing edible, but it happens, usually at heavy meat restaurants. I can eat meat, just don’t like it much.

  22. Julie- I don’t like getting my back up about things, but it’s hard not to take things to heart sometimes! Eating is so PERSONAL that negative comments about it can be really harmful. And agreed: commenting on other people’s food choices is inadvisable as well 🙂

  23. […] Posted on June 22, 2010 by Samantha Today I was reading a blog posted by the Stigmatized Vegan, totally intresting! Some of the things you learn! So anyway, I got to thinking what exactly is a […]

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