Having been Vegan for 39 years next month, I’ve heard most of the arguments and warnings about eating as I do. When my daughter was young and prone to respiratory and bronchial infections, I got it from both sides. On the one hand, the Vegans gossipped that she couldn’t be in this predicament unless she was getting dairy products somewhere. And on the other, an acupuncturist told my then 11-year-old, “You wouldn’t have these problems if you weren’t on that crazy, limited diet.” (Yes, I stormed in, read him the riot act, and did a pretty good impersonation of a mother bear.)
But Vegans still run into this kind of criticism from many, although certainly not all, functional medicine doctors, chiropractors, naturopaths, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, dietitians, clinical nutritionists, and more. It’s an odd juxtaposition that many people are adopting a whole foods plant-based diet to save their lives, while others are being told by healthcare providers that it could make them sick. When I was contacted recently through my website about a Vegan’s being told by his TCM doctor that he needed meat, I was thrust back decades to the day my daugther was chastised by that acupuncturist.
What I’ve come to see over the years is that healthcare systems are, in many ways, belief systems, just as religions are. Everyone understands that religion is about belief, but healthcare is supposed to be about science. How, then, can there be so many different takes on it?
Chinese medicine believes that some meat is necessary in every diet. It’s said to build up life energy (ch’i or Q’i) and blood structure. It’s thought to nourish the weak and warm the system. And the TCM docs are not alone in sanctioning animal protein. If you consulted a Western medical doctor who believes in the keto diet, that person would not tell you not just to eat some meat but to eat it in quantity. The average ayurvedic practitioner would probably tell you that being vegetarian is fine but you absolutely need dairy products, especially ghee, clarified butter. And an old-school MD would likely tell you that what you eat has nothing to do with how you feel and that you either need medication or psychotherapy.
Unless they’re Vegan or plant-based themselves, or working with a patient whose condition precludes certain items, dietitians and nutritionists tend to allow for every kind of edible. You’ll often hear, “There are no bad foods” and “The important thing is to eat a wide variety of foods.” There’s much to be said for nutritional variety and yet, in some ways, the concept as presented is absurd. A truly wide variety of foods would include insects — 25 percent of the world’s population consumes them — and it would certainly contain healthful fruits like Buddha’s hand, dragonfruit, starfruit, and cherimoya. These aren’t recommended, however, either because they’re taboo in our culture (the bugs) or because they’re unfamiliar or hard to get (dragonfruit). Healthcare professionals and paraprofessionals wear the same blinders we all do. It’s up to us to remove them as often as we can, look at all possibilities, and make our choices based on the best that’s in us: our good sense, the knowledge we’ve sought out, the intuition we’re trusting, and the values that make us who we are.
When somebody says “There are no bad foods,” I think they mean that two French fries won’t kill you and you really ought to have a piece of cake on your birthday. Okay, that’s cool, but when you’re Vegan, there are some really bad foods. They’re so bad, we can’t even think of them as edible because their procurement causes unbearable suffering and violent, premature death. No one who has spent any time in a slaughterhouse can blithely recite the line, “There are no bad foods.”
Making matters even worse, most of the healthcare folks who tell us we really ought to be adding back eggs or “at least eating fish” claim to be “holistic.” This means that they see health as a continuum and the human being as a body-mind-spirit whole, here to grow and contribute in a harmonious connection with others and with nature. How, in the name of all that’s gracious, can anybody claim to be “holistic” when recommending the consumption of violence? And when their recommendations contribute to environmental destruction? It’s like the old Quaker line that a man says to his wife, “Me thinks the whole world is crazy except for me and thee, and sometimes I wonder about thee.”
My suggestion is this: Do all you can, within the confines of location and insurance, to seek out healthcare practitioners who at least respect your beliefs and ideally share them. You can find such people through the Plantrician Project and the American Academy of Lifestyle Medicine. And even in specialties that traditionally praise and prescribe an animal-heavy diet, some Vegans are practicing already, and more are coming along all the time.
It’s also helpful to remember that people get well through many systems. I know of folks who have healed themselves with macrobiotics, raw food, fasting, and with the Ayurvedic pull-out-the-stops treatment, panchakarma (which can be done without dairy products). Of course I know plenty of people who are currently alive and well, thanks to Western drugs and surgery. And I’ve known a few who regained their health because of a Christian Science practitioner. There is no one size fits all, but there is One Life in All. When we honor that, and when our choices reflect it, we have an indestructable moral baseline. Once that is in place, we can make our own healthcare decisions.
Victoria Moran, CHHC/AADP, RYT-200, is the author of Main Street Vegan and The Love Powered-Diet, and host of the Victoria Moran Podcast: Meetings With Remarkable Women. She is also the founder and director of Main Street Vegan Academy, and cofounder and codirector of the Compassion Consortium, a spiritual center for animal advocates. Please check out her brand new author website, www.victoriamoran.com, and sign up there to receive messages. Also, consider tuning in for Compassionate Film Night at the Compassion Consortium October 11th. It’s recommended that you first treat yourself to a rental of the classic and glorious feature film about St. Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and then join us for a panel discussion about Francis and his relationship with animals and nature, featuring Rev. Janet Chapman, Vegan historian Elaine Hutchison, and Rev. Fr. John Dear, the noted peace activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Bishop Desmond Tutu.