Mainstream dieticians have long expressed concerns about vegan and vegetarian diets. When people simply subtract or eliminate a major dietary component from their diets, and then naively assume they’re now automatically “healthier,” problems can occur.
Unfortunately, these concerns have had the same impact as elevator music: most people simply ignore it, while the rest are annoyed and irritated.
Lately, though, there have been a few blips on the radar screens of the media, including one provocative piece that recently appeared on FOX News online. Titled, “Vegans and vegetarians may think they’re ‘eating healthy.’ They’re not,” the article noted that “Those who avoid animal food products often do not get enough B12, the much-needed vitamin found in animal products that helps build red blood cells, repair DNA, and protect the brain.”
Indeed, B12 deficiency is a problem generally for many adults whose diets are less-than balanced and exacerbated by the dietary choices of strict vegans.
But the potential problems associated with the current crop of super-conscious veggie believers extend beyond just a vitamin deficiency. Many — if not the majority — of vegans I’ve observed have certain, shall we say, “quirks,” about food that are difficult to understand.
Here are a few examples:
- The Fat Phobia. As an eyewitness, allow me to recount a scene that took place in a KFC restaurant a couple months ago. A young, bearded, college student-looking young man placed an order for a meal with several pieces of fried chicken as the main component. Upon receiving his food, he proceeded to grab a large stack of napkins before sitting down at an empty table. He then carefully peeled off all of the breaded skin on the chicken pieces, placing them on a sheet of napkins to be later disposed. Then he pulled the bones from the remaining meat, discarding those as well. Finally, he took the chunks of chicken that were left and pressed them between wads of napkins, before finally commencing his dinner. Why? Obviously, to remove any and all traces of fat from the dry, tasteless shreds of poultry that were left. Believe me, I wasn’t the only patron in the restaurant watching this process with raised eyebrows and a WTF look. And by the way, the guy sucked down a couple refills of soda — hardly a healthy choice of beverage — which he no doubt needed to wash down the desiccated chicken meat he’d doctored.
- The Meatless Meal. This maneuver is another one regularly practiced by observant vegans, one that’s most often employed when dining with a group at some restaurant that doesn’t offer a slew of vegetarian options. The person orders one of those luncheon salads, because, you know, a sandwich has carbs and those are bad. After the bowl is placed in front of them, they then proceed to carefully search and destroy any pieces of chicken or beef in the salad; remove any shreds of cheese with the intensity of a prospector searching in his pan for a gold nugget or two; and then add just the slightest splash of low-cal/non-fat vinaigrette salad dressing. How does that constitute a healthy (or tasty) meal? Lettuce and a few bits and pieces of vegetables? Yet, virtually every person I’ve seen preforming this ritual begins to eat with a truly satisfied smile they flash at everyone else at the table, as if to say, “Don’t you wish you were this healthy?”
- The Factory-Fresh Feast. Like pancakes with syrup or potatoes with gravy, this classic mealtime maneuver is generally accompanied by a generous serving of rhetoric about the horrors of “industrial agriculture” and the detrimental effects of eating “processed foods.” Condescending looks are typically sprinkled in like a dash of salt and pepper. After professing the critical importance of eating “natural foods” and aligning one’s lifestyle with Nature, this breed of veganista will then proudly begin eating his or her highly processed, mass-produced vegetarian “burger” patty, which is manufactured from crops grown on an industrial scale, processed in high-tech facilities and formulated with ingredients that simply don’t exist in Nature. Meanwhile, any other people in the vicinity who happen to be eating a hamburger or hot dog are looked upon as if they were suffering from full-blown leprosy — because, you know, meat isn’t a natural food.
There are other similar stunts in which many vegetarians engage, but the point is that for all its perceived irrelevance, the concept of a “balanced diet” that includes animal foods, reasonable levels of fat and features foods that weren’t created in an automated cook/chill/package processing line is a sound one.
There’s nothing wrong with opting for a veggie patty or a serving of meatless lasagna on occasion, and it’s certainly valuable to regularly work in a salad or a serving of vegetables, rather than subsisting solely on meat and potatoes.
But extreme avoidance of any animal foods whatsoever most often leads to extreme, and often unpleasant, health concerns.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.