Mickey Z. -- World News TrustNov. 3, 2015
While each of us tends to interpret mainstream news in a self-serving manner, this seems to go double for vegans and animal rights types. Remember when we were told that Costa Rica was closing its zoos and releasing the animals from captivity? Yeah, me too.
Recently, all across the social mediasphere, vegans were celebrating what they chose to perceive as confirmation, validation, and definitive proof, re: the carcinogenic dangers of eating meat. If we were to take those Facebook posts at face value, we might think the World Health Organization (WHO) had criminalized the consumption of bacon.
I went in for a closer look and quickly learned that the word from the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was a tad more tempered than the vegan tweets and memes led us to believe. For example, as Dr. Kurt Straif, head of the IARC monographs program, explained: “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
Hardly ground-breaking news here, folks, but vegans everywhere are crowing about it. That said, it’s equally as pathetic to see meat-eaters attempting to spin this report in their favor. A quick Google search would help them find Mariana Stern, PhD, an associate professor in the Division of Cancer Epidemiology at USC who has long studied genetics, the environment, and diet as it relates to cancer risk. Stern also worked on the latest WHO/IARC report.
Yes, she says, the report is not cause to panic but she also offers essential context like this: “One of the key mechanisms by which red meat may increase cancer risk is due to the presence of heme iron, a molecule that transports iron in blood. High doses of heme iron have been linked to several harmful effects in the body, in particular the colorectum.”
When asked about grass-fed cattle, Stern explained: “High levels of heme iron are present in red meats, and this will not change based on the feeding approach used for cattle.”
Of interest is how Stern’s work has impacted her own life. “I have been studying the role of meat intake and cancer, and diet and cancer in general, for almost a decade now,” she told Los Angeles Magazine. “And yes, it has influenced what I eat. I am currently a vegan.”
Obviously, this could be useful information for everyone to know but… too bad we live in the age of meme activism, huh?
Bacon & Cigarettes
While many vegans have gleefully jumped on the alleged apple-to-apple comparison of meat to cigarettes, the IARC report does not say that meat is as carcinogenic as tobacco smoke. It merely placed bacon, sausage, and hotdogs in a category of known carcinogens, a list that also includes cigarettes, diesel fumes, and asbestos.
“That doesn’t mean all the items in this category are equally likely to give you cancer,” Margaret Badore at Treehugger.com explains. “It just means that there’s sufficient evidence to support that these things can cause cancer, a conclusion that scientific study can only reach after much research.”
Context: The WHO estimates that 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are caused by eating a diet that’s high in processed meat; 200,000 deaths per year are caused by air pollution, 600,000 per year are caused by alcohol consumption, and 1 million deaths per year are caused by cigarettes.
“We need to avoid misrepresenting the science in our advocacy for animals,” cautioned Jack Norris, a well-known vegan dietician and the co-founder of Vegan Outreach.
In fact, Norris believes the IARC announcement is “very likely” to increase animal suffering since “it will drive people to eat more meat from chickens -- animals who suffer more and in far greater numbers.” He concludes: “This is why I never get excited about anti-red meat health claims. They are never a win for animals.”
Those last two sentences above should remind us (yet again) that:
- Going vegan is not easy
- Going vegan doesn’t “save” lives
Since it’s way simpler to believe the IARC just validated our existence than it is to analyze the realities involved, please allow me to elaborate on the two bulleted points above.
Veganism = Unnatural
When once asked for his thoughts as to why so many vegans think they don’t need to supplement, Norris replied: “Because they want to think that the vegan diet is natural. Many vegans believe that a vegan diet is the most natural and, therefore, the healthiest, and so everyone should stop harming animals and live an Eden-like existence. I understand the appeal of this, but the evidence that humans evolved as vegans is simply not there, not to mention the important fact that what is ‘natural’ is not necessarily what is the healthiest. But this cuts both ways. The vegans who want to base their nutrition on a return to Eden are no sillier, in my opinion, than the paleo dieters who want to return to hunter-gatherer times.”
I suggest all vegans -- and their haters -- re-read that last paragraph again.
Vegans are wrong about plenty but then again, so are their critics. I’m not gonna re-hash all the usual suspects and all the usual debate points here. Instead, I’ll once again address the common vegan rallying cry: It’s so easy!
Homo sapiens did not evolve as vegans and thus (especially in a modern industrial culture), careful dietary analysis (and supplementation) is required if you want to stay somewhat healthy. This effort requires steady access to nutrition information as it evolves, the ability to procure proper supplements and quality food, and last but not least: enough disposable income to afford such a lifestyle.
Translation: Being a relatively healthy vegan is not at all easy -- nutritionally or financially -- and vegan activists should really stop shaming those who lack the resources to even try and/or are unable to thrive physically or psychologically on such a diet.
Side note: I’d love to have a dollar for every time I hear the “where do you get your protein?” question get mocked. However, I can count on the fingers of one hand how many vegans I’ve met who truly understand protein -- or any aspect of nutrition -- beyond meme “statistics.”
Suggestion to vegans: You rightfully call out the meat and dairy industries for their deceptive tactics, so why not try a little brutal honesty in your own outreach? Talk about the challenges, stop demanding absolute purity and the “all or nothing” approach, teach yourself about nutrition so you can knowledgeably answer questions, and -- while you’re at it -- drop all the talk about how many animals we can “save” by choosing a plant-based diet.
Which leads us to my other point: Going vegan doesn’t actually “save” lives. To state this belief is to admit to having little or no understanding about how capitalism works.
When you go out with a bunch of “carnist” friends to a non-vegan restaurant and you look down your nose at them as you order a baked potato and plain green salad, do you really believe this act saves a single life?
All the overpriced plates of seitan, kale, and beans you and your vegan crew share photos of on Instagram will never lead a slaughterhouse owner to release some of his doomed captives. The best you can boast might be that theoretically, if enough humans eschewed animal by-products, some future doomed captives may never be born because breeding may have to be slowed.
Please allow me to state the obvious: There’s a huge difference between possibly contributing to a theoretical vegan-friendly future and directly saving lives right now.
Another side note: Since so many vegans scoff at the concept of “welfare” or “reform,” we might wanna ponder who actually does more to help animals: a) vegans who, by their privileged consumer choices, merely hope they may eventually save theoretical future animals from being bred or b) some small farmers who make sincere efforts towards more humane methods in the here and now for animals who are alive, in the here and now.
Think about it, please. A vegan who does nothing more than choose Daiya over real cheese and might occasionally hold a cardboard sign at an ineffective protest will deny the value of efforts -- no matter how meager -- to help living captive animals right now. Why? They’re too busy staying pure as they await the coming plant-based utopia.
Honesty is a the Moral Baseline
Veganism is not easy as a lifestyle or effective as a form of activism. So, here’s a novel idea, or five: Evolve. Become more flexible and inclusive. Seek opinions outside the echo chamber. Admit that vegan activism has been woefully ineffective and mostly counterproductive. Try something new.
Step 1: Stop telling everyone that veganism is the “moral baseline.”
Step 2: Try honesty (with others and yourself) as the new baseline.
Life becomes far more livable and activism far more active once we accept that going vegan is merely one small potential step in a far bigger journey -- a step not everyone can or will take in order to contribute to the manifestation of drastic and sustainable social change.
Mickey Z. is the author of 13 books, most recently Occupy these Photos: NYC Activism Through a Radical Lens. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, you can “like” his Facebook page here and follow his blog here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.