Ethics Vs. Health Vegans by Jessica Parsons

Illustration by Jess Latham

Please welcome my special guest blogger Jessica Parsons!…

I just got my hands on a copy of The Vegan Sourcebook. It certainly earns its nickname of “The Vegan Bible” – it has a wealth of valuable information, recommendations, and history, and more than a few judgements from on high. While presenting a vast range of reasons to be vegan, it also repeated how ethics is the strongest motivation and health the weakest, including a very memorable quote from Catherine Nimmo:

If we become vegans because we understand animals and feel great compassion for their sufferings, it is the easiest thing, and proves to be of the greatest benefit for ourselves too; but if we become vegans for health reasons, it seems full of worries based on fear, ignorance, and above all egocentric thinking.

 

Oh Quote, how do I disagree with thee? I won’t count the ways. I found my way to veganism through a plant-based diet, and I’ve written before on my discomfort with this division: see The Real Reason Not to Eat Animals and I’m still vegan. Cravings, Health, and Satisfaction.

OK, so ethical and health vegans have differences (obvious to us; invisible to the general public). What do they share? Here’s a starter list…

Ethical Vegan Health Vegan
Has experienced a revelation compared to a previous standard worldview – constantly discovers more about the systemic abuse of animals Has experienced a revelation compared to a previous standard worldview – constantly discovers more about the systemic abuse of our food system and its impact on our health.
Gets sick of hearing “Eat it! One little bit of meat isn’t going to hurt you.” Gets sick of hearing “Eat it! One little drop of oil isn’t going to hurt you.”
Suffers from “Cassandra complex” – the feeling that you have a vital message and nobody is listening Suffers from “Cassandra complex” – the feeling that you have a vital message and nobody is listening
Loses real and online friends because of compulsive sharing of uncomfortable expose material Loses real and online friends because of compulsive sharing of uncomfortable expose material
Argues violently with other ethical vegans about their positions and choices Argues violently with other health vegans about their positions and choices
Doesn’t want to be associated with “health vegans,” as they are dietary vegans for selfish reasons only – they confuse people about real veganism and hurt the cause Doesn’t want to be associated with vegans, as they are ideological, emotional, and unpopular – which hurts the cause
Constantly struggles as more everyday things are found to use animal products and are therefore not allowed Constantly struggles as more everyday foods are discovered to be unhealthy, and therefore not allowed
Has a wide range of supporting experts and celebrities Has a wide range of supporting experts and celebrities
Believes in a better world if only ethical veganism were widespread Believes in a better world if only food health awareness were widespread
Can’t understand why anyone doesn’t get how badly animals are treated, or why anyone wouldn’t care. Can’t understand why anyone doesn’t get how bad processed foods are, or why anyone wouldn’t care.
Is astonished at how people continue to support cruel factory farms by buying their products Is astonished at how people continue to support the megacorporations who strip all the
goodness from natural foods and sell junk back to you at a much higher price
Considered extreme by the mainstream Considered extreme by the mainstream
Finds eating out a challenge Finds eating out a challenge
Must read food labels Must read food labels
Starts to feel disgusted by meat dishes Starts to feel disgusted by greasy, salty, sugary foods.
Often strengthens their veganism by discovering that health is another important factor Often strengthens their veganism by discovering that ethics is another important factor in a vegan diet

I could go on.

United we stand

Health or ethics as a reason for avoiding animal consumption is a difference of focus, not of quality or strength. Both are mighty intense, as the list above shows. Promoting one as better than the other because that‘s how you became vegan is like the bias for the first Dr Who actor you ever watched. Although Tom Baker IS clearly superior.

Yes, ethical veganism principles and experts include important points that the health gurus may ignore. Likewise, health veganism covers vital information that ethics doesn’t learn or dismisses.

Both are missing out, and so is the whole vegan cause. And so, therefore, are the animals.

Jessica Parsons is a vegan, plant-based nutrition specialist, and attachment parent of Alex (8) and Nadia (5). As a regular minimalist blogger and the editor of the New Zealand vegan and home birth magazines, she’s also a super ex-tech writer saving the world from consumerism and grammar errors! Vist my website: MiniMum

  • http://www.facebook.com/jzwoodbury Johanna Zalneraitis Woodbury

    I hope people also stop eating foods that are just happen to be “vegan” because they desire what they used to eat or what they won’t eat because of something’s ingredients. Crap is crap even though it might be “vegan.”

  • Jessica Parsons

    Thanks for commenting! Unfortunately, there’s no current shortage of vegan crap :-)

  • vegancookbook

    It doesn’t matter to me what others do. What I wish is those who don’t care would jump off the backs of those that do care. If I want to limit my oil I should be able to do that without being told I am endangering the lives of animals. :D

  • Pam Parsons

    Thanks Jess! Brilliant list of two out of three major reasons to become vegan. A virtual third column titled EcoVegan for me completes the unity.

  • Jessica Parsons

    Interestingly, both health and ethical vegans seem to adopt the eco-cause without further ruckus!

  • http://profiles.google.com/fz1844 Frank Zimmerman

    How about vegans for religious or spiritual reasons? To me, that unites both also, and helps keep the focus off of self.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nick.pokoluk.9 Nick Pokoluk

    As a biochemist I feel strongly that health is impacted positively by a whole foods plant based diet (as was said chips and pop may be vegan) so a balanced vegan diet would make push me to being vegan alone.. But also, as a biochemist working in the area of pain research I know animals can suffer and thus from an ethical perspective I can be only be vegan. I can sense a tipping point coming that people will appreciate the problems associated with a typical Western/animal based diet. I do feel we must continue to educate the public on both ethical and health as well as environmental issues connected to eating products and the way they are produced. Social media will be the wave that carries us to this tipping point I believe and, thus, content like this must be spread around as much as possible. Please do.

  • http://www.weightchronicles.com/ Kay Lynn

    Health is definitely the reason I started eating an entirely plant-based diet a couple of months ago. It’s sad that there is a divide; we should focus on commonality versus differences.

  • Soycrates

    Ethical vegans are telling non-vegans that it’s not okay what they are doing with the bodies of others. Health vegans are telling non-vegans that it’s not okay what they’re doing with their own body.

    And you can’t see a difference with that?