New Year’s Resolution: Go Vegan
Helen Bennett Harvey has graciously offered me this space to report on my vegan experience. I am a recent convert – very recent, as this was my new year’s resolution.
Eventually I came to appreciate the beauty and wonder of birds – for instance, while I took my daily beach walk in Milford – and gave up eating those as well.
The argument is simple: If you know the facts about factory farming, then there is no logical distinction to be made between eating animals and eating animal products, such as eggs and dairy, if your concerns are for the welfare and dignity of the animals.
Having become convinced of the logical cogency of the argument for veganism, and finding it ethically compelling as well, I was almost ready to take the plunge. A little further dialogue removed the final hesitations.
My concerns were threefold:
1) Had the nutritional adequacy of a strict vegan diet been scientifically demonstrated?
2) If so, was it possible to acquire the proper nutrition without stuffing oneself?
3) If so, was it possible to do so without spending the whole day in the kitchen?
The answer to (1) turns out to be yes and no in very interesting ways. The answer is “yes” in that the American Dietetic Association, among others, approves a vegan diet. See for example
What makes this situation interesting, though, is that it applies not only to a vegan diet but to any diet, including our everyday omnivorous one. This telling point was made to me by one of my many helpful correspondents, Victor Tsou, who is affiliated with the new vegan organization L.O.V.E. at http://loveallbeings.org/ .
And (3) was answered at the same time. Because now that I saw how simple it was to meet my nutritional needs, it became a cinch to prepare enough food to eat without having to become a chef.
While the final roadblocks to veganism were thus removed, the main lesson I have learned from this experience is that a life-change like this is immeasurably facilitated by having a community of advisors and well-wishers. In addition to those already mentioned, I would attribute my turning of theory into action to many local animal activists it has been my privilege to know, including Justin Goodman, Chelsea Rhodes, Joseph Klett, and Wendy Horowitz. Also, I have received continual encouragement and support for developing my understanding of animal ethics from Carol Pollard, David Smith, and Wendell Wallach at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.
So what has it been like to go vegan? It has turned out to be surprisingly easy and enjoyable. My journey has only just begun, but the trajectory is promising and, indeed, exciting.
The main surprise has been the new physical energy and clarity of mind I experience. This occurred instantaneously: the first day. And it has continued now for the two weeks I’ve been vegan. I attribute it mainly to the reduction in the amount of food I have been eating rather than to the removal of animal products from my diet. But I can’t say for sure since those are two independent variables that have been operative at the same time. I suspect both have something to do with it since animal foods are more fatty and that could induce sluggishness. I am speaking impressionistically, however, and do not know, or care, which is the true cause. The bottom line is that going vegan, which I was motivated and, I believe, morally obligated to do anyway, has turned out to be a delightful experience.
Another offshoot of the reduced caloric intake has been feeling hungrier at meal times. You might unthinkingly suppose that that means I’m not eating enough. But a little more thought should convince you that, quite the contrary: it indicates that I am eating the right amount. For shouldn’t one be hungry when one sits down to eat? (Of course I am not talking about starvation.) Isn’t the point of eating to satisfy the body’s nutritional and energy needs? So if you aren’t hungry, why eat? (My grandmother used to go that one better; she had an expression, “Always leave the dinner table a little bit hungry.”) Furthermore, being hungry when you eat aids digestion.
Lastly, “hunger is the best spice.” This not only assures that one will enjoy eating, but it has particular purchase on the switch to veganism. For we would naturally miss foods from our previous diet and might even find some vegan fare to be unappetizing, at least in our mind. But I have discovered empirically that in very short order, feeling hungry makes that hummus/cucumber/tomato/lettuce/sprouts sandwich look and taste just as yummy as my previously accustomed grilled cheese sandwich did! So on Day One I had put together a vegan sandwich for lunch grudgingly. By Day Two I found myself enjoying it. By Day Three I was anticipating it with gusto.
It is also the case that as one opens up to seeking alternatives to animal foods, one discovers an endless array of plant foods. There is simply no excuse to find a vegan diet uninteresting or unappetizing. I have even found myself enjoying cooking again, which had become a boring routine I tried to get over with as quickly as possible.
Now everything is accelerating. I have become so eager to pursue this diet that today I am going “cold turkey” (so to speak!) by discarding all remaining animal food I had in the cupboard and frig. (Well, maybe I will donate it to the food bank lest the animals have suffered and died in vain.) Goodbye tuna cans! So long cheddar bar! It’s been nice knowing you, but, frankly, I’m already losing the taste.
Another trick of the trade, of which I was reminded by Glen Colello of the Catch a Healthy Habit Café in West Haven, is to eat slowly. (Grandma knew that too.) This not only aids digestion, but also allows your belly time to communicate to your brain when it has eaten enough. So you will feel “full” and stop eating before you stuff yourself.
Glen also emphasizes that changing what one eats is not simply a matter of diet but of lifestyle. How true that is. This may seem daunting at first; but ultimately, as a philosopher, I appreciate that everything that we do has a larger significance. In the case of eating, I have found that, the less meat in my diet, the more meaning in my life.
I would like to thank Allan and Janice Saltzman for their constant encouragement, Huibing He for showing me the joys of simplicity in the kitchen and of cooking green leafy vegetables, and Melanie Stengel for her example of caring and her company on this journey; and all of them for challenging me every step of the way. My further publicizing my resolution in this blog is intended to help keep me honest and persuade others to hop on board.
Joel Marks is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of New Haven and a columnist for Philosophy Now magazine. His Web page is www.moralmoments.com .