There’s a widespread misconception that vegan food has to be healthy and that veganism is the gateway to an eating disorder. Let’s talk about it!
There’s a perception out there that if you don’t eat whole, raw foods, then you’re not vegan. That veganism has to involve some sort of deprivation diet or an eating disorder. This could not be more untrue.
Over the past couple of weeks I feel like I’m seeing a lot of misrepresentation of what is vegan food and what isn’t. It began with The Blonde Vegan blaming her eating disorder on veganism and ended with a comment that I recently read on a plant based forum I belong to.
My heart goes out to Jordan Younger – The Blonde Vegan – and her struggle with food. As someone who’s also had body image problems, I can absolutely relate. Where I take issue is with the idea that vegan food or a vegan diet caused her orthorexia.
Vegan food doesn’t have to be restrictive, but someone who has issues with food can certainly incorporate those anxieties into her veganism. But it’s not fair to say that vegan food was at the root of her problem. Eating disorders are complex, and it takes more than eschewing animal products to cause that sort of self-loathing. This is me speaking from experience. It trivializes eating disorders to imply that veganism alone can cause something as deep and severe as anorexia or orthorexia.
The comment that really upset me didn’t come from an ex-vegan though. It came from a current vegan who said that some people who “claim to be vegan” actually eat processed food. This sort of judgement within the vegan community is doing our movement far more harm than good.
There seems to be this unspoken game of “Who is the most vegan?” within the vegan community, and everyone has a different definition of what vegan food includes. It makes veganism seem unapproachable, and it doesn’t serve animals at all. And isn’t veganism supposed to be about protecting animals?
I want to disspell this myth that you’re not “really” vegan unless you eat not only plant foods, but specific plant foods. No, no, no.
Vegan food doesn’t contain animal products or byproducts. Period.
Here are some examples of vegan food and drinks that you might think are off limits, because they’re not whole foods, and they’re certainly not healthy in excess:
+ Many, many brands of potato chips. Check this recipe for vegan Dorito-crusted tofu, and then tell me that vegan food is about deprivation.
I could list vegan junk foods all day, because there are thousands of options. When I was reading that comment about people who “claim to be vegan,” I was halfway through eating a chocolate bar and on my second glass of wine. Both the chocolate and the wine were animal product free, meaning that they were vegan. Veganism isn’t about a pure diet, I promise!
Veganism is a lifestyle that’s about avoiding animal products as much as humanly possible. If it doesn’t contain animal products and wasn’t tested on animals, it’s vegan. Food doesn’t have to be raw, whole, grain free, sugar free, or gluten free to be vegan. It just has to be animal free.
I’m not saying that I don’t respect plant-strong vegans, gluten free vegans, or grain free vegans. All that I’m saying here is that you don’t need any of those adjectives to be vegan. You just need to embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, and that lifestyle can include potato chips, wine, cupcakes, and bread if that’s how you want to do it.
This ongoing game of Who’s the Best Vegan is bad news, y’all, and we need to quit it. It doesn’t serve our community, and it doesn’t serve the animals that we’re trying to protect. Pass the potato chips!
I originally published a version of this article at Feelgood Style. It’s republished here with permission.
Image Credit: Dough photo via Shutterstock
8 thoughts on “Vegan Food: It’s Not About Deprivation”
Yeah, I don’t buy the deprivation nonsense either. Today, I consider myself a “Hybrid Vegan”. What do I mean by that? Well, there’s the conventional vegan that can still consume processed foods that fit the “Vegan” definition and then there’s the “whole foods vegan” that tend to eat no processed foods at all. Neither of those types are berift of vitamins or nutrients, but one still consumes processed foods which are just as bad for you as red meat!
Great post Becky! I also don’t ‘buy’ her story that veganism created her eating disorder. Orthorexia doesn’t discriminate. I think she started her vegan journey with a wrong reason from get-go.
I’ll admit; I went through a few phases recently, going from being a carnivore to pescatarian to vegetarian to vegan and back to being an omnivore. My body was giving me clues that I needed those types of foods at those times. I recently had a reader unsubscribe from my email list for being ‘trendy (unscientific)’. That stung but maybe we are all guilty of somewhat being obsessed with food since it’s so powerful. Whether you are a vegan or paleo or ancestral or Asian, the fact remains….you have to have a healthy attitude towards food, eat whole ingredients and appreciate what you are putting into your body. And those times when you do eat processed foods, your body can recover from the processed ingredients faster. In the end, it’s about our health, isn’t it? I’m sure you can attest to that since you started this journey because of your own health scare.
I agree that nourishing our bodies is for our health, but veganism is for ourselves and others. It’s for our fellow earthlings. Veganism is not a diet, as Becky stated above, it’s an ethical stance. Being “plant based” is a diet. These terms and the media coverage of celebrity trends is causing such confusion.
I whole-heartedly agree with the underlying point of this article: being vegan doesn’t mean deprivation (translated, in your words, to “being vegan doesn’t mean being healthy). And there are plenty of vegan junk foods on the market to indulge a sweet tooth and salty/fatty cravings. But I want to make two points here:
First, not all wine is vegan. In fact, most wine is *not* vegan and vegan wine is clearly marked as such, so I’d double check your labels.
Second, and more importantly, veganism encompasses much much more than animal welfare. Many vegans chose this diet and lifestyle for environmental integrity, social responsibility, and/or health concerns, in which case, ruling out the unhealthy, heavily processed foods is paramount. Veganism, while not a “religion,” is an ethic…a code of ethics…that has broad and far-reaching implications.
It is a commitment to being a better person, for whatever reason that moves you, and the “better” you are at being a vegan, the bigger impact you will have.
It is honorable and commendable to denounce animal products for the benefit of animal welfare – no one likes to be the cause of suffering, especially among those who are helpless and voiceless. But avoiding animal products also significantly reduces your impact on the environment (water diversion, land use, soil compaction and erosion, air pollution, runoff and water contamination, ghg emissions, etc), which, by proxy and inevitably *also* helps our animal friends…as well as our neighbors, communities, and selves. And as if that weren’t enough, you’re reducing your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, significantly lightening your load on the health care system and state/federal taxes, and any potential burden on your loved ones. Observing a vegan diet requires fewer undocumented and/or low-income laborers to be working in dangerous, inequitable, and dehumanizing conditions, while it frees up a lot of resources for those living in the developing world.
Every bite we take impacts all of these issues on a notable scale. And saying “I’m going to stop eating animal products, because factory farms make me sad and angry” is just the first step of many. If you continue to consume products that require or result in the oppression and/or abuse of any living thing (animal, person, or the natural world), you probably aren’t living consistently with your proclaimed code of ethics.
And so, while I agree that it shouldn’t be a contest of “who is more vegan,” we should continuously evaluate our choices and habits to determine if we are doing our best, everything within our power, to live consistently with our values and ease suffering at the largest scale possible. No one is perfect, and everyone is welcome into the community, as veganism is a process, not a destination, of realizing how you cause suffering, and how to stop…little by little, step by step.
Rather than comparing, contrasting, and judging, those of us who are farther along in the process should encourage, guide, and support those just beginning.
Thanks for your post.
As an overweight vegan blogger, I am often on the end of accusatory statements about my commitment to vegansim. The latest comment I received pushed me to write this post: http://fatgayvegan.com/2014/07/19/have-a-go/
I think it ultimately comes down to whether you see your veganism as a diet or the only way you can live ethically. If it’s a diet to you, sure, you’ll start questioning it as soon as old issues resurface or new deficiencies and illnesses emerge. But when it’s not merely a diet, when the mental switch has been so profound that veganism is no longer a choice, then it simply won’t cross your mind to reconsider it when you’re not feeling well.
That’s a great point Zeikritik. Veganism can be so personal, and I think it’s important that we remember that.
Even though I am doing veganism for health reasons instead of ethical ones, which means I do try to avoid as much processed food as possible, that doesn’t mean I’m depriving myself of treats, because I still find my ways to make unprocessed desserts that I enjoy eating and won’t lead to health issues down the road. For example, I found a great substitute for chocolate ice cream the other day…throw frozen bananas, carob powder, and some dates in a blender, and voila, you now have yourself a vegan ice cream. The point is, you definitely can do veganism for health reasons without feeling deprived, and I’m experiencing that firsthand.