Why I Quit Being Vegan

The first article I ever published on this blog, almost four years ago now, was about my journey to veganism. I quit eating meat on January 1st, 2009, and six months later gave up eating animal products altogether. I remained vegan for 2.5 years, and went back to eating meat at the beginning of 2013 after a four-year hiatus.

Many people have asked why I’ve returned to meat-eating, and below is my attempt at an explanation. I’ll tell you right up front however that I haven’t come to any firm conclusions. If I’ve learned anything these past few years, it’s that diet is a complex issue and there’s a shit-load I still don’t understand. I encourage people to experiment and think for themselves before committing to any particular philosophy of eating.

I’ll work my way through the three main arguments that at one time had me committed to a plant-based diet:

  1. Plant-based diets are better for the environment
  2. Plant-based diets are better for mental and physical human health
  3. Meat is murder / killing animals is wrong

I essentially have serious doubts about all these arguments now, as explained below, which is why I’m no longer vegan.

1. Plant-based diets are better for the environment

This may still be true, but it’s not as clear cut as I once thought. Pro-vegan people will often invoke Vulcan logic, as I once did myself:

“Why feed your food when you can just live off the feed itself?”

That is, why waste time, effort and environmental resources feeding a cow when you can just eat the cow food yourself? Instead of growing grain to give to the cow, you give the grain directly to humans. This cuts down on land and water usage, as it takes much less of both to grow food for a human (or even several humans) than it does to grow food for an animal destined to have its flesh served on a plate.

Add to the mix all the forests that have to be cleared to grow grain for the food animals, all the waterways that have to be messed with to provide irrigation to grow those crops, and all that nasty pollution produced by factory farms, and it makes environmental sense for humans to eat a plant-based diet, right?

Well, not so fast. The above assumes that cows (or chickens, or pigs, or whatever) are supposed to be eating grain and living in factory farms. Of course, from an evolutionary standpoint, they’re not. Cows should be outside eating grass, not cooped up eating corn or soy or bits of other cows. Same goes for other animals.

In a pre-agricultural world, cows would roam around eating grass, shitting all over the place. Their waste would serve as fertilizer to help the grass grow back. A simple, cyclical system, and very environmentally friendly.

To further emphasize this point, let’s say you have a choice for dinner: You can have the beef burger or the soy burger. Which is better for the environment? If that beef comes from a local grass-fed cow, then the answer should be obvious. That cow ate something of low nutritional value to humans (grass), and turned it into something of very high nutritional value (beef), with no waste going to waste. Very efficient.

What about the soy burger? That likely came from a big soy plantation very far away from you. And for that soy plantation to exist, natural habitats had to be destroyed. You can be pretty sure that trees were felled and rivers were drained so that soy could grow, and then no small amount of fossil fuel was burned to transport part of the harvest to your local soy burger joint.

Now if you’re choosing between a factory-farmed beef burger and a soy burger, then yes, the latter option is probably better for the environment. But that doesn’t mean it’s actually good for the environment.

2. Plant-based diets are better for mental and physical human health

This was the proposition that initially got me curious about plant-based diets. As I wrote back in 2009, several months after I became vegetarian…

Mentally, I definitely felt sharper and I became more productive at work. I’ve considered the fact that those results might have been more of a placebo effect than anything else, but the diet change had been the catalyst nonetheless. I was getting the results I had hoped for, and I didn’t really care about the exact science behind them.

I’m now more convinced that those positives were indeed a placebo effect. Upon switching back to an omnivorous diet in January, I failed to notice any drop off in mental performance.

As for the physical, this is a tougher call. I’ve gotten into the best shape of my life this year, though that likely has more to do with developing better exercise habits than any dietary change.

Obviously, people can thrive on plant-based diets. It’s not difficult to find examples of vegan bodybuilders and triathletes. You’ll also hear testimonials from life-long vegans, still going strong well into old age. At the same time, you’ll hear many others attest that they tried plant-based diets only to end up with various health problems or annoyances. The pro-vegan response to such accounts is usually along the lines of, “They weren’t doing it right!”, a response I find extremely patronizing.

It all leads me to wonder: Could it be that there is no one “right” diet for everyone? Could it be that some people can thrive on a plant-based diet while others can only reach optimum health eating omnivorously?

I tend to believe this to be the case, much like how some people can thrive on five hours sleep a night while others (like me) require eight. You can find studies and/or experts, often of the well-intentioned variety, “proving” the superiority of almost any diet out there, but you never really know for sure which is best for you without some experimentation.

Prime example: This well-articulated article from a respected website telling you “how green smoothies can devastate your health.” You could choose to believe that assertion and never again consume a green smoothie, or you could try consuming a green smoothie several times a week for the next month and see how your body feels. For my money, the latter would be a much smarter approach.

I also want to mention something here that has long troubled me about the pro-vegan movement. I remember volunteering at VegFest in New Orleans three years ago and being amazed at how much junk food there was on offer. You could treat yourself to vegan donuts, vegan beer, vegan chocolate, vegan cakes, even vegan gummy bears. All that highly-processed junk food on offer far outweighed the real, unprocessed, nutritious stuff.

Likewise, this 70-minute speech by Gary Yourofsky on the merits of veganism is extremely thought-provoking, but it amazes me that he advocates eating highly-processed fake meat products. That’s not real food, and eating lots of such will likely lead to more health problems than eating meat ever will.

Eating a vegan diet does not make you healthy by default. You can consume nothing but noodles, dark chocolate and diet coke and call yourself a vegan, but you’ll also need to call yourself an ambulance before too long.

3. Meat is murder / killing animals is wrong

This is where it gets really confusing. Vegans will often say that their position boils down to the simple fact that meat is murder, that killing animals is wrong. I’ve come to believe that it’s a little more complicated than that.

For one thing, I’m pretty sure all dietary choices contribute to the killing of animals at some point. Grow vegetables in your garden and you’ll have to contend with slugs and numerous other animals looking for a free meal. Buy vegetables at the market and you’re essentially outsourcing the unpleasant task of dealing with those pests to another human. I’m also not sure how effective purely plant-based fertilizers are compared to those containing bone meal, blood meal and other animal products. After all, in a perfectly natural system, animals die and their bodies decompose back into the earth, thus becoming fuel for plants and completing the circle of life[1. The “food chain” concept if flawed. Humans are the most dominant species on the planet but we all become worm food in the end. It’s more accurate to think of a “food circle.”].

Furthermore, to return to the soy burger example I used earlier, consider all the animals displaced and even killed when trees are felled and rivers drained to make way for a soy (or corn, or whatever) plantation. You don’t see many buffalo roaming the American plains these days, do you? And it’s not as simple as buffalo being hunted to near extinction. Thanks to large-scale agriculture, they were left deprived of their natural habitat.

And now consider all the birds and mice and other animals that call soy or corn fields home. What happens to them when the crop is harvested?

Of course, just because it’s difficult to avoid killing animals doesn’t mean that we humans are entitled to kill them. I still haven’t addressed the moral issue here. I first wanted to point out that vegans can’t take too much of a moral high ground, since their food choices also quite often necessitate the death of animals.

I find myself on shaky ground when it does come to the moral issue. I have few convictions here, mostly just developing thoughts and open questions.

I have in mind to find a farm that will let me slaughter an animal for myself. I’ve never killed an animal by my own hand, and I believe I should be at least willing to do so if I’m going to continue eating them. I’m hoping that such an experience will help me arrive at a more conscious and mature decision.

I see a disturbing disconnect when people are happy to eat flesh only if they refuse to think about where it came from. As such, I have much more respect for the hunter who looks an animal in the eye before killing and eating it, than I do for someone buying a shrink-wrapped steak from the freezer without a second thought. (By the way, I’m often that second person, and never proud of it.)

One thing I keep coming back to is that nature itself is a meat-eater. The eagle rips apart the rabbit. The wolf savages the deer. Nature doesn’t give a shit about Bambi’s mom. That’s not to say that factory farms are all fine and dandy, because obviously they’re an abomination. But in my eyes it’s not necessarily the killing that makes them so. It’s the disrespect. Animals are treated as units, unworthy of real food, clean air and open space. Let an animal live its life in a setting like Polyface Farms in Virginia however, and it’s a different story.

A final point here: Much like vegans aren’t doing themselves any favors by promoting junk food, they’re not going to win many converts by trying to stop animals from killing each other. I’m referring to those vegans who advocate feeding their cats and dogs plant-based diets, or who would like to put a big fence between carnivores and herbivores, so every being can live without fear of its life being threatened. This is just dumb. Predators depend on prey for the survival of their species. Deer, for example, will overpopulate and overgraze if their numbers are not kept in check by a predator, resulting in the extinction of the species. Death is part of life, and I don’t just mean the pleasant, loved-ones-gathered-by-your-bedside type of death. We need to keep in mind that in the wild, most animals meet a violent end.

My ideal

I know I haven’t provided many answers above. I didn’t intend to. As a rule, I’m wary of anyone who claims to know the one right way to do anything, and so I try not to be one of those people myself. Mostly I just wanted to get you thinking deeper about these issues.

That said, I do believe that certain approaches to diet, while perhaps not perfect, at least hold more promise than others, and are more applicable to the masses. For example:

  1. Eat what’s local and in season (the most difficult for me to adhere to).
  2. Eat mostly unprocessed foods.
  3. Eat lots of plants.
  4. Avoid most grains.

The latter may come as a surprise to you. For the past four months or so I’ve been following the Paleo diet, which is essentially a diet akin to what our pre-agricultural ancestors would have eaten. Think hunter-gatherer, lots of meat and veggies. The theory behind Paleo is that the human body evolved over hundreds of thousands of years on the hunter-gatherer diet, and then agriculture came along just a few thousand years ago and began force-feeding us all kinds of foods that our bodies aren’t accustomed to (wheat, pasta, rice, cow milk, etc.).

I’m a big-time Darwinian so eating Paleo makes lots of sense to me, and I’ve been feeling pretty good on it. It would be even better if I could get all my meat and veggies from a Polyface-type farm, one that actually treats animals with respect and builds topsoil rather than destroying it.

Before you comment

I expect this post will piss some people off. I welcome disagreements in the comments, but please keep them civil. Think about the last time someone changed your mind by calling you an idiot or otherwise being rude. Probably never.

What do you think?

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134 Comments

  1. Hm, completely understand your points, but nevertheless I think it´s not the best decision. Away from all the environmental discussion there is one point why I´m still going veggie: It´s the suffering of the animals. I would eat meat if the animal I eat has lived a normal life in nature before and was killed by a single shot or something. But the way we grow animals today to eat them is far away from being reasonable….

    1. Thanks for the comment, Frank. I don’t condone animal suffering at all. Factory farms are evil. Mass meat/dairy production doesn’t work well. But if all meat came from farms like the Polyface farm in Virginia, where the animals get to live long and healthy lives in a natural environment, eating their natural food, then I wouldn’t feel bad about eating them. It’s just a pity there aren’t more farms like that.

      1. I actually wrote a post tackling these issues myself called “The Accidental Vegan: Making Peace With Paleo” — https://medium.com/better-humans/e9547d51553c

        I think there’s some overlap between vegans and paleos when it comes to the big picture — we all want to reduce animal suffering and move away from factory farms. However, the problem is, the farms you mentioned, like Polyface, will never feed the majority of Americans without some radical changes to the factory farming system. When you write an article about “Why I Quit Being Vegan” the vast majority of readers are going to take away the fact that you eat meat again. They’re not going to scroll down and read the comments to find out which specific farms you approve of. Like you, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with eating meat and would probably purchase ethically-sourced meat if it weren’t just a luxury for those who can afford it. Until then, I remain vegan.

    2. Do you think plowing under the rain forests of Central America to grow soy for your consumption at the expense of the local animals is more humane? Starving them to a slow death is any better than a factory raised animal?

      I see no difference in the cruelty buy hey, if you can justify it to make yourself feel better, have at it.

      1. Here’s the difference:
        you destroy a part of habitat, animals die/migrate away, then you cultivate soy forever/until out of business.
        OR, you destroy a part of habitat, animals die/migrate away, then you start breeding and killing animals, which will suffer and die for you forever/until out of business.

  2. Hey Niall,

    Welcome to the dark side. 🙂

    I think the problem is the quantity of meat we tend to eat. I definitely don’t think that it’s optimal to eat red meat every day.

    I personally feel heavy and tired after eating a meat meal, so I try to avoid meats as much as possible. I never feel like that after eating a vegetarian meal.

    I do love the occasional steak though. 🙂

    The Paleo Diet seems like another fad to me. It wasn’t long ago when the Atkin’s diet was all the rage and everyone was eating copious amounts of bacon.

    I can see the value in minimizing wheat consumption, but avoiding rice to eat meat every meal is a little crazy.

    Countries with the highest average longevity rates, tend to eat a minimum amount of meat and lots of rice. I don’t think that is a coincidence.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, John.

      I’m not sure about the Paleo diet being a fad, as it does sound a lot more reasonable and natural than something like Atkins. I suspect our hunting and gathering ancestors ate quite a lot of red meat, and sometimes almost exclusively red meat for weeks if the hunting was good.

      As for rice-eating countries having longer life expectancy, I’m not so sure. According to this list, only 3 of the top 30 are countries that consume a lot of rice (Japan, Singapore, South Korea). Meanwhile, according to this report, four of the five countries which consume the most meat per capita also appear in the top 20 of the life-expectancy list.

      None of the above proves me right or you wrong of course. As I noted in the article, you can find data/studies to back up pretty much any viewpoint these days. Just wanted to emphasize again that this whole diet thing is complex.

      1. I’m curious about the big meat-consuming countries that have high life expectancy: does anyone know what the laws are in those countries regarding livestock feed and pharmaceutical use? Aside from the abuse of animals (and the environment) by the U.S. meat industry, I also steer clear of the stuff because of the hormones, antibiotics and (presumably) GMO grain fed to the animals. I know Europe has come out against GMOs, for example, but what about the other garbage? Just wondering about the differentiators between our system and theirs.

      2. Countries who have access to the luxury of eating meat on such a regular basis generally tend to have better access to health care and other factors that contribute to longevity such as gyms and education on health and fitness.
        I feel that this most likely plays a significant part in pushing those particular countries further up the list and these figures should not only be attributed to the consumption of meat.

    2. Hey John. Good to see you out and about.

      Just an observation or two regarding rice based diets.

      “Countries with the highest average longevity rates, tend to eat a minimum amount of meat and lots of rice. I don’t think that is a coincidence.”

      The countries that have a rice based diet all have one thing in common… petite body size.

      Let me suggest that the longer than average life is only in pockets of that population and is more a result of an active FOXO3a.

      No coincidence needed.

      With respect,

      Joe Mobley

  3. Very important / interesting post Neil. Thanks for sharing. 2 quick things I want to say on the subject a) totally agree that there probably isn’t ONE holy grail diet for everyone. I think that’s clear by all the contradicting opinions out there. My aunt has had health problems but after many experimental nutritional diets, she says she has never felt better than when she commits to a strict meat / veggie fruit diet. I on the other hand have never felt better after years of vegetarianism but I do indulge in fish once in a while and must say it can be slightly harder on my stomach sometimes. These are obviously opinions and not proven facts though. 2nd point is I agree with the above poster in which I think it’s the amount of meat people are led to believe we need. I know people who firmly they believe 3 decent portions of animal meat a day. I highly doubt our ancestors were that lucky and skilled to be to provide that much meat for themselves and their families everyday.

    Most important, I think discussions like this are perhaps even more important than any conclusions as it allows people to think outside whatever their routine is.

    Cheers Neil!

  4. Hi Niall! Very interesting topic. It’s really hard to decide what’s best, so I just try to have a balanced diet. Maybe I’ll experiment with other possibilities too.

    The Paleo diet sounds quite reasonable, but after a few thousand years of agriculture, don’t you think we adapted to eating grains? Maybe nowadays it’s more unnatural not to eat them. I don’t know, I’m no evolution expert. 🙂

    As to John’s mention about longevity, I think that our health depends on much more factors than just diet. And I would be interested, if the Swiss or Italians really “eat a minimum amount of meat and lots of rice.”

    1. Hi Jan,

      Thanks for the comment. From what I understand, modern humans have been around for at least 100,000 years, while agriculture came about 10,000 years ago. Apparently our bodies are still more accustomed to the hunter-gatherer diet, as 10,000 years is practically nothing in evolutionary terms.

      I’m no expert on this stuff either though. Perhaps we are evolving faster.

  5. Brian Kingston

    Hi Niall,

    All I want to say is that was a really interesting piece. I have thought about this a lot myself and it seems as if you have too. I really nicely laid out article, really clear and informative. I like the way you were honest about your indecision over the actual right way to go, both for your health and for the environment. I’m at about the same stage. Thanks for the post.

    Brian

  6. I started eating meat again because I didn’t think it was wrong to kill them anymore. I still think we should evolve to a point where we are nicer to them, but I’m not sure how important that really is either. Nature is also brutal and inhumane. Animals also take the upper advantage to surprise and attack their prey.

    However, I think a Polyface-type farm is also my ideal situation. I might try and see how my local meat and veggies are produced. I always buy in season and from the market. The veggies are usually dirty, so it may be really fresh. I’m pretty much on a Paleo diet too, except I eat oats, sauces and I’m not sure if coffee counts 😛

    I can probably arrange for you to slaughter an animal in Thailand (maybe) or the Philippines (definitely) if you want.

    1. Hmm. Let me know if you have contacts like that in Thailand. I’d want it to be a farm though where they kill the animals themselves and can show me how to do it. I’m thinking a chicken would be a good start.

      I do think it is important to treat animals well, if only for the fact that you don’t find torture occurring in nature. That is, a lion might kill an antelope, but it won’t torture the antelope. The lion just wants dinner. I see humans as going against this natural no-torture law by keeping animals cooped up in dark factory farms, chopping off their beaks and horns, all that crap. It’s a miserable life those animals have. Probably the nicest thing done to them in those facilities is the slaughter. At least that brings an end to their suffering.

      1. Domestic cats often torture their prey and Then don’t even bother to eat them. I’ve seen it with my own eyes many times.

        1. Good point. Do you think that might be because cats are domesticated though? I wonder would they do that in the wild? Although now I think of it, I have heard of dolphins doing some evil shit to each other.

    1. I think it’s fair to say that she debunks that the diet promoted as “paleo” bears much resemblance to the diet of our paleolithic ancestor. She does not, however, dispute that what we call the “paleo” diet is indeed healthy.

      1. Just finished watching it. Fascinating stuff, thanks again for sharing.

        Her recommendations for eating healthy, based on what she’s discovered about the diets of real paleolithic people, appear to be as follows: Eat a wide variety of local, fresh, whole foods. And when it comes to meat, it should be very lean and wild, and it’s good to eat the bone marrow and organs as well as the flesh.

    1. I have heard tales of breatharians but never considered them anything more than myths. I’d like to see some scientific studies done with these people.

      As for diet being personal, I have my reservations about that. I think the diet of the masses makes a big difference to the environment we all have to live in. Everyone used to think that smoking was a personal choice until the dangers of passive smoking became evident. I suspect the same may be true about diet, the dangers just being more obscure.

  7. I’m sympathise with your journey because I too have spent years as a vegan, vegetarian and omnivore, and still don’t feel able to claim with certainty which one is better for me or the planet as a whole. However, I’m surprised by your conclusions regarding the environmental impacts of cattle. A quick search will show you that cattle grazing lands (that would be grass-fed cattle I suppose) are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cause of deforestation in the Amazon. There would be a similar story in other parts of the world I’m sure.

    You talk about cows walking through the fields turning grass into protein and shitting out fertilizer but ignore the fact cattle are very often raised in ecosystems that they are not a part of and their presence can have very negative effects. An example is the effect of soil compaction leading to erosion and irreplaceable loss of topsoil. This has been prevalent here in Australia.

    I also note your avoidance of speaking about the two most consistently and horrifically abused animals, the chicken and the pig. I won’t tell you again what I’m sure you already know about common factory farming practices in the case of these animals but I will just note that I recall reading about you enjoying a chicken satay skewer on the streets of Bangkok (or somewhere) not too long ago. It’s probably safe to assume that that was a tortured bird, right? If that’s the case I think there might be one aspect of all this that you left out; that maybe it is nice to not care. You and me would love to do the right thing, but it requires so much focus, so much will, it affects relationships and can become (for other people, at least) a cornerstone of who you are. The vegan guy. I’m speaking from experience here as well. After a time living overseas I made a conscious decision to not let my ethics dictate my relationships. I didn’t want to go to the barbecue and spend a large portion of the night explaining why I didn’t eat meat. I just wanted to talk shit with the guys and dance with the pretty girls. Maybe you can relate to this as well.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Arlen. I can certainly relate to a lot of that.

      “A quick search will show you that cattle grazing lands (that would be grass-fed cattle I suppose) are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, cause of deforestation in the Amazon. There would be a similar story in other parts of the world I’m sure.”

      I just did a quick search but couldn’t find much to support that claim. The few reports I looked at labeled the leading cause of deforestation as “agriculture” and didn’t specify if the land was used primarily for pasture or crops. If you find a good source of info on this please post the link.

      “You talk about cows walking through the fields turning grass into protein and shitting out fertilizer but ignore the fact cattle are very often raised in ecosystems that they are not a part of and their presence can have very negative effects. An example is the effect of soil compaction leading to erosion and irreplaceable loss of topsoil. This has been prevalent here in Australia.”

      Fair enough, but you see a farm like Polyface building topsoil with cattle a big part of the loop. Perhaps it’s not the cattle but the farming practices that are mostly at fault?

      As for your last paragraph, yes, I’m fully guilty of eating factory farmed animals these past few months. My defense is laziness and cheapness. I didn’t want to spend time and energy figuring out which stores sell ethically-raised and slaughtered meat, and even if I had found such stores I doubt I would have been willing to pay their higher prices.

      I wouldn’t say it’s nice not to care, but it is definitely easier to simply not think about it. I’m certainly not perfect with my choices (far from it, actually), but I aim to keep educating myself and figuring out realistic and sustainable ways to improve my diet and its impact.

      1. In regards to cattle and the effect on the environment and ecosystems, even where they haven’t been ‘native’ (that is another arguable term), check out Allan Savory, http://www.savoryinstitute.com/ he’s a Zimbabwean ecologist who teaches Holistic Management which reverses desertification. Interesting fellow, amazing results.

  8. Great post! As someone who followed a vegan diet for 6 months and gained almost 30 pounds in that time, I can definitely relate to one diet not being right for everyone. I don’t believe in making animals suffer and would ideally like to eat only animal products from farms that treat animals well, although I find that these products aren’t widely available enough where I live for me to 100% commit to this. But I’ve definitely found that a completely animal-free diet doesn’t work for me. During my vegan phase, in addition to gaining all that weight, I spent about half my free time preparing my meals and the other half seeking to avoid completely normal social situations because I thought there wouldn’t be anything there for me to eat. Not a lifestyle I was happy with overall.

    My boyfriend has a naturally fast metabolism and stays thin no matter what he eats. I think someone like this could probably be a vegan if he/she wanted and remain healthy. But when a person who never gains weight even if they eat nonstop junk food tells me I was just doing veganism wrong, that’s when I start to get annoyed.

  9. Thank you for addressing this, Niall. When I emailed you about it, I was genuinely puzzled by your dietary switch, despite having read/watched all your posts/videos about it.

    I caution you to base your thoughts on nutrition on your intuition and ideas of what cavemen ate. Instead, base your decisions on science. Base your decisions on what is ideal for the human body, not what a particular society ate in the past. We have greenhouses and refrigeration now, and most importantly, the scientific method.

    Watch the 3 minute videos at nutritionfacts.org, then ask yourself if regular animal product consumption is conducive to a long, healthful life.

    Wishing you to be around a long time,

  10. Good article, Niall. You bring up many valid points. I became a vegetarian seven years ago because, basically, I couldn’t control my meat eating. If I went back, I know what I’d do. I wouldn’t be reasonable with it and of course, it would all be fried and fatty. As someone from the American Upper South, that means a very unhealthy diet leading to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and an unpleasant premature death.

    So, I made a radical choice for someone from my culture because I felt I needed to do that. It was the right choice for ME. I don’t advocate it for everyone.

    I don’t feel that I must defend my choice and neither should you. You have made your choice for your own reasons and that is how it should be. You owe no one any explanations at all.

    Would the world be better off if more people ate a plant based diet? I believe it could be, provided that people choose to eat as locally as possible, ideally from their own back yards. It’s not the food that’s the problem, it’s the outsourcing of our food production to corporate agriculture, both plants and animals.

    1. Couldn’t agree more with that last point, Ron. I may have come across overly critical of veganism in the post, but I do believe it can be a healthy and economically friendly diet with the right agricultural processes in place, much like with carnivorous diets.

      As for defending my diet, my goal here was more to get people thinking more deeply about their food choices and appreciating the complexities of those choices.

  11. Niall,
    While I agree that many of the farming practices in place throughout the world are not environmentally friendly, I think it’s a stretch to say that meat is not murder. Yes, there is a circle of life, and animals and insects naturally die off when crops are harvested. On the flip side they also move on to other plants and other food. An animal that is becoming someone’s lunch is being raised for the specific purpose of killing it and it is rarely a humane killing–at least in the US. I was born and raised in Amish country and I have witnessed some of the slaughter of animals, personally I couldn’t kill an animal and then eat it. To me there is a big difference between killing something incidentally and killing something purposely. I never understood people who claim they don’t have a problem eating meat because they didn’t kill the animal and they didn’t have to see it be killed. It’s as if they believe somehow that justifies their consumption of meat. On that thought, I think your experiment with killing the animal you eat may help you. What we eat is always a personal choice, my only hope is that people take the time to know where their food is coming from and is it ethically produced food. Demand to know what you are eating whenever possible..and never believe that if what someone is spraying on your food kills off insects, it isn’t harming you. You are very right, cows are supposed to be eating grass..there are some interesting videos of a few small farmers who have self sustaining farms..if I was a meat eater..I would buy from one of them..I was at this TedX last year, you may like this..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf_mrQpN1Hw

    1. Thanks, Vicky. I agree that killing an animal incidentally is different from killing one purposefully. I didn’t mean to say they are the same, just wanted to make the point that killing is inevitable no matter what we eat.

      Likewise, a distinction can be made between raising an animal ethically in its natural environment vs. raising one in a feed lot or a cage.

      Thanks for the video recommendation. I’ll check that out.

    2. Just watched that video, Vicky. Absolutely fascinating numbers he presents. Like this one: “If human population were to simply increase by 1.3% every year, then in only 780 years we would have one person for every square meter on the face of the Earth.”

  12. first of all, “…with no waste going to waste” haha what a philosophical conundrum you’ve stumbled up here! If waste can be used, then what the heck is “waste” but a limited (although often practical) perspective on the usefulness of said waste? This is an area for creativity!

    Next, I seriously commend you for having the courage to take this risk, especially because of the social consequences which I am still too afraid of…working on that though.
    Anyway, I concluded veganism was ridiculous before I actually tried it, due to the thinking you’ve laid out above. However, often times we forget to go through this thinking process, or are unable to without some prior knowledge and/or observations, WHICH is why I commend you for going through this experience and staying open-minded. Keep it up Niall! You are an inspiration!

    Regarding your realization about everyone’s “right” diet being unique, I think you are spot on. Think about human evolution: there are different species of human! which we call “races”. Each race comes from a different environment which ate different food. Nowadays, these races are mixing, which I think is great! That means we’re evolving instead of staying stagnant–our environment, the universe, is constantly evolving so we must as well, other wise, it will recycle us! Back to diet… Science is not yet advanced enough to determine which diet would be best for which individual, so trial and error is the best method we currently have…which is all the universe ever had! Humans are lucky to have science and a giant pre-frontal cortex!

    Thanks for being you Niall. Looking forward to learning the lessons from all the hard stuff you go through so I won’t have to! (partial sarcasm)

  13. I’d Like to agree with eating meat.

    My personal belief is that people are designed to eat meat (a look at our teeth alone have characteristics for flesh consummation) and our bodies are designed for the breakdown and digestion of meat, not to mention we have so many mineral/vitamin requirements not easily found in other food sources.

    I often consider veganism and vegetarianism to be nothing more that something that could be used as a weight loss method, since while eating like this, many people need to work at ensuring that they get the proper amount of vitamins and minerals from other sources, since their bodies aren’t getting it from its standard source.

    Ultimately, I guess it comes down to person to person decision, you’ll either accept not eating meat and overcome the lacking nutrients, or eat meat anyways, which in some cases does have its own negative effects.

    1. There are also good arguments to be made that the human body is NOT designed for eating meat, the length of our intestines being one. I believe this lady speaks about such in her Ted Talk.

      1. Niall-You are right about the intestines Kevin-You are right about human canine teeth.

        Since humans possess the physical and biochemical characteristics of both carnivores and herbivores then it follows that we are omnivores.

        Humans are not the only example of omnivores in nature. Research from 2010 shows that mammalian DNA of an monkeys and forest antelopes has been found in the feces of Gorillas. It seems that gorillas are omnivores too. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100305-first-proof-gorillas-eat-monkeys-mammals-feces-dna/

  14. Niall,

    I thoroughly enjoy your posts. As far as diet goes, I believe we tend to overthink the “health” aspect. I think that the diet industry has us brainwashed in order to maximize their profits. No carbs, no fat, no meat, no fruit, glycemic index etc…There’s a “diet” for every preference. Our ancestors would have eaten what was available to ensure their survival. Fruit, nuts, berries, fish, wild game, roots (e.g. sweet potatoes), squash etc…Our ancestors would not have said “I can’t eat that squash, I’m on low carbs today.”

    Michael Pollan’s work (which you seem to be referencing i.e. Polyface farms) simplifies things. Eat real,whole foods. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple really.

    There are certainly other questions that pop up. Organic vs conventional. GMO or non-GMO. But someone who ate very little processed food would be unlikely to be overweight, regardless of whether or not they ate meat.

    The one “trick” that helps many people lose weight is to stop drinking anything that contains calories. It’s fine to give up drinking soda, but juice (even “natural” pure juice) is just sugar (even though it’s “natural” sugar) with none of the fiber or antioxidants of fruit.

    I certainly eat less meat than I used to and this enables me to go for the good stuff (local 100% grass-fed beef or bison) when I do eat meat.

    1. Appreciate your thoughts, Joel. Thanks for sharing. I did read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and that definitely made an impact on my thinking. The Mindful Carnivore is another book that I liked a lot on this subject.

  15. 1. Methane? Also, I don’t know if it’s a legitimate argument to compare grass-fed beef to soy products. Unless you only ever ate free-range grass-fed beef (good luck finding that in your average burger joint!) then soy wins hands down. And what’s wrong with your basic salad burger? It doesn’t all have to be meat vs soy.
    2. As with anything, diet is a choice. Fake meat products may not be healthier than real meat, but can you prove they are unhealthier? Do you have to eat them at all? The main difference between an omnivorous and vegan diet is that you have to eat meat in the former, which obviously makes it more unhealthy (saturated fats, cholesterol, acidity, yadayada). The point is that the average vegan diet will be healthier than the average omnivorous diet. You can’t isolate individual extremes – it’s not a fair comparison.
    3. The point here is the difference between intentional and unintentional killing/cruelty. Omnivores intend to harm animals, they know they are doing it, they are aware of it; whereas in soy products, it is often an unavoidable consequence. Aren’t morals based on intention, rather than action?

    1. Your 3rd point brings ends with an interesting question. I teach philosophy and in my unit on Ethics, we discuss the differences between consequentialist theory (judging the end result of an action to determine whether it is “ethical”) and deontological theory (judging the intention of the action or behaviour to determine whether it was “ethical”)

      As to your second point, I have to disagree with several things. Saturated fat is not bad. It is not the enemy. Fats are misunderstood by many people. Coconut, an extremely healthy food, contains a high percentage of saturated fat. Also, unless an individual has a specific medical condition, dietary cholesterol has little effect on blood cholesterol.

      Soy. Well soy is not a great food, from anything I’ve read. Real edamame are fine in moderation, but processed food, vegan or not, is far from ideal. There is nothing wrong with a plant-based diet. I try to eat mostly plants. But there is nothing inherently unhealthy with meat if it is natural and not the factory-farmed, corn-fed, hormone injected type.

    2. Hi Georgia,

      1. I realize now that meat vs. soy was a poor argument above. I meant soy to be representative of any mass-produced grain. I didn’t mean to suggest that all vegans eat soy as a replacement for eating meat.

      2. “The main difference between an omnivorous and vegan diet is that you have to eat meat in the former, which obviously makes it more unhealthy (saturated fats, cholesterol, acidity, yadayada). The point is that the average vegan diet will be healthier than the average omnivorous diet.”

      Sorry, but I don’t think it’s that clear cut. There are plenty of healthy and unhealthy people in both camps. To say that a vegan diet is clearly healthier than an omnivorous one is to ignore many solid arguments and studies that claim otherwise. Again, could it be that some people are better suited to a vegan diet and others to an omnivorous one?

      3. “Aren’t morals based on intention, rather than action?”

      I’d consider that debatable too. Lots of people with good intentions end up making costly mistakes. If a deer population is getting out of control and destroying the natural habitat of countless other species, isn’t it right for humans to step in and control their numbers? We’d be killing deer intentionally, but for a good reason.

      That doesn’t defend the killing of an animal for food, I know, but my point here is that, again, the issue is complex. Killing can be done in a respectful way and for good reasons. Unfortunately that’s not the case with most modern meat production.

      1. Deer need to be culled now and again, or they will suffer from overpopulation in their environment – would the vegans have me let that meat rot for moral reasons?!
        No way, August/September is “game season” and you can bet we’ll be eating what the hunters (had to) kill for control!

  16. Kimberly Hooss

    As a non-uptight vegetarian of 20 years, meaning I try to eat well, love cheese and yogurt but I’ll eat the occassional junk, your arguments sound to me like weak justifications for going back to eating meat. I mean, using the fact that some vegans eat processed vegan food as an argument against veganism? My opinion is, if you want to eat meat, then eat it- but don’t criticize perfectly valid and proven arguments for vegetarianism and veganism to your own ends. Other than that, I enjoy your posts!

  17. Guns Germ & Steel present a detailled account on how most civilizations evolved from hunting & gathering to agriculture.

    Basically out of the whole biosphère, there is only a very little % that is actually edible by us.

    That’s why we naturally selected the few available to us in our immediate environment
    Wheat in europe and north asia, rice towards the south, mais in central/south america etc. became the staple of our alimentation because it was readily available and solved the scaling issue of our previous food habits.
    We don’t have to eat grain as individuals, but as a species. “Paleo” or even just removing grain from our diet is non-sustainable because you can’t scale it to 7 billions individuals.

    Now i’m not saying you shouldn’t eat however you want, but basically we as a species need the grain to strive.

    1. I agree that agricultural technology is essential to feeding so many people, but this raises the bigger question of whether there are simply too many humans on the planet right now.

  18. Reginald B. Archibaldo

    One thing to think about, in regards to the accidental animal deaths & death/damage from pesticides from farming:

    It takes several times the amount of crop to produce and feed to an animal to make 1000 calories of meat than to just straight up produce 1000 calories of said vegetable.

    This means that by eating meat, you are causing more accidental deaths AND more pesticide use.

    Also, animal farming is the largest pollution source on earth, outweighing all forms of transportation put together. So It’s a lot worse than if we were just spraying crops to use for human consumption.

    Maybe what you are saying would be viable if all the meat on earth was 100% organic/grass-fed/etc, but as it stands meat is almost exclusively factory farmed. If it wasn’t, the price of meat would SKYROCKET and become EXTREMELY expensive, and then you wouldn’t be eating it anyways. Factory farming and government subsidies keep the price of meat artificially low.

    1. “This means that by eating meat, you are causing more accidental deaths AND more pesticide use… animal farming is the largest pollution source on earth”

      Only, as you noted, if that meat is factory farmed, which I’m not in favor of at all. Unfortunately, as you also noted, factory farming is so prevalent now that it’s difficult to find and afford organic/grass-fed meat.

      But is the best response to go vegan? Maybe, maybe not. I’m still undecided about all this.

  19. Thank you for this thoughtful article. I can really relate to this, as these are many of the same reasons why I stopped being vegetarian (and never went vegan). It seems to that with the way the food industry is nowadays, it’s extremely difficult to eat anything at all without participating in something unethical in some way. And all most people can reasonably do is go with the lesser of several evils.

    As an aside, have you heard about the “Eskimo Paradox”? It’s just something that came to mind as I was browsing through the comments here. Apparently, studies have been done on people groups like Eskimos who eat almost nothing but animal fat and protein, and these people are remarkably healthy. It’s suspected this has to do with the fact that the Eskimos eat the animals’ organs and fat as well as the muscle meat (and of course the fact that the meat is all wild and natural might have something to do with it as well). Slightly unrelated perhaps, but interesting.

    1. Hi Jana,

      I have heard the Eskimo Paradox mentioned before, but thanks for bringing it up here. I think it adds fuel to the argument that different diets work for different people, and that there’s no one right way to eat for everybody.

  20. “the Paleo diet… The theory behind Paleo is that the human body evolved over hundreds of thousands of years on the hunter-gatherer diet”

    Ahh… this would be same hundreds of thousands of years when the average life expectancy for a human being was well below 40 years!

    This is pretty dumb logic. And Niall, you’re way smarter than this.

    Joe Mobley

    1. Why was the average life expectancy for a human being well below 40 years? Was it because of their diet, or was it because things like the flu or a toothache or a cut toe could kill you since you wouldn’t have had any medicine or knowledge of first aid?

      Methinks it’s more likely the latter.

      Also, many people simply died in childbirth, which of course has nothing to do with diet. One caveman might live to be 80 while another dies at birth. Their average age works out as 40 years, but does that number really paint the whole picture?

      Come on Joe, you’re smarter than this 😉

  21. Hi Niall,

    Quick question for you. Did you slowly start eating meat again, or just go right back to it? I have been vegetarian for about two years and am just curious as to if meat made you ill? I’ve been considering eating fish again which I why I ask.

    Thanks!!!!
    Craig

    1. My fiance was a pesky-vegetarian for 20ish years. When she went back to eating meat, as everyone who ever has will tell you: nothing happened. Except that they enjoyed it and got healthier, in most cases.

    2. I was vegan for 2.5 years, then went back to eating vegetarian for a year, then went back to eating meat once a day for a few weeks, and then multiple times a day. I didn’t have any illness or digestion problems through that transition, but that’s just me.

  22. Thank you! I always enjoy following your blog and posts on Facebook. I agree with you as to it’s an individual choice. I followed a vegan diet for 3 years an got very sick. People said I was doing it wrong too lol. I did study what I had planned to do for 3 or 4 years before actually doing it. I did not just jump in and say Hey I’m a Vegan! I found that I need a certain amount of meat in my diet or I get really sick. Vitamin Deficiencies that are helped less with supplements then the real food. I don’t beat myself up anymore. I eat what my body asks for. I stay away from heavily processed foods.

    I do try to buy grass fed meat as I am against the mass farming and killing. People think I am crazy that I believe the emotions of these animals the fear and sadness are in the meat. My dream world would be to have the animals ranging freely as nature intended.

    Not so sure about rice as I am hearing some disturbing news about GMO’s and grains. Other countries do not have that fear though.

    Just wanted to throw these links to you 🙂 Just an interesting tidbit. I heard about this Gentleman a while ago and thought It was interesting and has to do with food.

    http://robrhinehart.com/?p=298

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8WpksPED_Q

    Keep on Living! You inspire me to be a better person. To enjoy life. Thank you so much for being you.

    1. Hi Caroline,

      I just heard about Soylent a few days ago. I’m wary of it, as it goes against everything I’ve read thus far about whole, natural foods being best for the human body, regardless of whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or omnivore.

      I’m trying to keep an open mind about it though and I’m curious to hear more results from people trying it.

      Thanks for the comment!

  23. I didn’t read the rest of the comments, so I’m not sure if anyone’s brought up these points, but Niall, the only point you brought up that was against veganism in a pure form is that every diet doesn’t work for every person.

    I’ve been vegetarian my whole life, first by religion, and then by choice. I’ve gone beyond by giving up eggs (and egg products), and am currently a bit too attached to cheese to go all the way.

    For your first point, that plant-based diets are better for the environment, you stated a hypothetical situation here. Currently, all/most of the meat you’re eating comes from environmentally-hurting factory farms. There is a difference between natural-breeding and eating and mass breeding because of the demand. Cows are incredibly harmful to the environment, and if we were all vegan, they would breed normally. Meat-makers(?) see the demand for beef, milk, and more, and they breed massive amounts, which contributes further to hurting the environment.

    Also, soy isn’t the only things vegans can eat.

    For your second point, that’s something promoted by the vegan community, which I don’t necessarily correspond with. There will always be junk available, no matter your diet. However, if we go “raw” as the ancients did, raw vegan is healthier than raw meat. Meat has all that icky stuff from the grains and such. I don’t think the meat is healthy if treated as it currently is, and until we see some ethical changes in how meat is treated (which would in turn make the meat healthier), I believe my pesticides and such are better than the hormones and ick that end up causing swine flu and other diseases.

    For the third point, I suppose I was brought up with a different mindset than you. My religion preaches equality, and the only hierarchy is based on senses. 1-sensed creatures — plants, etc., have the least amount of pain if you kill them, 2-4-sensed beings have less, and 5-sensed beings have the worst. All meat is 5-sensed beings, just like humans, so we see them as equals. Therefore, I see it as unethical. However, I can’t say this without being preachy, but I definitely agree that if you’re going to eat an animal, do it with your own hands.

    I’m not otherwise angry with your sentiments or am trying to be. I enjoy your blog and how you question your ideals. You may not always agree with me, and that’s alright. A few months ago, I also wrote an answer on Quora about vegetarianism. Feel free to read it here: http://qr.ae/p4E34 Treat it as a sort of addendum.

    I look forward to your response, Niall.

    1. Thanks, Radhika. I just read your piece on Quora. You make some great points and I’ll chew on them for a while.

      To offer one response now, I’m not so sure that world hunger would cease if everyone was vegetarian. Again, I think it’s a little more complex than that. For example, the nutritional value one can get from killing and eating a goat far exceeds the nutritional value one could get by simply eating what the goat eats.

      I do think that given the current food system, a vegetarian diet might (just might) be better for the planet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a veg diet is superior. It may simply mean that the system is broken, or that there are way too many humans on this planet for a sustainable solution.

      1. Out of interest, I wonder what would happen to all those cows, pigs, sheep, chickens etc. if everyone was vegan?!
        Would they (ahem!) DIE??! How cruel…
        (not to mention the farmers!)

        1. I think those are separate issues. The latter is like saying that the advancement of computer technology has cost many people their jobs, therefore computers are bad.

          Just because some people will suffer doesn’t mean that a proposed solution should be discounted.

  24. Best thing I ever did for my health was to switch to Paleo/Primal style of eating. Fixed a whole host of issues I didn’t even realize were being caused by grains/sugars/soy/bad oils.

    A bit tough to enjoy street food here in Bangkok when you never really know what kind of things are used to prepare the foods here, but I still do pretty well for the most part.

  25. Hi Niall!

    Hope you are well!! Long time reader first time commenter 8)

    Great post and some interesting points. Whilst travelling and working in Australia I lived on a farm. Like yourself I wanted to see where my meat came from. The farm in question was a cotton plantation with small sheep holdings. After spending 5 months there i can caragorically say that the cotton industry is horrendous! But I digress, one evening after explaining to the boss that I wanted to see first hand how my meat went from field to table he brought me out. As I held the rifle I remember the adrenaline but I can’t say there was much of a moral dilemma. Butchering was extremely interesting but as you can imagine gross but there is almost a science to it and what amazed me was we left the recently deceased sheep hang to drain in a shed wrapped in a sheet with no refrigeration. Upon our return everything was as we left it and this was Australia in the summer! It made me think of the environmental impact of refrigeration for quite some time. As I sat down to dinner that evening to delicious mutton I can’t profess I felt much different except I had a new respect and understanding. If you get the chance do it. You won’t regret it but if you don’t ‘feel’ afterwards don’t worry like I did. That’s just nature!

    Thanks By the way for the last 18 months! I’ve had great fun reading your posts and you have changed some life long perceptions!

    Take care,

    Conor

  26. A very refreshing post Niall, I especially like your point about avoiding grains. As I mentioned in a comment a while back on a previous post I currently eat mostly fruits, vegetables, some chicken and fish.

    I came to this way of eating after years of vegetarian, then vegan, then macrobiotic, then fruitarian. And it appears to be working well for me. I do fall off the wagon and eat crap sometimes like pizza, bread, cheese, sugar… and notice that it doesn’t sit well in my system.

    Diet is definitely down to experimenting to see what’s best for each individual however sticking to local, in season, unprocessed (and GMO free) simple foods is best as you say.

    Thanks Niall 🙂

  27. Great article Niall with some well made and logical points. Your experiments follow mine very closely and we draw many of the same conclusions:

    http://bangkokfitness.com/tag/experiments/

    Diet and nutrition will always be controversial for a host of reasons so prepare for some ‘lively debate’.

    I don’t usually get into online debates but I have to answer the ‘pretty dumb logic’ post a few up. Life expectancy was low because of no hospitals, medicine, state help etc. A cut leg could result in death. I bet you didn’t have any diabetics or depressed and tired obese people lazing around back then. I think that to see it as black and white as we live longer now so we’re healthier is too simplistic and very wrong.

  28. It really feels good to read something with more reasoning that “i don’t eat meat because it kills animals and they are cute”.
    In the past years I tried various diet. I did a raw vegan experiment ( http://mloigeret.com/theblog/adventures-in-raw-veganism/) with no cereal and honestly it was great. The idea was to eat food that is alive and no dead food. And I feel that this resonates with me. I think I droped and came back to an omnivorous diet to satisfy my senses more than my health. I know it sounds stupid when said like that but it’s true.
    Now I’ve started being vegetarian 2 weeks ago, mostly because I’m going to an intense yoga retreat in july. The food there will be exclusively vegetarian and I don’t want it to be a chock.
    Also I really think of “this food is going to become a part of me”, because this is what happens. Do I want to have a part of a pig that suffered for years in my heart or meat from a healthy dear that was hunted with a bow? Do I prefer to eat an “organic” salad that grew on a soil deprived of all good nutrients or have a strawberry that grew from a healthy ground under a nice sun?
    In the end I believe as long as you eat with *consciousness*, if you ask yourself questions, you are on the right path. Most people don’t even know what is inside their twinkies, so you’re still pushing stuff forward 🙂
    (sorry for the novel)

    1. Great comment, Manu. Sounds like you’re certainly on the conscious path.

      Some food for thought (forgive the pun) regarding the bow hunting you mentioned: I once thought that humans shouldn’t hunt with guns because it gave us an unfair advantage over animals. However, something I read in a book called The Mindful Carnivore made me think twice. Hunting with a bow is simply less accurate than hunting with a rifle, and so you’re more likely to miss an animal’s vital organs and not kill with a single shot, thereby causing unnecessary suffering. When you look at it like that, hunting with a gun can be a lot more compassionate than hunting with a bow.

  29. Would-be Traveler

    Hi Niall,

    I agree with your arguments 1000%!

    Self-imposed, ultra-righteous, politically correct dietary religions like veganism or rawfoodism can lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering (even though they might work for some people). The Weston A. Price folks have a lot to say about that.

    Nevertheless, since yours is supposed to be a travel blog, a little bit of info about how exactly you apply your dietary philosophy in your current location or on the road would be extremely helpful for wannabe travelers like myself:

    * How does the country score for paleo (or whatever) suitability?

    * Where do you buy your food?

    * How do you prepare it?

    * What could one do if they didn’t have an apartment/kitchen of their own when traveling?

    You could have shot the above video back in Ireland and it would have been exactly the same …

    This is NOT criticism, just my thoughts 😉

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Appreciate your thoughts.

      Honestly, I don’t think I do a very good job sticking to my eating philosophy as I travel. Much of the time I cave to convenience, hence why I mentioned in the post that I’m not very good at sticking to the “eat local” commandment.

      Also, when I move some place new, I don’t bother doing much research on where the food comes from. I imagine I will do so when I find a place that I see myself settling in or at least returning to regularly.

      Right now in Bangkok I buy most of my fruit and veg at a street market, and almost all the rest of my groceries in a supermarket (Tesco usually). I’d like to buy my meat from a local butcher but again I haven’t gone to much trouble to find one.

      I usually cook two meals a day at home during the week, eat out once a day, and then on weekends I eat out more often.

      I do like to have a kitchen so I can prepare my own food, but you just make do it a kitchen isn’t available. You either find cheaper restaurants and eat out more, or simply up your food budget and eat in the regular food places.

      For the last 3 months or so I’ve been doing about 90% paleo six days a week and then I have a cheat day once a week, when I eat whatever I want, no holds barred. I find this to be pretty good in terms of nutrition and the balance of challenge/sustainability.

  30. Reader since before it was hip

    I guess you’ve been listening to Dave Asprey’s pro-meat arguments on Joe Rogan’s show?

    What are your thoughts on his stuff btw? Have you tried the bulletproof coffee?

    Btw, when will you do interviews with people again? Oh and why don’t you start a podcast? It would be awesome.

    1. I hadn’t heard of either of those two guys, or bulletproof coffee :-/

      Interviews didn’t get much of a response in the past so I stopped with those, but may start doing video interviews again periodically. As for a podcast, that just comes down to time. Don’t think I’d be able to devote enough time and effort to make it as good as I’d like.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

  31. I’ve been a vegetarian and vegan a few times in the past. No matter how careful I’ve been, I’ve always had problems and end up needing to go back to having meat products in my diet. I’ve also noticed I eat more processed foods (ala soy burgers, etc) when I’m trying to go veg.

    You are 100% correct that everybody’s dietary needs can be different. Some people do remarkably well on a plant-based diet, and others, like me, just do not do well.

    Like you, when I follow a more Paleo approach, I notice vast improvements in my health, energy, etc. Wheat can do a number on me if I’m not careful.

    Good on you for listening to your body AND for not just following the argument/movement du jour.

  32. Jonathan Kelly

    I share most of your thoughts actually. Tried being vegan myself since the start of the year, probably because I read about why you tried it a few years ago and felt like doing the same. However it wasn’t for ethical reasons (but I’ll say a bit more about that later), it wasn’t about economic reasons, it was really to test the supposed health benefits of a plant-based diet.

    Initially I felt great, felt like I had more energy and slept better. I also lost nearly a stone in weight. But now after 6 months I can look back and wonder how much of the feeling of well-being was due to a placebo effect and how much of the weight loss was due to returning to normal after Christmas weight gain! Since then I’ve pretty much plateaued when it comes to weight loss and I don’t feel a whole lot different when I do have a bit of meat. I will say that if I eat bad quality meat it has a negative effect, possibly due to my body not being used to it, but most likely due to the crap I’m putting in my body.

    Interestingly my girlfriend has responded very well to a vegan diet, her skin has cleared up, her asthma has pretty much disappeared and other lady-related issues have vastly improved too! The engineer in me wants to do proper control tests to find out the root cause of any benefits but it’s just too difficult!

    So as it stands I now describe myself as somebody who doesn’t follow a strict diet but makes vegetarian and vegan choices. There are a number of reasons why:

    1. I think the worst thing about following a vegan diet is the way you are treated by your meat-eating friends. Even though I never stopped eating meat for ethical reasons and don’t care what anyone else eats, other people seem to take it as a personal insult if you don’t eat meat in their company. When I explained I was trying it out for supposed health benefits it made it even worse, as if I was saying I’m trying to be healthy and you’re not. One friend even said that it’s such a shame that she can never have my girlfriend and I over for dinner again. I called her out on this straight away as being ridiculous but it still hurt that somebody felt like saying that.

    2. Eating out as a vegan is difficult. This is primarily due to crappy or non-existent vegan choices on most menus. Also sometimes when there were vegan choices they just lacked so much imagination compared to the non-vegan alternatives. Now I love eating out and I see it as a treat to have something I wouldn’t normally have. The problem is I can cook better vegan food than most of the restaurants I’ve been too, including the vegan ones, so I’ve stopped enjoying going out for dinner if I’m restricting what I can eat. Incidentally I did go out recently and decided to have some venison which looked nice, and I found the meat completely tasteless and the veggies much more satisfying! So maybe my taste buds have changed somewhat.

    3. When I stopped eating meat it suddenly became a forbidden pleasure that I sometimes became obsessed with. It’s like if I give up fizzy drinks I’ll suddenly crave Coke and end up buying a sneaky can and drinking it out of sight to avoid anyone finding out. That’s not healthy. and that started happening with meat. I’d find myself buying a McDonalds on the way home from work, eating it in the car and then dumping the evidence before walking through the front door. After a few months of this I realised that’s my mind and body’s way of saying it’s really not happy being forced not to have something. I found that the binge eating was worse than actually being ok with my choice to have the occasional burger. So now I follow something I read once in a book by Bethanny Frankel (erstwhile reality show celebrity and actually quite a decent chef), I listen to my food voice. If I think I want something I’ll stop and ask do I really want it?, eat some fruit, drink some water, and if I still feel like I really want something I’ll have it and not beat myself up about it. The net result is that I don’t feel guilty for eating something but I actually end up eating less of it than when I’d give myself a hard time.

    4. The last reason I’ll probably go back eating meat is I’m currently trying to pack on some muscle and lose some weight before my wedding next year. I’m finding it difficult to do on a plant based diet. Not because it’s impossible, it just requires a lot more effort, and effort I’d rather spend on other parts of my life.

    In fact that last point sums up how I feel about being a vegan. To do it completely requires effort, it requires sacrifice and I’ve found I’ve lost some of the enjoyment of living life as a result. However I’m glad I’ve tried it as there have been plenty of positives.

    1. I’ve expanded my culinary skills and food knowledge.
    2. I’ve learned not to treat meat as the base of a dish and the veggies as just something to sit next to it on the plate.
    3. I’ve realised I like Rice Milk more than cow’s milk on my cereal, in my coffee, etc. However there is no substitute for milk chocolate!
    4. I’ve saved a ton of money not buying loads and loads of meat at the supermarket.
    5. I will always consider the veggie option at a restaurant, especially if it’s a curry house.
    6. I now know I don’t need to eat meat or animal products at every meal.
    7. When I do choose to eat meat I’ll choose the best quality I can and go as local as I can. The days of getting Tesco Value chicken breasts are long gone. I said earlier that I didn’t try veganism for ethical reasons, but through it I’ve learned a lot more about where our meat comes from and it’s not pretty. I always knew about factory farms and the like but ignored it. So if I end up back eating meat as much as I used to, that education will stay with me and I’ll now make much better choices.

    But I’m pretty sure my diet will never fully return to how it was before I tried being vegan, and that can only be a good thing.

    1. This is brilliant, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing all that. Sounds like you’ve ended up with a really mature and realistic approach to food.

  33. It seems as if some of the comments portray meat and the harmful contents it may have because of farming practices, less desirable than the harmful contents that may be present in plant crops…. a convenient oversight.

    I believe modern farming practices render plant crops just as harmful as meat; soil contamination, water contamination, pesticides, chemical fertilizers… all these toxins and poisons build up in the soil and are not only deposited on the plant but also absorbed by the plant. How diligently do you wash your fruit and veg before eating or preparing it? Astonishingly few people do and even if you do, how can you get rid of the harmful substances inside the plant?

    After decades of modern mass-production farming practices, how clean and healthy can the soil be? Not even in my own backyard do I have that peace of mind. I do not know what the previous generations may or may not have dumped in the soil where my “organic” vegetable garden is now growing.

    Somehow, mass farmed food products that previously had eyes in its head and blood in its veins, are considered so much more harmful than plant crops grown with damaging mass farming practices and maybe also questionable storing and distribution practices.

    “Choose your poison” comes to mind, and a personal choice it should stay.

    I have some questions: “How much of the farm factory meat ends up on the plates of folks preparing their own meat dishes at home and how much of it is farmed to supply processing plants and fast food giants? Which one of the above participants’ absence in the industry will more likely lead to a reduction in numbers of those terrible factory meat farms?”

    Buying local and buying organic does seem one way to go, but truly, not everyone in the world has access to such suppliers and not everyone necessarily get around to constantly support such a supplier.

    I say: people of whatever diet preference unite and start thinking on what we can do to ensure ourselves not only freedom in choice regarding the whole foods we consume , but also healthy “clean” whole foods.

  34. Hey Niall,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while (I just checked, it has been about one year and a half since I first subscribed to your emails), but have never really commented (although I often felt compelled).

    This topic however struck a chord with me as a healthy diet and different approaches to it, is something I am very interested in and I feel like I can contribute something to the discussion.

    First of all, I should probably start off saying that I have never been on a all vegetarian or vegan diet, although my meat to vegetable ratio is heavily skewed towards vegetables.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said and basically would just like to expand on some of the things you wrote.

    One of the first things I would like to talk about is killing the animal you eat yourself. I have been living in Romania for the past 5 years (although I’m from Germany originally) and one of the things I have always loved about this country is how much closer people here still are to traditional agriculture.

    Most urban families still have property in the countryside (often times the grandparents will live there) and still produce fresh vegetables, fruits and many times also animal products and meat for their own consumption.

    Within 10 minutes I can walk to the local market and buy fresh vegetables and home made cheese directly from the peasants that produced them and that is in one of Romania’s bigger cities.

    Traditionally before Christmas Romanian families slaughter a pork (either raised by them or bought) to prepare for the long, cold winter and Christmas festivities. Of course this has become less and less relevant, as there is now permanent access to whatever food you’d like at any time of the year in Supermarkets and such, but the tradition is still practiced by many families (sorry that I can’t give you an exact number, I don’t want to make any inaccurate guesses).

    This last winter I had the opportunity to be present during such a pig slaughter and while I didn’t kill the pig myself (the only animal I ever killed for later consumption was a fish), I did see the pig get killed and taken apart afterwards. I can’t say the experience fundamentally changed the way I think or feel about consuming meat, but it wasn’t a pleasant process.
    From the moment the pig was removed by 4 grown men from its stall it knew something was up and started screaming terribly, it sounded almost human.
    It was killed by a cut to the throat and it took a lot longer for the pig to die then I would have imagined (or my sense of time was heavily skewed due to what I was seeing).

    All in all I was glad I was able to see this, I think one of the big problems nowadays is, that we are so totally distanced from where our food (especially the meat) comes from. When we browse the supermarket or local butchery, we don’t actually see or think of the animals that have given their life, they are just hunks of meat and we are almost oblivious to the fact that they came from a once living and breathing being.
    In so far I also agree with you that I (and by extension others too) should be able to kill any animal I’m intending to consume.
    I think if everybody had to actually kill their own food, there would be a lot less meat consumption in the world.

    As far as your own killing experience, I can only recommend you to kill a bigger animal than a chicken. I have also seen a few chickens get killed here and it is a fairly quick process and a far cry from the slaughter of a bigger animal that will struggle for its life. A chicken is probably a good place to start, but I wouldn’t stop there (obviously I’m not trying to encourage you to mindlessly slaughter animals).

    I wanted to write more, but I feel it will just get overwhelming for others to read through this, so I’ll leave it at this.

    I wish you all the best on your travels and encourage you to keep experimenting with your diet until you find what works best for you.

    Cheers,
    Max

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Max. Ideally after killing a chicken (assuming that experience doesn’t turn me off meat eating forever), I’d go on to kill other animals that I eat regularly. I agree wholeheartedly that we should be willing to kill the animals we eat. I suspect I will eat less meat once I’ve experienced killing an animal for myself. You said it well…

      “I think if everybody had to actually kill their own food, there would be a lot less meat consumption in the world.”

    2. Gruesse Dich, Max!

      I am living in Bulgaria, and a week ago I was able to watch a sheep slaughtered in a family’s backyard. They also sliced it’s neck, but after a few seconds, completely severed it’s head off. I remember making eye contact with the sheep before this happened. It was a gruesome experience. But at least it had a good life, until that point. I considered becoming vegetarian after this, but ultimately I think we have evolved to consume meat. I certainly appreciate the meat I consume more, or at least try to be more mindful and grateful.

      Wo wohnst Du in Romanien? Ich versuche spaeter im Juni ein deutsche Wohltaetigkeit in Rotbav zu besuchen:

      http://www.kindernest-rumaenien.com/

  35. I’m a former semi-vegetarian of a decade or so. I couldn’t even hack it as a vegetarian without feeling terrible, but maybe I was “doing it wrong” :P. I’m also an information hoarder, so over the years I’ve amassed enough knowledge from my reading and experimenting to decide that Paleo / Primal is best for me, too. Totally agree with all your points. When I visited my aunt and uncle’s farm where they raise goats to eat, I couldn’t help but look at them all as sausage. If an animal’s had a good life, I have no problem with it becoming my food. I’m not following P/P perfectly yet – there’s a great deal for me to work on. But I feel good about it.

  36. Hi Niall:
    Great post, very thought-provoking. I re-read your first post on becoming a vegan, and this most recent post really resonated with me.

    I’m 69 years old, a former meat cutter (30 years ago – and which prompted me to become a vegetarian). At that time, the US changed the meat grading system – “prime” was slowly eliminated, and “choice” was moved up to the prime grade; simultaneously, I began to notice a change in the quality of meat, something I could smell and feel, but is difficult to describe. Also, I saw the effects of all the hormones and chemicals in the meat – for example, abscesses become more prevalent.

    Fast forward to 2012, after 30 years of being vegetarian, my doctor discovered – out of the blue, since I was asymptomatic – 90% artery blockage. Less than a week later, I had emergency cardiac bypass surgery. After I got out of the hospital, I became a vegan. It’s been a year now.

    A couple of thoughts – I believe the vegetarian diet helped me go into, and come out of, the surgery stronger. Now as a vegan, and facing additional medical issues, I believe a diet of organic vegetables and whole grains helps me maintain strength that I know I wouldn’t have as a carnivore.

    Just my 2 cents, and thanks for providing a forum for this discussion. All the best!

  37. Hey Niall,
    I have been reading like crazy on this topic and the honesty and clarity of your flow of arguments was refreshing. A few months ago I decided to try veganism and, initially, I felt great. I did, however, have lots of gastrointestinal discomfort. I made sure to get plenty of animal-based protein from different sources and ate whole foods and grains (quinoa was a favorite) constantly. I also did the green shakes you warn about as well as fruit shakes. Slowly, as the weeks progressed, I noticed my muscle mass depleting, my energy levels dropping. I lost all desire to go to the gym. I started developing pain in my legs and lack of mental focus (a very BAD thing, considering that I’m trying to wrap up my PhD!). Though my skin cleared up, I started noticing that my receding hairline was becoming more and more pronounced. In fact, after showering, when applying hair gel, I would notice lots of hair on my hands. Lastly, my enthusiasm dropped. It’s weird because I’m usually a very upbeat, lively and fun-loving person. That prior enthusiasm was replaced with forms of anxiety that seemed unnatural. Being a guy who loves research of all types, when I had some free time I would devour articles, journals, blogs, videos, interviews and books on the topic. It is very confusing as the data seems to conflict all the time. I watched Forks Over Knives and then read several articles supporting it as well as slamming it for lack of scientific validity. Ultimately, you are touching on something fundamental: Our evolutionary process as a species. I cannot deny what you say about the hunter-gatherer tribes. From what I read, our ancestors – and those who continue to live as they did – did not, and do not, develop the degenerative diseases typical in the West. I really appreciated your stance on the issue of the hunter respecting the animal. Some of my ancestors were Native American and you see that paradoxical experience of respect in hunting practices. Beautifully stated. So thank you for posting this. I would welcome any advice from others on how to improve my health. Two major concerns are blood pressure and diabetes. In my family they are ubiquitous and I need to do everything possible to avoid both. Maybe it is the stress of a PhD program, but my BP tends to be ‘borderline’. I’d like to bring that to low! I’m glad to have found an open minded forum on this topic.
    Paolo

  38. Hey Niall,

    first, a compliment on your writing, this is a well written article. Been also reading all the comments, as a 3 year vegan (out of which one year traveling in south america), the topic is very important to me.

    Let´s step back from philosophising about which diet kills less rodents in the field, because we all know shit about it.

    Let´s focus on the key facts we do know, which you all mentioned here – main being animal suffering.

    Most of us also want to end or avoid it. So we have a problem, and a couple of solutions – veganism, or free range, grass fed, humanely killed animals.

    Why is it then, that we signed off both of them here? (you give reasons why not veganism in the article, reasons why not free range in comments – lack of availability, high prices – although price argument is flawed. Yeah, go ahead, save yourself a buck and eat shit. Or spend a buck more and eat much healthier).

    But if one of the options is hard to do (free range), would you abandon the whole idea, instead of going for the other option? Not talking vegan/meat now, but any life scenario like this.

    You also justify continuing to support this suffering by “cheapness and laziness”. This shows weakness or lack of integrity. I had you down as being the opposite of these traits, that I thought you actively try to avoid! (following your blog for about two years.) This is the attitude of most of people (adding lack of knowledge and ignorance to the list) and is the root of the problem. Not political debates about which one kills less rodents in the field.

    Talking about how many slugs are killed from factory farming of animals or mass growing cabbage or growing your cabbage in your backyard is just diluting the waters.

    From most of the comments here, it boils down to convenience:

    Not eating meat is less convenient, than eating meat.

    No human needs to eat other animals to survive. It´s just much easier to. (opposed to nature, where it´s given by instinct to real carnivores)

    It´s whether we are prepared to “inconvenience” ourselves enough, to end the suffering.

    “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

    I hear you when you say that you like to know both sides of the argument, then make a decision. But it seems that here, you are not making a decision, just shrugging your shoulders, “I dunno.”

    Let´s stop philosophising and sitting on the fence and do something. (in your and most of the commenters case, the best option seems to actively seek out free range meat. If no around, don´t eat meat. Only this way the whole system will have a reason to change).

    And yes, there are too many humans on this planet, vegan or not. But this is a whole different topic.

    Lukas

    1. Hi Lukas,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      “You also justify continuing to support this suffering by “cheapness and laziness”. This shows weakness or lack of integrity. I had you down as being the opposite of these traits, that I thought you actively try to avoid!”

      Everyone is a hypocrite and lacks integrity to some extent, and I’m no different. I wish I could say that I always stick to my values, but I’m human and sometimes I take the quick and easy way out.

      It’s one thing to say what’s right and what’s wrong, but another to say what’s realistic and what’s not. In an ideal world I would like to have all my food come from a place like Polyface farm, but that’s not the world I live in, so I have to make concessions, some of which go against my values.

      “I hear you when you say that you like to know both sides of the argument, then make a decision. But it seems that here, you are not making a decision, just shrugging your shoulders, “I dunno.””

      I’m not making a firm decision because I’m still not convinced one way or the other. I know indecision can often be worse that wrong decision, but neither am I comfortable committing to something I have serious doubts about, especially when the alternative option is much easier.

      “in your and most of the commenters case, the best option seems to actively seek out free range meat. If no around, don´t eat meat. Only this way the whole system will have a reason to change”

      And if we don’t eat meat when free range isn’t available, what do we replace it with? Sometimes the veggie options are highly-processed or very limited or very expensive. Your argument above sounds simple but in reality I haven’t found it to be like that at all. If I had tried to avoid eating meat all the time here in Thailand, for example, I would have had to skip many meals or make do with sugared bread or a plate of sticky rice (similar story in many of the other countries I’ve lived in the past two years). If that’s the type of sacrifice we have to make to enforce change in the system, I dare say the system will never change, because most of us will never do that consistently. I’m more aware than most of the animal abuse in factory farms and I know I’m more self-disciplined than the average person, and yet I still struggle to make that sacrifice.

      Again, ideals are nice, but it’s not that simple.

      “Let´s stop philosophising and sitting on the fence and do something.”

      Okay, but what? I’m still searching for a realistic solution to this, something that’s sustainable for me (i.e. doesn’t require lots of self-discipline or inconvenience) and the planet. It has occurred to me that I may not find that solution while living a nomadic lifestyle.

      1. Thanks for the response Niall. It´s the convenience thing again 🙂

        Big change never comes without some kind of sacrifice initially. Slave trade, giving women rights – they were considered ridiculous ideas at the time, but were eventually accepted, because they are human related, the victims could speak for themselves. The 60 billion victims we eat each year can´t speak for themselves, the planet neither, so it´s down to people like you and others who are educated about the topic, to lead the way.

        But I agree that everyone has his own level of commitment to the topic, and therefore level of sacrifice varies.

        This will be a very slow change, but fact that people like you and other commenters (who think for themselves and want to make the world a better place) give it deep thought is already a great step forward.

  39. Pingback: What would it take to change your mind?

  40. Nice post, thanks for sharing. I agree with a lot, but I have to say, I think the paleo diet is not the end all solution.

    The best approach is Real Food.

    Some people are adapted to digesting milk products, or eating grains. This shows that humans have evolved since our hunter gatherer days. Also, all of the plants and animals we eat have changed a lot since then, mostly through domestication.

    Real Food for me is eating pasture-raised animals and eggs, wild animals like fish and venison, and more wild/heritage animals like bison or goat, and use the whole animal: bone broth is super food. Lots of veggies, hopefully organic, local and in-season, and choosing more wild varieties with more nutrients. Fermented foods like full-fat yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut. Grains aren’t the best, but they’re ok if prepared traditionally, like soaking steel cut oats or sourdough bread. Legumes are similar to grains, can be good if soaked overnight. White rice is pretty benign. No CAFOs ever. No GMOs. Avoid processed food. Avoid “vegetable” oil. Don’t eat too much sugar.

  41. I personally don’t give a rats arse what people eat. But from a farmers perspective, let me make a couple of points. To put you in the picture I raise dryland (not irrigated) sheep & crops in Australia and don’t feed sheep on grain. There is a lot more involved here than most people realise. Firstly is the question of soil health. Soil carbon and biological activity increases under pasture and gets used up under a grain crop.
    Then there is the reliance on agricultural chemicals and chemical fertiliser, along with another concern which people generally haven’t got a clue about which is increasing resistance of weeds to herbicides. In evolutionary terms selective herbicides are punctuated equilibrium on steroids, and we are getting to the point in some farming systems where herbicides etc simply don’t work. I should imagine that at this point some of the agricultural illiterate will be throwing their hats in the air and going ‘yay’ but it’s as serious a problem as golden staph resistance in hospitals and one which scares the crap of me
    However, if you have a grazing animal in the system they can , and I assure you do, turn the most herbicide resistant weeds into shit and fertilise the paddocks at the same time, and so the next time that paddock enters a cropping phase I can use much less herbicide and fertiliser which is good for my planet, my farm and my bank account. And you.
    People say you don’t have to use animals because they end up dead. Yeah well nature is full of things getting eaten by something else so one more won’t make any difference. As far as my sheep go, they life happy contented lives, they are fat and sleek and well looked after, and they are the garbage disposal unit on the farm. They eat weeds, the stuff that’s left after I harvest, spilt grain and such, they clean up around houses, sheds and lane ways and in doing so protect me and my family from the bush fires which are a fact of life in Australia.
    So when people say to me, look, I like your oats and faba beans and durum wheat and peas, but don’t like the fact that you have animals that end up dead for meat, you should stop growing animals, I say ‘ yeah, you like me but you’d like me better if I didn’t have a heart or lungs, yeah?’ It’s that simple.
    One other thing, Joel Salatin. ive read his stuff and some of its pretty good. Can I just say after 45 years of farming, that his system works for him. but my system is pretty good and works for me. The thing you find out about farming pretty bloody quick is that one size doesn’t fit all, and what works in one paddock is totally inappropriate in another, and what a farmer does is work with his land, wherever it is. You get that all the time and it gives you the shits, Joel Salatin did this, someone did something else. Joel Salatin amongst other things is a good salesman . As far as a farmer goes he’s probably a lot better than most of us at communicating

    1. Will, my sincerest thanks for sharing your experience. I realized while reading your comment that pretty much nobody else on this page (myself included) has any empirical knowledge of producing food. You’ve inspired me to talk to more farmers about this. I doubt I’ll find very many who advocate farming without animals.

  42. Good old common sense prevails, thankfully!
    The Swiss may be a bit boring sometimes but they are sensible and efficient. Farms are small (20 cows is a big farm…) and cattle spend a good deal of the year out of doors or on the mountain pastures where machines can’t efficiently mow the grass. Therefore why would I not eat a reasonable amount of beef, drink milk, eat cheese and use leather?! Yes, cute goats are up there, too – the boy kids are a speciality, use what you don’t need for breeding. Horsemeat is never tough, even when old, so why not dispose of it by having local slaughterhouses (no travel trauma, nor in fact for cows or pigs, it’s all nearby). The only animal in Switzerland that is remotely “farmed” is the pig and I have no qualms about Swiss organic pork, they get a good life and you use it all. Rabbits are kept in hutches to be useful, not as pets, and you use the fur, too. Etc. etc. You also don’t eat meat every day of the week or twice a day – you eat reasonably and in reasonable amounts, treat your supply sensibly, don’t produce waste… what more could we want?!
    It’s when factory farming gets out of control as in places like the US that people start faddy ideas. I’m not saying being a veggie or vegan is necessarily faddy, but it’s not necessarily for everyone nor should it be preached as such. I wouldn’t touch “enzyme powders” with a bargepole…
    It makes far more sense where I live to be a responsible omnivore!!

  43. Interesting video, I’m currently vegan and becoming disenchanted with the lifestyle. I’m considering going back to eating meat but when I think about me actually eating it I feel grossed out and squeamish, and like eating meat would be wrong? I became vegan because I believed that it would make me healthier, not because I disagree with the slaughter of animals, so I am baffled as to why I feel like this. If you have any comments on this I would be very grateful.

    1. Best advice I can give is to read more. Read pro-vegan books and the opposites. Blogs are fine but I don’t put as much time, thought and research into a blog post as someone will put into a book.

      Also, listen to your body, see what feels right. Some people seem to thrive on a vegan diet, others seem to struggle. You have to test for you.

      All the best!

      1. Hello, I’m happy to learn from this blog, I’ve been vegan for 6 months now (yeah, I know, I’m a newbie), I have two kids that are living on a vegan diet too. After all I’ve read during one year, I have reached the conclusion that we will NOT FIND an absolute truth about what is best for the human race.

        We have to listen and follow the wisdom of our bodies and consciousness. I’ve decided to stay vegan, because I CAN FEEL how my energy, my emotions, changed – the levels of stress decreased, I am able to find my calm and balance more easily now. I am also a Reiki healer, that’s why I’ve been able to FEEL the difference on the flow of healing energy.

        As a mother it’s my responsibility to stay OPEN MINDED, to keep learning and growing, I do not enjoy the radical thinking of ‘this is good – this is bad – white vs black’.

        I choose the vegan diet TODAY, after all the research that I made, but the most important side of it, is HOW IT FEELS FOR ME. If some other person feels better eating 10 pounds of pork a day, go ahead, if your heart is telling you to do so.

        Eating PLENTY and DIFFERENT flavors and textures is a must. The sad side is that I find this lifestyle very expensive. But hey! the money we spent is not as important as the development of our souls.

        Greetings,
        Carmen

  44. I believe that people are targeting their efforts in the wrong area. Although I believe that the vegans are insane if they think they’re ever going to change the world (you can’t win a debate if you’re stance is based more on emotion than reason), even real-fooders in general (or at least in the U.S.) are going about it the wrong way. If buying real food is not economical, a lot of people are never going to do it, simple as that. With such government subsidies as oil, corn, soy, and wheat, places like Polyface will never be more than a luxury. If Salatin’s way of running things is as effective as he proclaims, what people really need to be advocating is no government involvement in economics.

  45. I believe that people are targeting their efforts in the wrong area. Although I believe that the vegans are insane if they think they’re ever going to change the world (you can’t win a debate if you’re stance is based more on emotion than reason), even real-fooders in general (or at least in the U.S.) are going about it the wrong way. If buying real food is not economical, a lot of people are never going to do it, simple as that. With such government subsidies as oil, corn, soy, and wheat, places like Polyface will never be more than a luxury. If Salatin’s way of running things is as effective as he proclaims, what people really need to be advocating is no government involvement in economics.

  46. I had been eating vegan (I say eating as opposed to just “vegan” because I like cashmere sweaters and leather shoes and purses) for several years with two brief lapses. I chose this diet due to it health benefits (my overall health improved including my yearly blood work results), and chose to eat animal based products again for several reasons.

    First, because my husband and sons are omnivores, I was making two dinners the nights that I cook. I try to find humanely-raised meats for them, but still had to cook something separate (vegan) for me.

    Second, eating out is most challenging because I also have food allergies to wheat, soy and peanuts and many restaurants use soybean oil and wheat-based flavor enhancers in their cooking. I was left with steamed vegetables with rice for Chinese take-out, grilled vegetables(w/o grill baste) with rice at Mexican restaurants, and salads everywhere else. My husband wanted to try a new Mexican restaurant that opened near us recently, and I read their menu on-line, finding one item I can order–a salad with no chicken or steak. Wow! There’s something new! We wound up going to a place that has a really good “salad-your-way” menu option. See? another bleeping salad!!!!

    Third, I was truly feeling drained. I was spending a chunk of every day looking for recipes I could make for my family that would taste good (because really, isn’t that what good food should be about?), and still be vegan. Hence the two separate dinners when I cook at home.

    Lastly, because of several serious illnesses in my family (parents and brother), my brain and my emotions have nothing left for thinking about it. I had not been out to Sunday breakfast with my family in months because all I could order was oatmeal or hashbrowns and tomatoes. I haven’t had pizza in three years (wheat allergy-that won’t change by abandoning veganism, but at least I can order a salad with chicken or egg and cheese from a take-out place).

    Currently, I consider myself, a 90% vegetarian. I eat vegetarian including eggs and organic cheeses and about twice a week I have a small piece of wild-caught fish. If we eat out I order fish (allergic to shell-fish too), bearing in mind the wheat allergy, I cannot eat pasta dishes, bread, tortillas or any food that is breaded and fried which eliminates many restaurant menu items.

    As mentioned in the comment area and in your original post, it is a personal thing and what works for some people, won’t work for others because we all lead different lives in different parts of the county and different parts of the world.

  47. Pingback: Making 'Good' Choices - Raam Dev

  48. Late to the party, but — I have been veggie for the past 35 years, am happy with the decision and view the possibility of returning to meat eating with repugnance. My reasons are the three that you listed at the start of your article. Meat is an environmentally expensive product, which I believe is an unhealthy food. As for the paleo diet, it is bunk, a marketing creation. Lastly, Darwinism, most of everything is naturally selected to extinction.

  49. The paleo diet makes a lot of sense.(BTW I got here via wandering Earls site) I am biking “the world” and while I ocaisionally have bread(as a vehicle to carry meat/lunch on the road, etc..I often throw it away..) and a little cheese, avoiding cereals is the best thing I ever did. Potatos as well. Meat, seafood , fish, veggies , nuts, eggs, fruit> all makes sense. I have nevergfelt so bloated as after a pasta dinner or some potatos. Paleo diet says U can have 3 non paleo meals a week…I save that for the weekends when friends may have pizza or ice cream….or WINE! Cheers Mike

  50. Thanks for the post. I recently went back to eating meat after eating a plant-based diet for around four years. I agree so much with what you said about not every diet being right for every person. Honestly, a long-term plant-based diet (and I did it right, rice and beans, quinoa, lentils with tons of veggies… I really did my research) was not good for my body. My energy level tanked, my teeth started to have issues, and many other unpleasant side effects that vanished as soon as I started eating meat again. That said, I only get meat from reputable sources (no feedlot, no drugs in the food, etc.) and I eat it sparingly (not more than the size of a deck of cards at a meal, and not more than once every day, usually every other day). I am just so tired of people acting like the same diet is right for everyone (Hey, look, this athlete is doing it, so why can’t you?). I would have stayed on that plant-based diet forever (and intended to) and actually stayed on it too long for my health because I was so committed and felt like such a failure that my body wouldn’t let it work for me. But now, I am healthy with a ton of energy, feel great. I learned so much from the experience and eat a much wider range of foods than I ever would have tried if I didn’t try it. So, I am grateful for it, but am also grateful to hear that others tried it and found other things worked better at different points in their lives.

  51. Niall,

    I liked your post on showering without soap or shampoo. I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time (over 10 years). I looked through a lot of the comments to see if anyone mentioned what I planned to mention, but there were so many and it became tedious to read so many, that I gave up after about 10.

    I wanted to write that I think you are missing the big picture. It isn’t that you stayed a vegetarian or went back to meat, but that you are the kind of person who is intelligent, inquisitive, sensitive and with social responsibility who would give it a try. And 3 years is a good try. Imagine if everyone on the planet gave it 3 solid years, how different most countries would be. You even went further than me. I’m a vegetarian, but you tried being vegan, too, which takes a lot of effort.

    Can I recommend some books for you? I don’t know if they will mean much to you, like they have for me. Have you read any of them? I was surprised when I became a vegetarian to find so many other vegetarians who didn’t seem to know why they were doing it. I guess they were waiting for the next article in Good Cooking magazine to come out extolling the healthy nature of eating fish, so they could quit and become trendy and cool with their sushi.

    Diet for a new America
    by John Robbins

    Mad Cowboy
    by Howard Lyman

    Living among meat eaters
    by Carol J. Adams

    The Perfectly contented meat-eaters guide to vegetarianism
    by Mark Warren Rhinehardt

  52. There is nothing like a post based on direct experience and written by a critical thinker. Very well done. I have been a meat eater most of my life, with short periods of eschewing meat for weight loss purposes, back when i was a bit clueless about how it all worked. I know now that I needed better balance, and I am definitely omnivorous. However, I recently had the chance to try out an Ontario group of family farms (in the Polyface style) called NutraFarms and feel quite a bit better than I am getting range raised meat from animals that are not force grown and have not been fed antibiotics. The farms are held to a strict standard of growing their own feed and all three farms (beef, chicken and pork) are local to my province. All in all, I completely agree with you on the point that one should strive to get animals raised with respect and treated humanely. Thanks for your post, I will definitely pass it along.

  53. Google eating for your blood type. If you know your blood type you can figure out what the best diet would be. Your blood type diet results may surprise you, and you may find that you have already been eating or craving the foods that would be best for you!

  54. Dear Niall

    I decided around 18 months ago to stop eating meat for a very personal reason.

    Love to read about spiritual matters and have come to believe that the energy which exists as vibrations within everything in and around us, resonates at certain frequencies and that if an animal has been cruelly treated and gruesomely murdered without reverence for its being, that energy ‘taints’ the flesh and I want nothing of it coming into my self.

    I don’t have hard rules about what is right or wrong when eating, but if my eating would support ill treatment of another living being then I steer away from it.

    This could easily be extended to become an overzealous, fanatic approach, one of not touching any commercial item with a barge pole if child labour was in any way involved in its creation, for example – I can’t go that far, but I make the best choices I can.

    I don’t speak against others who believe differently, but I do what I do because I feel more at peace this way.
    My living style also avoids insecticides or murdering ants and roaches wherever possible! (Doesn’t mean I love the critters, though.)

  55. I’ve been following your site for a few months now and just wanted to say thank you! A lot of the articles I’ve read are quite inspiring and insightful.

    You’ve been able to make some very strong points here (and other places as week) that are pretty important for everyone to consider

  56. Hello,
    I like this a ton. It felt great to have someone else say that maybe (just maybe) veganism isn’t for everyone. I have been a vegetarian all my life and have never been able to be healthy when vegan. This has gotten me plenty of flak from vegan friends.

    But there is one thing that I found perhaps not logically sound with your first argument. If you want to compare locally grown beef with not local soy products that’s fine, but I think perhaps another interesting comparison that eliminates more variables would be comparing local soy products to local meat/ beef products. In this situation you come back to the realization that all variables (habitat loss, transportation, etc.) Are equal. The only difference is time and energy to produce a gram of protein.

    Can you dig? And yes you can get local soy, but not many people do (just like with beef…)

    Cheers 🙂

  57. First, thank you for a truly thoughtful and thought-provoking post on a topic that too often inspires super-emotional polemics.

    I am an omnivore. My brother and sister are vegetarians. Neither of them is into it for “moral” reasons and both eat dairy products.

    I live in Shanghai, so I’ve seen a few animals slaughtered, including chickens right in front of a restaurant on my block. Many of the better seafood places here have a sort of aquarium area, displaying the completely fresh creatures you can order for dinner. And the markets often sell rabbits and chickens live so you can slaughter them yourself. None of these experiences has put me off of meat.

    The thing I’ve always found most difficult to accept about the “meat is murder” argument is that vegetarianism certainly involves the death or dismemberment of many plants. Every seed I eat is a plant that will not get to grow. When I eat a potato or other root-like vegetable, the plant is killed. Even eating fruits involves ingesting the ovary and potential offspring of the plant.

    Why it is considered morally superior to rip a carrot out of the ground rather than slit the throat of a chicken is puzzling. Is it because we can’t look the carrot in the eye or hear it scream? Joseph Campbell once wrote that the most basic ethical issue was that all life must feed on other life.

    If I want a cruelty-free diet, I will be restricted to the rotting remains of plants or animals that died a “natural” death. And the vultures and other scavengers will literally “eat my lunch” before I have a chance to find and ingest it myself.

    I completely agree with you that grass-fed, free-range meat is best. I have also found it tastes much better than the factory version.

    On a side not, I find that the fruits and vegetables in China are often much more flavorful than their US counterparts. It seems they still raise them for taste here, while in America we breed our crops for long shelf life and durability in shipping.

  58. This is an interesting article, especially for me as I am a 19 year old who has been a vegan for 4 months. I quit meat because of the indigestible guilt; I couldn’t enjoy my food knowing how it was made. The final straw were the videos online showing the gratuitous torture animals experience from the people who work at slaughterhouses; it’s one thing to kill an animal and another to have fun doing it. At the end of the day, we can collectively do something about minimizing the lives lost when producing vegan food – the same can never be said about meat, ipso facto. My new lifestyle has given me a patronus for my depression – the fact that through my diet I’m boycotting murder and torture and creating a less painful world. I wish you well in your new
    *cough-regressive*(lol) diet. I hope that like Darth Vader you decide to redeem yourself and come back to the light – hahaa 🙂

  59. I agree with you completely. I am a vegetarian right now but I also work on a permaculture farm. I have promised myself at this point in my life, if I’m going to eat meat again I’d like to know that animal and be sure that it lived a happy life. Also I’d like to be directly involved with the death of the animal that I’m consuming. We need to be more conscious eaters in general I think.

    1. Haley,

      Animals are harmed by getting killed even if they are killed painlessly (which never happens in the food industry): http://bloganders.blogspot.no/2013/07/why-painlessly-killing-animal-for-food.html. They have an interest of living their lives and don’t want to be killed by humans for food.

      Please consider this:
      1. It is wrong to inflict suffering and death on sentient beings (human or nonhuman) without any necessity.

      2. Whatever necessity includes, it must, if it is to be meaningful, exclude the imposition of suffering and death for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

      3. Apart from life boat/desert island scenarios, there is no need to eat animal foods to be healthy.

      4. Therefore, eating animal foods outside of extreme situations serves only pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

      5. Therefore, it is morally wrong to inflict suffering and death on animals for food.

      1. Agree with you Anders. This articles has so many fallacies is insane. Not to mention 95% the comment section…It blows my mind how much cluelessness and lack of compassion humans can display under one article under a civilized “being vegan/vegeterain is not for everybody” argument.

      2. Also, the feeling I get when I read people saying “I’m against animal cruelty, but If I want to eat meat, I’d want to kill them myself” is just beyond words. It’s like WHAAATTT??? Listen to yourself. Say that to yourself again. How does that make sense to you, are you serious?? Where’s your logic man. You’re not fooling anyone.

  60. I really loved this article and couldn’t agree more, particularly with your point that there’s no “right” diet for everyone. My partner (6’2″ and well-built) has been a vegetarian all his life. I, on the other hand, attempted vegetarianism for close to a year and found I was sluggish, unfocused and often sick. Since reintroducing animal protein, I’ve been much healthier!

  61. I find it really interesting how many people switch from a vegan diet to a paleo diet. It definitely supports my theory that people who become vegan seek to find self worth by prescribing to some sort of strict diet philosophy. I hardly ever hear of someone giving up veganism without immediately adopting some other popular diet plan.

  62. Hi! Thanks for this post!
    As you I stopped meat during 4 years, benefits at the beginning? Sure! Also spiritual and ethical reasons involved. Mid last year I got sick with an infection and anemia was evident in the blood tests, other infections has been present during last year; even taking spirulina and supplements. The doctor said that my immune system was not on top. Hipoglicemia crises appear more often and severe in the last months.
    I decided to eat fish 3-4 times a week and poultry like 3 times a month. Feeling better. Something in my body tells me that I need animal protein and rejects carbs. I decided to listen to my body, I still in the quest of the best balance: nutrional, ethical. I am open to try and experience, vegan, veggie and omnivore! But what I really agree with you, is that every person and body are unique and the answer is not unanimus!
    Thank you!

  63. Hello!
    Some points:
    1.You can do vegan permaculture/veganic gardening without intentionally killing one single animals. Google vegan permaculture for more information.

    2.What other animals do in the nature is irrelevant morally speaking. Some good answers here: http://bloganders.blogspot.no/2013/08/arguments-for-veganism-and-counter.html

    3. Animals are harmed by getting killed even if they are killed painlessly (which never happens in the food industry): http://bloganders.blogspot.no/2013/07/why-painlessly-killing-animal-for-food.html. They have an interest of living their lives and don’t want to be killed by humans for food.

    Please consider this:
    1. It is wrong to inflict suffering and death on sentient beings (human or nonhuman) without any necessity.

    2. Whatever necessity includes, it must, if it is to be meaningful, exclude the imposition of suffering and death for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

    3. Apart from life boat/desert island scenarios, there is no need to eat animal foods to be healthy.

    4. Therefore, eating animal foods outside of extreme situations serves only pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

    5. Therefore, it is morally wrong to inflict suffering and death on animals for food.

  64. What is this about people flipping from Vegangelical to Paleovangelical?!

    As a Flexitarian; I believe in honesty, pragmatism science, compassion to humans and animals. being open-minded and willing to change. I reject sugary candy, soda, refined grains, juice, cow-milk, and realize that hunters are far LESS cruel and dirty than factory farms.

    My main beverage is water. I buy virgin coconut oil. I do vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, stevia extract, and while insisting all grain products be 100% whole grain; I do NOT need to eat grains every day.

    I can eat organic humane pastured eggs (when I can afford them) I go days, weeks, or even month or two without having meat. But I can eat meat at times which means I get along better with people. So why not just eat some pastured organic eggs, free-range organic goat milk sometimes and then eat bits of meat (NOT smoked or cured meats or hotdogs!) when truly wanted/needed. There are studies about how insects like locusts/grasshoppers etc can be used as meat source. Insects use up much LESS of water, electricity, soil etc than most animals now eaten. Since insects LIKE crowded conditions; they will view our farming as cruelty-free. But I do not understand why we must either be screaming judgmental fat-phobe vegangelicals or be Paleovangelicals eating pounds of meat every single day. The average American currently consumes 140 – 222 pounds of ADDED sugar yearly plus 237 pounds of meat yearly! so remove sugar & HFCS and then consume maple syrup, raw organic honey, for total of 0 – 40 pounds per year. Get rid of factory farms, hotdogs, etc and consume 0 – 70 pounds of meat yearly.

    I have seen websites of people quitting Paleo due to healh troubles. I have seen websites of people quitting fat-phobe vegan due to health troubles. But all these people are welcome to join the FLEXITARIANS!

    We do not make you weigh or measure foods. We do not scream over your weight. We encourage creativity, pragmatism, eating only healthy foods combined with physical activity. No rigid meal schedules. Consuming grains is optional. You are welcome to consume gluten-free grains or no grains at all.

  65. After reading your views, I see we are somewhat on the same page. I was following a vegan lifestyle for a few months, but then starting eating fish and chicken again when I came home from college. I felt guilty at first; in the past I suffered from disordered eating behavior in the past, so eating meat again I felt that kind of guilt. Now I follow a raw till 4/paleo like diet. Approximately 75% of my food intake comes from raw fruit and vegetables and I eat fish/chicken during dinner time along with a cooked vegetable. Some days I’ll eat 100% vegan (those days I’ll eat the cooked starches like potatoes, quinoa, couscous since I eat mostly raw foods) Once or twice a week, I treat myself to an processed vegan food. I’ve been eating this way for about a month, and I honestly feel super energized. Though I do feel guilty at times for eating meat, but I feel like one day I will rid eating meat and processed foods for good. It’s just easier for me to transition out of certain foods as opposed to going cold turkey like I did when I originally went vegan

  66. Pingback: 5 Ways to Bring Meat Back Into Your Vegetarian Diet | Shelter & Sanctuary

  67. I was just wondering whether you were a heavy meat eater before, maybe the sudden change was the problem? I mean your body gets use to processing certain foods. Like if I were to start eating meat after 7 years of not doing so I’d probably vomit and get ill.

    1. I wasn’t a heavy meat eater before. About average. But I was vegetarian for three years and vegan for 2.5, so for a long time I felt fine without eating meat.

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  69. I got your points and I think your conclusion is valid, but your solution is not perfect. Best solution is “true paleo”, in other words it is about relationship with the food you eat.
    Eating meat is optional, it is ethical decision, since we can thrive on plants. The thnig boils down to: You have to eat something to survive and you now have options.
    I eat plants. I know they are living, feeling and maybe inteligent creatures and I love them. But I believe in current science which shows health downsides of eating meat and also I believe in myself and I have tendency to eat less and less meat.
    I strongly disagree on grains. But that is my problem I guess.
    I also believe that some processed foods are not bad for you and some are even good (miso, tofu, sauerkraut, tea etc).

  70. Thanks for the video. I myself am still thinking about which diet to choose. But I want to comment on the part of Growing Your Own Food. I disagree with you that you have to kill creatures. If you grow food the Permaculture way then you will let all the creatures live and benefit from each other in an ecological way as it is in nature’s ecosystems and without any chemicals. So Permaculture is an ecological lifestyle and ecological gardening where you work with nature, rather than against it as it is in the industrial mono-cultural agriculture. Ah by the way in this system you can also have your edible fish ponds and happy chicken.

  71. Hey Niall,
    I was just wondering if you had come across this video by Michael Klapper
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tJyb1wTxg4
    And if so, what where your thoughts on this. He brings up an interesting perspective that is not very often talked about on why it can be so diffuclt to become vegan with how we were fed from birth

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