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Mark Bittman from the New York Times wrote a piece recently, called "Why I'm Not a Vegan," which came on the heels of his recent book release. In his book, Bittman outlines his fork-in-the-road decision on whether to adopt a strict vegan diet six years ago when he was facing obesity and diabetes. As he states, "The results ... were swift and impressive." However, after 6 p.m., Bittman adopts a more flexible diet, allowing non-vegan options in moderation.
I spent part of my morning weeding through the 500-plus comments posted on his article and found several recurring themes. The vegans asking Bittman to clearly identify his position and raising morality issues regarding animal cruelty. The omnivores proclaiming that millions of years of evolution can't be wrong and that these teeth were meant for tearing.
If you follow a vegan diet for 67% of your day, but then eat meat and dairy at night, are you a vegan? Can you be an alcholic half the day? If you refrain from cigarettes while you sleep, are you a non-smoker at night?
It's a confusing message. Bittman clearly enforces his support for a strict vegan diet to see impressive health benefits. He has consistently supported the notion that climate change can be attributed to raising livestock. But he also craftly identifies with his readership and adds a degree of moderation to the regimen.
Ultimately, Bittman is a powerhouse in foodie circles. His readership is vast, so he presents a very middle-ground approach. And I completely agree with him. It's about raising awareness, not forcing people into compliance.
I grew up making my own mistakes. Tell me not to stick my hand in the fire, and I would. Prior to my bypass surgery in 2011, at the age of 40, I wouldn't have read an article about eating less meat or dairy. When lightning struck, though, I was the first guy in line at the vegan outlet. Sign me up! People are "born again" all the time.
The problem with the "born again" type, and I will stick to vegans here, is that it presents a radical shift to an extreme position. I was up late in bed last night attempting to put my finger on the causes of this sentiment, and I'm pretty confident that conflict is the root cause.
With food, it can often seem as though there's no middle ground. Perhaps being flexible is the power position. The ultimate goal, the nirvana for any strict vegan, is a world without any product derived from animals. With vegans numbering 700 million people, 6 billion would need to convert. However, if 6 billion people decided not to eat meat before 6 p.m. every day, what an enormous achievement that would be for the vegan cause.
I'm guilty of promoting my agenda post-bypass surgery. I've written endlessly on the benefits of a lifestyle devoid of animal proteins, and I've attracted a group of like-minded people who support my opinions. Where the message is lost is with the group of individuals who have few or no health issues. Two-thirds of Americans are NOT obese. Most of us, regardless of the beatings we give our bodies, will live to be 60 or 70 years old. This group states clearly, "Why are you telling me what to eat?"
There's a middle-ground, flexitarian approach to food that can have vast consequences on the health of millions of people. It's all about awareness, with the message being: Animals are a source of protein, but they aren't the only source.
If millions of people can simply open their palates to this concept, progress will occur. A dampening of emotional testimony on each side of the meat arguement will produce results.
Finally, to defend the "born again" vegans. Sometimes its hard to compromise when the message is so clear. Progress is sometimes measured in inches, not miles. Continue the effort, but promote understanding. And always look to the middle to make a handshake.