I’m not vegan, but I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 18 years, since I was 15 years old. I sometimes wonder whether the relatively minor health problems I deal with are linked to my dietary decisions, which is why this post by a former vegan hit extremely close to home. The author, advised by her physician that veganism was slowly destroying her body, decided to try eating meat again after all alternative efforts fails. She writes:
The changes that I experienced were manifold and occurred so quickly and decisively I almost couldn’t believe it. Within one week I was able to stand up without seeing black spots in my eyes, and I was sleeping peacefully through the night. To my relief, my constant stomach pains and bloating completely vanished. Within 2 weeks I noticed my allergies were diminishing, even at a time when all the trees and flowers in our community were beginning to bloom. Also at 2 weeks I no longer needed a sweater just to sit on the couch, my toes and fingers had stopped feeling like perpetual icicles. At 3 weeks I could complete a light 20 minute cardio workout without feeling dizzy or nauseous, something I had been unable to accomplish for months. At 3 weeks I also noticed the most amazing change of all: my depression was diminishing. Days would go by when I wouldn’t succumb to hours of sobbing or listlessness. At 4 weeks I noticed three very strange things: my mysterious lower back pain that had been bothering me for nearly a year had vanished, even though I hadn’t changed my shoes or done any physical therapy; the skin on my face was plump and full and the fine lines that I had figured were just a sign of being nearly 30 had faded so much they were barely discernible, even though I had not changed anything about my skin care routine; and finally, I noticed my hair was thicker, shinier, and much fuller than it had been in years, even though I hadn’t changed anything about my hair care routine.
At 5 weeks I noticed a steady, permanent buzz of energy that carried me throughout the day. I started being able to run errands, work out, and do my writing, all in the same day without needing frequent rest stops. I kept waiting for exhaustion to sneak up on me…but it never once reared its ugly head.
I mean, you just can’t tell, can you? About what is ‘feeling normal’ and what shouldn’t be tolerated. Of the above symptoms (among others listed by the author), I have had regular encounters with the following:
- heart palpitations
- difficulty gaining and maintaining weight
- low energy level
- sensitive skin / dry skin
- back pain
- increasingly severe allergies
- inability to sleep through the night
- stomach pains and bloating
- coldness in extremities
- inability to maintain body termpature
- lightheadedness upon standing
But what’s normal, and what’s a ‘symptom’? And even if these things are symptoms, what are they symptoms of? Who’s to say the problem is that I haven’t intentionally consumed animal flesh in over a decade and not, say, the fact that I almost never eat breakfast and sometimes wait until 4 or 5 p.m. to eat my first meal, a meal that’s often comprised primarily of bread products?
But here’s something else worth chewing over: The author, Tasha, makes the best argument against political veganism that I’ve ever encountered. She considers whether the vegan movement is perhaps one of the most effective ways of keeping angry women from agitating for change:
As a revolutionary feminist and anti-imperialist, veganism seemed to be yet another way I could fight the injustices we are facing. But as the years wore on and my body began devouring itself for the sustenance that my vegan diet couldn’t provide, I began to lose the will and the energy to do the vital work I had so loved. I no longer had the mental clarity to write my famous scathing exposes, or the physical energy to teach, organize, and build solidarity. I was sputtering out, grinding to a screeching halt. I realized that veganism, my choice to buy ‘cruelty free’ foods, was quickly becoming my only avenue for activism. It was the only thing I really had energy for anymore. As a staunch radical I’ve always been opposed to capitalism’s emphasis on the personal solution, I refuse to buy into the mainstream myth that we can shop our way out of catastrophe. And yet…with my dwindling energy reserves and devastating health problems I realized that was exactly what I was doing. When I stumbled along this quote about veganism by Megan Mackin it seemed as if it had been written for me: “It begins, eventually, to look like a very effective way to co-opt a movement: take the most passionate activist-minded, girls especially, and get their focus on a way of living that drains energies and enforces conformity in others. The Big Boys still run things, but now even more freely – with out much interference.”
Okay, so what do we do with that? Is it an obvious defense for a lapsed vegan, or is it an argument for ethical–and omnivorous–dietary habits?
And, really, with all of these confounding variables, how can we ever tell the difference? How do we even know anymore what it means to ‘listen to our bodies’?