Last week P. came across a German so called women’s magazine, which announced a “new” diet on its cover. It was called the “veganista diet” and promised to get skinny with the help of a “detox effect”. And surprise, surprise, the featured article was about losing weight on a vegan diet. It opened by mentioning celebrities who follow a vegan or almost vegan diet. Then it stated that veganism was more than a celebrity trend. According to this article, whose authors quote an association for German vegetarians (Vegetarierbund), 600 000 Germans (out of 83 millions) are vegans right now. That is not too much, is it? But the authors continue their argument by explaining that the numbers were rising.
And yes, this article shows that veganism has reached the German mainstream. It is not a celebrity trend, I have to agree. It seems to be a popular weight loss diet trend. But basically that means, this is not about veganism. it is not this lifestyle that has become popular. Much more popular are the myths which surround this lifestyle. While the authors take the time to explain ethical veganism very briefly, it soon becomes very clear that ethics, compassion and animal welfare are definitely not what this article is about. Instead they ask: “How can I profit from a vegan diet?”
They mention some health benefits of a vegan diet and claim that vegans are leaner than omnivores. Their explanation: vegans pile more vegetables on their plates than omnivores, their diet is free from (animal based) chemicals and they do not have to digest animal protein leftovers. This will help them to “detox” their body. That means, so the article claims, that after eating vegan for two or three days, people feel “lighter”, more satisfied, and full of energy. Then the authors give some tips on nutrition. They mention calcium and B12. According to the article you can get B12 from algae and sauerkraut. And when it comes to protein, the only source they mention are nuts. And because nuts are included, this diet is not as rigid as usual women’s magazine weight loss “plans”. 1500 calories per day are suggested as the upper limit, to lose weight slowly and without hunger pains.
Where do I start? That people should aim at slow weight loss is, in my opinion, the only decent advice this article gives. The rest is based on myths and misinformation. Some of it is even dangerous. I think it is great if people go vegan. For ethical reasons, for health reasons, for environmental reasons. But if they go vegan for whatever reason, they should have the chance to make informed decisions based on solid information, so that they can thrive on this vegan diet. B12 in algae and sauerkraut? Last time I checked no plant food was a reliable source of B12. Vegans need to take supplements or make sure to eat a decent amount of B12 enriched foods every day. (In Germany there are not enough of those foods though.) To be fair, the article mentions supplements. But there already is so much misinformation on B12 available everywhere. It is frustrating that this article makes just another contribution to this mess. It is exactly this kind of misinformation that makes veganism seem complicated for many and dangerous for some. Further, veganism is presented as a fad diet that you follow for two weeks and then you quit because that diet is too restrictive or because you don’t get the results it promised you. Vegans come in all shapes. They all have different bodies, different metabolisms and even different diets. Some eat a lot of vegetables, others don’t. If people feel sluggish, that might be for a ton of reasons. And if they feel energetic and light after two days of eating vegan, that might have more to do with a placebo effect than with their diet. Oh and for the record, vegetables can contain chemicals, too. Vegans don’t live under a bell jar.
The way veganism is presented here really concerns me. To me, veganism is about compassion and about critical thinking. It challenges many views we have not only about food or the food industry, but generally it challenges views we have about power and hierarchies. It’s is not a quick-fix for weight loss. It is not another fad diet. It should not be about weight or looks but about ethics and compassion. I know that many people go vegan to lose weight. What if they are not successful? Not only will they likely go back to the diet they followed before, they will probably also feel bad and disheartened. (For example because they are told that vegans are leaner than others. Well, statistically that may be true. But still many vegans to not fit into this statistic.) And that might also be because of articles like this, where someone tells you that vegans weigh less than omnivores and that you can lose that weight, too. Sounds so easy, right? But if you ever tried losing weight, you know how hard it is and that it is not about diet alone.
It makes me angry that veganism is used here to reinforce gender stereotypes, when in fact one of the biggest advantages of veganism is that by challenging society’s view on animal exploitation, we also learn to see and challenge many other levels of exploitation. For me it is important to remember that veganism is not about “How can I profit?” but about “How can I contribute?”, for example to a society that is less cruel not only to animals, but also to humans, especially women.