by Marion Nestle
Feb 7 2010

San Francisco Chronicle: Vegan Diets

My post on vegetarian and vegan diets elicited so many comments that I thought it was worth recycling for my monthly (first Sunday) column in the San Francisco Chronicle.  It appeared today.

  • Sophie

    This is off-topic for this thread but was thinking maybe your readers would like to see the recent sentencing results of Chem-Nutra for their part in the deaths & illnesses of countless number of pets. Is this justice? I’d say no.

    http://pr-usa.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=327449&Itemid=95

  • Sophie

    And this is the District Attornies news release regarding the Chem-Nutra sentencing results:

    http://www.justice.gov/usao/mow/news2010/miller.sen.htm

  • Anthro

    Wonderful column!

    I still get the “what do you eat?” question all the time upon announcing that I’m a (lacto-ovo) vegetarian. They imagine that I subsist on lettuce.

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  • Shannon

    I can’t tell you how much I wish I’d read something like your article when I became vegetarian a few years back. After about 4 years of vegetarianism bordering on veganism I developed a pretty severe Vitamin B12 deficiency. Last year I started having neurological problems, which led to the diagnosis. After about 10 months of cyanocobalamin injections, I’m finally feeling close to normal again, but it was a terrible and frightening experience and could easily have been avoided. So, I hope this kind of information helps vegetarians/vegans avoid that mistake – get your B12 supplements!

  • erica knudsen

    i have recently transitioned to a vegan diet (within the last 12 months) and have also been diagnosed with low b12. from what i understand, we have about a three year store of b12. not quite sure ho my levels depleted so quickly. i had injections once a week for a month and now i am taking supplements. my question is which formulation of b2 is better absorbed? cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin?

  • Simone

    My primary concern with vegan diets, that is often overlooked in critiques, is the over-reliance of soy-based products. Large agribusiness environmental degradation and ensuing health concerns are one of the top reasons that omnivores convert to veganism. However, there is research that suggests that growing demand and production of soy crops is damaging ecosystems as countries clear forest lands to replace with soy crops i.e. Brazil. True, most soy is used for animal fed. However, I think vegans should exert more scrutiny on the ethics of soy.

    Disclosure: I’m a flexitarian. I abstain from red meat, am lactose intolerant, and have soy mal-absorption. Therefore, I follow a partly vegan diet.

    Another major concern is the starchy, carb based diets vegans often follow. For example, in baking recipes in lieu of eggs, a vegan substitute would be either bananas, ground flax seed (healthy) or egg replacer (a combination of potato/corn starches). As for the latter, why use starches when there are healthy B12 and omegas found in eggs?

    Let’s not even start on the chemical science-fair projects that we like to call imitation meats – veggie burgers, veggie pulled pork, veggie hot dogs, chicklets… How much chemicals did MorningStar have to inject into that “chicken” nugget to get that piece to taste like an animal? How is that different from McDonald’s McNuggets?

    Veganism is not inherently virtuous. Followers must consider the ethics of their diet, namely of soy derivative products e.g., soy imitation meats, soy yogurt, soy cream cheese. Moreover, my suggestion is if you’re going to be vegan/vegetarian eat primarily veggies, not starches. If you crave meat, eat the locally grown real thing, not agrobusiness’ science experiments.

    P.S. A NYTimes article reported on the fallacies of vitamin supplements; they have no long term effects. Any thoughts on that?

  • M C

    “But first we have the pesky problem of definition. What, exactly, is a vegetarian? People who call themselves vegetarians eat diets that have varying degrees of food restriction. Some exclude beef but occasionally eat pork or lamb. Some eat no red meat at all, or no poultry, dairy, fish or eggs. Vegans exclude all foods of animal origin.”

    The term “vegetarian” is not defined by people who call themselves vegetarians but aren’t.

    Let’s try the dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines a vegetarian as “one who believes in or practices vegetarianism” (or a “herbivore”, which is an animal who feeds on plants (only); this would correspond to our use of the term “vegan”). Vegetarianism is “the theory or practice of living on a vegetarian diet”. A vegetarian diet is one “consisting wholly of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and sometimes eggs or dairy products“. (Legumes and seeds, which are also usually included, would fall under the category of vegetable foods.)

    People who eat pork (pigs), lamb (baby sheep), poultry (birds), fish, or any other animal flesh are not vegetarians.

  • M C

    Although, according to the Merriam-Webster definition, people who eat meat could technically be defined as vegetarians if they “believe in” “the theory” of living on a vegetarian diet, but for some reason do not do so, most vegetarians would not define a meat-eater as a vegetarian.

    A definition closer to the way the term is usually used would be from the Cambridge dictionary, which states simply that a vegetarian is “a person who does not eat meat for health or for religious or moral reasons: Some vegetarians avoid eggs and dairy products as well as meat.