Our Hot Mess: A guide to veganism

In the very first edition of Our Hot Mess, I targeted the topic I am most passionate about: animal agriculture. It’s resource-intensive and drastically unsustainable on a large-scale consumerism basis. So in order for us to tackle environmental concerns - lack of fresh potable water, increased greenhouse gases, and polluted ecosystems to name a few - we must get rid of our dependence on animal products. For specifics, please check out that previous article.

Since that article published a few weeks ago, I’ve been asked many questions about how one goes about being vegan. This article aims to clear up a few of the typically unanswered or debated topics. For one thing, I’m sure some are unfamiliar with what vegan actually means. Adopting a vegan lifestyle means a lack of animal products -- dairy, eggs, meat, and honey -- as well as inconspicuous added ingredients like whey and casein (milk proteins) and gelatin (protein substance derived from skin and bones of animals). In comparison, a vegetarian diet excludes only meat. And yes, seafood qualifies as meat.

Once we have gotten the terminology bit down, it’s only logical to question how removing these food groups impacts our health. This is where the controversy and confusion arises. One question I am asked all the time is, “Where do you get your protein?” Proteins are needed simply for the amino acids that are the building blocks of protein, and those amino acids can be found through a diverse range of plants. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. If we use an example of a 50-year-old sedentary woman weighing 150 pounds, that RDA would be 53 grams of protein a day (to calculate yours, go here). Three ounces of beef steak will get you about 23 grams of that protein while three ounces of lentils will get you 22 grams. The fact that most plant-based foods are very high in essential amino acids makes getting protein from non-animal sources completely doable and healthy. There’s also one happy vegan community.

Some alternate sources of plants
Another health concern is a lack of the B12 vitamin, a very understandable and easy-to-address problem. B12 is only produced by microorganisms like fungi and bacteria. Since no plants or animals can make vitamin B12, the most common dietary sources are from animals that feed on those microorganisms - like marine animals - or consume significant amounts of microorganism-rich soil while grazing, which is the case with factory farm animals. But alas, most factory farm animals receive vitamin B12 not primarily by grazing but by supplementation or, most commonly, injection. And it’s recommended that all Americans take a B12 supplement pas the age of 50, if not sooner, but the necessity of vitamin B12 is another completely arguable topic. Currently, the RDA of vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms per day for the average teenager and adult. Generally, our bodies can’t store B vitamins well, but vitamin B12 is the big exception: Our bodies can store several years’ worth of vitamin B12 at one time. But should B12 deficiency be a problem for you, taking supplements is an easy solution.
The CrossFit Vegan Body Builder
To conclude the health section, I’d just like to say that vegans and vegetarians typically have lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of type two diabetes, lower body mass indexes, a lower risk of death from heart disease, and lower overall cancer rates. Whew! That was a mouthful. Just know that animal products are not necessary for good health and, if anything, often lead to some of those conditions.

Another common thought when considering veganism is the cost. It’s easy to think all those crazy vegans eat are organic, non-GMO, locally grown raw vegetables. Now that can get expensive. But the staples of vegans diets -- pasta, quinoa, beans, rice -- are actually typically cheaper than those meaty alternatives. And there’s an added bonus of cheaper meals at restaurants -- so do yourself a favor and bring home the bacon. You know, metaphorically.

I realize veganism can be intimidating, but I've found it liberating. I hope this has clarified some misconceptions and answered some questions -- please feel free to ask other questions you may have about my vegan decision or anything else via email at lspioneernews@gmail.com. And check out these links too!

An easily navigated site to all things vegan:

This is one of the best websites for learning how to live a vegan lifestyle:

An inspiring story from a vegan Olympian with olympic level compassion:

An animal rights speech that’s nothing short of heartrending:

The effects of animal agriculture on climate change:

This opinion piece reflects the opinion of the stated author(s), and does not constitute an official opinion of the LSNews.org editorial board, nor the Lampeter-Strasburg School District. Questions or concerns can be directed to lspioneernews@gmail.com.

--Elke Arnesen, LSNews.org Columnist

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