I've written on this subject before, but I've decided it's time to talk about it again. Especially because I have many new readers out there, and this subject continues to be a source of confusion.
What's the first word that comes to a person's mind when you mention that you're following a whole food, plant-based lifestyle? Isn't it the word "vegan?" Immediately, people focus on the fact that we don't eat meat and so they associate our lifestyle with the vegan lifestyle. And we do it ourselves too. When we go into a restaurant, what do we tell the server taking our order? We tend to say "I'm vegan," don't we? Why don't we say "I don't eat oil" or "I only eat whole foods?" Those too are hallmarks of our lifestyle, but we tend to neglect them.
And that's the problem. The term "vegan" originated to describe a person who doesn't use any animal products at all out of concern for the animals. Vegans don't believe that animals are here for our use. So, not only do they not eat animals, but they also don't wear animals and they don't sit on leather seats or do anything that brings harm to an animal.
That's good. We can agree with that too, right? Yes, many people following a whole food, plant-based diet are also concerned about animal welfare and will do all those things too. They can be said to be both vegan and following a whole food, plant-based lifestyle.
But that still doesn't make our lifestyle a vegan lifestyle. While, some of us might follow both a vegan lifestyle and a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, doing so is not really a hallmark of our lifestyle. Kudos to those who do that. I personally am not there yet. But we should still remember that they are not the same thing.
Why? Well, because as soon as you call yourself vegan, you're going to open yourself up for criticism. Someone can always point to a vegan who died young or became seriously ill at an early age. And when that happens, our credibility becomes shot, at least in their eyes, for making the case that our lifestyle is about health.
If our lifestyle was simply a vegan lifestyle, then it would not necessarily be about health. For one thing, vegans do not focus on whole foods like we do. A vegan will eat lots of food that is processed as opposed to being whole as it grows in nature. And that can be very unhealthy -- whether it's a fake sausage or fake cheese or potato chips. And when those fake foods and junk foods become a regular part of your diet, then your health is going to pay the consequences.
I saw that early on when I traveled on a consulting assignment shortly after coming to the whole food, plant-based lifestyle. I searched online for a vegan restaurant to eat at while out of town. That's because at that time, I too equated our diet with the vegan diet. What a mistake! The restaurant was awful with all kinds of fake foods and not one healthy thing except for the salad I had. And the owners were a man and a woman, two very large, overweight people. They did not exemplify the whole food, plant-based way of eating. In fact, they both looked like a heart attack waiting to happen.
Another difference is that we avoid oils. Vegans do not as a matter of course. In fact, I've read in the past that many vegan diets, when analyzed, can have well over 50% of their calories consumed from fat alone. That's just the opposite of what we are about on the whole food, plant-based lifestyle. We try to limit our fat intake to less than 10% of our calories.
Finally, there are whole food, plant-based doctors who do in fact allow for consumption of some animal products. Even Dr. Campbell in The China Study has said not to sweat it if you're in a restaurant and a particularly good vegetable soup is made with chicken stock. Dr. Ornish includes dairy products in his diet that he prescribes to people. Dr. Pam Popper allows some meat consumption. From a health perspective, there seems to be a threshhold below which there is no known adverse harm from eating animal products. Dr. Campbell suggests to play it safe, that threshhold should be zero or as close to zero as you can get, but he also acknowledges that up to 5% of calories from animal products has not been found to do harm from a health perspective.
So, be a vegan if you are inclined to do so, but recognize that the whole food, plant-based diet is about much more than just avoiding animal products. And if you only pay attention to the part about not eating animal products, then you could be missing the full benefits of the lifestyle and you may in fact be continuing to harm your health.
And that's why I say that I am not a vegan. I am whole food, plant-based and enjoying it very much.