Vegan Diets, Critical Thinking, and 9 Blogs You Need to Read

I had the great pleasure of speaking to the members of the Vegan Chicago Meetup  last week. In addition to being warm and welcoming, this is another group on my list of organizations that aim to promote an evidence-based approach to vegan advocacy. Before my talk on the Seven Habits of Healthy Vegans, event organizer Dave Sutherland introduced the group’s Vegan Chicago Baloney Detection kit—a guide to critical thinking for vegans, which is based on material from Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World.

Detecting baloney is no easy thing. Resources on veganism are packed with good and not-so-good information, and how are you supposed to know the difference? (It can even be difficult for health experts. If the critical evaluation of research isn’t part of your college curriculum–and it sure wasn’t part of my dietetics program–it can be hard to learn these skills unless you have good mentors in your professional life.) Add in the fact that evidence-based nutrition tends to be kind of unexciting, and it’s no wonder that vegan nutrition sometimes seems overwhelmed by exaggerated health claims, nonchalant dismissal of nutrition concerns and recommendations that are based more on stories and belief than evidence.

Someone asked me recently why it matters whether vegans understand how to interpret different types of research and claims about diet. If vegans want to believe that cow’s milk causes osteoporosis or vegetable oils clog your arteries, or all processed foods are evil and disease-promoting, who cares?

But I think those misconceptions matter. As I’ve written about before, there is plenty to lose when vegans are given inadequate health information. And from an advocacy standpoint, I can’t imagine a good future for a movement based on inflated and unsupported claims, no matter how attractive they sound.

Back in the mid-1990s—when the internet was young, and I don’t think there was even such a thing as a blog—I was part of a group involved in the creation of an email list called sci-veg. It was a forum for  those devoted to scientific understanding regarding vegetarian and vegan issues. The list attracted a diverse group of participants—vegan dietitians and nutritionists, experts in other fields related to veganism, and those who simply wanted to discuss the issues in a factual, evidence-based way.  Sci-veg was successful in bringing a solidly scientific perspective to the various topics. It’s really too bad that it’s not still around, because I don’t think there has ever been another place on the internet where a group of people so carefully evaluated claims about nutritional, environmental and ethical aspects of veganism.

There are, however, a number of blogs that fill the gap, written by ethical vegans who are committed to critical thinking and scientific integrity.  They aren’t afraid to question the prevailing vegan dogma or ask unpopular questions. You may not always agree with them, but they produce some of the most thoughtful and provocative reading on the vegan internet. The authors of these blogs would have been right at home, and extremely valuable voices on sci-veg.

Paleo Veganology

Pythagorean Crank

Say What Michael Pollan

Skeptical Vegan

Speciesist Vegan

The Rational Vegan

Vegan Skeptic

Vegan Scientist

And it goes without saying that Jack Norris RD  is on this list, right? There is absolutely no place on the internet to find a more unbiased treatment of the research on vegan diets.

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39 Responses to Vegan Diets, Critical Thinking, and 9 Blogs You Need to Read

  1. Ricki February 21, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    Thanks so much for this post! I couldn’t agree more with this approach–it is so important that the nutritional information we disseminate–vegan or otherwise–is correct and backed up by science. And thanks for this great list of blogs (and for my new Google Reader subscriptions) :)

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      Thanks, Ricki. I could spend all day with Google Reader!

  2. Robin Asbell February 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    I’d add your blog to the list, Ginny!

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 8:06 am #

      Thanks, Robin :)

  3. David Sutherland February 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Thanks Ginny! We were honored to host your talk and it was one of the most highly rated events we’ve done!

    Here I am thinking that critical thinking with veganism is a novel idea but it came and went before I even knew what vegan was. Thanks for illuminating some of that history for us noobs. :) Hopefully a year from now we’ll have 9 more to add to that list.

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 8:08 am #

      Yup, I’m staying hopeful, too, as you know. I’m always impressed with how many people really do want to have these tools and this information. So thank you for what you do, Dave!

  4. Nadine February 21, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    I am forever thankful to my university education for showing me the critical process. I apply critical thinking to help me wade through much of the dubiousness that comes with the health food and vegan community. I still rely on my intuition when it comes to many things, but I also balance it with my mind.

    Thanks for sharing the blog list.

    Appreciate your hard work, advocacy and writings Ginny! Vegan for Life was excellent and I have shared it with so so many.

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 8:10 am #

      Thanks, Nadine. And I’m really glad to hear that you learned the critical process in college. It definitely was not part of my undergraduate curriculum at all.

      And thank you for sharing Vegan for Life!

  5. Jaya Bhumitra February 22, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    Great blog, as always, Ginny. I stopped at the part about the cow’s milk and the osteoporosis. From my understanding, animal protein in the body increases acidity and the body tries to correct its pH balance by leaching calcium from the bones. Is this incorrect? I would love it if you could point me toward one of your previous posts that addresses this issue so I can speak knowledgeably about it.

    Thank you also for the other blog recommendations. I am not familiar with most of them, and am definitely going to add them to my blog roll. One of my professors wrote this terrific book called “Tools of Critical Thinking” (by David Levy if anyone is interested), and I think it is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. We indeed need to be good critical thinkers about all subjects, and especially veganism if we are to be credible sources of information to other people. It’s essential to helping animals.

    • Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 8:05 am #

      Thanks, Jaya. I’m definitely going to check out “Tools of Critical Thinking.”

      This is a blog post I wrote about the calcium issue, and we have more details about it in “Vegan for Life.” . The current view now is that protein is either protective for bone or neutral. There is definitely not much evidence that it raises risk for osteoporosis.

      http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/05/vegan-calcium-needs-working-through-the-myths.html

      • SkepticalVegan February 22, 2012 at 9:06 am #

        Hey Ginny, do you think you could address the bit about alkaline and acidic diets. It my understanding that it is actually quite hard for a healthy person to significantly alter their blood PH and that the advice to eat alkaline food for good health (and avoid acidic ones) was unsupported. I find that alkaline diet promotion is somewhat big among vegans being promoted uncritically in podcast and blogs.
        So whats your take on alkaline foods versus acidic foods and PH worries.

        • Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 11:56 am #

          There is definitely evidence that you can affect acid-base balance by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. For good bone health, I recommend a diet with plenty of protein and lots of fruits and vegs as a sort of best of all worlds scenario. But it’s definitely an area with lots of unknowns.

          A recent meta-analysis by one of the big researchers in this area found no link between an alkaline diet and bone health.

          And even if there is a link, a fairly recent study of German Vegans found that they did not have more alkaline diets–maybe because they were eating lots of grains, which are acid-forming. (I haven’t seen the actual study yet–only have the abstract right now.)

          So, you’re right that a lot of people may be making sweeping claims about this without much data to support them.

    • JT February 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

      Thanks for the book suggestion. I’ve been wanting to take a class on critical thinking, as I missed out in college. Worth investing the time?

  6. Ginny Messina February 22, 2012 at 8:11 am #

    If you’re in Chicago, VF, you definitely should. I’m envious!

  7. Matt February 22, 2012 at 8:50 am #

    Any post that mentioned Sagan’s “DHW” gets a thumbs up!

  8. Anna February 23, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    I am so grateful that the Venn diagram of vegans and skeptics is overlapping more and more as time goes by. Although I still have trouble finding them locally, it is so heartening to find people on the Internet who are both interested in compassionate dietary choices as well as the careful evaluation of evidence.

  9. Gena February 24, 2012 at 5:50 am #

    This is a truly useful post, Ginny! I’ll have to start reading all of these diets more consistently.

  10. The Beet-Eating Heeb February 29, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    Ginny’s point about unsupported claims applies to the environmental benefits of a vegan diet, too.

    The Beet-Eating Heeb is constantly encountering claims about the disastrous environmental consequences of animal agriculture, but with no studies cited.

  11. Richard March 10, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    Ginny,

    grains are only very modestly acidic-building, and some grains are even the opposite (Millet and Buckwheat). Whether the acidic-alkaline stuff is another scam, may well be, it’s still very likely that meat and dairy consumption (very acidic formin’ foods) make up an important part in the aetilology of osteoporis.

  12. AccidentalVegan March 27, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    Hi Ginny
    Thanks to u and Jack for such a great book on vegan nutrition. I fell into being a vegan when I eliminated everything in my diet that made my arthritis flare a vegan is what was left! Discovering ur book has helped me know what to look for to make sure I continue to reap the benefits and live more ethically. Thanks :)

  13. Francesca March 28, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    The preponderance of false nutritional claims about vegan diets do a great disservice to animals I think. When a little bit of research can completely knock the legs out from under the claims someone makes about veganism, the person and by extension what he or she is promoting lose credibility and I believe in the long run this does more good than harm.

    As to critical thinking, I was taught it in college in of all classes a course on American History. Of course it was skewed to evaluating source material and learning how to evaluate how different historians draw different conclusions from the same sources but it did teach me to be skeptical and not accept writing that cited no sources that I could check on my own.

  14. Elaine Enlightening March 28, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    Interesting article. I am doing a detox cleanse presently and then eating vegan from then on. I am looking for good balanced information on the topic. I appreciate the blog links, too.

  15. Paul Appleby April 14, 2012 at 3:36 am #

    Dear Ginny,

    I too miss the sci-veg email list, but you could mention the IVU-sci email list which attempts to cover the same ground (as a subscriber yourself, you should know!).

    Best wishes
    Paul

  16. JD Mumma August 18, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Ginny,

    Thanks for all the critical thinking vegan links!

    Q1: Are you sure the event organizer was Dave Sutherland?

    Q2: Is Dave Sutherland the same person as Dave Dandelion http://www.meetup.com/vegan-chicago/members/49896

    Q3: Are you aware that the main leader of Vegan Chicago, Dave Dandelion is completely PRO-GMO?

    here is his PRO-GMO page for the Vegan Chicago Meetup group: http://www.meetup.com/vegan-chicago/pages/GMO

    He even put on a PRO-GMO events: http://www.meetup.com/vegan-chicago/events/15715565/?action=detail&eventId=15715565

    • Ginny Messina August 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

      Yes, Dave Sutherland is Dave Dandelion and I’m familiar with his views on GMO. I’m happy to see vegans looking at both sides of this issue from a scientific standpoint!

      • JD Mumma August 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

        Thanks for the reply.

        I agree it can be a good thing to look at “both sides of this issue from a scientific standpoint!”

        Q1: Can you please present some Pro-GMO science that you agreed with that presents GMO as an all around prudent (economic, environmental, pro-vegan, diversity, sustainable…) direction for the human race?

        Q2: Are you aware that Dave Sutherland (Dave Dandelion) only offers his Meetup members one side – Pro-GMO?

        Q3: Are you aware that his website http://VeganGMO.com ONLY offers Pro-GMO posts?

        Q4: Are you aware that Dave Sutherland (Dave Dandelion) presents himself as a skeptical person yet clearly has a ProGMO bias?

        • DaveDandelion August 19, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

          Q1: Can you please present some Pro-GMO science that you agreed with that presents GMO as an all around prudent (economic, environmental, pro-vegan, diversity, sustainable…) direction for the human race?

          A1: GM is a tool of agriculture not a magic bullet.

          Q2: Are you aware that Dave Sutherland (Dave Dandelion) only offers his Meetup members one side – Pro-GMO?

          A2: We are not “PRO-GMO” as I already explained.

          Q3: Are you aware that his website http://VeganGMO.com ONLY offers Pro-GMO posts?

          A3: We do offer a view of the positive aspects of what this technology can bring especially for vegans and animals. The “anti” side is often unsubstantiated and dubious.

          Q4: Are you aware that Dave Sutherland (Dave Dandelion) presents himself as a skeptical person yet clearly has a ProGMO bias?

          Q4: Yup, I’m biased for science. I freely admit that. That’s what makes me a skeptical person. I was an antiGMO person who changed his mind by looking at the evidence.

          • JD Mumma August 22, 2013 at 12:13 am #

            Dave Dandelion (aka Dave Sutherland)

            My question was specifically directed at Ginny Messina “Q1: Can you please present some Pro-GMO science that you agreed with that presents GMO as an all around prudent (economic, environmental, pro-vegan, diversity, sustainable…) direction for the human race?”

            Q5) Are we to understand that she has sent you here to answer the questions for her?

            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            “A1: GM is a tool of agriculture not a magic bullet.”
            Red Herring – We can clearly see you have avoided directly addressing my question.
            Straw Man – I never claimed it was a “magic bullet”

            “A2: We are not “PRO-GMO” as I already explained.”

            Q6) Already explained where? That was you first post on this page. Therefore there is no other existing “already explained” here.

            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            You claim, “We are not “PRO-GMO””
            Q7) Can you please show me the pages on you meetup site that offer equal time for both sides of the issues.
            All I could find were biased PRO-GMO pages.
            http://www.meetup.com/vegan-chicago/messages/boards/thread/8964606
            http://www.meetup.com/vegan-chicago/messages/boards/thread/13817911 (linking to an article that has a clear bias toward GMO’s

            Here is a link to all pages on your meetup website that have the word GMO: https://www.google.com/search?safe=off&hs=1HQ&q=site%3Ameetup.com%2Fvegan-chicago%2Fmessages%2Fboards+gmo&oq=site%3Ameetup.com%2Fvegan-chicago+gmo

            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            “Q3: Are you aware that his website http://VeganGMO.com ONLY offers Pro-GMO posts?”
            “A3: We do offer a view of the positive aspects of what this technology can bring especially for vegans and animals. The “anti” side is often unsubstantiated and dubious.”

            Q8) Can you explain why you have attempted to avoid the question again?
            If the question were to be answered honestly and directly the answer would most likely be somehing like: Yes, our website is Pro-GMO and offers no anti-GMO positions.

            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

            “I’m biased for science. I freely admit that. That’s what makes me a skeptical person.”

            Q9) Based on your response I am concerned about your understanding of both skepticism and science.
            So are we to understand that based on you response, as long as it comes from “science” you believe and accept it without question or are you skeptical of science as well?

            Q10) Are you able to provide the burden-of-proof for your claims by showing me evidence of your skepticism on GMO science?

            • DaveDandelion August 22, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

              “You claim, “We are not “PRO-GMO””
              Q7) Can you please show me the pages on you meetup site that offer equal time for both sides of the issues.”
              A7) There is no such thing as “equal time” in matters of science for a group of non-experts. In thinking critically we must defer to the experts to weigh the evidence and come to consensus.
              ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
              “Q9) Based on your response I am concerned about your understanding of both skepticism and science.
              So are we to understand that based on you response, as long as it comes from “science” you believe and accept it without question or are you skeptical of science as well?”
              A9) I am not a scientist myself so I must defer to those credible scientific experts.

    • DaveDandelion August 19, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Hello JD Mumma,

      I’m not “PRO-GMO” like you might think. On this I describe myself as more “anti-anti-GMO”. Plant scientist Anastasia Bodnar I think said it best in her post over at the Biofortified blog: http://www.biofortified.org/2010/08/not-pro-gmo/

      Please let me know if you have any questions.

      Thanks,
      -Dave “Dandelion” Sutherland
      VeganChicago

      • JD Mumma August 22, 2013 at 12:22 am #

        Dave,

        It would seem reasonable and logical that when you make a claim e.g. “I’m not “PRO-GMO”” that you are aware of the burden-of-proof and therefore responsible for backing up your claim by providing substance and validation for your claim.

        So far I have found no evidence that you make any anti-GMO claims or even challenge any of the Pro-GMO claims and/or science.

        The readers can make up their own mind:
        Link to your meetup website that have the word GMO: https://www.google.com/search?safe=off&hs=1HQ&q=site%3Ameetup.com%2Fvegan-chicago%2Fmessages%2Fboards+gmo&oq=site%3Ameetup.com%2Fvegan-chicago+gmo

        The website you blog on and seem to be in charge of: http://VeganGMO.com

        Thanks!

        • DaveDandelion August 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

          PRO or ANTI you’re missing my point and I’m happy enough to be labeled either if it would appease you. It’s not relevant. What IS relevant is that GM technology is an important tool in the toolbox of agriculture and I’m happy to help vegans understand how it may help their cause.

          • JD Mumma August 24, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

            Thank you for answering several of my question.

            I will temporarily ignore that you avoided answering several questions I asked (Q5, Q6, Q8, Q10) and instead have you go ahead an fulfill the burden-of-proof by backing up your most recent claims:
            “GM technology is an important tool in the toolbox of agriculture and I’m happy to help vegans understand how it may help their cause.”

            Q11) Can you please provide us with the information so vegan can understand how GMO’s “may help their cause”?
            It would seem that starting with general premises and conclusions with references would suffice for now.

            • DaveDandelion August 25, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

              Yes, I’ll be glad to do so if you would like to repost the question in the comments over in my GMO Redux post at PythagoreanCrank. I don’t want to impose upon Ginny any longer on her blog.

              http://pythagoreancrank.com/?p=1504

              Thanks!

  17. Ian McDonald August 20, 2013 at 3:14 am #

    If you’ll stretch to science-based podcasts, let me suggest some of the episodes of my show The Vegan Option. Topics – like Lab Meat, vegan cats, and whether vegans are judgemental are discussed with the scientists who are doing the research. And I ask people who sell their products with unsubstantiated health claims some tough questions.

  18. Ian McDonald August 20, 2013 at 3:23 am #

    I’d also like to mention the blog of my former co-host Diana at Sentientist.org, although she’s now ostrovegan rather than vegan.

    To explain: as a lecturer in the evolution of the mind, she thinks that some of the simpler invertebrates, eg oysters, don’t have one. And that kind of science-based questioning is what she blogs about.

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  1. Read this: The Vegan RD | EatReal.LiveWell. - May 14, 2012

    [...] Vegan Diets, Critical Thinking, and 9 Blogs You Need to Read | The Vegan RD. Add in the fact that evidence-based nutrition tends to be kind of unexciting, it’s no wonder that vegan nutrition sometimes seems overwhelmed by exaggerated health claims, nonchalant dismissal of nutrition concerns and recommendations that are based more on stories and belief than evidence. [...]

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