Earlier this year, I spent a weekend with family members who my husband and I don’t see often but with whom we remain close. We had organized the weekend, helping with travel arrangements and costs, and — as more or less the family elders–we were looking forward to hosting everyone for dinner on our arrival evening. But when I suggested a vegan restaurant –an especially lovely one—I was told that we needed to find a place that was more “inclusive.” Apparently one family member was eating only meat.

For those of us who hold the suffering of animals, and especially farmed animals, in our hearts, breaking bread with meat-eaters is always painful. It is hard, and especially so because we’re expected to be quietly polite and accepting of the non-vegans with whom we dine. And for the most part, I meet those expectations. I do it because I get that most people are simply stuck in their habits and traditions and are not really thinking about the impact of their food choices.

The carnivore fad, though, is a whole different thing. It’s different because it’s such nonsense and so offensive. It’s not just that it causes more animal suffering and environmental harm than the average meat-containing diet. And it’s not just that it’s highly doubtful that such a diet can support health over the long term. It’s the fact that it is ludicrous to believe that a few bites of walnuts or broccoli or raspberries will ruin your health or that you can’t have even one meal that doesn’t include meat.

But when I point this out (and no, I did not do so in the presence of our family carnivore) it invites the question: Couldn’t you say the same thing about people who refuse – for health reasons – to eat even one bite of animal food? And the answer is yes, I would indeed say that. Allergies aside, the idea that certain foods are so dangerous that they should never be consumed falls squarely within the realm of pseudoscience, not evidence-based nutrition. And we should be careful not to let vegan diets slip into the same world of pseudoscience that carnivore diets inhabit.

Shortly after the family event, I posted this on twitter:







Several people suggested that the first part of my tweet wasn’t true – that in fact, there is no amount of meat that is safe in the diet. But, I think it’s a mistake to make those kinds of claims, even in the name of saving animals. It’s not demonstrably true and it feeds into the belief that there are strict rules around what constitutes healthy eating. The belief that there is any such thing as a single healthy way to eat, or that certain foods are dangerous and others are essential, is exactly the belief system that gives rise to fads like a carnivore diet.

This is the great thing about veganism: It rises above all the silly purist dietary arguments. Yes, it places certain foods – those derived from animals – off limits, but it does so for unassailable reasons. Those reasons have nothing to do with claims about which foods can and can’t be included in a healthy diet. Veganism looks at food choices through a lens of respect, justice, and compassion.

A vegan diet is also inclusive of any reasonable dietary pattern. It allows for the full range of choices, from low-fat to keto. I have some ideas about which of the many choices are better options, but the fact is that there is more than one way to eat a healthy and enjoyable vegan diet. Assuming they have access to a variety of foods, any logical, evidence-based person can find a way to be vegan if they care enough to try.

This is the message we need to share with our communities. One that includes an evidence-based message about nutrition and an admission that there are lots of healthy ways to eat.  And one that emphasizes the true personal benefits of veganism – that it brings habits in line with a commitment to justice and compassion.