What to do When You Can’t be Vegan

What should you do if you can’t go vegan?

There are some people who face significant hurdles to adopting a vegan diet. This can be for a variety of reasons, but health issues, dependence on others, and severe food allergies can all make going vegan challenging, or even impossible.

Vegans often try to respond to these difficulties by accusing the questioner of not trying hard enough, etc. But I don’t think that’s especially productive. If a physician has told you that a vegan diet is not possible for you, I’d seek a second opinion, but it’s possible that there are some rare conditions where veganism is not an option. I think we all need to listen to other people and acknowledge that we don’t know everything. I’m not a medical expert, and although I have interest in health and nutrition, I’m not aware of every reason someone may not be able to thrive without animal products.

Health conditions may mean you can’t go vegan, at least temporarily

If you suffer from a condition that has led to your physician telling you that you need to consume animal products, there are still things you can do to live as vegan a life as possible. For example, you can still buy non-leather shoes and vegan cosmetics. And you may be able to consume non-dairy milk. If eating animal protein is a must, for whatever reason, you might want to consider eating oysters. I’m not an oyster eating vegan, and I wouldn’t normally encourage it. But oysters are high in many minerals – like iron – and harvesting them doesn’t produce by-catch like fishing does. Oysters are farmed, not fished, and they’re more environmentally friendly than most other animal foods, since they eat bits of algae, rather than other animals.

Again, I don’t think oysters are vegetables and I’m not sure of their sentience – they have nerve ganglia, rather than a central nervous system. Personally, I avoid them since I don’t need to eat them. But if you DO, then I’d consider oysters and mussels the best options for animal foods (much better than eggs or dairy).

Severe allergies

Severe allergies can also present challenges. If you don’t have severe allergies, you can’t know what it would be like to have life-threatening reactions to all legumes, soy and wheat. And there are people who are allergic to all those things, and often in combination. It is unusual, but in parts of Asia, even rice allergies are not unheard of! You may be able to find ways to work around this. Still, I think it’s ableist for vegans who don’t have any of these health issues to assert that it’s “easy for everyone to be vegan”.

When you aren’t independent

Finally, there are people who are in settings where eating a vegan diet may not be possible. For example, people in hospitals without vegan options, or elderly people living in nursing homes may not have access to vegan food. If you are disabled, your family may not be willing or able to accommodate your diet.

People in these sorts of situations really face the greatest hurdles in directing their own diets. Obviously if you have no control over what you eat, being entirely vegan might be impossible. This is also true of children whose parents may not approve of a vegan diet.

You can do all you can to encourage your guardians or caretakers to try cooking plant-based. But they still may choose not to, despite your best efforts.

In those situations, do the best you can. Maybe you can buy vegan clothing or cosmetics. Be kind to yourself and worry about the things you can change, not the things you can’t.

I will continue to say it’s easy to go vegan, but that’s just for the majority of people. For some people it is a true challenge. I don’t see any real benefit to be gained by responding to people who voice health concerns as impediments to going vegan as if they’d just said “but I love bacon”. Those things aren’t the same. And I think it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt, listen, and offer solutions they might actually be able to use (like not buying leather or wool).

What do you think?

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