A vegan is a “a strict vegetarian who consumes no food (such as meat, eggs, or dairy products) that comes from animals” (Merrian-Webster, 2019). So how do our vegan friends build muscles? After all, muscles need protein, and eating animals gives us protein.
Well, a vegan can use protein sources such as “tofu, tempeh and edamame … lentils … chickpeas and most varieties of beans … nutritional yeast … spelt and teff … hempseed … green peas … spirulina … amaranth and quinoa … breads made from sprouted grains … soy milk … oats and oatmeal … wild rice … chia seeds … nuts, nut butters and other seeds … protein-rich fruits and vegetables … [such as] broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, sweet potatoes and Brussel sprouts” (Healthline Media, 2005-2019).
But these items tend to have less protein than, say, beef. But there are exceptions: “Measured by calories, broccoli has more protein that beef” (dherbs.com, Sept 8, 2017). So, how can vegans boost their protein intake? Well, they can guzzle vegan protein powder. But, better than that, they can center their diet around protein-rich vegetables; protein-rich carbs (such as oats and wild rice); and protein-rich fats (such as nuts, nut butters, and seeds). It all adds up—especially around the biceps.
But if you don’t get enough protein, a vegan diet has its downside. A female friend who body-builds read The China Study. The book “examines the link between the consumption of animal products (including dairy) and chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and bowel cancer” (Wikipedia, The China Study). So, my friend went vegetarian, dismayed by diseases that meat and dairy may cause. But on a vegetarian diet, she grew less lively. Her smiles and laughter grew more somber. And she’d chomp ice cubes, likely due to iron deficiency (Pruthi, 1998-2019). What she and many other vegans need is a version of The China Study for high intensity athletes, particularly for bodybuilders.
Aside from health factors, veganism often stems from ethical concerns.
For instance, many vegans wish to not harm animals. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) “keep and raise more than 1000 animal ‘units’ in extreme confinement …. At factory farms, animals raised for food suffer unimaginable cruelties: extreme confinement; brutal mutilations; and bloody, violent deaths” writes Joe Lorea (June 5, 2017) from Mercy for Animals, “Furthermore,” he says, “animal excrement and other agricultural runoff from large-scale farms have already polluted nearly one-third of the nation’s rivers” (June 5, 2017).
Many vegans also wish to preserve the land: “33 percent of agricultural land worldwide is used solely for livestock feed production. And when you combine that with the amount of land used for grazing and housing animals, you’ll realize that we have a huge problem” (Pittman, Arianna, 2 years ago).
On the flipside, I’ve seen documentaries on farms that ethically raise cattle. My dietician says Canadian farms have fairly strict guidelines for raising cattle. It makes sense. When I drive past Albertan farmlands, I see vast grasslands and big bales of hay laid alongside grazing cows (and calves). Yes, in Canada, our cattle get a quality life:
Canada has one of the healthiest national cattle herds and one of the most wholesome beef products in the world. The production of high quality beef begins the way it has for more than a century in Canada – with the raising of calves alongside mother cows on pastures and grasslands. There is no better method for getting beef cattle off to a good start than fresh air, clean water and the individual attention a mother cow provides her calf. (Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, 2013)
My dietician insisted that, in Canada, there’s no need to seek free range beef from the butcher. So, if you buy beef, buy Canadian.
But, if you go vegan, consider eating organic fruits and veggies. If you buy organic (especially from farmer’s markets), you support small local farms: “If you could buy local produce that’s also organic, you’re laughing all the way to the checkout. You’re supporting local farmers, saving the planet, and raising healthier families” (Milbrath, February 8, 2018).
Sadly, small farms are more and more displaced by inhumane Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs):
The control of agriculture by multinational corporations, through contractual arrangements, is allowing agricultural operations to grow far larger than was previously possible for individual farmers or even family corporations. The smallest Class 1-A CAFO (7,000 animal units) creates more biological waste than a city of 70,000 people. If this trend is allowed to continue, it will not only destroy the natural environment of rural America, it will result in a few corporate executives essentially controlling American agriculture, as there will be very few real farmers left. (Ikerd, Sept 29, 2007).
As well, buying organic helps you support pesticide-free crops: “Exposure to large amounts of pesticides is usually more likely for people such as farmers who may frequently touch and/or breathe in pesticides. The effects of long-term exposure to small amounts of these pesticides are unclear, but studies have linked them to a variety of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and neurological defects” (Hsaio, August 10, 2015).
Going vegan may help the welfare of the world’s agriculture. But if you chow on animals, eat only humanely raised critters. And always buy organic. The future of small farms—and the health of all beings—may depend on it.