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Getting It Right and Wrong: A Mainstream Newspaper Tackles Veganism

By Annie Oliverio, Guest Contributor

Periodically I get thick envelopes from my mom filled with newspaper clippings: cartoons, coupons and articles that she knows will interest me.  It’s a little packet of love.  Recently she sent me just such an envelope and among the offerings was a long article by The Plain Dealer’s Food & Restaurants Editor, Joe Crea, titled “Picking Veganism.”

Cleveland isn’t known for embracing the consumption of fresh produce, soy products and whole grains, so I was both thrilled and surprised to see that my hometown paper had devoted a lot of space to plant-based eating.  But as I read the article, I felt twinges of disappointment.  While I do my best not to be a preachy, whiner of a vegan, I couldn’t help wish that Mr. Crea had included some things in his article and nixed others.

What Mr. Crea did right: There’s a good definition of the nuts and bolts of veganism – what we eat, what we don’t eat – the ins and outs of which can confound carnivores.  There’s an interesting discussion of how area restaurants are slowly modifying their menus to accommodate folks who shun animal products – how it’s not enough now to just serve up pasta primavera or a plate of roasted vegetables and call it a meal.  Vegans are demanding tasty creativity on their plates.  The article helpfully includes links for vegan resources and nutritional information and even has several easy plant-based recipes for readers to try at home.  And finally, Mr. Crea discusses the various reasons why people choose veganism, from economics, to health, to animal ethics.  Overall, it’s a worthy primer.

Despite these positives, the negatives nagged at me.  The most glaring omission, to me, was the lack of real vegans interviewed or profiled in the article.  By real I mean folks who have completely forsaken the consumption of meat, fish and dairy products.  Instead, he includes several people who let’s say, dabble in veganism.  He states that health issues (excessive bruising, digestion issues) forced his article’s subjects to resume eating small quantities of dairy products or occasionally eating fish.  These people are vegetarians, flexitarians or pescetarians, but they are definitely not vegans.  Go ahead, write an article about these various diets, but why include them in an article about veganism?  Why not profile people (surely Mr. Crea could have found some, even in Cleveland) who are thriving on a plant-based diet?

Another shortcoming was that there was minimal mention of the effect that veganism has on lowering cholesterol and clearing away deadly plaque from arteries.  The article states that cancer is the number one killer in America.  Did I miss something?  What about heart disease?  You know, that pesky disease caused by consuming red meat?  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death for American men and women is heart disease.  Moving to a plant-based diet is a virtual guarantee of controlling or completely wiping out this killer.  It could be the single most compelling reason to turn to veganism.

Finally, protein.  That red-flag of a word.  Mr. Crea could’ve mentioned Vitamin B12 or how some vegans make the mistake of consuming too many processed and pre-packaged foods – bigger problems surely than getting enough protein.  The protein myth has dogged vegans for decades and the fact is that Americans by and large consume more protein than needed by the body.  Vegans who get a full complement of whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, along with legumes and soy are assured of getting adequate amounts.  This article could have helped lay to rest the protein myth; instead it perpetuates it.

I get that for most people the thought of becoming vegan is daunting.  It’s a major commitment.  Mr. Crea suggests “baby steps” and transitioning into the diet and that’s fine.  Whatever path gets you there.  But the challenges are what make it so important for the mainstream media to accentuate the positive.  Talk about how one’s eating horizon expands once meat myopia is overcome – I’m a firm believer in converting people through their stomachs.  Talk about the increase in energy, the improved blood tests and the desire to care for and nurture one’s body.  Talk about the respect for the “lesser” beings – cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, fish, birds, etc. – that comes when one stops consuming them.

There are plenty of vegan sites and publications extolling the ethical and health reasons to eat animal-free.  That is preaching to the enthusiastically converted.  We need to see mainstream media picking up and running with positive, informed articles about veganism.  That is why The Plain Dealer article is so maddening.  An opportunity was lost.  The failure of this article and similar articles is that there is a seeming hesitation to just come out and write: a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet for the human body.  While they include information about plant-based diets improving cardiovascular health and lowering cancer rates, they soften the message by adding the nonsensical such as: veganism might be a good move for some people.  Couldn’t everyone stand to improve their health and increase longevity?  It’s as if the USDA and FDA are looking over reporters’ keyboards.  Isn’t the media supposed to be the watchdog for the American people – to question these governmental agencies (lobbied heavily by the meat and dairy industries) that are still espousing the consumption of unhealthy meat and dairy?

But my main point is this: why go to the trouble of writing an article about the benefits of a plant-based diet and not talk to the experts?  The men and women who are living and loving pure veganism – who are healthy, happy, full of energy and passion for their chosen diet?

Mr. Crea and The Plain Dealer got it right by publishing a lengthy, pro-vegan article.  But they got it wrong in so many disappointing ways.