It’s not all or nothing

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I’ve recently started drinking oat milk drink. I usually drink soya but Ben recently went dairy-free at home and prefers oat drink so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s delicious. I’m addicted and prefer it to soya now. I like that oats are grown widely in Scotland and so I feel virtuous buying something locally-produced. I even tried making my own but it tastes very oaty. I might experiment some more with the recipe because it’s much cheaper than buying it in the shops. Has anyone tried making their own oat drink before?

There’s something I’ve been wanting to write about for some time but I know I’ll struggle to put it into words. I’ll try anyway. A plant-based diet doesn’t have to be all or nothing; not unless you have cardiovascular disease and it’s important for health. For the rest of us, it’s not necessary to be pure. I know how hard it is in our society to follow a completely plant-based diet and I live in Britain, one of the best places in the world to be vegan. But I sometimes see people use this as an excuse to give up completely and not even try to decrease meat and dairy consumption. It’s a similar phenomenon to falling off the wagon, or eating that morsel of chocolate when you’re on a diet. When this happens, we give up psychologically and instead of accepting that we ate 25 grams of chocolate we binge and eat 1kg to compensate for our disappointment. Only it never makes us feel better.

I often hear the refrain, “I would love to be vegan but I need red meat for iron”. I’m not going to argue that red meat is not a source of iron. I might suggest first that they increase their consumption of chick peas and pumpkin seeds because there’s evidence that iron from plants is healthier (see also 1, 2) but let’s assume they’ve decided, for whatever reason, that they have no choice but to eat red meat. Why not eat red meat once a week or once a fortnight and fill up on plants the rest of the time? Why does this refrain come with the requirement that meat and dairy must be consumed three times a day, every day, of every week? People see vegan as being too hard and then use it as an excuse to not even bother getting their five a day. I see people eating bacon for breakfast, then a ham sandwich for lunch, and then steak for dinner. In between they’ve had yoghurt and milk shakes and all this because, apparently, they need haem iron. How did it get to this?

I partly blame the cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets. If you go out for lunch to somewhere like Marks and Spencer or just the sandwich section in your local supermarket, there’s nothing vegan there. Sometimes there’s not even anything vegetarian. George Monbiot said in his recent column, Butchery of the Planet, that “We need better and cheaper vegan ready meals and quick and easy meat substitutes”. I agree! We also need to teach children how to cook legumes in home economics. Legumes are so good for us and so cheap yet most people haven’t a clue what to do with them.

If people want to eat more plants for environmental reasons but find it hard to give up meat completely, then eat Bambi. Scotland culls some 100,000 deer every year because they eat young saplings, preventing rewilding of the landscape. Long-term I think the solution is to reintroduce the deer’s predators which we obliterated, but for now, like it or not, they are being shot. Why not eat that instead of the factory-farmed animals that are fed Argentinian soya?

But mostly, try eating more plants. Try going a full day without any meat and dairy products and then a full week. Eating more plants is not all or nothing and the health and environmental benefits are too significant to ignore.

I want to make one more point about vitamin B12. If you go completely plant-based you will need to ensure adequate intake of B12 because this can only come from fortified foods or supplements. Meat-eaters get it from animals and will sometimes use it as an excuse to continue eating huge quantities of meat and dairy. However animals do not make B12 either. It comes from bacteria in the soil that’s eaten by animals. Some soils are deficient in cobalt which is a constitute of B12 and this requires intervention, either by adding cobalt to the soil or, in some cases, giving the animals themselves vitamin supplements containing B12! Don’t believe me? You can buy these supplements for cattle and sheep online.