Vegans, Paleo & the Polarization of Animal Welfare Non-Profits


Grandma, me and a new born goat in the country. My favorite place.

Some people are going vegan, some people are going paleo, some people aren’t having kids (to ‘save’ the planet), some people are ex-vegans, some organizations say being vegan is the only way to be congruent with the values of ‘animal rights’ and some people don’t agree on what exactly being vegan actually means.

Some people won’t donate to certain organizations because that organization has a ‘vegan agenda’ and some people won’t donate because the non-profit is NOT promoting a ‘vegan agenda’.

Hold on, I’m going to tell you how this relates to birth control and compost and religion and women’s rights and elections and cynicism and baby goats and conferences for animal lovers.

When I began a greeting card line about animals in need, I did not recognize the polarization that was happening in the world of animal welfare non-profits. Namely, the definition of what it means to be an ‘animal advocate’. Personal diet, health, geography, culture and socioeconomic class all enter as values of congruence in animal rights and a sustainable earth.

I’m surrounded by a wide diversity of business people, retailers and those working in animal welfare (both non-profit and private). Much effort has gone into my own personal health as well as a business that blends caring and being aware about animals in one’s community without being overly ‘preachy’.

I conceived of Species Spectrum as a way to connect all kinds of people and animals, but more importantly, to relate to diverse cultures of people. I cannot better the world if I condemn people or find myself in a group that only shares my precise value system. Which brings me to the alienation I felt attending a conference for ‘animal welfare professionals’.

Last August, I attended the NM Humane Conference, sponsored by Animal Humane in Albuquerque. This conference, in sync with the ‘Foodforthought’ campaign, offered strictly vegan food during the two day event. While some people were vegan, others whispered that they were not. Many of the 200 attendees come from rural parts of the state. One quietly divulged to me that she was not vegan and mentioned she later left the conference to ‘eat a hamburger’.

The goal of the NM Humane Conference is purportedly to improve animal shelter operations, but to me it felt more like a silent debate in vegan morality than how to place difficult dogs in the economically challenged state of New Mexico. There was a lot of talk of ‘effective outreach’ to communities ‘different from ourselves’. That (to me) means to focus on just getting New Mexico residents to care for their animals before we introduce a strict ‘plant-based’ diet to all attendees.

Heck, I’m the target audience! I’m a white woman with a college education who has always had spayed/neutered shelter pets and I can’t relate to many animal welfare advocates!

Over plain bagels with corn syrup infused jelly packets, I thought about how farm animal manure helps grows plants vegans eat. I thought about GMO corn. I thought of  how even the Dali Lama eats meat and food expert Michael Pollan openly eats meat on some occasions. Lisa Ling eats meat, even after visiting a slaughter house on the behalf of Oprah (Let’s remember not everyone in the world has access to Wholefoods). I thought about how many people could really grow their own food ‘crop’ or ‘animal’ and sustain themselves without a grocery store.

I thought about almond milk and how mono-crop farming of almonds is hurting the honey bee population because they need many flower varieties to thrive. A long time ago I watched the documentary, Queen of the Sun. Small animals like bees make a big difference in our ability to eat. All people and cultures are inherently entwined with the lives of animals.

In a two day conference, it is a lofty goal to tout the ‘benefits’ of an animal free diet alongside practical strategies for residents of NM to retain their animals and keep them responsibly. I left the conference disappointed. I even wrote and mailed a letter (suggesting vegetarian being a more accessible benchmark) to the President on the board of Animal Humane and did not receive a reply, not even a “Thanks for your feedback, but we’re sticking with vegan”.

I’m sure veganism works for some people, but it does not work for me. And it’s not because I wasn’t ‘doing it right’. As a teenager, I spent three years as a vegetarian while I explained to meat eating relatives why I wouldn’t eat fish either. Recently, I spent several hours as a vegan. Taste buds are not my factor in determining why I eat meat today. It has more to do with birth control and the effects of what a copper IUD (purportedly non-hormonal) did to my body (add in hypoglycemia and adrenal fatigue).

I’ve learned much about copper toxicity and the correlation to low zinc levels for a multitude of unexplained aliments. Look this up. It’s not anecdotal. I care about animals and women having access to safe birth control. I care about so many things. Having said that the health ratio of copper to zinc in the body is 1:8 in favor of zinc.

The greatest sources of zinc without copper is animal protein, namely oysters and red meat. My health has improved eating cows. And I’ve been friends with real cows. Bella and Bullseye the Longhorn and another cow my Uncle had we called ‘Gentle as a Dog’.

When I start my day with eggs my body works better. When I eat meat, I am thinking about the animal. Like food expert, Michael Pollan, I choose locally sourced grass fed meat and I’m aware of what life I’m eating.

When I start my day with spoonfuls of golden flax seeds, oranges and a bowl of quinoa oatmeal, my body still shakes even without any coffee, and I’m not suffering from drug withdrawal. All I can guarantee is that quinoa, soy, wheat, fruit, corn syrup, tofu, oatmeal and granola or toast and peanut butter, or toast and almond butter or toast and cashew butter gives me the squirts.

Either way, vegetarian/vegan diets are high in copper.

Call me a barbarian or a paleo, or a troll, or a hypocrite. My great uncle was a Texas cattle rancher. I enjoy reading Modern Farmer and articles about homesteading. I consume some animal products. I think Heifer International is a worthy cause. Of course, I’m against factory farms. I love farm chores and I adore being around farm animals. I’ve tried vegetarianism, off the grid living and cooking for my dogs (but I won’t make them vegan). I’ve also worked in zoo kitchens cutting up smaller animals for larger predators. Clearly, I recognize, I’m not a lion and have cognition to consider what I eat.

It’s good people are thinking about what they eat and how they eat as well as all the connections that extend beyond the simple act of eating. It’s good that many non-profits look to alleviate suffering in the world and that many of us do care about the lives of animals. But I have a problem telling everyone else they must ‘go vegan’ to benefit the earth and their health. Preaching the benefits of veganism is dangerous as some ex-vegans reveal their experiences. Some people (like myself) do eat meat, not because we love the taste, but because of the benefits animal protein provides our body. I don’t have hypoglycemia when I eat meat, eggs and plain full fat yogurt.

I’m disturbed to see many animal welfare organizations adopting vegan policies because it is fracturing the world of animal advocates to an extreme degree. Add in that the majority of people dropping animals off at a shelter probably aren’t vegan.

Also observe smaller shelters/rescue groups with finite resources that aren’t able to tackle the morality of veganism or the existentialism of each person’s footprint while they try to place a dozen 2 year old unwanted pit bulls. Wondering if it’s a sin to eat an omelet while working manual labor cleaning a shelter are both worthy thoughts and actions. I also consider living overseas and watching kids standing hungry in the street.

Vegetarian is one thing most people can wrap their head around and maybe even try. Or maybe that person decides to try being a ‘reductionist’ (that is one eating less meat). However, to suggest that the majority of ‘true’ animal lovers will demonstrate their loyalty by adopting a vegan diet is unrealistic.

I learned from Reddit to never argue with a vegan because there is an answer for every possible scenario even if The Vegan Society can’t define precisely just what is ‘practical and possible’. When branding a movement, it’s best to have a tangible definition without subjective words like ‘practical’ and ‘possible’. With the current definition, there’s always another possible scenario, another question, another exception or inclusion, subject to opinion.

In what has become the polarized nature (pun intended) of animal welfare, I just wanted to tell you why I’m not vegan. I’m an alienated animal lover just not evolved enough for plant-based protein. But at least I’m thinking about the honey bees and how they can’t survive on one kind of flower. Maybe I can plant some flowers. There is something small everyone can do to benefit animals, themselves and the planet, regardless of species. It doesn’t have to be vegan.




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