I am going to start this post by saying this is strictly about the health of vegans and vegetarians. I am not commenting on vegans and vegetarians with serious underlying health issues. Obviously you should consult your doctor before making a lifestyle switch.
The most common argument among vegans/vegetarians and omnivores (aside from religious debate) is "Where do you get all your vitamins, minerals, protein, etc?" argument.
It's a legitimate question. In today's western society, meat and animal products are held in high regard. The Atkins diet, "lean" meats, turkey based products (I will NOT get into that right now. I will in another post.) and "low fat" products have us all brainwashed. Maybe 'brainwashed' is a strong word...however, the fact of it all is that it's simply not true.
When I was in high school, a friend of mine adopted veganism. Within two months, she grew incredibly anemic. When certain metals touched her skin, they left brown streaks. Then she had to go to the hospital with a blood disorder. When I asked her what she was eating, she told me mainly lima beans, lettuce, and carrots. Oh, and bread. Well, no wonder she got sick! There is enough nutritional value in those foods to keep her alive for maybe a month. She did it wrong.
Unfortunately, it only adds to the bad reputation of a plant-based diet when people get sick. And to those people, I have to say it bluntly, "You're doing it wrong,"
We have evolved into a culture that demands product. We have found a way to mass produce animals for meat, milk, and other products and by-products. The ways we do this are inhumane and unsafe. Now, I'm going to state right here that if I lived in a time where people raised their own cattle and poultry for survival and sustenance, I would have no problem eating meat. It grew on my land. I fed it. I did not inject it with pesticides and hormones so I could satisfy an increasingly unhealthy society. I would have been working all day on my farm. This is survival. I don't think this makes me a bad vegan. I don't have the ability to work a farm myself, so I choose not to indulge in mass produced animal products that are disease ridden and cruel. Fortunately, there are options out there.
But now we have slaughterhouses because man generally doesn't work on a farm anymore. They sit at desks all day and when they come home, a sizzling steak or fried chicken is a luxury given to us by the demand we have created.
I'm digressing a bit from the subject at hand. Yes, animal products have the vitamins and minerals we need. No, it is not healthy. The way these consumables are given to us are NOT safe. Slaughterhouses are ridden with disease and contaminants. The meat we buy at the supermarket can be months old, filled with chemicals and harsh substances to preserve them. Can cooking rid them of these? Maybe, but not enough to make them safe again. Plus, who really wants to eat something that suffered a cruel, painful, disgusting death just to make sure you were able to eat some of it's muscle?
What about the "good fats"? Go eat an avocado. Not only are they full of the good fat needed for brain function, but they are amazing for cervix and reproductive health. Other foods are full of the good fat as well, including nuts, seeds, and types of oils.
The vitamins and minerals one needs to live a healthy, plant based lifestyle are everywhere. Protein can be found in beans, legumes, lentils, nuts, oatmeal, brown rice, soy, and bulgur, to name a few. For Calcium, try some broccoli, leafy greens (also amazing for iron), beans, almonds, and flax.
For a very good list on where to find important vitamins, please visit Gentleworld's awesome list.
Now, B 12 is the kicker, since it is only found in animal products, and it is very important. Guess what? A B 12 supplement will be just fine, and you can even find them made without gelatin or bone meal.
You can get ridiculously sick from a vegan/vegetarian diet, if you do it wrong. You cannot live off of just salad. You cannot live off of just beans and nuts. If you're going to do this, do it right. This is not just a diet, this is a lifestyle. It can be a beautiful lifestyle. It takes work, research, and dedication. Make sure to consult your doctor, get regular checkups, and that you are intaking enough vitamins, minerals, and good fats.
Use your head. Do it right. Be smart.
For further reading, please consult this list:
Slaughterhouse, by Gail A. Eisnitz
Being Vegan, by Stanley Sapon
Skinny Bitch, by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnoin
The Vegan Sourcebook, Joanne Stepaniak
The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
And feel more than free to do research on your own.