Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Vegan Project

Veganism is both an ideology and a lifestyle, centered on the idea that animals should not be exploited.  My high school senior project combines philosophy, history, economics, and nutrition science in order to understand veganism.  My inquiry will be both personal and intellectual.  It will involve reading and analysis, food preparation and consumption, and an exploration of local vegan culture and business.   There are several questions I set out to answer. Who are Vegans?  Why are they concentrated in several countries (Sweden, Britain, and the U.S.) but not, for example, in India, where there are large numbers of vegetarians but few vegans – which is, to say, few people who not only abstain from eating and otherwise benefiting from meat, poultry, and fish, but also from animal products, including milk, cheese, and eggs. ?  What are the health effects of following a vegan diet? Is there a relationship between veganism and a religious or philosophical point of view?  For example, Jainism is a religion that calls for absolute abstention from eating things that were alive including root vegetables (some pictures of Jains show individuals wearing masks all day so as not to ingest insects by accident), but Jains freely consume milk and eggs.  Finally, I wonder how difficult it is to be a vegan. Vegans insist that their diet is extremely healthy; I wonder what it would do for me.  My "May Project" will set out to answer these questions, and I will report my progress on this blog. I started eating as a vegan on May 9, 2011. I do not often wear leather clothes, so this aspect of veganism presents neither challenge nor experiment.  Food consumption, on the other hand, presents a major challenge.  To be vegan means no meat, no fish, no eggs, no milk, no butter and no other animal products. Vegans can eat sugars but honey, an insect product, is regarded as off limits by some vegan organizations.  Some breads use honey in place of sugar and butter.  I may avoid honey as well, but the dispute among vegans about honey is certainly something I wish to explore. 
One source of motivation for my project was the movie Super Size Me (2004,) which detailed the negative health effects of a fast-food diet on one individual.  I think of this project as Super Size Me in reverse.  It is likely that I will become healthier by avoiding many of the non-vegan foods I currently consume. One month as a vegan will likely “Downsize Me” rather than super size me.  I will get advice from a dietician and from medical websites.   In addition to eating vegan, I will also learn about the processing and preparation of vegan staples.  Cooking beans and rice will be easy, but I hope to follow recipes and make good use of tofu and other soy products.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Nathaniel,

    I left a comment here yesterday, but it must not have made it through. Anyway, to introduce myself: I heard about your blog and find two aspects of it interesting. First, the way you are exploring a movement that want to take seriously the idea that our consciences have something to teach us about how human culture ought to grow up, or evolve, to be more consistent with its core relationships and concerns (e.g., respect for living beings or thoughtfulness with life).

    Second, the way you are doing philosophy through a personal exercise, not just through abstract thought -- although you are using that. This holistic view of philosophical practice -thought, experimentation, practical trials- is ancient, rather than the reigning professional viewpoint, and it is really good.

    In my comment that didn't make it somehow, I said it'd be interesting to reflect on why veganism has become a counter-counter-culture in the eyes of mainstream hipdom. There's this scene in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World where the Vegan police come to "be-gone" a "Ve-gone" who has mistakenly drunk half and half in his coffee. The schtick here is that the "Ve-gone" is self-righteous and believes he has "Vegan Powers". And Scott Pilgrim, video game figure of a counter culture (in Hollywood's eyes), is not so uptight and self-righteous and clearly digs meat.

    So what's the message here? That being environmental with food is somehow politically correct, or just an uptight personal choice, some kind of bourgeois thing? It's a weird moment in our culture, because it does seem that U.S. environmentalists can turn their environmentalism into a new kind of 21st century Victorianism. And yet, of course, the underlying issues are anything but -- they're about systems that degrade our humanity and our planet simultaneously.

    So I'm curious what you'd think of that film and its episode.

    Jeremy in Cleveland