Plants Are Proteins Too!

Protein is not a food group. 

Yeah, I said it. Protein is NOT a food group and we need to stop treating it as such. It’s a macronutrient—a very important one at that.

The worldwide obsession and glorification of protein seems to be a hallmark of the 21st Century—and the demonization of other macronutrients like carbohydrates (and in the past, fats) has caused us to overconsume meat, dairy and eggs to the point where it has become detrimental to our health.

The “cholesterol doesn’t matter” camp has been gaining steam since the inception of the Atkins diet, and the surge in the Ketogenic diet fad has brought dietary cholesterol back with a vengeance.

High Fat/Low Carb and Low Fat/High Carb

High fat/low Carb diets (very popular) will lead to temporary weight loss. Low fat/high carb diets (less popular) will also lead to temporary weight loss. Both can easily lead to muscle loss and nutritional deficiencies and in my opinion, should not be considered long term diets. From my experience helping people on keto get through their diets, they tend to lose a lot of muscle, despite the exorbitant amounts of protein they consume.

Any body builder will tell you that you have to have carbs to put on muscle. Sadly, so many dieters are focused on the number on the scale, rather than the image they see in the mirror, or most importantly, how they feel.

My advice to anyone trying to lose weight/get fit/bulk up, would be to not eliminate any macronutrient category. Eliminate the foods that aren’t serving you (dairy, sugar, refined grains, alcohol, etc.) but don’t eliminate carbohydrates or fats.

They’re all macronutrients and they’re all important. And the good news is that we can get plenty of all three of these essential macronutrients through a plant-based diet.

Grains are Good

One of the easiest ways to get ample protein is to choose nutrient dense, hearty whole grains rather than their weak, processed and refined counterparts. Whole grains are far higher in protein and fiber than refined grains.

If we start to think of the bread as a protein/carbohydrate, then we will realize that the turkey, chicken, cow and pig parts in the middle of the sandwich aren’t actually necessary at all.

Let’s take Ezekiel Bread for example: Each slice of the classic Ezekiel 4:9 Bread has 4 grams of protein. It’s a complete protein, so it provides 8% of your daily value. You’re probably going to make your sandwich with 2 slices, so that puts you at 16% right there—and that’s just the bread! Slap a veggie burger in between those buns and you’re looking at another 10 to 20 grams of protein on that sandwich (1 Veggie Burger could potentially provide 50%-70% of your daily value of protein)

Ezekiel bread is just one of many examples. Whole grain rice, freekah, buckwheat, tabbouleh, quinoa (technically a seed, I know), steel cut oats—these are all excellent sources of both protein and fiber.

If you choose for refined wheat pasta, white rice, white bread, refined corn, etc., then of course you’re going to feel the need to fill that protein void. The white sesame seed bun you get from McDonald’s will not fill you up, which is why you crave a heavy protein patty in the middle of it.

Refined white pasta? Needs meatballs.

White Rice? Needs teriyaki chicken or raw fish.

White wheat tortilla? Needs ground beef.

To put it bluntly and very “vegany,” your shitty carbohydrate choices are causing you to overconsume filthy animal based proteins.

Carbs are NOT your enemy. Grow up and choose high quality, hearty whole grains. Get used to fiber. Start looking at your grains as proteins, and your whole nutritional point of view will start to shift.

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

And then how can we forget about legumes? They’re an excellent source of protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber. Forget the lectin controversy. If you’re eating thoroughly cooked beans, then it’s a non-issue. I won’t name any names, but let’s just say that there’s a lot of money to be made by selling “lectin blocker” supplements.

Here’s a short, level headed, evidence based video from NutritionFacts.org, that’ll explain the lectin issue.

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-lectins-in-food-good-or-bad-for-you/

Popeye was Vegan

Vegetables have become another overlooked source of protein, even though they used to be highly revered for the nutritive, muscle building properties. Remember Popeye? “I’m strong to the finish, ‘cause I eats me spinach!” There is nothing wimpy about eating greens. Previous generations understood this.

Cruciferious vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are known for their testosterone boosting effect on men, and hormone regulating effect on women. Cruciferous vegetables also have a liver cleansing benefit due to their natural Sulphorophane content. Spirulina and chlorella, both algae, are nature’s highest source of protein (gram per gram).

The Fungus Among Us

Although not technically a plant, mushrooms are another decent source of protein. Depending on the shroom, it will contain 2-3 grams of protein per cup (raw, sliced). Anyone who has ever cooked mushrooms know that that isn’t a lot of mushroom. It’s easy to get upwards of 10 grams of protein with a realistic helping of cooked mushrooms. If you haven’t ever tried Quorn, I highly recommend it. They are veggie patties made of mycoprotein. Remember the “chicken patty on bun” from your school cafeteria? Well, it tastes like that, only way better. Quorn has both a vegan and vegetarian line. The vegetarian line contains a bit of egg.

Seeds of Change

Nuts and seeds are arguably the most important source of plant based protein—with one cautionary note. Modern food processing has made it incredibly easy to overconsume nuts and seeds. Now they come shelled, roasted, salted, buttered, you name it. It’s never been easier to eat an abundance of nuts or seeds. Because of their ridiculously high fat content, this can lead to weight gain and incredibly high omega-6 levels. Sunflower seeds is probably the most blatant example. You could spend days getting through a bag of in-shell sunflower seeds, or just minutes eating the exact same amount of de-shelled, ready to eat sunflower seeds.

Some nuts can even be dangerous in high amounts. Brazil nuts are incredibly high in selenium, which is a very important mineral that’s lacking in the Standard American Diet (SAD). But 4-5 Brazil nuts is all it takes to get your daily recommended value of selenium. Beyond that, selenium toxicity can be a concern.

In their natural state, nuts and seeds are very difficult to get to. Imagine a squirrel opening up an acorn. It takes some work. Back when we were hunter-gatherers, nuts were an incredibly important staple of our diet. They store easily (just ask any squirrel) and they’re super nutrient dense. But the bottom line is the effort that it used to take to crack nuts open prevented us from overconsuming them. Now anyone can go to the store and down a jar of peanut butter in a depressive stupor without batting an eye (yes, I know peanuts are not technically nuts).

Protein is abundant in the plant and fungus kingdoms. Getting protein from an animal is like filtering your drinking water through a sewer. All nutrients originally come from plants. Animals get their protein from plants in one way or another. Whether they’re eating the plants directly (Rhino) or eating other animals (Cheetah).

So why don’t you be like one of the stronger animals and get your protein directly from the original source, you filthy, beautiful animal.

I Water Fasted for 5 Days. Here’s What Happened.

Aw, me, I busted out don’t even ask me how,
I went lookin’ for some help, I walked past a guernsey cow
Who directed me down to the bowery slums
Where people carried signs around sayin’ ban the bums.
I jumped right in line, sayin’ I hope that I’m not late
When I realized I hadn’t eaten for five days straight.

-Bob Dylan, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”

 

I’ve been an advocate and practitioner of intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating for about a year now. It isn’t super popular in the plant-based/vegan circles. A lot of vegans are used to constant grazing. Plant foods tend to digest more quickly and easily, after all. Nobody likes to be hungry.

The human body is remarkable, though. Most healthy adults can survive extensive periods of time without food. Fasting has been a well-documented spiritual practice. Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Gandhi undertook 17 fasts during India’s Freedom Movement—the longest of which lasted 21 days. And if you have a lot of body fat, you can survive for an exceedingly long time without food. A 27-year-old Scottish man fasted for 382 days in the 1960s—under doctor supervision, of course.

I have been regularly practicing a 16:8 daily intermittent fasting regimen for the past year (16 hours fasted, with an 8 hour eating window), and had recently incorporated what I call “Fast Fridays,” which is exactly what it sounds like—not eating anything at all on Friday. I almost always extend the fast until lunch or dinner on Saturday, usually fasting for 36 to 40 total hours. No big deal.

But I wanted to take on a bigger challenge. I wanted to fast for an entire week.

Why a week? 7 days is a seemingly arbitrary number, when you omit the cultural significance of it.

Perhaps that’s why I failed.

 

Here’s how it all went down…

 

Day 1

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The first day was by far the easiest, since I regularly practice 36-hour fasts every single week. It’s almost not worth talking about. It was easy and I felt great all day, as usual. The only thing notable about this day was that I spent a significant portion of it on the toilet. I took a bunch of senna the night before in an attempt to quickly clean myself out. TMI, I know. But senna works, people. Try it out.

Look it up.

 

Day 2

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I felt amazing waking up on the 2nd day. This was expected and typical, though. Like I said before, I go to bed with a completely empty stomach every Friday, and go to work starving every single Saturday morning. It always works out well for me.

But near the end of my shift at work, even the scented bars of soap started to looked appetizing. Worse yet, I even walked past some packages of hot dogs, and those looked appetizing! HOT DOGS! Do you know how those are made?!

(I’d sooner eat the soap than the hot dogs, though. I don’t hate myself that much.)

But when hot dogs and bars of soap start looking edible, you know you’re hungry.

This was going to be harder than I thought…

 

The real challenge started around what would have been dinner time. I’m used to ending my workweek with a delicious, bountiful vegan feast. I work at a natural grocery store, Detwiler’s Farm Market, in Southwest Florida. I have access to tremendously affordable fresh produce year-round. It’s a vegan’s dream. There is no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables in my house.

I went to bed very hungry that night. My sleep was terrible. Restless leg syndrome came up out of nowhere. I hadn’t had RLS since I was a kid. But working in the supplement industry, I knew it was probably a symptom of mineral deficiency. Luckily, there was a bottle of Perrier in my fridge. I figured there was at least some magnesium in Perrier, so I desperately chugged the bottle, and lo and behold, my RLS went away after 5 minutes.

(If you suffer from RLS, please try to avoid taking potentially harmful over the counter, synthetic dopamine agonist medications. It might just be a simple magnesium deficiency. Try mineral supplements first. If you know it is a dopamine issue, do some research into Mucuna Pruriens).

After I went to sleep, I woke up with excruciating Charley horses (leg cramps) after a few hours. I solved the magnesium deficiency problem, but not the potassium and electrolyte deficiencies.

Needless to say, I slept terribly that night. Little did I know that my refusal to use supplements during my water fast would cause me to eventually fail on my 7-day goal.

 

Day 3

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After a grueling night of leg cramps, I woke up feeling light as a feather. I weighed in at 168 lbs, down 7 lbs from my initial weigh in of 175 lbs. I understood that much of it was water weight, and I wasn’t carrying any food in my body, but it was still encouraging! I could really start to see my abs, which have historically been accompanied by a bit of belly fat. I tend to carry my fat in my torso, which may be a symptom of adrenal fatigue and high cortisol levels.

I was exhausted, though. I dragged myself to work reluctantly. The lack of caffeine was putting me in the worst mood. This was the longest I’d gone without caffeine since USAF Basic Military Training (in the summer of 2008). I was told that fasting was such a beautiful, spiritual experience. But my brain was incapable of receiving the typical euphoria due to detrimental effects of caffeine withdrawal.

By the time I got home from work, all I wanted to do was eat snacks and watch a movie with my daughter. I couldn’t eat, so instead we watched the first half Lord of the Rings. I drank a San Pellegrino. The Hobbits’ affinity for food and hospitality just made me hungrier. I turned the movie off and went to bed. The leg cramps were even worse than the night before, and I still refused to incorporate a mineral or electrolyte supplement.

 

Day 4

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I woke up, still hurting from caffeine withdrawl. I was starting to get used to life without food, however. At this point all I wanted was coffee. It had been over 72 hours since my last caffeine fix.

In my pain, I yearned for the Holy Spirit, so without hesitation I drove to Meeting.

(I am a Quaker, and we don’t call it “church,” but rather a “Meeting of Friends.” This is because we consider the whole world to be our church. We are the church. For this reason, we avoid claiming any particular building to be a house of God. God is with you wherever you go. That being said, Quakers do not look down upon anyone who attends church, mosque, temple, etc. We choose to do things a bit differently, and some things are simply semantic differences. We love and respect everyone regardless of their spiritual practices/beliefs For more information about Quakers, check out QuakerSpeak on YouTube).

As I sat in silence, my mind rushed with ideas on how to quell the pain I was going through. I thought to myself, why am I doing this? I came to the swift conclusion that my caffeine withdrawal was having a detrimental effect on the spiritual goals of this fast.

At this point, the whole fasting experience had been nothing more than a health experiment/detox/reset.

I ran out of that meeting fast. As soon as it was over, I was gone. No time for coffee with Friends! This was sort of rude of me, and not my typical behavior. I was in too rough of shape to talk to anyone at that point, though.

Ironically, I drove down to Whole Foods and found a large Chameleon Cold Brew coffee on sale. So I bought one (black, of course). I didn’t even have a chance to leave the parking lot before I opened it. But this time I only drank ¼ of the bottle—2 servings! I normally drink all 8 servings (I know, I have a problem).

At that moment the weight of the world had lifted off my shoulders. I drove home singing along to my music, excited to see my family, grateful for the life I’ve been given, and excited to tackle the day ahead. The caffeine had brought me back to normal. This was the euphoria and spiritual fulfillment that I had expected from my fast.

 

Day 5

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Back to work! And this time I had coffee, and I was nearly 14 lbs lighter! Everyone who knew I had been fasting was commenting on how much better I looked than the last few work days. I admitted to them that I had coffee, and that was really the only difference.

Apparently I’m so addicted to caffeine that I look physically ill when I don’t have it.

I felt awesome for most of the day and I was unusually productive. At this point I was certain that I was going through ketosis, and my body had figured out how to utilize fat for fuel. I was still hungry of course, but not that hungry.

On my way home from work, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” came on through my phone’s shuffle.

That’s when this verse hit me:

Aw, me, I busted out don’t even ask me how,
I went lookin’ for some help, I walked past a guernsey cow
Who directed me down to the bowery slums
Where people carried signs around sayin’ ban the bums.
I jumped right in line, sayin’ I hope that I’m not late
When I realized I hadn’t eaten for five days straight.

This of course, was supposedly inspired by a dream Bob Dylan had. Fasting in a dream is an interesting concept, but nevertheless it resonated with me. I also hadn’t eaten for 5 days straight.

I was terrified about the prospect of yet another night of increasingly horrendous leg cramps. I was also beginning to get sick, which I started feeling near the end of the day. Some coworkers where coughing in a meeting earlier. The meeting was in a small room, and my defenses were down. I breathed in that cough. I had no nutrition left in my body to fight it off. So of course, I ended up acquiring the sniffles and a mild sinus infection.

I took that Bob Dylan lyric as a sign to stop my fast before things became unmanageable.

Call it a moment of weakness, or rather a healthy concern for nutritional pragmatism, I caved in at exactly 120 hours.

So I started cutting up all the fruits and vegetables in my house and tossed them into my Vitamix with some unsweetened almond milk, expired O.J, and some of those fancy ice cubes from Maine. I thought to myself, “I want nutrition and I want it now, damnit!”

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So it was a night of watching Seinfeld on Hulu and chugging down delicious smoothies with my daughter, Brooke. I felt a strange combination of relief, contentedness, and defeat all wrapped into one.

Next time I fast, I will be better prepared to combat the inevitable nutrient deficiencies. That being said, I have no regrets.

I went 120 hours without food or supplements and 72 hours without caffeine.

I’ve come a long way from where I was, and I shouldn’t beat myself up over falling short of my goal.

Just a few years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to go 5 days without a drink, or 1 day without a cigarette.

This is progress. This is success.

Algae Oil is the New Fish Oil

We all know that fish contains those fabled omega-3 fatty acids that our bodies need. That’s why fish is “so healthy” for us, right? Well, it turns out there’s a better way to get your omega-3, and it involves going straight to the original source: Algae.

Just like how a cow gets its calcium from the plants it eats, fish get their omega-3 from the algae they eat. And if they aren’t eating algae directly, they’re eating it indirectly somewhere along the food chain.

Fish oil is a great source of omega-3, but like all foods, fish is a package deal. It often comes with contaminants such as PCBs and persistent organic pollutants like pesticides. This may be through no fault of the manufacturer, and rather a side effect of our overly polluted oceans. PCBs and mercury have become unavoidable byproducts of seafood– wild caught or farm-raised, it doesn’t matter.

Studies show that long-chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) not only benefit heart health, but perhaps more importantly, they benefit and protect the brain. These fatty acids are essential for memory, cognition, and emotional well-being.

Furthermore, since the advent of cooking oils, most people consume far too many Omega-6 fatty acids. Supplementing with EPA/DHA with fish oil or algae oil can help balance this out. Whether your’e a vegan, omnivore, or flexitarian, you might want to consider getting more omega-3 and less omega-6 in your diet.

fatty-acid-breakdown-of-different-fats

There are some ultra-purified fish oil supplements that claim to be virtually free from mercury and PCBs, but for those who are vegan/vegetarian or unwilling to take the risk, there is a better way: Algae-based Omega-3 supplements.

These products essentially cut out the “middle-fish.”

Algae based EPA/DHA supplements can be found on Amazon, or your local natural foods market.

On a personal note, the addition of the supplement Ovega-3 has helped me tremendously throughout my plant-based journey. My first attempt at going vegan failed due to depressive symptoms, which I later figured out was due to an Omega-3 deficiency.  Seafood was the last thing to go for me, so when I abruptly ended my fish consumption and increased or maintained my nut and oil consumption, it wreaked mild havoc upon my brain.

As soon as I added an algae-based omega-3 supplement and ground flaxseed (a great source of ALA) my diet, the emotional and cognitive symptoms lifted, and suddenly I didn’t need fish. An omega-3 supplement turned out to the missing ingredient to my vegan diet.

Next time you decide to replenish your fish oil supply, try algae oil instead. At the very least, you’ll reap the same benefits without have to suffer through those fishy burps.

(Note: I am in no way financially invested in or supported by the Ovega-3 company. I’m sure that there are plenty of other fine algae-based EPA/DHA supplements on the market. Ovega-3 is the only one I’ve tried so far, and thus, I can only personally speak to its efficacy).

The Secret to Getting FREE Guacamole at Chipotle

Mexican inspired fast food joints like Chipotle, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Qdoba, and even Taco Bell have for years served as a savory refuge for hungry vegans and vegetarians on the go.

My go-to at Chipotle is, or at least, WAS, the “Sofritas” burrito–basically spiced up tofu. But the “Veggie” burrito has always been an elusive mystery to me. If grilled vegetables are free for any burrito, then why does the Veggie burrito cost the same as the Sofritas burrito?

Too embarrassed to ask about it, I always ended up choosing Sofritas for fear of getting ripped off or laughed at.

But then one day, I went for it. I didn’t ask about it. I just did it.

“One Veggie burrito, please,” I anxiously ordered.

The burrito artist placed my usual black beans and brown rice onto the tortilla. We were off to a good start.

She then quickly placed what seemed like a minuscule amount of grilled vegetables on top of it and passed it off to the next associate. The customer behind me asked for grilled veggies on top of his carnitas. At this point, I was getting annoyed. I already had buyer’s remorse.

“That’s it?!” I thought to myself. “That’s the last time I order a veggie burrito. Oh well, live and learn.”

When it came to the toppings (my favorite part), I ordered my usual: “Everything except for cheese and sour cream, please.” I call this the “Fully Vegan.” And of course, this includes guacamole. This time they loaded it up with what seemed to be an exorbitant amount of guac…Cha-ching.

When I finally pay for the burrito, I don’t even notice the price. The grilled veggie fiasco had me flustered and distracted.

But while I enjoyed my meal outside of this particular Sarasota Chipotle’s beautiful yet lonely patio, I inspected my receipt and noticed that I was not charged for guacamole!

You know that rush you get when you speed past a police car and DON’T get pulled over? It was kind of like that, only better. An odd combination of guilt, excitement and curiosity rattled my brain for the rest of my work day.

Was it a mistake? Or rather, a deliberate pricing strategy to make the veggie burrito a more fair and appealing option for customers?

When I got home, I did the research and immediately discovered that this was indeed Chipotle policy, and I was simply late to the party.

Thank you, Chipotle.

So there you have it. Just order the veggie burrito and your guacamole will be free. If this isn’t incentive enough to try a vegan meal, then I don’t know what is.

A Vegan Lifestyle is a Life of Abundance, Not Deprivation

The biggest mistake I made during my plant-based transition was focusing on everything I was losing, rather than everything I was gaining.

I was a serial quitter, after all. Not in the workplace or in academia, but with poor lifestyle habits. I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I quit diet soda. I quit regular soda. I quit fast food. I quit prescription medications. I quit over the counter allergy medicines. I get quite the kick out of quitting bad habits, so quitting meat, dairy and eggs felt only natural to me.

But as much as I am a lover of quitting bad habits, I’m also a lover of abundance. I’m a long distance runner. I’ll brew and drink several cups of coffee and tea in one day. I have a supplement to prevent every ailment. My backyard is full of exotic, edible/fruit bearing trees (shh… don’t tell my HOA!). My bedroom walls have always been fully decorated. My pantry looks like I’m preparing for WWIII. And perhaps most notably, I love food and I have a tendency to eat A LOT.

So, even though my vegan journey had been off to a great start, I started longing for what I thought I was missing out on.

As a fishmonger, I loved seafood. Giving up pork, beef, chicken and cheese was easy. Fish was the last bastion of my carnism. Wild-caught sea life epitomizes abundance, and as an abundance lover, I constantly feel the temptation to consume anything new. Seafood was exotic, and there was almost always something new. Sea Urchin? Yes, please! Swordfish spinal fluid? You bet. Fish heads? Bring it on.

Nothing scared me. Hell, I’d have eaten fugu back in my sushi heyday.

But then I realized that there’s a freedom in quitting. No longer was I wrecking my brain, trying to justify eating certain animals. No longer was I spending lots of money on fresh fish and expensive sushi dinners. No longer was I getting fast food and take-out for my lunch breaks.

And just like that, my plate opened up.

There was so much more room for fresh fruits and vegetables. Nuts and seeds became a staple, rather than an afterthought. Exotic grains and high quality breads began to steal the show. I found a whole world of plant foods that I was ignoring. Giving up meat, dairy and eggs really gives you a deeper appreciation of everything else in the food pyramid.

I now walk through the produce department like a kid in a candy store, and navigating the grocery department is an adventure every single time. Now I’m an expert at scouring ingredients lists, and my meals are more exciting than ever before (and it’s hard to top the swordfish spinal fluid).

Don’t let FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) prevent you from making the switch. You’ll quickly find that the less you eat something, the less you crave it. Your taste buds will adapt to whatever you feed it. Our wonderful bodies are hardwired to adapt to change, and as long as you take full advantage of the grocery and produce departments at your local market, you’ll find that there’s a world of culinary abundance out there to discover.

Go vegan and prosper.

No, Oysters Are Not Vegan. But That Isn’t the Whole Story…

I’m a vegan, and I’ve personally slaughtered approximately 1 million oysters in my lifetime. And for some reason, I don’t feel too bad about it.

For years, as a young twenty-something, I worked at one of the best raw bars in southwest Florida, as the restaurant’s primary shucker. Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally had my doubts and concerns about what I was doing, but shucking oysters and steaming mussels to death didn’t feel as horrible as boiling a lobster alive.

I’ve boiled hundreds of lobsters alive, by the way. I don’t feel good about it today, and I didn’t feel good about it back then. My intuition told me that there was a distinct difference, but I hadn’t actually explored the science behind why it was different.

Until now…

Science (So Far) Suggests that Oysters and Mussels Do Not Suffer

You may have seen articles circulating around about the “ostrovegan” issue, such as this editorial on Slate, Consider the Oyster. It’s almost certainly true that oysters and mussels do not suffer at the same capacity as dogs, cows, pigs, chickens and even fish– but that doesn’t mean it’s OK for vegans to eat them.

(For an alternative perspective on this issue, check out this blog from Marc Bekoff of the Huffington Post.)

Oysters and mussels do not have brains, or even a complex nervous system. Like plants, they are also not motile, thus rendering pain receptors an unnecessary biological feature. Unlike clams and scallops, oysters and mussels are sessile bivalves. Bivalves have two pairs of nerve chords and three pairs of ganglia.

There are no published descriptions of behavioral or neurophysiological responses to tissue injury in bivalves.

Although technically ocean animals, oysters and mussels are clearly different than lobsters, crabs, squid, fish, octopus, and even clams and scallops.

 

Oysters and Mussels Clean our Waters

Unlike the factory farming of any other animal, oysters and mussels actually improve their environment. They filter phytoplankton and excess nutrients, helping prevent ocean “dead zones.” They create reef-like habitats for small sea creatures. They help facilitate the food chain, as tiny shrimp-like creatures feed on their “pseudo-feces,” which are then eaten by crabs and seahorses.

In fact, due to the benign harvesting practices of most shellfish farmers, oysters and rope-cultured mussel cultivation causes significantly less animal suffering and animal deaths than most fruit, vegetable and grain farming operations! From a utilitarian ethics standpoint, even if oysters do feel some sort of pain, farming and consuming them may arguably be more ethical than not.

 

Buyer Beware

As filters feeders, they accumulate the toxins of their habitats, acting as beasts of burden for the ocean. Consumers should be extremely careful about where their oysters are sourced from. For example, Louisiana oysters are subject to tremendous amounts of agricultural runoff from the Mississippi River (“Round-Up Ready” Oysters!). 

And that’s not to mention the BP oil spill of 2010. Sadly, industrial runoff and environmental pollution may one day render these briny little snot-rockets inedible.

Some oysters are cultivated for the sole purpose of cleaning waterways, like the now completely inedible Liberty Oysters of Long Island.

Check out the Billion Oyster Project!

Oysters and Mussels are Nutrition Powerhouses for Vegans

If you’re on a plant-based diet and you’re concerned about nutritional deficiencies, oysters and mussels are excellent sources of iron, B12, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc– all of which are somewhat elusive in a vegan diet. I’m not suggesting you go to your local oyster bar and shell-out $20-$30 for a dozen oysters, but if you seriously think you might have a nutrient deficiency due to an inadequate diet, eating oysters or mussels on occasion is a far better option than completely abandoning your vegan lifestyle. Rope-cultured blue mussels from Prince Edward Island, Canada, or Green Lipped Mussels from New Zealand are mostly safe, affordable options.

Oysters and mussels also contain significant amounts of cholesterol, which is something to consider.

Note: A properly planned vegan diet should not cause any nutritional deficiencies, as long as a B12 supplement is being used.

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Bottom-Line: Make no mistake, oysters and mussels are not vegan, but they are probably the most “vegan” animal protein you can eat (besides clean meat, of course).

That being said, I no longer eat bivalves, as I prefer to give all animals the benefit of the doubt…just in case. Quite frankly, I no longer tolerate animal protein very well anymore anyway. But for people on the fence about going all in on a plant-based journey, I highly recommend sustainably raised oysters and mussels as a “cheat.”

If you’re struggling along your plant-based journey, and you feel some sort of nutritional or psychological respite eating oysters or mussels, then go for it! In my opinion, you don’t need to give up your vegan title to occasionally eat an animal that may or may not feel pain in the recognizable sense.

If you’re eating mussels instead of (and not in addition to) chicken, beef, pork or fish, then you’re on the right track… as long as you’re considering the source, of course.

(Note: Always consult a doctor before incorporating shellfish into your diet. Shellfish allergies are common and serious. Some people develop shellfish allergies later in their life. Even if you aren’t aware of any food allergies, an Epipen is a lifesaving tool that should be considered by all families).

 

F*** The Vegan Police

Insufferable vegans only harm their movement. Judgmental, idealogical hardliners seldom change people’s minds–particularly when fear isn’t an available motivator. It’s time to revolutionize vegan evangelism with a compassionate, empathetic approach tailored towards the mindset of an inherently anthropocentric world.

The new term “plant-based” didn’t spring up from nowhere. Some vegans understand that they have a PR problem. The “V word” has become a politically loaded term– so much so that some food brands are dropping the word “vegan” from their packaging and opting instead for “plant-based.” This semantic work-around is a response to years of negative publicity from insufferable vegan ideologues.

Idealogical groups usually end up cannibalising each other, as exemplified by many political and religious groups throughout modern world history. At the risk of sounding cliche, finding common ground is almost always the more productive route.

For Best Results, Compromise

When you consider the result of your attitude and actions, you will see that a gentler, more moderate approach to activism will yield greater benefits for your cause.

Tobias Leenaert of VeganStrategist.org, uses the example of the “great vegetarian burger and the awful vegan burger” in his book How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach.

Envisage a situation in which you can buy a lunch for a really hungry nonvegan friend, whom we’ll call Bill. The restaurant offers two meatless choices: a great-tasting vegetarian burger (it has some egg in it to bind it), and a terrible-tasting vegan burger. Which one do you pick? From an idealistic viewpoint, you may reason that you cannot allow yourself to buy or even recommend anything nonvegan. Pragmatically, you may decide that if Bill eats the bad vegan burger, he may undergo an experience that will literally and metaphorically leave a negative taste in his mouth. This may make Bill less likely to become more open to trying other vegan products and to lose his “veg prejudice” in the future. Eating a tasty vegetarian burger, on the other hand, would mean some complicity in animal suffering, but the psychological effect of a person thinking Is that meat free? That’s yummy! is probably much more catalytic and valuable in the long run.

How to Create a Vegan World: a Pragmatic Approach (page 25), Tobias Leenaert

Public Opinion Changes Slowly

Change rarely happens overnight, and even the staunchest activists have to coexist with the rest of the world. The most effective human rights campaigns are won with positivity and a peaceful coexistence with the rest of society. Historically, marginalized ethnic/religious minorities, racial groups, and sexual orientations gain public favor when the majority population deems them harmless. Fear instigates hate. And people hate vegans. Not because they fear them, but rather they fear being subjected to uncomfortable conversations, insufferably judgmental rants, and even threats to their business or way of life. Vegans need to ease their way into the hearts and minds of the moderate, omnivorous public.

Not Vegan Enough

The best way for vegans to ensure that they’ll never see a vegan world is to hold newcomers to an impossible standard. Shunning honey, pet ownership, second-hand leather, and backyard egg-laying hens only serves as an idealogical barrier to the moderate, yet veg curious individual. The vegan police keep people out, when the whole idea is to keep them in.

Ethical Veganism as a Spiritual Movement

Pragmatism is effective and great, but it’s also boring. What about the people who are looking for a spiritual and ethical movement? Is there such a thing as being too pragmatic? 

The idealogical and pragmatic sides of the vegan/plant-based movement can and should coexist. There’s nothing wrong with gaining spiritual fulfillment from the practice of ahimsa, the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain tradition of not wishing harm to any living creature. The personal benefits of practicing universal benevolence gives veganism much of its allure and staying power, and should not go under-appreciated for the sake of dry, soulless pragmatism.

The Bottom-Line: No one is going to become convinced with the same arguments, and no one is going to be persuaded by only one argument. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to eliminating unnecessary animal suffering.

Health reasons. Environmental reasons. Ethical reasons. Spiritual reasons…They’re all good reasons.

Misanthropy is a demon that must be purged from vegan movement. Real vegans keep humans within their circle of compassion–and simply not eating people isn’t enough. We must not turn our backs on our own species, even as our own species turns its back on others.