“Veganism can be quite dangerous if not done right…Make sure you do a lot of research otherwise you can become seriously undernourished.”

Someone wrote this to me recently after I explained to him my current transition to veganism. Though he also wished me “the best of luck” and I can only assume he spoke out of concern and best intentions, I was quite bothered by what he said.

If someone were to say that they eat whatever they feel like eating (including other animals), could you imagine the rush of people who’d say “Eating what you want can be dangerous” or “Make sure you do research or you may become undernourished”? Why does the elimination of animal flesh set off the “danger” and “concern” alarms in some people’s minds, but for anyone who professes to eat some variation of the standard American diet (or has no conscientious eating habits at all), it’s all good? The underlying assumption, of course, is that animal flesh and animal by-products are healthy, and a diet based upon animal consumption is inherently nourishing. Therefore, if you take out animals, that is, nourishment, you’re not eating well.

I wrote back to him, distilling all this with as little criticism as I could muster, “I don’t know about veganism being dangerous—at least not any more than an animal-based diet. The average American doesn’t do research about what they eat, so I can only imagine how dangerous their eating habits are.”

But I must wonder where did this belief—that animal flesh is necessary for health—originally come from, and why is it so entrenched in mainstream minds? As I dug for answers, I found that, interestingly enough, eschewing non-human flesh has historically been tied to many religious, spiritual, and philosophical beliefs. Some even point out that Judaeo-Christian scripture actually dictates vegetarianism/veganism in Genesis. Today, we can look at South Asia—India in particular, to see a perfect example of an entire society that lives and thrives without eating animal meat (though they do eat dairy).

I still do not know why people believe that not eating animal products is dangerous. More importantly, though, is dispelling that myth and recognizing health can attained from thoughtful, sustainable stewardship and consumption of plants.