Monday, April 19, 2010

Maybe Vegans Before 6 might also become... You guessed it: Vegans after 6!

The latest Vegan Diet Craze comes from famous New York foodie and highly respected food journalist Mark Bittman (see his website here), who is proposing a new diet: Vegan Before 6. (Bittman is pictured above.) The idea behind this diet - as you've probably guessed by now - is that everyday before 6 p.m. you go totally vegan. After 6, go wild. Then watch the pounds and inches come off fast.

Before going vegan and starting this Blog, I have to admit: I didn't think much about food. I just popped shit in my mouth all the time without thinking about it. Meat, potatoes, candies, cookies, Chinese food, Indian food, Italian food, cheese, crackers - you name it, I pretty much ate it. Now that I have become an uber-hardcore rigid vegan (who doesn't even eat things that say, "May contain traces of milk or egg" on the ingredients list), I know the ingredients of everything I put in my mouth. And I have become more aware of who's who on the North American - and global - food scene.

I applaud Bittman for coming up with his Vegan Before 6 regimen, even if it might not be veganism for all the right reasons. Bittman, as I said, is extremely respected. When he advises people to go vegan, even if it is only before 6, a whole lot of folks are going to do what he says, out of sheer reverence for the guy.

Here's a quote from a recent Washington Post article about Bittman:
Still largely an omnivore as he completed his vegetarian cookbook, Bittman says he didn't make the big change in his diet until he (a) saw statistics about the environmental impact of large-scale livestock production; and (b) recognized, as he turned 57, that he had high cholesterol, high blood sugar, sleep apnea, bad knees and 35 extra pounds. "My doctor said, 'I think you should become a vegan,' " Bittman says, referring to a diet that includes no animal products, "That's when I decided to try the 'vegan before 6' thing," he says. "It worked for me."

"Vegan before 6" entails eating a vegan diet every day until 6 p.m. After that, Bittman enjoys whatever he wants to eat in whatever portions suit him. "In three months, I lost 35 pounds," he says, adding that he gained five of those back. "My cholesterol went down and stayed down. My blood sugar went down and stayed down. My knees pretty much got better," and his sleep apnea vanished. "It solved everything."

Veganism has done the same thing for me. Without really dieting, I've lost 25 pounds since the fall of 2009. Veganism is a proven way to lose weight. And I actually love food now more than I ever did when I was an omnivore. Maybe that's because I'm far more mindful of what I eat now than I used to be. But the question remains: what about all of these people who are going vegan for personal reasons and not for the larger, more abstract issue of animal rights?

You may recall not so long ago, I blogged about so-called Hegans, who are middle-aged overweight guys (like I am) who decided to go vegan to lose weight and improve their health. These guys aren't moral vegans. They don't go vegan for higher principles. They go vegan to feel better and shed the pounds. Certainly, some animal rights activists would diss this course of action as problematic. I could hear good old Gary Francione - an author, scholar and animal rights activist who has had a huge influence on me - criticizing these Vegans-by-Convenience for their lack of awareness about the suffering of animals.

And he might have a point. Thank God for people like Francione for fighting the good fight all the time. But the truth is, if everybody went "Vegan Before 6" - as Bittman suggests - the slaughter of animals would plunge sharply. And once someone becomes a Vegan-by-Convenience, they will most likely discover the Vegans-by-Conscience community that is so widespread on the internet. And maybe - just maybe - there will be some hope of converting the Vegans-by-Convenience to the cause of animal rights. Certainly, they'll be an easier bunch to win over than the omnivores who just can't go a day without their steak or pork chops or chicken or whatever (fill in the blank).

So I like what Bittman is doing. I like the idea of "Vegan Before 6." If more people go this route, not only will fewer animals be slaughtered, but I believe there's also a distinct possibility that some adherents might go "Vegan Before 6 & Vegan After 6." Maybe "Vegan 24/7" is a better way of putting it. In the meantime, thanks to compromisers like Bittman, the idea of veganism is starting to seem less extreme, less radical, to people who might've dismissed it five years ago. As far as I'm concerned, this is a win-win for us vegans.

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