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Introduction

To me, it is obvious that veganism introduces challenges to most people. Solving the challenges is possible for most but not all people, and often requires trade-offs that may or may not be worth it.  I’ve seen effective altruist vegan advocates deny outright that trade-offs exist, or more often imply it while making technically true statements. This got to the point that a generation of EAs went vegan without health research, some of whom are already paying health costs for it, and I tentatively believe it’s harming animals as well. 

Discussions about the challenges of veganism and ensuing trade-offs tend to go poorly, but I think it’s too important to ignore. I’ve created this post so I can lay out my views as legibly as possible, and invite people to present evidence I’m wrong. 

One reason discussions about this tend to go so poorly is that the topic is so deeply emotionally and morally charged. Actually, it’s worse than that: it’s deeply emotionally and morally charged for one side in a conversation, and often a vague irritant to the other. Having your deepest moral convictions treated as an annoyance to others is an awful feeling, maybe worse than them having opposing but strong feelings. So I want to be clear that I respect both the belief that animals can suffer and the work advocates put into reducing that suffering. I don’t prioritize it as highly as you do, but I am glad you are doing (parts of) it.

But it’s entirely possible for it to be simultaneously true that animal suffering is morally relevant, and veganism has trade-offs for most people. You can argue that the trade-offs don’t matter, that no cost would justify the consumption of animals, and I have a section discussing that, but even that wouldn’t mean the trade-offs don’t exist. 

This post covers a lot of ground, and is targeted at a fairly small audience. If you already agree with me I expect you can skip most of this, maybe check out the comments if you want the counter-evidence. I have a section addressing potential counter-arguments, and probably most people don’t need to read my response to arguments they didn’t plan on making. Because I expect modular reading, some pieces of information show up in more than one section. Anyone reading the piece end to end has my apologies for that. 

However, I expect the best arguments to come from people who have read the entire thing, and at a minimum the “my cruxes” and “evidence I’m looking for” sections. I also ask you to check the preemptive response section for your argument, and engage with my response if it relates to your point. I realize that’s a long read, but I’ve spent hundreds of hours on this, including providing nutritional services to veg*ns directly, so I feel like this is a reasonable request. 

My cruxes

Below are all of the cruxes I could identify for my conclusion that veganism has trade-offs, and they include health:

  • People are extremely variable. This includes variation in digestion, tastes, time, money, cooking ability… 
  • Most people’s optimal diet includes small amounts of animal products, but people eat sub-optimally for lots of reasons and that’s their right. Averting animal suffering is a better reason to eat suboptimally than most. 
  • Average vegans and omnivores vary in multiple ways, so it’s complicated to compare diets. I think the relevant comparison healthwise is “the same person, eating vegan or omnivore” or “veganism vs. omnivorism, holding all trade-offs but one constant”.
  • For most omnivores who grew up in an omnivorous culture, going vegan requires a sacrifice in at least one of: cost, taste (including variety), health, time/effort.
    • This is a mix of capital investments and ongoing costs – you may need to learn a bunch of new recipes, but if they work for you that’s a one time cost.
    • Arguments often get bogged down around the fact that people rarely need to sacrifice on all fronts at once. There are cheap ways for (most) people to eat vegan, but they either take effort and knowledge, or they’re bad for you (Oreos are vegan). There are vegan ways for most people to be close to nutritionally optimal, but they require a lot of planning or dietary monotony.
    • Some of the financial advantage for omnivores is due to meat subsidies that make meat artificially cheap, but not all of it, and I don’t know how that compares to grain subsidies.
  • There are vegan sources of every nutrient (including B12, if you include fortified products). There may even be dense sources in every or almost every nutrient. But there isn’t a satisfying plant product that is as rich in as many things as meat, dairy, and especially eggs. Every “what about X?” has an answer, but if you add up all the foods you would need to meet every need, for people who aren’t gifted at digestion, it’s far too many calories and still fairly restrictive.
    • “Satisfying” matters. There are vegan protein shakes and cereals containing ~everything, but in practice most people don’t seem to find these satisfying.
    • There isn’t a rich vegan source of every vitamin for every person. If there are three vegan sources and you’re allergic to all of them, you need animal products.
    • The gap between veganism and omnivorism is shrinking over time, as fortified fake meats and fake milks get better and cheaper. But these aren’t a cure-all.
      • Some people don’t process the fortified micronutrients as well as they process meat (and vice-versa, but that’s irrelevant on an individual level).
      • Avoiding processed foods or just not liking them is pretty common, especially among the kind of people who become vegan. 
      • Brands vary pretty widely, so you still need to know enough to pick the right fortified foods.
      • Fake meats are quite expensive, although less so every year.
        • I want to give the people behind fake meat a lot of credit. Making meat easier to give up was a good strategy for animal protection advocates.
  • Veganism isn’t weird for having these trade-offs. Every diet has trade-offs. I can name many diets I rank as having worse average trade-offs than veganism or a lower ceiling on health.
    • Carnivore diet, any monotrophic diet, ultralow calorie diets under most circumstances, “breathetarian”, liquid diets under most circumstances, most things with “cleanse” or “detox” in the name, raw foodism…
    • And even then, several of these have someone for whom they’re the best option.
  • The trade-offs vary widely by person. Some people have the digestive ability and palate of a goat and will be basically fine no matter what. Some people are already eating monotonous, highly planned diets and removing animal products doesn’t make it any harder. Some people are already struggling to feed themselves on an omnivore diet, and have nothing to replace meat if you take it away.
    • Vegan athletes are often held up as proof veganism can be healthy, with the implication that feeding athletes is hard mode so if it works for them it must work for everyone. But being a serious athlete requires a lot of the same trade-offs as veganism: you’re already planning diets meticulously, optimized for health over taste, with little variety, and taking a lot of supplements. If there are plant foods that work for you, swapping them in may be barely a sacrifice. Also, athletes have a larger calorie budget to work with.
  • Lots of people switch to vegan diets and see immediate health improvements.
    • Some improve because veganism is genuinely their optimal diet.
    • Others improve because even though their hypothetical optimal diet includes meat, the omnivore diet they were actually eating was bad for them and removing meat entirely is easier than eating good forms in moderation.
    • Others improve because they are putting more effort into their vegan diet, and they would be doing even better if they put that much effort into their omnivore diet.
    • Others see short-term improvement because animal products have both good points and bad points, and for some people the bad parts decay faster than the good parts. If your cholesterol goes down in a month and your B12 takes years to become a problem, it is simultaneously true that going vegan produced an immediate improvement, and that it will take a health toll.
  • Vegetarianism is nutritionally much closer to omnivorism than it is to veganism.
  • There exist large clusters of vegans who do not talk about nutrition and are operating naively. As in, no research into nutrition, no supplements, no testing, no conscious thought applied to their diet.
    • One of these clusters is young effective altruists whose top priority is not animal welfare (but nonetheless feel compelled to go vegan). 

Those are my premises. Below are a few conclusions I draw from them.  I originally didn’t plan on including a conclusion, but an early reader suggested my conclusions were milder than they expected and it might be good to share them. So: 

  • People recruiting for veganism should take care to onboard people in a responsible way. This could be as simple as referring people to veganhealth.org frequently enough that they actually use it.
    • Recruiting means both organized efforts and informal encouragement of friends. 
  • Diet issues are a live hypothesis suggested to vegans with health problems, especially vague, diagnosis-resistant ones.
    • This one isn’t vegan specific, although I do think it’s more relevant to them.
  • False claims about vegan nutrition should be proactively rejected by the vegan community, in both formal and informal settings, including implicit claims. This includes:
    • Explicit or implicit claims veganism is healthy for everyone, and that there is no one for whom it is not healthy.
    • Explicit or implicit claims veganism doesn’t involve trade-offs for many people. 
    • Motte and baileys of “there is nothing magic about animal products, we can use technology to perfectly replace them” and “animal products have already been perfectly replaced and rendered unnecessary”.

My evidence

One is first principles. Animal products are incredibly nutrient dense. You can get a bit of all known nutrients from plants and fortified products, and you can find a vegan food that’s at least pretty good for every nutrient, but getting enough of all of them is a serious logic puzzle unless you have good genes. Short of medical issues it can be done, but for most people it will take some combination of more money, more planning, more work, and less joy from food. 

“Short of medical issues” is burying the lede. Food allergies and digestion issues mean lots of people struggle to feed themselves even with animal products; giving up a valuable chunk of their remaining options comes at a huge cost.

[Of course some people have issues such that animal products are bad for them and giving them up is an improvement. Those raise veganism’s average health score but don’t cancel out the people who would suffer]

More empirically, there is this study from Faunalytics, which found 29% of ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians in their sample had nutritional issues, and 80% got better within three months of quitting. Their recorded attrition rate was 84%, so if you assume no current veg*ns have issues that implies a 24% of all current and former veg*ns develop health issues from the diet (19% if you only include issues meat products cured quickly). I’m really sad to only be giving you this one study, but most of the literature is terrible (see below).

The Faunalytics study has a fair number of limitations, which I went into more detail on here. My guess is that their number is a moderate underestimate of the real rate, and a severe underestimate of the value for naive vegans in particular, but 24% is high enough that I don’t think the difference matters so I’ll use that for the rest of the post.

Evidence I’m looking for

The ideal study is a longitudinal RCT where diet is randomly assigned, cost (across all dimensions, not just money) is held constant, and participants are studied over multiple years to track cumulative effects. I assume that doesn’t exist, but the closer we can get the better. 

I’ve spent several hours looking for good studies on vegan nutrition, of which the only one that was even passable was the Faunalytics study. My search was by no means complete, but enough to spot some persistent flaws among multiple studies. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time checking citations made in support of vegan claims, only to find the study is either atrocious or doesn’t support the claim made (examples in the “This is a strawman…” section). There is also some history of goalpost moving, where an advocate cites a study, I criticize it, and they say it doesn’t matter and cite a new study. This is exhausting. 

I ask that you only cite evidence you, personally, find compelling and are willing to stand by, and note its flaws in your initial citation. That doesn’t mean the study has to be perfect, that’s impossible, but you should know the flaws and be ready to explain why you still believe the study. If your belief rests on many studies instead of just one (a perfectly reasonable, nee admirable, state), please cite all of them. I am going to be pretty hard on people who link to seriously flawed studies without disclosing the flaws, or who retract citations without updating their own beliefs.

A non-exhaustive list of common flaws:

  • Studies rarely control for supplements. I’m tentatively on board with supplements being enough to get people back to at least the health level they had as an omnivore, but you can’t know their effect with recording usage and examining the impact.
  • I’ve yet to see a study that controlled for effort and money put into diet. If vegans are equally healthy but are spending twice as much time and money on food, that’s important to know.
  • Diet is self-selected rather than assigned. People who try veganism and stick with it are disproportionately likely to find it easy.
    • I don’t expect to find a study randomly assigning a long term vegan diet, but I will apply a discount factor to account for that. 
  • Studies are snapshots rather than long-term, and so lose all of the information from people who tried veganism, found it too hard, and quit.
    • Finding a way around this is what earned Faunalytics my eternal gratitude.
  • Studies don’t mention including people with additional dietary challenges, which I think are a very big deal.
  • Veganism status is based on self-identification. Other studies show that self-identified vegans often eat enough meat to be nutritionally relevant.
  • Studies often combine veganism and vegetarianism, or only include vegetarians, but are cited as if they are about veganism alone. I think vegetarianism is nutritionally much closer to omnivorism than veganism, so this isn’t helpful.
  • All the usual problems: tiny samples, motivated researchers, bad statistics. 
  • Some studies monitor dietary intake levels rather than internal levels of nutrients (as measured by tests on blood or other fluids). There are two problems with this:
    • Since RDA levels run quite high relative to average need, this is unfairly hard on vegan diets. 
    • Nutrition labels aren’t always corrected for average bioavailability, and can’t be corrected for individual variation in digestion. Plant nutrients are on average less bioavailable (although I think there are broad exceptions, and certainly individuals vary on this), so that’s perhaps too easy on plant-based diets.
  • Most studies are done by motivated parties, and it’s too easy to manipulate those. I wouldn’t have trusted the Faunalytics study if it had come from a pro-meat source.

A non-exhaustive list of evidence I hope for:

  • Quantifying the costs (across all dimensions) of dietary changes, even if the study doesn’t control for them
  • AFAICT there is no large vegan culture- the closest is lacto-vegetarian with individuals choosing to aim higher, and cultures that can’t afford meat often. Evidence of cultures with true, lifelong veganism (excluding mother’s milk) would be very interesting.
  • Studies that in some way tracking people who quit veganism, such that it could detect health issues driving people to quit. 
  • What happens to health when a very poor community earns enough to have access to occasional meat?
  • What happens when people from a lacto-vegetarian or meat-sparse culture move to a meat-loving one?
  • Studies on the impact of vegan nutritional education- how much if any does it improve outcomes?
  • What happens to people who are forced to give up animal products suddenly, for non-ethical reasons? I’m thinking of things like Alpha-gal Syndrome creating an immune response to red meat, adult onset lactose intolerance, or moving to a country that deemphasizes meat.
  • Ditto for the reverse.
    • I’m especially interested in people with dietary difficulties.
  • Studies comparing veganism and vegetarianism, especially in the same person.

 Preemptive responses to counter-arguments

There are a few counter-arguments I’ve already gotten or expect to get shortly, so let me address them ahead of time. 

“You’re singling out veganism”

Multiple people have suggested it’s wrong for me to focus on veganism. If I build enough trust and rapport with them they will often admit that veganism obviously involves some trade-offs, if only because any dietary change has trade-offs, but they think I’m unfairly singling veganism out.

First off, I’ve been writing about nutrition under this name since 2014. Earlier, if you count the pseudonymous livejournal. I talk about non-vegan nutrition all the time. I wrote a short unrelated nutrition post while this one was in editing. I understand the mistake if you’re unfamiliar with my work, but I assure you this is not a hobby I picked up to annoy you.

It’s true that I am paying more attention to veganism than I am to, say, the trad carnivore idiots, even though I think that diet is worse. But veganism is where the people are, both near me and in the US as a whole. Dietary change is so synonymous with animal protection within Effective Altruism that the EAForum tag is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the animal suffering tag. At a young-EA-organizer conference I mentored at last year, something like half of attendees were vegan, and only a handful had no animal-protecting diet considerations. If keto gets anywhere near this kind of numbers I assure you I will say something.

“The costs of misinformation are small relative to the benefits of animals”

One possible argument for downplaying or dismissing the costs of veganism is that factory farming is so bad anything is justified in stopping it. I’m open to that argument in the abstract, but empirically I think this isn’t working and animals would be better off if people were given proper information. 

First, it’s not clear to me the costs of acknowledging vegan nutrition issues are that high. I’ve gotten a few dozen comments/emails/etc on my vegan nutrition project of the form “This inspired me to get tested, here are my supplements, here are my results”. No one has told me they’ve restarted consuming meat or even milk. It is possible people are less likely to volunteer diet changes, although I do note I’m not vegan.

But even if education causes many people to bounce off, the alternative may be worse. 

That Faunalytics study says 24% of people leave veg*nism due to health reasons. If you use really naive math, that suggests that ignoring nutrition issues would need to increase recruitment by 33%, just to break even.  But people who quit veganism due to health issues tend to do so with a vitriol not seen in people leaving for other reasons. I don’t have numbers for this, but r/exvegans is mostly people who left for health reasons (with a smattering of people compelled by parents), as are the ex-vegans angry enough to start blogs. Even if they don’t make a lifestyle out of it, people who feel harmed are less likely to retry veganism, and more likely to discourage their friends.

I made a toy model comparing the trade off of education (which may lead people to bounce off) vs. lack of education (which leads people to quit and discourage others). The result is very sensitive to assumptions, especially “how many counterfactual vegans do angry ex-vegans prevent?”. If you put the attrition rate as low as I do, education is clearly the best decision from an animal suffering perspective. If you put it higher it becomes very sensitive to other assumptions. It is fairly hard to make a slam-dunk case against nutritional awareness, but then, (points at years of nutrition blogging) I would say that.

“The human health gains are small relative to the harms to animals” 

I think this is a fair argument to make, and the answer comes down to complicated math. To their credit, vegan EAs have done an enormous amount of math on the exact numeric suffering of farmed animals. But honest accounting requires looking at the costs as well.

“The health costs don’t matter, no benefit justifies the horror of farming animals”

This is a fair argument for veganism. But it’s not grounds to declare the health costs to be zero.

It’s also not grounds to ignore nutrition within a plant-based diet. Even if veganism is healthy for everyone and no harder a switch than other diets, it is very normal for dietary changes to entail trade-offs and have some upfront costs.  The push to deny trade-offs and punish those who investigate them (see below) is hurting your own people. 

“This is a strawman, vegans already address nutrition” 

I fully acknowledge that there are a lot of resources on vegan nutrition, and that a lot of the outreach literature at least name-checks dietary planning. But I talk to a lot of people (primarily young EAs focused on non-animal projects) with stories like this one, of people going vegan as a group without remembering a single mention of B12 or iron. I would consider that a serious problem even if I couldn’t point to anything the movement was doing to cause it.

But I absolutely can point to things within the movement that create the problem. There are some outright lies, and a lot more well-crafted sentences that are technically correct but in aggregate leave people with deeply misleading impressions. 

While reading, please keep in mind that these are formal statements by respected vegans and animal protection organizations (to the best of my ability to determine). All movements have idiots saying horrible things on reddit, and it’s not fair to judge the whole movement by them. But please keep that context in mind while reading: these were not off-the-cuff statements or quick tweets, but things a movement leader thought about and wrote down. 

  • There are numerous sources talking about the health benefits of veganism. Very few of them explicitly say “and this will definitely happen with no additional work from you, without any costs or trade-offs”, but some do, and many imply it.
    • Magnus Vindling, who has published 9 books and co-founded the Center for Reducing Suffering, says : "Beyond the environmental effects, there are also significant health risks associated with the direct consumption of animal products, including red meat, chicken meat, fish meat, eggs and dairy. Conversely, significant health benefits are associated with alternative sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and seeds. This is relevant both collectively, for the sake of not supporting industries that actively promote poor human nutrition in general, as well as individually, to maximize one’s own health so one can be more effectively altruistic."
  • This Facebook post from Jacy Reese Anthis, saying vegan dogs and cats can be perfectly healthy. Jacy was a leader among animal EAs until he left for unrelated reasons in 2019. He cites two sources, one of which supports only a subset of his claims, and the other of which actively contradicts them.
      • Apologies for the tiny image, WordPress is awful. If you right-click>open in new tab it will load a larger version.
    • His first source does say veganism can work, in dogs, but says nothing about cats.
    • His second source cites one person who says her cat is fine on a vegan diet but she doesn’t tell vets about it. The veterinarians quoted say dogs can be vegetarian and even vegan with some work. The statement on cats is ambiguous: it might be condemning only vegan diets, or both vegan and vegetarian. It rules out even vegetarian diets for young or breeding animals.

      The piece ends with “When people tell me they want to feed [their pet] a vegan diet, I say, ‘Get a goat, get a rabbit”.
    • Normally I would consider a 7 year old Facebook off-limits, but Jacy has a blue check and spent years doing very aggressive vegan advocacy on other peoples’ walls, most of which he has since deleted, so I think this is fair game. 
  • There is a related problem of motte-and-baileying “one day we will be able to have no-trade-off vegan diets, thanks to emerging technologies” and “it’s currently possible with no trade offs right this second”, e.g.: “Repudiating what “obligate carnivore” means – Kindly, but stridently, we have to correct folks that obligate carnivore stems from observation, not a diet requirement. This outdated thinking ignores the fundamental understanding of biochemistry, nutrition, and metabolism, which has only developed since the initial carnivore classification.”
  • In Doing Good Better, EA leader Will MacAskill advocates for a vegan diet to alleviate animal suffering, without mentioning any trade-offs. In isolation I don’t think that would necessarily be the wrong choice; the book is clearly about moral philosophy and not a how-to guide. But it is pushing individuals to change their personal diet (as opposed to donating to vegan recruitment programs), so I think it should at least mention trade-offs.
    • Apologies for the tiny image, WordPress is awful. If you right-click>open in new tab it will load a larger version.
  • Animal-ethics.org name-checks “a balanced diet” but the vibe is strongly “veganism is extra health with no effort”:
    • “According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a well-planned vegan diet is nutritionally adequate and appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.1 Everyone should have a balanced diet to be healthy, not only vegans. In fact non-vegans may well have unbalanced diets which are not good for their health. In order to be healthy we don’t need to consume certain products, but certain nutrients. Vegans can ingest those nutrients without having to eat animal products.”
    • “Being vegan is easier than you may think. Finding vegan food and other alternative products and services that do not involve animal exploitation is increasingly easier. It is true that some people may experience a lack of support from their family or friends or may find it extra challenging to stop eating certain animal products. However, other people can help you with that, especially today, given that internet and social networks have made it possible to get information and help from many other people. It is important to identify the factors that may be hindering your transition to veganism and look for assistance and encouragement from other people.”
    • Do I need to consult a doctor or nutritionist before becoming vegan?
      While this can be useful, as in the case of a planned non-vegan diet, it is not necessary. A vegan diet is suitable for people of all ages and conditions. A vegan nutritionist may help plan custom menus to meet specific requirements – for instance, if you are an athlete or if you want to gain or lose a lot of weight as a vegan. It is always advised to consult a nutritionist regularly for a check-up. However, it is important to note that some nutritionists are biased and don’t know a lot about vegan nutrition. Note also that medical doctors are often not experts on nutrition.”
  • EA-Foundation says veganism requires “appropriate planning”, but that this is easy 
  • That Faunalytics vegan study, which I mostly loved, contains the following: “Former vegetarians/vegans were asked if they began to experience any of the following when they were eating a vegetarian/vegan diet: depression/anxiety, digestive problems, food allergies, low cholesterol, an eating disorder, thyroid problems, protein deficiency, B12 deficiency, calcium deficiency, iron deficiency, iodine deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, vitamin D deficiency, zinc deficiency. The findings show that: – 71% of former vegetarians/vegans experienced none of the above. It is quite noteworthy that such a small proportion of individuals experienced ill health.”
    • 29% isn’t small. You can argue that’s an overestimate, but they’re accepting the 29% number, and are saying it doesn’t matter. 

Why is this so hard to talk about?

This is probably the least important section. I’m including it mostly in the hope it lowers friction in the object-level conversation. 

The stakes are so high

Hardcore vegan advocates believe we are surrounded by mass torture and slaughter facilities killing thousands of beings every day. That’s the kind of crisis that makes it hard to do really nuanced math people may use to justify ignoring you. 

Vegans are sick of concern trolls

Vegans frequently have to deal with bad-faith interrogation of their choices (“wHxt ABuoT proTEIn?!?!”). I imagine this is infuriating, and I’ve worked really hard to set myself apart by things like investing hundreds of hours of my time, much of which was unpaid, and working to get vegans the nutrition they needed to stay healthy and vegan.

Typical minding/failure of imagination

People who find veganism easier are disproportionately likely to become and stay vegan. That’s what the word “easy” means. Then some of them assume their experiences are more representative than they are, and that people who report more difficulty are lying. 

E.g. this comment on an earlier post (not even by a vegan- he was a vegan’s partner) said “there is nothing special one needs to do to stay healthy [while eating vegan]” because “most processed products like oat milk, soy milk, impossible meat, beyond meat, daiya cheese are enriched with whatever supplements are needed”. Which I would describe as “all you need to do to stay healthy while vegan is eat fortified products”. That’s indeed pretty easy, and some people will do it without thinking. But it’s not nothing, especially when “no processed foods” is such a common restriction. Sure enough, Faunalytics found that veg*ns who quit were less likely (relative to current veg*ns) to eat fortified foods. 

That same person later left another comment, conceding this point and also that there were people the fortified foods didn’t work for. Which is great, but it belonged in the first comment.

Or this commenter, who couldn’t imagine a naive vegan until an ex-vegan described the total ignorance they and their entire college EA group operated under. 

Lies we tell omnivores

Ozy Brennan has a post “Lies to cis people”. They posit that trans advocates, faced with a hostile public, give a story of gender that is simplified (because most people won’t hear the nuance anyway), and prioritizes being treated well over conveying the most possible truth. The intention is that an actual trans person or deeply invested ally will go deeper into the culture and get a more nuanced view. This can lead to some conflict when a person tries to explore gender with only the official literature as their guide.

Similarly, “veganism requires no sacrifice on any front, for anyone” is a lie vegans tell current omnivores. I suspect the expectation, perhaps subconscious, is that once they convert to veganism they’ll hang around other vegans and pick up some recipes, know what tests to get, and hear recommendations for vegan vitamins without doing anything deliberately. The longer sentence would be “for most people veganism requires no sacrifice beyond occasional tests and vitamins, which is really not much work at all”. 

But this screws over new vegans who don’t end up in those subcultures. It’s especially bad if they’re surrounded by enough other vegans that it feels like they should get the knowledge, but the transmission was somehow cut off. I think this has happened with x-risk focused EA vegans, and two friends described a similar phenomenon in the straight-edge punk scene

Failure to hear distinctions, on both sides

I imagine many people do overestimate the sacrifice involved in becoming vegan. The tradeoff is often less than they think, especially once they get over the initial hump. If omnivores are literally unable to hear “well yes, but for most people only a bit”, it’s very tempting to tell them “not at all”. But this can lead even the average person to do less work than they should, and leaves vegans unable to recognize people for whom plant based diets are genuinely very difficult, if not impossible.

Conclusion

I think veganism comes with trade-offs, health is one of the axes, and that the health issues are often but not always solvable. This is orthogonal to the moral issue of animal suffering. If I’m right, animal EAs need to change their messaging around vegan diets, and start self-policing misinformation. If I’m wrong, I need to write some retractions and/or shut the hell up.

Discussions like this are really hard, and have gone poorly in the past. But I’m still hopeful, because animal EAs have exemplified some of the best parts of effective altruism, like taking weird ideas seriously, moral math, and checking to see if a program actually worked. I want that same epistemic rigor applied to nutrition, and I’m hopeful about what will happen if it is. 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Patrick La Victoire and Raymond Arnold for long discussions and beta-reading, and Sam Cottrell for research assistance.

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I appreciate the extensive time and effort you've put into this post/project, and I also find the framing odd and potentially misleading. Health risks change when someone stops eating animal products, but the health risks of a vegan diet are substantially less bad than the health risks of a standard diet.

I believe you overstate the risks of nutrient insufficiency generally and largely fail to engage with the health ramifications of animal product consumption. The "trade-off" is a possible increased risk of nutrient deficiency and decreased risk of a host of pervasive and debilitating health issues. If option A is "the nutrient deficiencies you found in previous research, such as iron and Vitamin D, which can have palpable effects if left unaddressed" and option B is "the standard risk of nutrient insufficiencies/deficiencies and an increased for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and foodborne illness," I think most people would readily opt for option A. All else equal and ethics aside, I'd personally rather take some supplements than increase my risk of cancer or salmonella or E. coli.

The "trade-off," as a result, ends up skewing in a positive direction for most pe... (read more)

I 100% agree the Standard American Diet is shit. I also think "take some tests and then pills" fixes most of the problems of veganism for most people (although I'm not holding effort constant). If Standard American Diet had as easy a fix I would absolutely be talking about that, but it mostly doesn't, because fixing Standard American Diet involves giving up things people like or eating things they don't.  When I find potential improvements to SAD that are anywhere near as easy to implement or evaluate as "take some tests and some pills", I'm very quick to talk about them.

But I see a lot of vegans who aren't taking the tests or pills, who didn't know that was necessary, and are hurt because of it. And when I try to talk about and fix the problem, by providing tests and pills, people tell me I shouldn't because it might discourage veganism

9
Jason
Another question raised by your post is the point at which someone who is experiencing certain symptoms (e.g., fatigue) yet has normal lab levels and is on supplements should consider a trial of reintroducing a moderate amount of animal products in their diet. Nutrition is complex, and modern applied understandings often seem to be reductionistic -- so establishing normal lab values doesn't clearly rule out a dietary contribution. My answer would be that this is a conversation someone should be having with their treating physician, which is one of the reasons why I don't like sources that come across as dismissive about taking medical advice, or that suggest that adverse health consequences are impossible.  I can't answer that question, but would note that a elaborate medical workup can be financially and logistically arduous, can take a significant amount of time during which the person doesn't have any relief, and can involve some risk. If no reversible cause is found for the symptom, and you're stuck with symptom management -- those treatments may have side effects and risks.
3
Elizabeth
I want to talk about the risks of meat consumption in the next post. Is the post you link to here your favorite source, or is there another you think is better?  

My major concern is that this article is too one-sided: it mentions the difficulties/trade-offs of vegan diets, without mentioning difficulties/trade-offs of non-vegan diets. Eating a non-vegan diet is also not easy. Some examples of what you have to tell to people who want to eat animal products:

  • Don’t eat too much meat, that is unhealthy. You can look on some websites how much gram per day is too much, according to your age and bodily needs.
  • Fry the meat well enough, because (almost all) meat can contain harmful bacteria. Also wash well enough all the cutlery, the knife, the chopping board and everything that was in contact with the meat, because of contamination risks.
  • But don’t fry your meat too much. Frying meat can produce carcinogenic substances. Especially when there is a dark or black crust visible, the meat was fried too much. For the same reason, avoid barbeque and flambé. Heating up meat in the microwave oven is not good enough to kill the bacteria. If you don’t know how to cook your meals properly, you can eat vegan meat alternatives: they can be safely eaten even uncooked (or used in the microwave oven).
  • Don’t drink unpasteurized milk.
  • Animal products don’t contain dietary
... (read more)

I think there's a reasonable case that, from a health perspective, many people should eat less meat. But "less meat" !== "no meat". 

Elizabeth was pretty clear on her take being:

Most people’s optimal diet includes small amounts of animal products, but people eat sub-optimally for lots of reasons and that’s their right.

i.e. yes, the optimal diet is small amounts of meat (which is less than most people eat, but more than vegans eat).

The article notes:

It’s true that I am paying more attention to veganism than I am to, say, the trad carnivore idiots, even though I think that diet is worse. But veganism is where the people are, both near me and in the US as a whole. Dietary change is so synonymous with animal protection within Effective Altruism that the EAForum tag is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the animal suffering tag. At a young-EA-organizer conference I mentored at last year, something like half of attendees were vegan, and only a handful had no animal-protecting diet considerations. If keto gets anywhere near this kind of numbers I assure you I will say something.

7
Elizabeth
  I'd like to talk about this post's goals and why it seemed like the best route to them. Last year I gave nutritional tests and supplement suggestions. This was focused on vegans but not exclusive to them. When I wrote up my results I got responses, public and private, that felt extremely epistemically uncooperative. Some would outright admit that education was necessary for switching to veganism, if only because any major dietary change requires education, but they still thought I should have done a diet-neutral project, or just not mentioned issues with veganism. Some were less explicit, but the things they said only made sense if they believed every single person could smoothly transition to veganism with no effort or trade-off. And I could not get them to present their reasoning for that claim in a legible way. The goal of this post was never "provide comprehensive information about the relative costs and benefits of various diets". It was "get the people making a particular claim to spell out their reasoning." And this came in the form of a blunt post because my gentler attempts had been rebuffed.    I think your list of reasons animal products can be difficult would be a major hurdle for someone raised in a vegan culture that wanted to start eating meat. I would definitely recommend that person read the carnivore equivalent of veganhealth.org. That doesn't cancel out the difficulty a given omnivore has switching to veganism. Except for the lucky goat people, all serious diets impose trade-offs and require new education, and I find the question of "which transition requires exactly how much work?" much less interesting than making sure everyone is properly onboarded to the diet they chose. 
9
Stijn
It seems that you make nothing but a very trivial claim, that if you are used to A, a change from A to B is difficult. But then you frame it like B being difficult. But it is the transition which is difficult, not B itself. As an analogy, let's discuss whether Chinese is difficult. You would say yes, because it is not your native language. It will take some effort for you to learn Chinese. But a Chinese person thinks Chinese is easy, and English is difficult. Who is right? In the end, once you have learned to speak Chinese, it is as easy as most other languages that you have learned. Some languages are objectively more difficult than others (like Dutch is probably more difficult than Afrikaans, and English is more difficult than Esperanto), and for the same reason, some diets are objectively more difficult than others. But you make it look like veganism is objectively more difficult than other diets. I disagree with that: just see how much you have to learn for a healthy diet with meat. I think a healthy vegan diet is as difficult as a healthy omnivorous diet, and an unhealthy vegan diet is as easy as an unhealthy omnivorous diet. Transitions may be difficult, but they involve one time transition costs, which become negligible in the long run. Once you have learned a foreign language, the cost of learning drops to zero, and the new language becomes easy for the rest of your life.
2
Elizabeth
yeah, it seems like a trivial claim to me as well, which is why I'm confused so many people argue against it so vehemently.  If I saw people making a strong ethical argument for eating meat in a meat-naive population, and the converts hurting themselves food poisoning and scurvy, I would absolutely think the meat advocates were doing something wrong and be advocating for a fix. 
4
Ben_West
fwiw I've felt confused about this post because it seemed like you were making such an unobjectionable claim that I didn't understand why you bothered to write the post, and therefore figured I had just not read it closely enough, but I think maybe you are just actually making an unobjectionable claim? I know you tried to flag this at the beginning of your post, and it's very possible that I'm still misunderstanding things, but it would help me if you had a one sentence summary of your claim.  
8
Elizabeth
A one sentence summary is a really reasonable request that's difficult for me to fulfill because: 1. Reality is very complicated 2. Any simplifications I make that exaggerate the challenges of veganism will be viewed extremely uncharitably. Which is how I got to an excruciatingly clause-filled 6000-word post in the first place.  I'm going to try for one sentence, but I'd also like to offer you a video call or in-person meeting, with or without a double crux mediator. The mediator I have in mind is even near-vegan, although I don't know if he's available.  [Ben West is not the only person I'd do this with but it's not an open invite either.] My one-sentence summary: Diet and health are complex multidimensional problems; if you remove a wide swath of your current tools you make the problem harder.[1] You can make it easier with education,[2] but that's not being done for young EA vegans and the subsequent malnutrition is hurting them. [3] That's two sentences with three footnotes, which I think is the best I can do. To answer your implied question of "why was this post necessary" I wanted to direct you to this comment, but it's a grandparent of your comment so probably you've already seen it.  1. ^ Most of the time. Sometimes it's technically harder but people have enough slack in their life it doesn't matter. Sometimes the options were net harmful so removing them is helpful- which wouldn't be necessary for Homo economicus but seems fine to include as a benefit for real people.  2. ^ But how much slack you can add varies a lot by person. For some it's pretty easy to restore 95%+ of the slack, and for others no amount of education will render the problem solvable without large sacrifices in health.  3. ^ E.g. I can't prove one person's peripheral neuropathy was caused by a B12 deficiency, but it did stop progressing when he started supplements, and if he'd been told that from the beginning it could have saved him potentially l
7
Ben_West
Thanks! That's a helpful summary. (And I don't disagree with those two sentences.) It sucks that you put a bunch of work into helping vegans with nutrition and got epistemically uncooperative responses. I was appreciative of your work there.
3
MintSnap
It is funny[1] how long the post ended up & how much we've all ended up debating in the comments, given that I am in 100% agreement with the two-sentence summary and all three footnotes. 1. ^ Not blaming you, of course. Just observing
1
Stijn
I agree with your two sentences, but the first one is very ambiguous. You mention someone with a B12 deficiency. The way I see it, both vegans and omnivores remove sources of B12 from their diet: the vegan doesn't eat animal products that contain B12, the omnivore doesn't eat B12 supplements (or B12-enriched products that are suitable for vegans). Many omnivores even refuse to eat those vegan B12 supplements, just like vegans refuse to eat meat. Now you have someone who doesn't eat either of those B12 sources: no meat and no vegan supplement. You can call it a too restrictive, unhealthy vegan diet (because the diet doesn't contain meat), but you can equally call it a too restrictive, unhealthy omnivorous diet (because the diet doesn't contain vegan B12-sources). There is a kind of symmetry.
2
Elizabeth
This feels very muddled to me. Could you rewrite it with your explicit cruxes/assumptions/beliefs, and the logical chain between them and your conclusion? 
-1
Stijn
I was pointing at a non-vegan bias in the way how you framed your argument: that a vegan diet is restrictive. But non-vegans also eat a restrictive diet, as they don't eat (and often refuse to eat) vegan foods. Vegans don't eat non-vegan sources of B12, and non-vegans don't eat vegan sources of B12.  Your bias is comparable to a native English speaker who has an English bias and claims that French is a difficult language because the French people don't use those simple words like "door" and "table". So when you want to speak French, you first have to learn new words. But the fact that the French language doesn't use the words that you use, doesn't make it a difficult language. For native French people, French is an easy language. So the crux is: a vegan diet is not difficult, but changing diet is difficult. For vegans (who learned how to eat vegan), a vegan diet is easy, just like a non-vegan diet is easy for non-vegans (who learned how to eat non-vegan).
9
Jason
I don't think the claim that non-vegans don't eat vegan foods is well-supported. For instance, a cake made with eggs and butter still consists of mostly vegan foodstuffs; that a non-vegan may refuse to eat a vegan cake does not mean they are restricting specific foodstuffs from their diet. Likewise, non-vegans do not categorically refuse to eat vegan B12 supplements (I assume the B12 in a multivitamin is made in a lab?) even if they do not eat them as part of 100 percent vegan completed foods.
1
Stijn
Most non-vegans don't take vegan B12 supplements. That means this vegan product is excluded from the non-vegan's diet. The reason why non-vegans exclude it (whether they don't like it, consider it as immoral...), is not important because reasons are not health related. Whether or not someone who doesn't take the B12 supplement categorically refuses to take it, has no impact on that person's health.
2
Elizabeth
  Accepting this arguendo, it doesn't seem like an argument against education for vegan converts.
2
DC
I read a few of your points, skimmed the rest. It sounds like you're talking about a healthy omnivorous diet, which I agree is maybe as hard as a vegan diet. However, I eat a convenient diet, not a healthy one, filled with microwave and fast food, and it's much more likely to eat a convenient omnivorous diet.
1
Stijn
I'd say a healthy vegan diet is roughly as difficult as a healthy omnivorous diet, and a convenient vegan diet is roughly as easy as a convenient omnivorous diet.

Animal products are incredibly nutrient dense.

I agree with many points in this essay but was surprised by this claim. The claim is definitely not true if by "nutrient density" you mean "nutrients per calorie", which is how that expression is generally understood in the scientific literature. I think this is also the most relevant metric when comparing how much "bang for your buck" you get from eating different types of food: if you approach this as a problem of constrained optimization, where you are optimizing for health and nutrient content is regarded as the measure of healthfulness, energy (as measured in calories) rather than, say, volume or weight is ultimately the constraint you are dealing with.

Perhaps you meant something vaguer by "nutrient density", like "the degree to which a person's diet would move closer to meeting their nutritional needs if a portion of this particular food were added to it". Depending on how this idea is made more precise, the claim that "animal products are incredibly nutrient dense" might become more defensible. But this would need more elaboration and supporting evidence.

I indeed didn't quite mean "nutrients per calorie".

The following is a chart I made for some common animal vs. plant protein sources. All the values come from the cronometer database. To get everything in the same units I converted everything to % daily need. 

To create this chart I copied over the calories, protein, and micronutrients for several common sources of protein from animals and plants. The animal sources were off the top of my head, the plants were primarily from the first list I found on google, + Impossible Burgers. To get everything in the same units, I used % daily value.[1]. This was all done using the cronometer food database

First I assumed 100g of each food product, and summed the % target values together for a nutritional score. But it doesn't make sense to credit them for vitamins no one needed, so I capped the values at 100% of target value (excluding protein, for now). I also 0ed out biotin, because only a few foods have filled out that value and I didn't want to unfairly penalize ones that didn't. From there I calculated [nutrient score/calorie], both with and without protein.

 

Spreedshet available here.

For total score (not normed/calorie, excluding p... (read more)

7
Pablo
Thanks for the extended reply. I understand your position much better now. On a meta note about communication, I think "Substituting non-animal protein with animal protein likely gets you closer to meeting all the Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamins" is more informative, less likely to be misinterpreted, and probably more persuasive than "Animal products are incredibly nutrient dense". (I offer this as a constructive criticism focused on one relatively minor point of how your post is written rather than as an objection to its substance.)
5
Dhruv Makwana
I think emphasising protein is totally the wrong track, since it's just not that important (and also if you're getting enough calories near impossible to have a deficiency in) https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-great-protein-fiasco/ I also think your general model of "satisfying" is built off of myths which just are not supported by the evidence https://nutritionfacts.org/video/evidence-based-weight-loss-live-presentation/ See especially 38:41 where he talks about a review with meat industry funding "In general, these data confirm a modest satiety effect with protein-rich meals but do not support an effect on energy intake at the next eating occasion." Lastly your omission of leafy greens is suspicious - from memory spinach has about 40% of its calories from protein, and (dry) soya chunks/mince around 66%, far exceeding most animal products (due to fat), and legumes.
7
Elizabeth
I'm really confused that you'd invoke a paper to tell people their experience of their own hunger is wrong. 
1
Dhruv Makwana
Before I reply, I'd like to acknowledge that my original comment from 3 months ago, much before our recent, cordial and respectful exchange elsewhere on this post, was probably a 6-6.5/10 in terms of tone and clarity, and could have been made more conducive to discussion: sorry.  I'd also like to say upfront that I am very reluctantly spending 150+ minutes getting nerdsniped into writing this comment during a week when I'm aiming to address a sleep deficit, and as I said in my other comment, "For the sake of my time, this should hopefully be my last comment on this post.", but this time for real. I realise making a point and walking away can come off frustrating/rude, but that's not my intention here, it's just self-preservation. If that's objectionable, you may ignore the rest of this comment. But to your basic point - my point is not that "people are wrong about their feelings of hunger" (which off the top of my head, and my experience, I think they can be - for example mistaking stress/discomfort/boredom for hunger - but this is besides the point).  My point is about the primary attribution of the cause of the subjective feeling of hunger to a not easily perceptible thing such as protein. My intuition comes from subjective wellbeing (e.g. Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert) and also perception/embodied cognition research (e.g. rubber hand illusion). The attribution is an empirical claim, and that's what I was (very poorly) getting at. As part of this empirical attribution, there's two different concepts at play here: satiation and satiety (yes, silly naming). Satiation is how much of food can be consumed in one sitting. Satiety is how much a given food will delay or decrease calorie intake in the next meal. From the post: From the comment: It looks like there's two aspects to this: (a) judging plants using meat as the standard (b) an implicit assumption that protein is (b) important, (c) especially "satisfying"-ness, i.e. satiation and satiety.  [Tang
2
Elizabeth
First, I want to apologize. I didn't realize you were the same commenter I'd been talking to and had asked to bow out. I'm not sure what the right way to handle this was, but I should have at least acknowledged it. I have some disagreements with some of your claims here, but mostly they feel irrelevant to my claims. This feels like an argument against a heavily meat-based diet, not against small amounts of meat in an otherwise plant-based one.
1[comment deleted]
9
Elizabeth
This is a really good question. It's taking a fair amount of time to formalize my answer but I wanted to let you know I was working on it.

I think it would have been more fair if you hadn't removed all the links (to supporting evidence) that were included in the quote below, since it just comes across as a string of unsupported claims without them:

Beyond the environmental effects, there are also significant health risks associated with the direct consumption of animal products, including red meat, chicken meat, fish meat, eggs and dairy. Conversely, significant health benefits are associated with alternative sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and seeds. This is relevant both collectively, for the sake of not supporting industries that actively promote poor human nutrition in general, as well as individually, to maximize one’s own health so one can be more effectively altruistic.

I think this evidence on personal health is relevant in the ways described. I don't think it's fair to say that the quote above implies that “[health benefits] will definitely happen with no additional work from you, without any costs or trade-offs”; obviously, any change in diet will require some work and will involve some tradeoffs. But I agree that it's worth addressing the potential pitfalls of vegan diets, and it's a fair critique th... (read more)

-2
Elizabeth
I've fixed this on my blog but LW's editor is being difficult (and because this is a cross-post I can only fix it there), I've pinged the team about getting access to the right editor.  I wish I'd included your links because it's always good to quote people more accurately. I'm not sure it matters materially, because I preemptively agreed that overconsumption of animal products has its own risks.  I think most of the nutritional harm would be mitigated if vegan advocates said "all large dietary changes have challenges, here's an easy guide to starting" in a way people believed and followed up on (and no one loudly argued to the contrary, which at one point was very widespread within EA). I would still think there was something important in acknowledging that it can't work for everyone, and thus the strongest forms of vegan advocacy will leave those people malnourished. I can respect arguments that this is a regrettable necessity, but not blindness to it.  I would also still see value in arguing about the ideal diet, or more properly how to discover an individual's ideal diet, which is so complicated and has so much variation between people. But I wouldn't have put nearly this level of work in if I didn't see people being harmed. 

Writing this as a separate comment to my earlier one, since it's on a different tack.

A crux for me, which isn't in the post, is the effect of a vegan diet on productivity.[1] (I imagine this effect routes through health.)

A not-unreasonable chain of reasoning, in my view: if one works in x-risk reduction, and one knows that consuming meat improves one's productivity, then one could see oneself as morally permitted—obligated, even—to eat meat.

I'm aware that this argument is profoundly icky and arrogant, and that someone who employs it in their dietary choices may be falling foul of motivated reasoning. However, I also think there's something true here which calls into question the strength of some claims, including above—currently the top comment—in this comments section: "The idea that the potential human health benefits of meat consumption could possibly be decisive on the question of whether it's ethical to eat meat is a fantasy." (To be clear, I do empathize with the emotion behind the claim.)

  1. ^

    I'm a little worried that I'll receive some backlash for this comment. Especially given how I expect those who self-select into reading this post, and engaging in the comments, wi

... (read more)

(The following example is not meant to "gotcha" you, but to illustrate an analogous situation where the other perspective hits closer to home for most people.)

Let's say there was an AI safety researcher who de-stresses each morning by kicking a homeless person in the face. Kicking that homeless person each morning helps the researcher focus and be more productive in his day. Is the researcher then morally obligated to continue kicking the homeless person in the face each morning? (What a coincidence that the choice which is easy and convenient happened to be the morally obligatory one!)

Of course, it's important to note the difference between this example and meat consumption. From a consequentialist perspective, eating meat on a typical day causes significantly more harm than kicking a homeless person in the face.

5
Will Aldred
Firstly, on where I think you and I agree: * Under “normal” circumstances it is morally bad to kick homeless people, and monstrous to eat animals. * Even if AI alignment and deployment goes well, the value of the future will be very negative if factory farms continue to exist. The premise in my parent comment is that, for at least some people, a diet that includes meat leads to higher productivity. This premise is an empirical claim which I believe to be true, though I imagine some might disagree and get off my chain of reasoning at this point. The conclusion in my parent comment, that eating meat is morally permissible (and perhaps even obligatory) for at least some people, is animated by the distinct non-normality of the circumstances we may be in. Namely, that we appear to find ourselves at the hinge of history, where a major bottleneck is productive time spent by people trying to positively influence the long-term future. Nonetheless, “the hinge of history is now” is a big claim, and some might disagree and get off my chain of reasoning at this point. For those still with me, there are now (various levels of) consequences to consider. My conception: 1. First order. Simply weigh up the disvalue of face-kicking or animal slaughtering against the expected value from more productive time spent on reducing x-risk. (Some may stop here. Those who stop here are most likely to view meat-eating as obligatory.) 2. Second order. Is the kind of world where people who may have an outsize influence on the future bite bullets like kicking people and eating sentient beings the kind of world we want to be living in? (Most who’ve stayed with me this far probably stop here.) 3. [Known unknowns. For example, which action—biting the bullet or not—puts me in a larger pool of evidentially cooperating agents across the multiverse? Also, if the simulation hypothesis is true, then our creators might turn us off once the hinge of history is over, which would mean that the near-te
3
Ariel Simnegar
Thanks for the breakdown of effects! It was helpful for identifying our cruxes. Ignoring unknowns[1], there are two uncertain quantities under consideration: 1. The expected value of veganism continually reminding you of the importance of caring about others. 1. Veganism has substantially increased my dedication to my altruistic work, and I think it's increased the likelihood that I'll stay altruistic and continue to contribute to the most important causes for the long term. 2. Being vegan shows others that you take altruism seriously, and makes you more likely to inspire others to take altruistic steps in their own lives, possibly including transitioning to direct work in x-risk reduction. This can be especially impactful if you're well-positioned to influence the long-term future. 2. The expected loss in productivity from veganism. I find quantity 1 >> quantity 2, and I think you find quantity 2 > quantity 1. As a completely separate point, I also think that there are far lower-hanging fruit for maximizing productivity than eating meat, and the fact that some people pick the meat-eating fruit rather than the lower-hanging fruit is evidence of motivated reasoning. I think being vegan makes me lose 5 minutes of productivity per week. That's 30 seconds of taking supplements each morning * 7 days per week = 3.5 minutes, plus 90 seconds of reading grocery labels to make sure they don't contain animal ingredients. If I wanted the same productivity gain, I could spend 5 fewer minutes playing online chess, or watching videos about future megastructures, or reading Wikipedia. So if I were hyperfocused on optimizing productivity and cared about nothing else, it'd still be pretty weird for me to conclude that eating meat should be the first change to make. I'll close with a relevant quote: * Brian Tomasik, "Staying Altruistic for the Long Term" 1. ^ I think the unknowns you listed are quite important, though I feel quite clueless when speculating

Thanks for your constructive reply.

I think being vegan makes me lose 5 minutes of productivity per week.

Okay, it looks like this is where we've been talking past each other. I agree with you that if being vegan costs only a few minutes per week, then switching to eat meat would be a bizarre thing to do.

For me, when I spent a year being vegan, I felt near-constantly unsatiated and low on energy, irritable and mentally slow.[1] My guess was that this was costing me as much as 30% of my productivity, or ~18 hours per week. The internal experience for me was something like, “Okay, I’ve already changed jobs to try to do good directly, which involved life sacrifices, and I already donate. Adding this being-hungry-and-irritable-the-whole-time thing on top is a step further than I’m willing to go. In fact, if I take this step, I might be more likely to burn out and become disillusioned with all this altruism business.”

It may well be that I’m unusually ill-suited to a vegan diet,[2] and that my original comment reflects typical mind fallacy on my part. When I wrote that comment, I was non-consciously assuming that: 1) for a nontrivial number of people working directly in x-ri... (read more)

1
Ariel Simnegar
Yep, in retrospect, my "5 minutes" remark didn't sufficiently account for the adjustment period. I went through a similar adjustment to yours, and spent several months constantly hungry and low energy. (The mental slowness sounds like a symptom of B12 deficiency, which I had at first, but stopped once I started supplementing.) By a year's end, I was back to normal. I can see how my comment could have been understood as diminishing what you went through, which wasn't my intention :) I agree that burnout is important to stave, and being dedicated to sufficiently altruistic pursuits can help you accomplish a lot more good than your dietary choices. As a compromise, what do you think about choosing beef when it's an option rather than other meat choices (chicken or pork)? In terms of suffering reduction, a non-vegan diet where beef is the only meat consumed is perhaps 90% of the way there.
2
Will Aldred
(Also, this is very tangential to the main thread, but I spotted in your footnote: This is likely incorrect, I believe, for the reasons Bostrom gives: Nonetheless, I do agree with the other point you make: )
2
Elizabeth
I don't have links on hand but this gets brought up fairly often, or at least it used to. One reason I wrote that is that some of the responses to that concern were really dismissive, and the discussions were too complicated and heated to debate it on the object level.  You might also be interested in this post of mine, examining the cognitive effects of iron deficiency (not vegan specific)
-2
Elizabeth
@Will Aldred , @Ariel Simnegar - I should have shut this down at the beginning. "Is it morally bad but worth it?" is an argument that has happened several times on EAF already, and I ask you to not rehash here. This post is for quantifying the health effects (in both directions).   If you really want to, please feel free to link to a different post or shortform
-29
Stijn

“The human health gains are small relative to the harms to animals” 

I'd argue further that even if the human health benefits are large in the space of human health outcomes, they are so tiny in comparison to the harm an omnivorous diet causes to animals that they are scarcely worth discussing.

It takes a few seconds to taste a bite of a dish. Let's assume that a portion of chicken is eaten in 24 bites. If, in order for us to eat such a portion, there is a chicken that has had to suffer 9 days, and has been deprived of 2 years of life, how much harm is inflicted on the chicken for each of those 24 bites? Doing the math, the result is as follows. In exchange for each brief moment of tasting its flesh, the chicken has had to suffer on average for about 9 hours on a farm. And it has been deprived of a month's life. That's just for every single bite. Every second of our taste pleasure is very expensive for the animal that is eaten.

  • Oscar Horta, Making a Stand for Animals (2022)

This isn't hyperbole. Here's a description of the experiences of the chickens most people eat:

Broiler chickens are the chickens raised for meat, rather than the ones raised to lay eggs. Chickens are endure crue

... (read more)
6
orthonormal
You saw the counterarguments section "The human health gains are small relative to the harms of animals", but presumably missed that the next section was titled "The health costs don't matter, no benefit justifies the horror of farming animals", and made that exact counterargument rather than responding to Elizabeth's preemptive response.
7
Ariel Simnegar
I did read Elizabeth’s preemptive response to the counterargument. However, her preemptive response doesn’t seem to actually argue against the counterargument, so I didn’t see any need to address it. I wrote my earlier comment to highlight that the counterargument is decisively strong—the health costs of veganism are scarcely worth discussing. If you’d like to volunteer a consideration I may have missed, I’m all ears! However, Elizabeth’s preemptive response you mentioned doesn’t try to rebut the counterargument at all. Instead, it calls the counterargument a “fair argument for veganism”, and lists some tangential considerations which I didn’t find relevant enough to address in my earlier comment: The argument doesn’t do that. It just says they’re so small relative to the harms causes to animals that they’re scarcely worth discussing. The argument isn’t about that at all, and I think most people would agree that nutrition is important.

The argument isn’t about that at all, and I think most people would agree that nutrition is important.

It sounds like you're misreading the point of the article.

The entire point of this article is that there are vegan EA leaders who downplay or dismiss the idea that veganism requires extra attention and effort. It doesn't at all say "there are some tradeoffs, therefore don't be vegan."  (it goes out of the way to say almost the opposite)

Whether costs are worth discussing doesn't depend on how large one cost is vs the other – it depends on whether the health costs are large enough to hurt people, destroy trust, and (from an animal welfare perspective), whether the human health costs directly cause more animal suffering via causing ~30% of vegans to relapse.

1
Elizabeth
  this sounds like you believe the health costs of veganism are unfixable without animal products. Is that the case?  

I'll be completely honest and say I came into this post expecting to be annoyed, mostly for reasons you address (especially the "you're singling out veganism" and "sick of concern trolls" issues). However, after reading I agree with pretty much all of your cruxes. 

Particularly, I would agree that most [current] vegans [living in omnivorous cultures] are sacrificing one of health/taste/cost/convenience.

I have been vegan for 2.5 years and have had no negative health effects (at least that I'm aware of, or that I didn't have while omnivorous), but I would also consider myself decently well-educated in vegan nutrition.

I think there are some health issues that may make it too difficult for some people to eat plant based* (ex. genetic difficulties with converting provitamin beta-carotene into proper vitamin A, or simultaneous soy & gluten & nut allergies). I don't think a perfect 100% of humans today could eat entirely plant based* with the agricultural and nutritional knowledge we currently have.

However, I strongly believe:

  • The number of people who could be healthy vegans [EDIT: on a plant-based diet] is far, far higher than the number that are currently vegan [EDIT: plant-b
... (read more)
2
Elizabeth
 I agree with approximately all of this, I have some quibbles but also some things I would take farther so I think we're pretty resonant.  I'm going to respond to some stuff line by line. For clarity I've swapped out the word vegan with your definition of it, which I think is not how everyone uses it. Yeah absolutely. I think the most common optimal diet looks like "healthy plant-based diet + small amounts of animal products", with exceptions in both directions. I think this is good for the sake of animals and also for people's health. It probably requires trade-offs on money and taste for many people, but so do many other health improvements.   Someone on lesswrong mentioned Ameliatarianism (dropping specific animal products from your diet based on suffering math) and I think it's a great idea, my biggest concern is that mathematically calculating suffering is hard and what if we get the math so wrong it makes things worse? But it seems very unlikely to land on something worse than Standard Shitty American Diet.   I have some concerns about unknown unknowns that might make me draw the parity line in a different place, but stipulating actual nutritional parity, yes, obviously.  I want to give animal EAs credit for pushing forward on this one, although I tentatively wish they'd focused on cultured meat and not fortified plant-based substitutes. I agree with the principle. I think it's pretty plausible the health justification doesn't apply to desserts for people getting enough calories already, and so desserts should be entirely plant-based even for people who eat meat. I think it might even be reasonable to say "if it's about health while are you eating pepperoni and not liver?" For this exact issue: I've heard scary things about leather replacements (something something microplastics), but haven't looked into it. I think it's equally likely that that's propaganda from the leather industry, or that Big Pleasther is suppressing knowledge that the real proble
3
MintSnap
I take issue with the way you respond to the first quote; I think the way it's written would likely give a newcomer to the discussion wildly incorrect assumptions about what I'm saying.[1] I would consider my definition of veganism the "correct" one, as the practicality limit is baked into the official Vegan Society definition of veganism. But I think there are good reasons discussion in wealthy countries de-emphasizes the practicality limits. Particularly, veganism seems susceptible to a lot of free riders that dilute the language and [arguably] make the movement weaker. I think the number of people that actually need to eat meat/eggs/whatever in the first world is much lower than the number of people that think they need to, and it feels like the way you swapped out my first quote & responded to it encourages the second group to free-ride without critically examining their own habits. [This is not at all meant as a personal criticism, just an explanation of my thought process.] I'm using emotional language because this is obviously subjective, but I am assuming good faith and doing my best to articulate why the way you responded would make me feel like we're on different "sides" if we were discussing this IRL. I would happily accept impoverished subsistence farmers who eat their cattle as vegan[2], but I have a hard-earned inherent suspicion of wealthy[3] people who eat multiple eggs for breakfast every morning because they "need" to. Neither are plant-based, but the "impossible to abstain from animal foods" bar is much higher for the average person in a developed country. Honestly, in my first bullet point, the word "vegan" would be better replaced by "plant based". Mea culpa. [EDIT: The (unsupplemented) diet most humans are best adapted to may be mostly plants with some animal protein, but I am strongly against labelling that the unqualified "optimal" diet, for multiple reasons.  While I agree with your cruxes that not every person is physically capable of
3
Elizabeth
There's a lot here so apologies if I miss something. I didn't mean to equate "full abstention isn't possible" with "full abstention isn't convenient", but I probably did misunderstand your statement. My guess is that for the median person full abstention is possible, in the sense that people won't die from it, and the ceiling on how good a vegan diet can be is well above the Standard Shit American Diet. But probably the ideal plant-based diet + a few ounces of beef liver and salmon per week is better than theideal plant-based diet alone, for the median person. I think that amount of optimization is beyond what most people are trying to do, and think it's fair to discount health as an explanation for meat consumption for someone who isn't shipping in grass-finished antibiotic-free hand-massaged liver and installing 3 stage water filters on their entire plumbing system. I get why my insistence on tracking that last little bit of optimization, while people kill themselves with cheetos, would feel bad to vegans. I think I'd be more relaxed about it if I hadn't seen vegan advocates shout down obviously true things and honest investigations (and then delete the receipts).   I also think there's a long tail of people for whom it isn't possible to be in good health while plant-exclusive, for reasons that go well beyond convenience. E.g. iron supplements don't work for everyone, for reasons we don't understand. I think it would be great if someone invented a better supplement and then more people could go plant-exclusive, but until then I want the problem on the record. ---------------------------------------- I want to note that I've seen "vegan" used in almost the opposite of the way you define it, and TBH I'm not sure how to relate your definition of vegan with your concerns about free-riding. I've seen people (not in EA) say "vegan is for life. if you ever eat animals again then you're just someone who ate plants for a while". Vegan Society does say "as far as is po
1
MintSnap
First off, thank you for your thorough & thoughtful replies (as well as the thorough & thoughtful original post). I appreciate you using your time to improve the quality of the conversation on veganism. ---------------------------------------- I agree it's possible that small amounts of high-quality animal products provide minor benefits to people heavily optimizing for health who are otherwise capable of being healthy on a plant-based diet. I just think that 1) very few people are optimizing hard enough for this to matter, and 2) [in people that could be healthy vegans] the value of the mild health benefit is less than the ethical value of preventing the required animal suffering, even if they are being consistent by buying small amounts of extremely expensive high-quality meat. People for whom iron supplements / heme iron in plant-based meat doesn't help (& would be anemic on any plant-based diet) seem like the kind of people who have obvious and justifiable health-based reason for eating meat. In footnote 1 I was thinking of people who hadn't tried a supplement. (Also, this is obviously the type of discussion I'd only have in venues like this forum. If a friend says "I have to eat meat because I'm anemic," I don't say "Are you sure??? Have you really tried multiple vegan supplements???" I just say "Dang, that sucks, hope you feel better.") ---------------------------------------- This is an accurate description. The details are obviously harder to hammer out. I would make E being the ethical cost of animal products, s.t. one should go vegan iff N < M*(health costs of meat) + M*E.  Ideally going vegan keeps you in good health. For many on the SAD, I think a vegan diet will improve health. However, if veganism is going to cause death/disability, avoid it.[1][2] If it's going to keep you in good health but keep you slightly short of technically optimal functioning, I think the ethical benefits are enough for veganism to still be worth it. I'm not entirely s
3
Elizabeth
You've said some charged things and asked that I take them as information (and I'm glad I did). I'm going to ask for the same trust now.  This sentence, without specifying effects on axes besides health, seems very slippery to me. Lots of diets improve health relative to SAD. SAD strongly optimizes for taste, convenience, and cost, with health being at best a distant afterthought, so there are lots of improvements available if you change your priorities. I think it's locally valid to say "after skilling up, the median person can spend $N and $M hours/week to get P health improvements, with no change in taste, and that's obviously worth it for benefit Q to animals".  Or the same sentence with your personal values, which are easier to calculate. But specifying P without gesturing at the order of magnitude of N and M is not very useful. 
1
MintSnap
You're absolutely correct on the details. Most people going SAD -> vegan increase health, because they generally trade cost or convenience.[1] Most people[2] wouldn't pay $N or $M for P without Q, as most people who don't value Q don't make the trade. I would not expect any completely amoral Americans to be vegan. My veganism is an argument based on Q, not for the irrelevance of N/M or the magnitude of P. I would expect both N & M to decrease as percent vegans in the local population increase. However, while vegan being > SAD on health (even without mentioning N/M) is not relevant to this discussion, correctly saying "hey a balanced vegan diet won't make you waste away" is still shocking news to many people. Therefore noting that there is a P is very useful with many non-vegans. If any EA people think there is no N/M, I think this is possibly the only U.S. subculture where that's true.[3] Also, to take a step toward the meta: "good health" and "animal suffering" are [sometimes] sacred values, where time/$ aren't. So for whom those are sacred values, this is noting that you can have both sacred values by trading against only non-sacred values. Hopefully this is irrelevant to EA/LW people, but it is extremely relevant in the "real world". 1. ^ In wealthy urban areas with higher % vegans, the trade-off is usually cost (eating out at vegan restaurants, etc.). In areas that are small with few vegans, the trade-off is convenience (I started cooking more; there is only one vegan restaurant near me that is too far & expensive to regularly visit). 2. ^ In regular meat-heavy U.S. culture. YMMV in specific subcultures. 3. ^ Sorry for my clumsy wording & many footnotes. What I'm trying to say is that in the equation where you trade $N and $M for P and Q, I think people (outside maybe EA) systematically overcalculate N and M and undercalculate P, even before accounting for Q, since they think being vegan is harder than it actually is and leads
4
Elizabeth
But this discussion is about N, M, and P. There have been many discussions of Q, I have already acknowledged Q>0, quantifying Q is outside of scope of the this post. Over on LW I deleted attempts to argue Q=0 because it was out of scope. When N, M, and P are quantified people can combine all the information to argue and make decisions, but getting all 4 pieces quantified is a necessary step. 
1
MintSnap
I fully agree with all of the above. From the first message of this thread I noted that I agreed with the cruxes of the post. I agree that N, M, and P are important and we should gather & disseminate better information on them. To my understanding, in futher posts we've been discussing how much the trade-offs matter, to what extent they've been suppressed, and whether some sub-fields have trade-offs at all (e.g. leather). I don't think it's possible to have a discussion without any shadow of Q, because ultimately without Q there's not even a discussion (beyond a 1-page of current research on one lifestyle choice among many). Your "why is this so hard to talk about" section is answered mostly with Q itself.  That being said, I should have worked harder to stay on topic. I apologize if my replies here have been unhelpful to this discussion.  At the very least, I am still thankful for your thoughtful responses, as I have found this thread both interesting and useful.

I appreciate this post: I think it makes progress in a conversation that can sometimes be an elephant in the room.

An experience I once had, which I bring up to illustrate how the state of this conversation has real effects on the ground, involved an EA—someone in a hiring position—saying that they are suspicious of x-risk-focused people who aren't vegan. Attitudes like this within EA are harmful, in my opinion. The thesis put forward in this post, that veganism entails at least some trade-offs, seems clearly true to me, and I think that a dynamic—I'm not sure how prevalent this dynamic might be—of EAs feeling pressured into being vegan when really the trade-offs for them aren't worth it, is unhealthy.

(For what it's worth, I'm not a vegan, though I was vegan in the past for around a year.)

This is a very long piece and also a lot of comments, and so I apologise if I've missed something relevant by skimming.

I think my main disagreement is that I would frame it as few weeks of adjustments rather than lasting tradeoffs (except for logistics and social pressure). My model of the adjustment period is nutrition education and body adjustment. Everyone should do the first, and some have the second, with a small minority needing some help (e.g. these case studies from this nutritionist).

Here's an RCT https://www.nature.com/articles/nutd20173 it's across 6 months, and also looks at 'quality of life' variables, 

Between-group differences favouring intervention were significant at 6 months for both the physical component summary (P=0.03) and the mental component summary (P<0.01) (Table 4). At 6 months no significant between-group differences were seen for: average daily exercise, food enjoyment or food costs (Table 4). Statistically significant differences favouring the intervention were seen at 6 months for general self-efficacy (P=0.01), nutritional self-efficacy (P<0.0001) and self-esteem (P<0.01).

There are a few claims that were asserted and I found very surpris... (read more)

4
Elizabeth
What is your confidence level in the RCT you cite? Any shortcomings I should know about?
2
Dhruv Makwana
I don't understand really what "confidence level in the RCT" means? The main shortcoming is that it's an education based intervention, not a strict "lock them up in a hospital and give them precisely calculated meals" (see Kevin Hall's NIH experiments for something like that https://youtu.be/zOAapJo9cE0?feature=shared ). The second is the small sample size. However I'd also like to point out that for something like diet, you need both long-term epidemiology and short-term RCTs. Throwing out epidemiology is throwing out the way we figured out smoking was super bad for your health. For further details, please see https://youtu.be/S8Pm-m87sEc?feature=shared starting 11:20 https://youtu.be/POhkKgBeA1A?feature=shared starting 20:39 https://youtu.be/nnyzuY-Xwe4?feature=shared starting 23:03 I have come to the conclusion that Nutrition Research is actually doing fine as a field and food companies have used the same playbook to confuse us as the fossil fuel companies did to confuse people about climate change (see Marion Nestle's work, summary here https://youtu.be/a7SprgZTK2o?feature=shared starting 8:39)
2
Elizabeth
By confidence level I mean something like "how confident are you in the methodology of this study", which could be operationalized as "how much would this change your mind if you didn't already agree with it?". I'm specifically not asking how confident you are in the study's conclusion: bad studies demonstrate true things all the time. I ask because checking studies is a lot of work, and it's frustrating to spend several hours reading a paper, only to have a person dismiss fatal flaws by citing a different paper (that is equally flawed, but will also take hours to nail down). No data is perfect so I don't have the luxury of throwing flawed studies out, but asking for a declaration of flaws felt like a good compromise to me.   For example, in addition to the issues you list with the study you cited, I see several more just from the abstract: 1. The study population was selected to have health issues exacerbated by Standard Shitty American Diet. 1. As I said in the post, I have zero interest in defending SSAD, and believe most people consume too much meat to the detriment of their health.  2. This is the equivalent of taking anemic vegans and putting them on a well-administered high-meat diet. It probably wil raise the iron levels of study participants, and that may represent a net improvement in their health, but it wouldn't prove naive high-meat diets superior to veganism in the general population. 2. the difference in change in cholesterol levels between plant-based and control was not statistically significant.  1. The difference in BMI change is quite statistically significant, and large (4 BMI points). 3. BMI and cholesterol were the only end points, not mortality or cardiac events 4. The dropout rate was pretty bad (25%), although ~equal between treatment and control group so not nearly as distorting as it could have been. 5. The control group was on SSAD, rather than an equally effortful meat-containing diet.  6. The intervention group rec
3
Dhruv Makwana
Thanks for your comment and clarifying, I appreciate the effort, I realise it is difficult to converse about these things whilst retaining respect and sanity. This RCT came to mind not because it meets all your criteria, but because I thought it was relevant (especially non-monetary costs, i.e. quality of life) to the criteria you set out, modulo multiple months rather than years. It also I think alleviates some concerns about unfeasibility you think vegan diets. "ideal study is a longitudinal RCT where diet is randomly assigned, cost (across all dimensions, not just money) is held constant, and participants are studied over multiple years to track cumulative effects." I didn't mean to suggest this study implies that a WFPB diet is healthier than (for example) WFPB+(Fish 2/week). I don't think that sort of question is resolvable on the current evidence either way. I am sorry I was not clearer about what the video links were saying - I didn't mean to imply about high meat vs vegan etc. I linked the first one to signpost a scientist who does tightly controlled experimentals setups (perhaps too tersely) but not specifically on WFPB vs WFPB+(Fish 2/week). The next 3 were about epidemiological evidence that reducing meat consumption follows a strong dose response relationship. While we can't rule out there could be an uptick in negative outcomes at eliminating, agnosticism seems like the right call. I don't take the war as reason to blanket trust nutrition research (or blanket doubt) either, but to be suspicious of conclusions that favour industry and look to a few well done studies and well-respected researchers that have stood the test of time. Thank you for writing this and if it's any help, your article is what prompted me to eventually find Plant Chompers and soften to your position to my current agnosticism about the optimality of WFPB vs WFPB+(Fish 2/week). While I do have concerns about some of your baselines assumptions (see initial comment), I think it's
3
Elizabeth
Thank you, I really appreciate everything you said here. I respect your desire to bow out and hope it is okay for me to say a few things.  I think "meat seems dose-dependently bad, and it would be weird if that reversed at low levels" is one of the strongest arguments I've heard. I have a bunch of specifics I'd want to follow up on, but I think the argument is both well-formed and has considerable evidence behind it. 

https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/12/11/acc-is-eating-meat-a-net-harm/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email

(a good number of people feel just as fine on a vegan diet as a non-vegan one [example] - most of the potential "costs" are in terms of energy/vitality which they will feel if they feel it). I am ovo-vegetarian and I have reasonably high iron levels myself. From the limited studies available, vegans have lower ACM than even vegetarians do.

It's important for people to get an ION Panel to test for amino acid deficiencies (these are hard to order w/o a... (read more)

3
Elizabeth
Thank you for the link, that adventist data is indeed beautiful. But if I'm reading it correctly it's comparing omnivores to vegetarians, not vegans. I think eggs and milk handle most of the issues caused by veganism, so this doesn't update me on that front. 

Hi Elizabeth, I'm the co-author of the piece linked above. You're absolutely right we chose to focus on the omnivore-vs-vegetarian comparison, for a variety of different reasons. However, AHS-2 does have some comparisons between omnivores to vegans. From the abstract: "the adjusted hazard ratio (HR) for all-cause mortality in all vegetarians combined vs non-vegetarians was 0.88 (95% CI, 0.80–0.97). The adjusted HR for all-cause mortality in vegans was 0.85 (95% CI, 0.73–1.01)". So depending on how strict you are being with statistical significance there's somewhere between a small signal and no signal that veganism is better with respect to all-cause mortality than omnivorism.

I think AHS is the best data we've got on this topic, but I'd be cautious about over-interpreting it. In my mind the biggest criticism is that Adventists are generally more healthy than the typical American (they do a lot more exercise, avoid alcohol and tobacco etc), which leads to extremely pernicious selection bias. For example, it could be that a vegan diet is much healthier than an omnivorous diet if you are the kind of person who spends a lot of time worrying about your health generally, but the risk of ... (read more)

2
Elizabeth
Scott describes the study as functionally randomized because restrictions vary by church, which is indeed the closest I could possibly hope to get with a nutrition RCT. However the cohort description makes no mention of this, and the 7DA I talked to said that it wasn't his experience: individual churches varied a little in their recommendations, but people within the same church varied a little in their choice of diet. This seems corroborated by the fact that meat eating is associated with ~every bad thing. Also if I'm reading this correctly, the rank ordering of death rates is for women: pescatarian < lacto-ovo-veg <vegan < omnivore   (lower is better) for men: pescatarian =~ vegan < lacto-ovo vegetarian < omnivore I have several questions on how you did the statistics, would you be willing to talk more over email?
5
Froolow
Ah sorry, I seem to have slightly misled you. The quote which you attribute to Scott is actually written by me and the co-author of an adversarial collaboration hosted on Scott's old blog. I'm not the author of the Adventist Health Study linked, much that I wish I was! If you have questions about the statistics in the adversarial collaboration I'd be more than happy to talk through the approach we used. If you have questions about AHS2, by all means let's share the work of finding the answer but I can't promise to be any more help than any other random person you'd pick off the street
4
Elizabeth
Getting the paper author on EAF did seem like an unreasonable stroke of good luck. I wrote out my full thoughts here, before I saw your response, but the above captures a lot of it. The data in the paper is very different than what you described. I think it was especially misleading to give all the caveats you did without mentioning that pescetarianism tied with veganism in men, and surpassed it for women. 
2
Elizabeth
I made the mistake of looking at the total of the 7DA health data and I'm both excited and overwhelmed. Are there papers you would recommend I prioritize, besides the AHS2 one? Is there anything on adventists with medical issues affecting digestion?
2
Elizabeth
  I think there are many people for whom this is not true.* Many of even the most-affected people don't keel over the second they decide to identify as vegan; it takes time for nutrient stores to deplete. If it happens slowly enough they may never notice, or not notice until it becomes life-ruiningly severe (obviously this effect isn't unique to veganism, and many of the ill effects of meat are very hard to notice). I've also seen vegans who knew they had serious energy issues just... not consider diet as a hypothesis, and not had any vegan friends suggest it either. I want to be fair, so I should note that in one case I'm thinking of there's some evidence veganism wasn't the problem.  It's the person here who tested deficient on almost everything including vitamin C, which is just not a problem a plant-based diet should cause. But something has gone wrong if anyone with fatigue issues doesn't consider dietary causes, much less a vegan.  *I feel like I should quantify many here but it's hard because by definition, everyone I see with a fatigue issue either hasn't noticed or doesn't know how to fix it. People who notice minor energy drops and immediately fix them drop out from the sample. 

Points of agreement:

I agree that it is important to refrain from claiming that a vegan diet is the optimal choice for overall health.

It is crucial to emphasize the need for careful planning and the inclusion of necessary supplements when making people vegan.

Points of disagreement:

I don't see conclusive evidence that a vegan diet is less healthy than some other diet. While it is plausible that consuming small quantities of animal products could be more healthy compared to a strictly vegan diet, the evidence supporting such claims doesn't seem conclusive to ... (read more)

2
Elizabeth
Thanks for laying out your cruxes so clearly, let me respond individually.  I think this is a reasonable state to be in. The data isn't conclusive, except for people who have other constraints that render veganism impossible (godspeed, bear diet guy). My best guess is small amounts of animal products are helpful even above the perfect vegan diet, and that allowing them makes planning easier, but I could definitely be convinced otherwise- that's why this is "change my mind" and not "agree with me right now". I mostly agree with this, with a few caveats. The larger one is "okay, but don't shout people down when they bring it up" (which was a common thing in EA for a while).  The other is that, while I agree no one person is obligated to take cost into consideration, I think vegan advocacy would in general benefit from considering a wider variety of people with a wider variety of constraints. This doesn't mean trumpeting "it's very expensive!!", but it might mean not assuming fake meats are a trivial solution for everyone. No one document can be for everyone, but if you only produce one work for one demographic you can't be surprised when others don't listen very hard. I think it's true as written, but "appropriately planned" is an important caveat many people ignore to their detriment, and "adequate" is a low bar. I also wish they caveated "for many people", instead of the implied "literally everyone". 

Some people are already struggling to feed themselves on an omnivore diet, and have nothing to replace meat if you take it away.

This statement seems a bit exaggerated and emotionally charged. Do you think that having literally “nothing to replace meat if you take it away” is a serious problem for more than, say, one in 10k[1] people? Meat is not known for being particularly cheap or easily available. It doesn’t grow on trees. More than a billion people live without it. Even when it comes to protein, grains and legumes are a cheaper source than meat.&n... (read more)

4
Fermi–Dirac Distribution
Is there a reason this comment got a pretty big strong downvote? I'm willing to hear reasons why the sentences I quoted are relevant in level-headed discussions about vegan advocacy, and why they couldn't be substituted with "some individuals may struggle to maintain a healthy diet as vegans."
4
orthonormal
I downvoted you because you responded to a very legible and effortful post (after going to a lot of trouble testing EAs and finding them nutritionally deficient to the point where it might affect their work), a post making the author's cruxes clear, and what kind of evidence would change her mind, with incredulity, accusations of bad faith, and a brazenly made-up number. I don't find any of your later arguments to be of sufficient quality to reverse that judgment. The obvious case where someone might be hard pressed to be healthy on a vegan diet is when someone has allergies to multiple things that are ingredients in many of the common vegan protein staples. This is common enough that I've met ex-vegans who had to compromise on their diet for this reason, as well as a vegan who seemed very clearly nutritionally deprived because of FODMAP and gluten allergies but was toughing it out regardless for ethical reasons, so I'd be quite surprised if you've never met someone with multiple allergies that severely constrict their vegan options for getting the full spectrum of known nutrition. (Supplementation can help but is often less effective than nutrients in their original context.) "Some cultures don't eat meat" does not in fact prove that nobody has nutritional deficiencies from not eating meat; some people in those cultures may be nutritionally deficient for that reason! That's like saying that because bread was ubiquitous in Europe, no Europeans have issues with gluten.
6
Elizabeth
I would find the existence of vegan cultures to be substantial evidence, if they existed. I do find the existence of lactovegetarian cultures compelling; that is part of why I think milk is a pretty sufficient meat replacement for some people. But AFAICT there aren't any vegan cultures. There are vegan traditions making up a minority of certain cultures (although there are allegations that it's more aspirational than obeyed, and because I think it only takes small amounts of meat to gain the nutritional benefits they count as omnivore for my purposes), and there are cultures that can't afford meat and start eating it once they do (and their health improves with it, although of course wealth can improve health lots of ways). But the existence of successful lactovegetarian cultures doesn't make lactovegetarianism a health choice for members of east Asian, sub-Saharan African, or Native American cultures[1] whose members are overwhelmingly lactose intolerant. It doesn't even make it a healthy choice for northern Europeans with lactose intolerance, even though they're an anomaly in their culture.  There is some interesting work being done now on genetic differences between vegetarians and omnivores. I don't put a lot of credence in any one finding at this point, but it makes sense that cultures would adapt their genetics around what food was available to them, and those adaptations would affect the optimal diet of their descendants. It would be weird if that didn't happen. FDD, if you want to quantify and make a case for your belief that people who struggle to eat well on a vegan diet are vanishingly rare, I would welcome that, and have laid out what evidence I would find most convincing.  1. ^ genetics is of course more complicated than this. Continents are not good places to draw genetic lines, there are cultures within those groups that have high rates of lactose tolerance, although off the top of my head they're all pastoralists and so decidedly not ve
6
Fermi–Dirac Distribution
I said a specific number for two reasons: to express my personal opinion and to ask if the author disagrees. I thought that was clear. Without saying a number, I would not be able to check if there is any disagreement. My comment was not about presenting evidence or changing minds about veganism. I agree with the sentences I quoted and with what you wrote in your second and third paragraphs. But, even true statements can be misapplied. Would you object to a vegetarian saying "a single bite of meat can kill you"? I would in most contexts.   ETA > "Some cultures don't eat meat" does not in fact prove that nobody has nutritional deficiencies from not eating meat Where did I say that nobody has nutritional deficiencies from not eating meat?

This is the first decent post I’ve read on the subject on this forum. Thank you, it gives me hope that EA has not completely lost the plot when it comes to the intersection between animal advocacy and diet.

I would add that for those of us that eat a Mediterranean diet, Veganism presents a significant trade-off in terms of diet quality.

For those of us in Southern Europe, it also has a trade-off on environmental impact due to the nature of agro-silvo-pastoralism here (although that is outside of the scope of a mere forum comment).

Thanks for this - this and an earlier post you wrote have made me, as it were, examine my privilege, since I'm one of the lucky vegans who genuinely seems to pay minimal costs, of any kind, from being vegan. This might be a combination of being taught good nutrition principles by my (pescatarian) parents, lucky genetics, living in vegan-friendly places, and having a reasonable budget for food. I'm in favour of people going some but not all of the way to vegan, if full veganism is massively costly and especially if it gives them health issues or makes them ... (read more)

1
MintSnap
I'm a little jealous of the "minimal costs of any kind" bit, though I'm also very glad it's worked out that well for you! :-) The only costs for me have been convenience (I don't have any vegan/vegetarian/etc family or close friends, and where I live there are few to no vegan options at most venues). For example, I went to a friend's wedding recently, and spent ~9 hours at the event with nothing to eat, which was mildly inconvenient. This was totally doable (I pre-ate because I guessed this would be the case, and if I had ex. unsteady blood sugar I would've just packed myself a couple snacks). I think the vast majority of people can be vegan at low cost & high taste & high health, but for some of us it's more inconvenient than for others.

I agree with some of this post and more of the comments, but I want to focus on one thing. The "veganism has tradeoffs" frame isn't helpful; it's much too ambiguous.

Three main claims can distilled here. You may be claiming that 

  1. Advocacy orgs focusing on diet change should be de-emphasized on the margin.

and/or

      2. *I* the reader, the audience of this post should de-emphasize the urgency of diet change in my personal life on the margin.

and/or

      3. Systemically and/or individually, some sort of non-vegan diet change s... (read more)

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