I had an argument about veganism for the first time in a very long time this week.
I try to make a point not to preach or argue with people about veganism as it never does the cause any good. My approach is to look, act, and eat as healthily and deliciously as possible - and wait for the questions to come before I pounce.
But this week I just couldn’t help myself. I was snotty, I was at work on Boxing Day (and had been on Christmas Day too) and was generally feeling annoyed at life. The conversation started innocently enough - a colleague of mine asked how I felt about Japan leaving the International Whaling Commission. ‘Sure, it’s sad’, I said.
I could have stopped there. But I was feeling spicy, and added, ‘but to be honest, I don’t see what the fuss is about. Why does Japan slaughtering whales make news when hundreds of thousands of farm animals are killed every day?’
All credit to my meat-eating colleague, she agreed with me, and we discussed how social conditioning has led us to prioritise the lives of certain animals over others. Cecil the lion, for instance. Harambe the Gorilla. Dolphins in the Cove. All caused international outrage and discussion - yet the daily slaughter of farm animals for food gets swept under the rug and ignored.
So another colleague pipes up. He’d been listening, and bristling, and felt the need to jump in on our conversation uninvited. Something about the unnecessary killing of animals for food annoyed him enough to impose his views on me.
He disagreed that some animals are cherished above others, and argued it’s about population size and the risk of whales becoming extinct. He said fishing was fine because there are so many more millions of fish than whales -- and they reproduce in their thousands, as opposed to carrying a single calf for a full term. (Sorry to tell you but research actually shows we could be facing a fishless ocean by 2048, although that’s besides the point of this story).
A few others in the newsroom got involved in the conversation, with most agreeing that humans like dogs more than they like chickens, lions more than they like pigs and whales more than they like cows. I stop contributing to this conversation. A general consensus is reached that factory farm is awful (how profound) but don’t forget there’s leftover lamb from Christmas dinner and they should all grab some before it disappears.
The conversation ends with the argumentative colleague declaring humans are meant to be omnivores and there are simply some nutrients you just can’t get from vegetables.
By this time I’ve had enough. ‘Sorry - but that’s just not true. I’ve never eaten meat in my life and am perfectly healthy’. This annoys him. We have a discussion about B12 raise our voices. He tells me vegan food is fortified with B12 -- and if it wasn’t, I couldn’t get it. The words ‘Are you vegan? Do you know?’ may or may not have come out of my mouth.
He proceeds to do some ‘internet research’ and triumphantly tells me that ‘VeganSociety.Com’ says vegans struggle with B12 and have to fortify their foods. He thinks he’s won and he hasn’t even given me a chance to speak. It’s a Boxing Day nightmare I didn’t need and calmly explain to him veganism + B12.
Yes, B12 is extremely hard to come by as a vegan - but it hasn’t always been. B12 is produced by a bacteria found in soil, but the soil must contain the mineral cobalt for this magic to happen.
Modern vegans struggle to get B12 simply because the vegetables we’re eating these days have been washed so thoroughly before they ever reach our dinner plates that we’re hardly ever eating dirt. And if we are eating dirt, it’s probably not dirt with cobalt in it because intensive farming has seen the quality of soil deplete massively. So the idea is to try and buy nice, organic vegetables - with a little bit of dirt left on them - but if that’s not available to you then yes, fortified B12 will have to do.
For me the difficulty in accessing B12 isn’t a sign that veganism is wrong. Perhaps if B12 didn’t originally exist in soil, and only came from animals, that might put a little more weight behind the argument. Even then, I’d still argue that fortifying foods with B12 is part of humans evolving to a higher level of consciousness. If we can use science to end the daily torture and slaughter of animals, why wouldn’t we?
I’ve also never taken a B12 supplement in my life and have no idea about my current B12 levels. I’ll eat B12 fortified foods like nutritional yeast and marmite but only when I’m craving marmite on toast, or feel like adding a nutty flavour to my meal. B12 doesn’t constantly occupy my mind and I certainly don’t lose sleep over whether I’m getting enough. I feel healthy, I look healthy - and that’s enough for me. I’d also say it’s safe to assume that as a lifelong vegetarian-come-vegan, the levels of B12 my body needs is less than the average meat eater, simply because I’ve never ingested such a concentrated amount.
So if you’re a meat eater turning vegan, perhaps a B12 supplement is something you could look into. Harness science, let your mind and body evolve, and let’s save the world together.