13.7: Cosmos And Culture
10:30 am
Thu September 26, 2013

We Are All Part-Time Vegans Now

Have you enjoyed a salad of greens and fresh veggies for lunch recently? Or a dinner of pasta (made without eggs), mixed with olives and tomatoes? If so, even if you ate cheese or meat or fish on other days, you're a part-time vegan.

Writing in The New York Times last week, Mark Bittman argued that the fall season is a fabulous time to take up a part-time vegan diet, because so many locally-grown fruits and vegetables are available. The more of us who opt to do that, he said, the better:

It's increasingly evident that a part-time vegan diet—one that emphasizes minimally processed plant food at the expense of everything else—is the direction that will do the most to benefit human health, increase animal welfare and reduce environmental impact.

I care a lot about animal welfare and it's pretty clear too that meat-eating is linked to global warming, as Bittman detailed in an earlier column.

For these reasons, and because it strikes me as profoundly realistic, I am attracted to Bittman's part-time-veganism advocacy, which he develops fully in a book that I plan to read. That volume is called Vegan Before Six, with "six" as in six o'clock: be vegan before dinnertime, eat other foods in moderation at and after dinner.

Why do I say this is a "realistic" view? Because, let's face it, full-time veganism or even vegetarianism isn't for everyone. My own way of eating is conventionally described as pescatarian: I eat fish, but not other meats. I don't count as a vegetarian because of the fish, and because I eat cheese, yogurt and other dairy products.

But according to Bittman, I'm also a part-time vegan; I sometimes eat meals with no animal products at all. And over time, I would like to become more of a part-time vegan.

Now, I'm really aware that the notion of a part-time vegan diet as a laudable goal will upset some full-time vegans. Kathy Freston, a vegan, admits it does give her pause to support the vegan-before-6 concept: "If vegan is better for animals and the environment before 6, surely it's also better after 6," as she puts it.

Other vegan activists go further, arguing that veganism is not merely about food choice but also involves a life commitment to fight speciesism in all its forms. From this perspective, ethical veganism overlaps with, but is more than, dietary veganism.

Freston is right though, I think, to recognize the benefits of any degree of veganism: part-time veganism can be "transformational," she says, echoing Bittman. It's better for our health, for animals and for the Earth. She even predicts that those of us who embrace part-time veganism may well shift over time to make veganism more and more a part of our lives.

Here is a perspective — Bittman's, Freston's — that is open, inviting and inclusive. It is in this spirit that I'm wishing everyone a happy, and maybe even a transformational, autumn.


Barbara's most recent book is How Animals Grieve. You can up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape

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