Since early last week, music-industry power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z have gone vegan, as part of a 22-day diet plan. According to Jay-Z’s website announcing their endeavor, they decided on 22 days because someone once said it takes 21 days to break a habit, and on the 22nd day, you’re golden.
They started on Dec. 3, a day before Jay-Z’s 44th birthday, after a friend recommended the music mogul try a vegan breakfast every day. He did, and found it rather easy, so decided to take on a harder challenge. “So you can call it a spiritual and physical cleanse… I don’t know what happens after Christmas. A semi-vegan, a full plant-based diet? Or just a spiritual and physical challenge? We’ll see…” he wrote on his blog.
There are many reasons to go vegan. Eating less meat is considered better for the environment because raising livestock uses more energy and resources than foods like fruits, grains and vegetables. Advocates for animal rights often choose the diet, as well as individuals who want to eat healthier and lose weight.
But going vegan for just a brief period isn’t likely to have much of an impact on any of those outcomes. And that’s not just because you can still eat French fries and a soda and call it a vegan meal. Simply labeling such partial vegan eating as vegan isn’t adequate when it comes to improving your diet to better the health or the environment. At least, according to Mark Bittman.
Bittman, a food journalist and author, developed the “Vegan Before 6” diet, which is a more fluid form of the vegan lifestyle that allows him to cheat and eat whatever he wants after 6 p.m., as long as he maintained vegan principles throughout the day. It’s not true veganism per se, but it pushes him toward a more plant-based diet and honors the principles behind the practice.
Bittman came to veganism when a friend recommended he try the diet to lose weight and cure his sleep apnea and knee pain. He developed his own version of the diet and lost significant weight. But he acknowledges that he’s not a true vegan. “If I was starting this [diet] today, I wouldn’t use the word vegan because I don’t think it adequately expresses the dietary direction we all need to take,” he says. “You can eat junk food and be a vegan, and you can eat animal products and have a terrific diet. From a personal health perspective, junk food is more important [to move away from] than animal products.”
Labeling diets may be too restrictive and keep people from eating the way they should, he says. Eating right comes down to much more than avoiding meat products, or products that come from animals in any way. For Bittman, attempting to eat vegan before 6 p.m. cured him of his sleep apnea and weight-related symptoms. “The best reason to be 100% vegan is really ethical. You don’t think animals should die for your benefit. I’m sympathetic to that, but there are many good reasons for humans to raise and eat animals,” says Bittman. For many people, farming is their lifestyle, and a moderate amount of meat is a high-protein source and can be a part of a healthy diet.
That’s why he can’t get behind the vegan dabblers, who adopt the diet for only a short period of time. Granted, Beyoncé and Jay-Z may end up continuing their vegan ways after their trial run. But there are other reasons the power couple may not be the best role models for healthy eating. “Maybe Beyoncé is misinformed — on the one hand she takes money from Pepsi to push some of the worst so-called foods ever created. And then she announces she’s vegan for 22 days —but what is she doing beyond that? The point is not to be vegan for three weeks, but to improve our diets and the way we treat the earth and other species. Not for three weeks but permanently,” says Bittman. For Beyoncé to post pictures of her vegan meals every day to promote better health while her Pepsi ads are still on TV, he says, is contradictory. Beyoncé’s publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, responded in an e-mail, that she “truly believe[s] this is a non-story.”
“The point is that we want for ourselves and other people to be eating better. We want our agriculture to be less damaging to the environment, we want to be kinder to animals, we want fewer poisons in our food,” says Bittman. “All of those things are important and are not adequately summed up by the word, vegan.”
Bittman realizes that even his approach may not be the ideal one — he admits he cheats every morning with half and half in his coffee. But at least, he says, if you want to adopt vegan principles for yourself or the environment, make a commitment and do it with some conviction.
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