Monday, June 24, 2013

Why Vegans Sometimes Crave Meat (and what to do about it)

Picture this: You're walking down a street filled with shops, restaurants, and trendy-looking people. There are a few people eating hot dogs at a pub across the street. You see yourself as a mindful, compassionate vegan. You would never have a craving for meat-- you've lost your taste for animal flesh ages ago. You think it's sad and wrong that many people still eat meat at all.
Then you walk past a fancy restaurant with the smell of cooking meat wafting through it's doors... and you falter.
For a moment you wonder what the smell is, and why you are slowing down to savour it. Then-- to your disgust-- you realize it's meat. And then-- to your horror-- you realize that the fact that it's meat doesn't stop you from craving it all the more.
What is a vegan to do in such a situation? And why does this happen in the first place?
If you've been a vegan for a while, you probably will be disgusted by the smell of meat and the sight of people eating it. However, if one day you notice you're craving it, this could occur for a number of reasons:
  1. The meat is disguised as something tasty to humans. While most humans would hate the taste of real, raw animal flesh, most meat on the market has been processed and cooked to the extent that it doesn't even resemble meat anymore. It usually doesn't smell like meat-- a lot of the flavours are added in. It is still meat, of course, and you shouldn't eat it (remember all I've talked about animal suffering?). But your brain might be having a difficult time making the connection between the processed slab of "food" and the actual animal. Try to surround yourself with delicious vegan foods, such as umami-rich foods, to counter this. (Umami, meaning "deliciousness" in Japanese, is a taste (caused by the amino acid glutamate) that is usually present in animal products, but is also present in some plants as well. Some vegan foods high in umami include ripe tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, ketchup, dried sea vegetables, marmite, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, olives, balsamic vinegar, dried mushrooms, umeboshi plums, umeboshi vinegar, MSG, and sauerkraut. Fermented foods, such as wine, beer, tamari, and miso are also high in umami. By roasting, caramelizing, browning and grilling your food, you're also increasing umami content. Using umami in your cooking is especially important if you have non-vegan company over and you want to subtly convince them to go vegan.)
  2. If you feel sick, maybe your nutrient levels are messed up. If you subsist off mostly salads and junk foods, you won't be healthy. You might be lacking in vitamin B12, iron, or another nutrient, or maybe you're not getting enough protein or omega-3 fatty acids. However, if you eat a varied, well-balanced diet and you take vitamin-B12-fortified foods, this may not be the problem. After all, staying healthy on a vegan diet isn't that hard, as long as you know what you're doing. Still, get a blood test or see a nutritionist or naturopath if you are concerned. You can go to for lots of excellent information on vegan health, or you can read Becoming Vegan or Vegan for Life (see my previous post for details).
  3. Perhaps you're so scared that you'll get a craving for meat that you start imagining that you're craving it. You never know.
  4. You might be eating an unsuitable diet currently-- but this can be fixed, and you don't have to stop being vegan. Experiment with different kinds of vegan meal plans (like eating more raw foods or more cooked foods, more protein, less refined foods, etc.) and see which one works for you. Keep in mind that I do believe that it is possible to be a healthy vegan!
  5. It might just be a coincidence if it happens once or twice. If this is the case, don't worry about it. It probably won't happen very often!
Don't stop veganin'! Hold on to that (animal-rights-y) feeling!
See you next week!

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