The Perfect Age To Go Vegan

It seems that I went vegan at exactly the right age.  That was 54, by the way.  Did you know there is a perfect age to go vegan?  Well, I didn’t either, but apparently there is.  I know this because I’ve been told by countless people who are older than me that they are too old to go vegan.  You know, folks in their 60s, 70’s and 80’s who are, by their own admission, too set in their ways to make such a significant change.  And I’ve also been told by many younger people that they want to have their fill of all life has to offer (you know, like I did for decades) before considering limiting themselves to a vegan lifestyle.  They believe they are too young to go vegan.

Clearly, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here, but I’ve heard these rationalizations and justifications plenty, even among people who claim to know about the suffering of the animals, the raping of the planet and the negative impact of an omnivorous diet on our health. And each time I am faced with comments like these I have thoughts and feelings of my own that in the moment I have trouble communicating.  So I thought I’d post some of these here.

“But I’m too old…”

This really saddens me, and I don’t say that in a condescending way.  I like to believe that with age comes wisdom and I see no wisdom in these words.  While I understand that change can feel overwhelming for many people, especially as they age, I believe this attitude is limiting.  It serves neither the individual nor society.

From a health perspective, switching to a vegan diet does not guarantee you will be forever free of disease or illness, but it is well known that a plant-based diet can vastly improve health, particularly if one is suffering from one of the “diseases of affluence” like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cancer.   Our system of healthcare in the United States is predicated on a medical model which usually results in treating symptoms rather than finding root causes, so it doesn’t surprise me when I hear of folks spending a great deal of their time going from doctor to doctor with the hope of feeling better.  The docs may or may not be of help, but ignoring the huge role that diet plays is missing a key aspect of health and wellness.  Doctors are oftentimes woefully uninformed about nutrition, which is seldom taught in medical school, yet we (and especially seniors) have been raised to believe that the doctors have all the answers.

A well-planned plant-based diet has no “side effects” yet so many older people with health issues are loathe to even consider making the change. I don’t get this.  To me, any successful intervention that limits engagement with our broken health care system is a slam dunk both for ourselves and our debt-ridden society.  Plus, there is something so empowering about taking control of our own health.  If you haven’t seen “Forks Over Knives”, and you are of the “I’m too old” mentality, I highly recommend it.  It just might change how you view change and aging.

Regarding the animals and environment, it baffles me how someone can learn about these atrocities and decide that they’re too old or set in their ways to lead by example and do something about it. Regarding going vegan, I’ve heard from some people that they couldn’t make much of an impact, so why bother.  While I can understand the sentiment given the enormity of the animal suffering and planet devastation,  I’ve seen these same folks engage in all sorts of other philanthropic, volunteer and community-based activities  trying to make a difference in some small yet important way.  Sadly, if we don’t address this problem, the rest of the problems will start to pale in comparison, and it’s likely that I and those who are older than me will be long gone.  But what of our children and grandchildren? They are the heirs to the hubris of previous generations (including mine) and I think it’s time we take responsibility. They are watching, and something we can all do today is stop contributing to the killing and destruction and start to clean up the messes we help create.  And it can be as simple as changing what we put on our plates. Gaining wisdom and sharing that wisdom is exactly what our world needs.  I don’t think we are ever too old to live more compassionately and with greater awareness and integrity.  In fact, I’d say that’s pretty much the point of it all.

But I’m too young…

I haven’t met one vegan who doesn’t wish that he or she had woken up and made the change long ago.  This is why it can be so difficult to speak with younger people who understand and are aware of the issues with factory farming, the environment and health.  I often hear some version of  “you got to have fun and eat whatever you wanted for 50+ years, so why do I, as a twenty-something or thirty-something, have to think about this?”  It’s as though a vegan lifestyle is synonymous with deprivation and limited opportunity.  A variation on this theme is the “I’ve got a life to make happen here;  I don’t have time for this”.  “This” in this case refers to all the perceived inconveniences of making a large lifestyle change while dealing with career building and social life and fitting in.  In some cases, I would say that the perception is the reality.  Going vegan can make aspects of our lives more difficult, especially at first. What is missing though is the understanding that “this” is really where the compassion is–where the heart is.   Loving animals and eating animals is not a comfortable thing.  Neither is repressing our sense of justice and fairness.  Compassionate living is peaceful living.

That being said, I actually understand these protestations. I really do.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a senior citizen with declining health but I do remember what it was like to be 20, 30 and 40.  I remember ignoring common sense and my own health.  I remember being very me-focused and then kid-focused.  I can’t in good conscience say that if I had become aware of the plight of the animals or water scarcity or the negative health impact of Jarlsberg cheese I would have changed a thing.  I like to think that I would have, but who knows.  But I would have liked to have known what life would have felt like for me and my children if it had been infused with honesty and the joy that comes from living my values from the very beginning.  I see my stepson, Jeff (a vegan) teaching his son about the dignity of all living things, and I know that this is the path forward for all of us.

What I also know, and what these young people can’t know, is just how good it feels to be vegan.   A vegan lifestyle is about abundance, not deprivation. To joyfully play with a companion animal knowing that dinner is not a different sentient being.  To put on clothes that no animal had to die or suffer for.  To look at our own children and know that we’re doing the very best we can to ensure that they and their children will have clean air to breath and clean water to drink.  This is what a vegan lifestyle is all about.  And no steak or pizza  can possibly top that.   In addition,  I firmly believe that when we open our hearts to the animals, we open our hearts to everything, including our own potential.  All the hamster-wheeling in the world won’t help us find what we’re meant to be doing in this world, but by knowing and living our own values the answers are likely to come.  And we’re never too young to get started with that.

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6 thoughts on “The Perfect Age To Go Vegan

  1. Thanks for this post. I have been vegan for cleanses for periods of time over the last few years, and I’ve been made teased often about it by my peers. I firmly believe after studying about the positive and negative results stemming from a vegan diet for a research paper that going vegan is generally the best way for many people to regain control of their health. Although I don’t adhere to the mindset of going vegan for ethical reasons (because you can choose to purchase animal products from ethical and conscious small-farm producers, or even choose to raise animals yourself, giving them the best possible life that they can have), I certainly agree with the focus of your paper. Choosing health shouldn’t have an age limit.

    Thanks again!
    J

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    • Thanks so much for your comment and for following my blog. You sound very well-versed on the benefits of a vegan diet. Could you share what sort of research you did and what you learned? It’s so great that you stand by your beliefs regarding a vegan diet even though you are getting teased about it. Regarding the ethics, you and I disagree there as I believe that animals have their own interest in staying alive, not just having a good life. Look forward to hearing from you again.

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      • Well, first of all, I do not consider myself to be well-versed in veganism. There are just way too many variables involved depending on every individual person; there is so much information and it really is hard to sort through the biases on each side of this topic to get to the facts.

        I believe that generally, the facts are there in support of a vegan diet for most people.

        The research that I did was mainly focused on the side effects of a vegan diet, as in what it does to the human body, either beneficial things or harmful things. It took quite a while to gather all of the research material that I needed, so I actually chose a different subject to write my research paper on, continuing the health research on my own time, just because I wouldn’t have gotten a paper turned in on time if I wrote about it. I also picked up quite a bit from my mother, who is a holistic scientist (I think that she would roll her eyes if she heard me calling her that, but it is true!), my younger sister who is an herbalist, and my grandmother who is a hippie (hippy?)-turned scientist.

        From what I learned in all of those studies and supplemental material, I gathered that if the individual with a plant-based diet is not careful, they can lose key nutrients, such as vitamin B-12 and iron, among others. As you know, as you have probably researched yourself, those nutrients are very important to keep maintaining a healthy life. I think that the negativity that I found about vegan and vegetarian diets was mainly centered on the premise that “all vegans are without certain types of minerals, therefore their diets were causing brain damage and dementia, etc.” That is certainly not going to be true if we take the supplements, or eat the plants that are rich in those certain types of nutrients.

        And you definitely know the positive effects of veganism. A lower risk of cancer and diabetes (among other terrible diseases), general wellness, lower mental sluggishness (which probably has a fancier name but I can’t think of it now), and many other things that I couldn’t fit here. There are so many benefits to veganism if all the proper steps are taken to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients that it needs.

        I would love to learn much more, because, as I said earlier, there is so much information, and I have only learned a miniscule percentage of anything about veganism. I would support anyone who was thinking about going vegan as long as they know the foods and supplements they need in order to maintain all of their nutrients.

        Thanks for listening/reading this long comment!
        J

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  2. No, thanks for taking the time to respond and share! You sound like you have a very interesting family! It’s great to be able to share veganism with like-minded people, especially family. While there is so much more reading and learning we can ALL be doing you do sound like you’ve gleaned most of the important stuff regarding the vegan nutrition. If you haven’t stumbled across it yet, the book Vegan For Life, by Jack Norris RD and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD is considered by many folks I know to be the gold standard “handbook”. And if you haven’t read The China Study by T Colin Campbell, I’m sure you would find that enlightened. Take care, and keep weighing in!

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