NMP#45: Defining Vegan with Diana Fleischman

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If you think the idea of a vegan diet is a simple concept, I have news for you. It’s not just giving up meat, dairy, and eggs. For some people vegan means lifestyle issues as well, such as not wearing leather or wool, and more. Today I’m talking with Dr. Diana Fleischman about defining vegan. We discuss some of the issues that vegans face and some wonderful ideas she’s shared on her blog to go about it all creatively. Do you love talking about the ways we eat? If so, you should listen as I talk with Dr. Michael Greger about How Not to Die. You might also enjoy my chat with Dreena Burton on Plant-Based Families.

Listen to my conversation with Diana Fleischman on Defining Vegan, about some creative approaches to a vegan diet, including ways you can be "mostly vegan" while still consuming some animal products. It's a very thought-provoking discussion!

Diana Fleischman is an evolutionary psychologist who studies disgust. Why would someone study an emotion like disgust? Diana explains, “All emotions are sort of ancient, but disgust is something that really separates us from non-human animals.” She continues that it’s the signaling we share with others to communicate disgust that is truly unique to humans.

There’s a sensitive period as children when we figure out what to eat. It’s very cultural. For example, people in Asia will eat bugs, but will be disgusted by the idea of consuming dairy products. Diana found her research to be helpful when she took on a vegan diet because it helped her to understand the reasons people chose to —or not to— become vegan.

Disgust can keep people from being vegan. If you have a hard time adapting to new tastes, then transitioning your diet can be tricky.

In addition, Diana contemplated the reasons why certain foods are considered vegan and others are not. That’s why she created her website Sentientist where she talks about her thoughts on vegan diets and ways we can go about defining vegan. It results in a form of veganism that may be more palatable to a larger group of people.

Defining Vegan

How you do you go about defining vegan? Some would point to official definitions like those offered by The Vegan Society (see link below). I’ve talked about 10 Ways to Be Vegan (see link below) in a previous post, to help the movement be more inclusive to a broader audience.

Diana shares a mind-bending way that you be the equivalent of 90% vegan without giving up all animal products. Here’s how.

If reducing animal suffering is important to you, but you’re not ready to go “whole hog” vegan, Diana recommends giving up chicken, eggs, and fish, and then in terms of the number of animals deaths as a result of your diet per year, you’re about 90% vegan. Read the article below on Reducing Animal Suffering for more information on how this is possible.

Diana shares her thoughts on Bivalve Veganism. She makes a distinction between how animals are classified and whether or not they feel pain. Sponges, for example, are technically animals, but they are not sessile, meaning they don’t move. A growing number of people agree that wearing fur is cruel and is discouraged. However, no one would protest an art supply shop that is selling sea sponges. No one would think to protest that sea sponge, and yet it is technically an animal.

Diana says that ocean mussels and ocean oysters are not sessile and not sentient. They don’t experience pain and don’t move to avoid pain. If evidence were presented that broccoli feels pain when it is cut, we would probably, as vegans, include it in the list of foods to avoid. So Diana is suggesting the opposite could be true here as well. She makes a case for including ocean mussels and oysters in our diet for this reason. In addition to the fact that they provide nutrients that can be important as well.

Here are some of the other issues we discuss:

  • If you ask why plants don’t feel pain, the answer is oftentimes that because plants don’t move. The only reason animals move is to avoid pain. However, animas like mussels don’t move.
  • Diana talks about how she eats mussels. We also talk about the bicatch issue related to eating them.
  • A lot of fish that are captured to be eaten, cause the death of a lot of other, non-related fish.
  • To illustrate how complex a vegan diet can be, Diana explains that some people won’t eat plants that are grown with animal manure.
  • We talk about farming practices and the impossibility of being 100% vegan.

Diana and I share this idea in common: We want to be examples of people who care about reducing suffering while still eating healthy, being happy, and vibrant.

One more thing. Diana mentions that if you care about animal suffering but don’t want to make drastic changes to your diet, there is a way you can still have a big impact. Here’s the scenario:

  • If you are like most people and  think fur is immoral,
  • And, if you are like most everyone and agree that keeping orcas in captivity is immoral,
  • And, if you agree with those that animal testing  is immoral,
  • Then you are part of the community that cares about animal cruelty. Welcome.

If you want to have an impact, but you don’t want to make big changes to your diet, simply give up chicken and fish and contribute $500 annually to Vegan Outreach (see link below), which is shown to support helping others to become vegan.

In this way your life can be contributing to a better future for animals, others, and our planet.

Our goal at Namely Marly is to provide you with inspiring resources to take on a vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, and inspired, energetic life. We hope today’s interview about defining vegan has been helpful and informative.

Go be your best you!

This Defining Vegan episode includes references to some resources you might find interesting. Here they are:


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That’s it for today’s podcast. As always, thanks so much for joining in the discussion!

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2 Responses to NMP#45: Defining Vegan with Diana Fleischman

  1. My son’s definition of vegan is “do the least harm possible to living things”. I try to eat less meat but am not vegan for sure. My son is. One thing I think would help is disinformation. The idea we are “naturally” herbivores” because our intestines are longer than a carnivore’s is one bit. Our intestines are also SHORTER than an herbivore so does the opposite come into play meaning we are carnivores? Not to a vegan activist. The world is complicated. It turns out deer eat bones! And chimpanzees eat meat! (http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~stanford/chimphunt.html). My son is torn about honey because bugs get killed as we drive, as we grow our food and so on. Bee keepers don’t WANT their bees to die but it happens. They don’t need all the honey they store so how wrong is it as compared to killing bugs to grow crops? And yes, broccoli DOES feel pain. It feels it differently than we do but it does and it helps the plant survive by reacting to being eaten by bugs as studies show. At one time people thought lobsters felt no pain but we now know they feel it much more than WE DO! How do we really know mussels don’t feel pain? Because they don’t react like we do? Descartes insisted dogs don’t feel pain even though they screamed when he tortured them. It’s complicated and I am happy to see someone who feels it’s better to be “more” vegan than “less” vegan as it simply isn’t possible to be 100%. I wish more vegans would go this route.


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