How a lazy eater went vegan

I went veg­e­tar­ian in col­lege, and had wanted to go ve­gan ever since I read Ju­lia Galef’s ar­ti­cle on why eat­ing eggs may kill more an­i­mals than eat­ing meat. But I was ner­vous about the po­ten­tial health con­se­quences of go­ing ve­gan, and a lot of the guides to go­ing ve­gan made it sound like a ridicu­lous amount of work. Some guides seemed to as­sume you loved spend­ing lots of time cook­ing. Or they’d recom­mend other things I just couldn’t see my­self do­ing, like eat­ing 6 cups of leafy greens per day for cal­cium. (6 cups may not sound like a lot, un­til you go to the gro­cery story and re­al­ize the big bags they sell there are only 2.5 cups. Try to imag­ine your­self eat­ing two or more of those bags ev­ery day.)

Even­tu­ally, though, I worked out a diet plan that would be both healthy and easy to fol­low. Cook­ing effort is min­i­mal; ev­ery­thing can be made with a microwave and rice cooker. I don’t claim the fol­low­ing diet is nu­tri­tion­ally op­ti­mal a la Soylent or MealSquares, but I do think it’s prob­a­bly healthier than the diet of the av­er­age Amer­i­can om­nivore:

  • Plan on get­ting most of your calories and pro­tein from a mix of ce­re­als (bread, corn, rice, etc.) and legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, soy, etc.)

  • Keep fruit and veg­eta­bles around to snack on. A hand­ful of baby car­rots per day will take care of all your vi­tamin A needs.

  • Ad­ding a mod­er­ate amount of iodized salt to your meals is prob­a­bly good idea, for both nu­tri­tion and taste.

  • There are just two nu­tri­ents that you’ll re­ally need to get from sup­ple­ments (or foods for­tified with them): cal­cium and vi­tamin B12.

  • I also take a vi­tamin D3 + K2 sup­ple­ment, but that has more to do with not get­ting much sun than with ve­g­anism.

  • So that your diet isn’t com­pletely bor­ing, keep an eye out for good ve­gan and ve­gan-friendly gro­cery stores and restau­rants. Chipo­tle and Trader Joe’s are two ex­am­ples of good ve­gan-friendly na­tional chains.

Look­ing over these bul­let points, part of me doesn’t be­lieve it’s re­ally that sim­ple… but it’s what I’m do­ing, and I have no ma­jor wor­ries about my health or abil­ity to be happy with this diet over the long haul. You should be aware that iron is an is­sue for some peo­ple, but most peo­ple don’t have to worry about it. Also, there may be benefits from mak­ing an effort to con­sume cre­a­tine and omega-3 fatty acids, but if wor­ry­ing about them seems like too much of a has­sle, you’ll prob­a­bly be fine.
Since many in the Bay Area effec­tive al­tru­ist com­mu­nity are into low-carb diet­ing for weight-loss pur­poses, I should ad­dress that. The most promi­nent low-carb ad­vo­cates, like Gary Taubes and the late Robert Atk­ins, have made claims that sim­ply have no sci­en­tific ba­sis. For ex­am­ple, both have claimed that peo­ple can eat un­limited amounts of fatty foods and not gain weight, be­cause only carbs cause weight gain. I’ve never heard Taubes give a co­her­ent ac­count of how this is sup­posed to be true; Atk­ins claimed it was due to ex­cess calories be­ing ex­creted in the urine as ke­tones, but urine ke­tone lev­els are too small for this to be pos­si­ble.
Some stud­ies com­par­ing low-carb diets to other diets have found es­sen­tially no differ­ence in terms of weight-loss, while oth­ers have found mod­est benefits for low-carb diets over low-fat diets. Based on my own per­sonal ex­pe­rience, and read­ing Yoni Freed­hoff’s book The Diet Fix, I sus­pect any benefits of low-carb diets come from the fact that they also tend to be high-pro­tein. I’ve found that eat­ing high-pro­tein plant foods like soy and lentils works won­ders in terms of my abil­ity to eat in mod­er­a­tion with­out feel­ing hun­gry. For the past cou­ple of weeks, I’ve ac­tu­ally been mak­ing a con­scious effort to eat more calories, mostly to avoid hav­ing to buy new pants again.
A fi­nal point to note is that there may be an eth­i­cal case for eat­ing bi­valves. I haven’t tried this yet, mainly out of laz­i­ness (see the ti­tle of this post). How­ever, it’s some­thing I may do in the fu­ture.