Vegans, you’re unhealthy.

Or at least, you risk B12 deficiencies, consume inferior iron, and a new Oxford study says you break your bones easier — hip bones in particular, and those hips don’t lie.

I say this as a vegan, who’s sitting here typing with a previously broken arm that, despite doctors’ assurances, still hasn’t fully healed months later. Yet I would consider myself a ‘healthy’ vegan. I eat so many beans, pulses and nuts that if you held a match to me I might explode. But despite this, I am still destined to have some hindrances due to this dietary choice.

I didn’t become a vegan because it was easy. But now I wonder; is there a breaking point at which philosophy starts to conflict with physicality, enough to no longer make the former justifiable?

Veganism — just an inconvenience?

Of course, the fact that vegans may break bones easier than meat-eaters isn’t a deal-breaker for most people. We naturally become less rough and ready passed a certain age when things like playing rugby and football are no longer part of your life. And the other aforementioned nutritional deficiencies can still be obtained through a generally poor diet. So being vegan puts you out a bit, presents a risk perhaps, but if you can still get everything you need through a good multivitamin and a carefully controlled diet, then no real harm done — right?

But hypothetically, what if future studies found that perfectly healthy vegans were on average likely to live 10 years less? Would adherents still stick to the cause?

Vegans — vegone!

Some choose to become vegan for more superficial reasons, such as to improve their health, lose weight, or gain a brighter complexion — these people would likely be the first to be put off by the idea of having a diminished lifespan. But what about those who take up a broader philosophy? Their reasons could encompass the environment, animal rights, religion and much more — would these people be willing to reconvert?

Religious reasons to eat a vegan diet — often advocated in Hinduism and Buddhism — may be the most immovable of the three. Here the sacrifice of not eating meat or dairy serves some sort of ethereal purpose, and can even be paid back in dividends; i.e., a passage to Nirvana or becoming reincarnated into a higher being. Such religions also carry forth the view of death being but one state of existence, so the idea of having a slightly diminished life may not sound very threatening. Fine. What about the environmental and ethical, animal-rights-related reasons for turning vegan? These people form their beliefs on the basis of practical and empirical ideals — it’s better for the planet; to end animal suffering, etc. Could they continue validating their choice if evidence showed such personal detriment resulting from it?

A worthy sacrifice? 

‘I love those who do not first seek a reason beyond the stars for going down and being sacrifices, but sacrifice themselves to the earth, that the earth of the Superman may hereafter arrive’. — Friedrich Nietzsche.

Is a better world a reason one would willingly trade their mortality for? How else would men have thrown themselves onto the bombs and faced the bullets of WW2, unless they believed it was necessary. But such decisions made by those living in the 1940s seem obvious. These people had no other choice.

Many vegans on the other hand do. For environmental and animal rights reasons, they are trying to accomplish what they think will bring about a less cruel and ecologically better world through their actions. But their sacrifice, up until this point in time, remains largely superficial. As bystanders, one may only observe their carefully selected food purchases, their attentiveness to nutrition, or the limited places these people can visit to eat out.

But if they were faced with a moral crossroads containing multiple avenues, with a reduced lifespan being one of the outcomes; would they still willingly take this path despite being forewarned of the detriment that awaits them? Most make lifestyle efforts to extend their life, but would you continue to make a concentrated effort to actively reduce it? Would our hypothetical discovery make you question if your choice is still sustainable, pragmatic and the correct course of action?

So, should I stop being vegan? 

In many ways, I have actually seen physical benefit from being vegan: weight loss, better cardiovascular fitness, better skin and less lethargy. And, I do make an effort to have a varied and nutritious diet to supply my body with the vitamins I may be missing, in addition to taking supplements. However, there was an extended period of time when I had been forgetting to take multivitamins as regularly as I should have and it cast a deep mental fog over me, rendering me a robot, unable to think and function beyond necessity. Whether that was due to a vitamin deficit or not, the problem went away when I realised I hadn’t taken multivitamins in a while and started taking them again.

Despite that tumultuous time, I have stuck to my vegan diet. The main argument for my veganism is, for the most part, that it is only a sacrifice of taste and convenience to reduce the suffering of animals — a choice I conclude is both logical and pragmatic.

But in a hypothetical where I would potentially lose 10 years of life for my choice, could I still reasonably make the same choice? Being an atheist, I only have the material world — so to trade that time for philosophical purity would be quite a commitment. I don’t intend on having children either, so even a vain sacrifice to provide a more ecologically sound world for any offspring is off the table. But could I be made to revert back to carnivorous habits without being crushed by guilt? Can Pandora go back in the box?

If you want to see what someone is like, see how they act, not what they say. So I can pontificate on sacrifice, morals and their motivations; could convince myself I can find a work around, a balance, or eventually come to terms with what my beliefs may subject me to. But having had health issues before, where I have previously stared into only a relative abyss, I can tell you, it scared me … .