Even Vegans Die: A Practical Guide to Caregiving, Acceptance, and Protecting Your Legacy of Compassion. By Carol J. Adams, MDiv, Patti Breitman, and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD. Forward by Michael Greger, MD.
When I first heard that Ginny Messina (vegan nutrition expert and a role model of mine since I was a wee undergraduate nutrition student) and Carol Adams (the brilliant vegan feminist and author of The Sexual Politics of Meat) were writing a book about the realities of vegan health, disease and death, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!
This book is a unique combination of myth-busting, real talk and reminders of how important it is to care for others while they are sick or dying and to prepare for our own deaths. Sounds kind of morbid but it is super refreshing and very practical – it’s a great read for all vegans as well as anyone seeking information on caregiving and grieving.
Part 1 of the book addresses myths and realities of vegan health. The authors break down the evidence regarding cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, aging skin, dementia and multiple sclerosis. Bottom line: there are certain lifestyle behaviors we know can help decrease risk for certain health conditions but there is nothing we know of that will definitely prevent illness. This is something I feel especially passionate about as a vegan dietitian because sometimes it feels like I’m combating misinformation within the vegan community more often than outside of it. Plant-based dieting has become a trend and claims about the power of a vegan diet to prevent and reverse disease can do more harm than good.
The authors assert than when we position veganism as something that can prevent sickness, we set it up for failure. We also alienate those who do fall ill.
If you’re curious about how to discuss veganism in relation to health in an honest and open way, I’d definitely recommend picking up this book!
Part 2 is about caregiving. The authors address the interdependency of human society and how that isn’t a bad thing. It’s OK to need the support of others. This is a welcome reminder in a culture that values independence and self-reliance. The authors discuss four components of caregiving and strategies for executing each one. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when a loved one falls sick and the tips in this book provide tangible things we all can do to be supportive not just of those who are sick in our lives but also how to support caregivers.
Part 3 includes advice on mourning and coping with one’s own terminal illness. These are situations we rarely think about before we find ourselves in them, and I appreciate the wake-up call to how important it is to be prepared for the inevitable.
What I really loved about this book is how it approaches death and dying head-on. With the exception of losing grandparents, a near-death experience for my stepbrother and working in a post-acute care facility, I don’t have a whole lot of experience with human death. This book is a welcome reminder that dying is normal and we don’t need to be so afraid of it.
The advice the authors provide for preparing for your own death (such as having a will or estate drawn up and deciding what you want done with your remains) is incredibly useful – it’s certainly not something I learned in school or that my family discusses. Wills and estates are not just for parents or the elderly. The authors point out how selfish and irresponsible it is not to have your official wishes in writing as it can create legal and familial feuds that can last for years.
I really enjoyed the authors’ explanation about how non-human animals experience grief in ways similar to us (including loss of appetite and a dip in energy levels). The authors shared several stories about animals grieving and it almost brought me to tears while reading the book on my commute – not just because of the sadness of those situations but because the sentience of animals is so obvious and yet so many people choose to disregard it.
I also loved their perspective and thoughts on our cultural fear of death and dying and how this not only impacts our (lack of) preparation for such events but also how it’s possible for non-vegans to lack awareness about the death they perpetuate through eating meat and consuming animal-based products such as leather and those tested on animals (reminder: unless a personal care product explicitly states it’s not tested on animals or is cruelty-free, it’s pretty much a given that it’s been tested on animals such as rabbits, cats and monkeys). Perhaps the denial we experience related to human death we also extend to our impact on other animals. Maybe this is one reason why it’s so easy to see meat as food rather than flesh from a killed animal.
The authors include a compelling quote from philosopher James Stanescu – “We live in the midst of a society that features the opposite of mourning rituals for animals: public rituals of celebration often center on dead animals (such as Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July). As vegans we experience a cruel, double disconnect: a society that celebrates what we grieve in a world that denies its actions and keeps grief itself at arm’s length.” This so beautifully articulates the struggle of working toward something most others don’t care about, and in some ways, work against. It also highlights the importance of connecting with fellow vegans – beyond delicious potlucks and advocacy strategy, having relationships with other vegans can help us feel optimistic and energized about our cause.
The authors remind us that all lives must come to an end and “as vegans, our circle of love and compassion is so huge that grieving is always with us.”
This resonates with me so much. It’s easy to get caught up in grieving the billions of animal lives taken by the hands of humans each year and I’ve been known to burst into tears driving past veal crates on a farm, seeing photos of animals imprisoned in zoos or even just thinking about calves being ripped away from their dairy cow mothers mere hours after birth. I do my best to avoid graphic videos of animal exploitation but since these realities are all around us, there are constant reminders.
Because vegans have an awareness and connection to the vast amount of animal suffering that non-vegans disregard, it’s incredibly important we mind our own self-care. In order to continue being positive and effective animal advocates, we must ensure our own physical, mental and emotional well-being.
And, part of being effective advocates is being accepting and non-judgmental of other humans, both vegans and non-vegans, including weight-shaming and health-shaming. At the end of the day vegans are trying to treat other beings how we wish to be treated – with respect and compassion.
Interested in learning more about the authors? Read more from and about them here:
Ginny Messina: theveganrd.com
Carol Adams: caroljadams.com
Patti Breitman: nevertoolatetogovegan.com/patti-breitman