Never fear: Becoming vegan will not turn you into a plant. Photo by Daria Shevtsova.

The Flex Life: How Vegan Do We Really Need to Be?

By Molly Watson
What is the impact of veganism on our health, the planet, and the economy at large? With so many conflicting views on the subject, it’s hard to know where to start. Fortunately, our recent Explorer Event “Vegan Curious?” with award-winning food writer Molly Watson took us through the history, rationale, and effects of a vegan diet, and showed how we can all work toward choosing a healthier, more sustainable diet, one step at a time. Watson, who has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Cooking Light, Elle, and the San Francisco Chronicle, recently published
Should We All Be Vegan
?, which looks at the pros and cons of the lifestyle. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with Molly.

Some non-vegans worry they’ll be judged if they engage with vegans in a conversation about a plant-based diet. How can you reassure them?

I totally understand the fear! Begin the discussion from a place of honest curiosity. Staying in the realm on how it works for them, rather than why they chose it, can keep the discussion more pragmatic and reduce the chances of either of you feeling judged. 

As a non-vegan, why did you want to write Should We all Be Vegan?

My publisher
Thames & Hudson
asked me to write this book as part of their
Big Idea series
. I said yes because I wanted to figure out the answer to the question: Should we all be vegan? I’ve been vegetarian for long stretches and have had a plant-centric diet for ages, but I had no idea what the answer would be. Can we get all the nutrition we need without meat and other animal products? What impact would it have if we all went vegan? It was fun to explore all the different avenues. And I learned some things I hadn’t thought of, such as how some land that isn’t productive for growing food is perfectly serviceable for grazing animals to become food. 
Award-winning food writer Molly Watson. Courtesy of the author.

What’s the best argument for veganism? 

Pretty much every study shows a vegan diet is better for our individual health and would be better for the planet. The good news there — not to spoil the ending — is that we reap benefits with every inch closer we get to eating more plants and fewer animal products. It isn’t an all-or-nothing game. Baby steps count. 

What’s the biggest misconception about it? 

That it’s unhealthy. It’s true that just not eating animal products doesn’t make a diet healthful (soda and chips are vegan), but a vegan diet isn’t necessarily unhealthful any more than a non-vegan diet is necessarily unhealthful. 
Veganism isn’t all-or-nothing. The more plants you eat, the better. Photo by Ella Olsson.

What has the reaction been to your book? Have vegans criticized you for not demanding everyone become vegan? 

Vegans have tended to appreciate the balanced approach — likely because a balanced approach leans towards veganism — and the dispelling of common myths. Non-vegans seem to appreciate the balanced, “every little bit counts” approach as well. It really isn’t a black-and-white issue. Our diets are continuums, and everyone needs to find the mix that works for them. Being informed only helps. 

How does culture factor into the conversation? So many cultures have meat as a central part of their cuisine. 

Culture is often ignored, and I was excited to address it in the book. What kind of adjustments might be required for Christmas dinner to feel  like Christmas dinner without the roast? What would it mean for cultures where the diets are almost entirely meat-based — such as Inuit or Masai — to become vegan?  What role does cultural preference play in what we crave? 
Veganism has moved from the fringe to the mainstream. Photo by Anne Preble.

With fast food restaurants now offering vegan options, is veganism now mainstream? 

It’s certainly becoming easier to be vegan. I hope we’ve come a long way from when I was a teenage vegetarian and my grandmother told me the casserole was vegetarian. When I asked why I smelled sausage, she said it was “just for flavor!" 

What’s the best vegan meal you’ve ever had? 

There have been plenty! If I had to name just one, it would be a masala dosa.