Is Veganism Healthy? A Response to Alex O’Connor (Cosmic Skeptic)

| 23 February 2023
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Alex O’Connor, better known online as Cosmic Skeptic, is no longer vegan.

To many, that statement doesn’t mean very much. To some of us, it means quite a lot. To the animals, however, it means most of all.

For those who don’t know him by name, Alex is – was – a prominent online vegan advocate with upwards of half-a-million YouTube subscribers. As a young student, he started out making videos on philosophy and religion, belonging largely to the ‘New Atheist’ movement.

That is, until he uploaded on video called A Meat-Eater’s Case for Veganism on April 6, 2019, shocking his largely non-vegan audience into considering, for the first time, the ethical case for veganism. Alex subsequently went vegan and has been making videos, writing articles and giving talks about veganism for most of the last three years.

“I have never felt more embarrassed than when I first recognised my role in this circus of inhumanity,” said Alex in 2019 in his article Yes, I’m a Vegan. He went on to add: “I have committed myself to never again allow my convenience to balance upon the carcasses of any sentient members of our moral community.”

That commitment held up until recently, apparently. Late on 12 February 2023, Alex posted this statement:

“For quite some time I have been re-evaluating my ethical position on eating animals, which is something people have also noticed, but what you will not know is that I had also been struggling privately to maintain a healthy plant-based diet.”

For this reason, he has “for some time now been consuming animal products again (primarily but not exclusively seafood)”. He still opposes factory farming, he says, but is increasingly no longer “convinced of the appropriateness of an individual-focused boycott in responding to these problems, and [is] increasingly doubtful of the practicability of maintaining a healthy plant-based diet in the long-term”.

The irony is, of course, that most people are against factory farming in theory, yet still support it financially. More than 90% of animal products in the UK come from factory farms. Not only that, but factory farms are nothing but symptoms of the fact that we view animals as little more than commercial products to be exploited for human benefit. Other than being vegan, there is no way of consistently opposing factory farms in thought, word and deed.

We ought to also consider the impact of eating animal products on not only the animals that are eaten but also the animals that are not. As Viva!’s Eating the Earth campaign shows, eating meat, fish, dairy and eggs is the leading cause of wildlife loss around the world. Eating “free range” also takes up more land – and therefore endangers more wildlife – than eating factory farmed. The only answer, if we care about animals, as Alex continues to posit that he does, is to go vegan.

For me, one of Viva!’s Campaigns team, Alex’s is a saddening story. I went vegan immediately after attending a speech that Alex gave, having followed him online for years before the original “A Meat-Eater’s Case for Veganism” video.

Since going vegan, I have not only dedicated my career to saving animals through veganism, but have also started running marathons and ultramarathons, as well as rowing, climbing and lifting weights – all while experiencing no nutritional deficiencies or health barriers whatsoever.

This is not merely anecdotal, either. Dietetics experts agree that a well-planned, plant-based diet is suitable for all stages of life, whether young, old, pregnant or an athlete. A healthy vegan diet demonstrably improves health outcomes across a wide range of metrics, whether in terms of attaining a healthy weight or avoiding heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Every nutrient that the human body needs can be obtained from a well-planned vegan diet, with the added benefit that harmful ingredients like saturated fats, cholesterol, animal hormones and inflammatory compounds are found either not at all or only in very small quantities in a wholefood plant-based diet.

Admittedly, vegans can be unhealthy. There is plenty of vegan junk food that is high in saturated fats, sugar and salt that we ought to limit as far as possible. There are also plenty of non-dietary lifestyle factors such as lack of physical exercise, poor sleep quality, consumption of alcohol, taking recreational drugs and even high stress levels that can impact our health outcomes severely. When assessing one’s own health, or having a doctor assess it for you, it is important to realise that poor health can come from a multitude of different directions – but it is never the fact that simply ‘being a vegan’ is to blame, as the consistently lower risk of killer chronic diseases among vegans shows.

The science on this is clear. Not only is a wholefood plant-based diet healthy, but it is also the most sustainable and cheapest diet, as Oxford University researchers found in 2021, debunking any claims that a healthy vegan diet is not accessible to all.

Some people may feel they need a little help planning a healthy vegan menu. If that’s you, we can help! There is a wealth of information, available totally for free, on the Viva! website. For instance, Vegan Recipe Club is a free bank of almost 1,000 recipes and Viva!’s What I Need Each Day is a fool-proof guide to getting adequate nutrition.

It is a shame when such an influential vegan decides to eat animals and animal products again. To pretend, however, that it is for health reasons is far more of a sham than a shame. The science could not be more clear on that.

Alex’s commitment to “never again allow [his] convenience to balance upon the carcasses of any sentient members of our moral community” seems to have gone up in flames, burned at the funeral pyre of nutritional misinformation.

And, sadder still, his online prominence means that thousands of non-vegans will see the column of smoke emanating from his statement and wrongly take it to mean that veganism is neither healthy nor practical – something which, in this day and age, frankly is both misleading and damaging.

About the author
Rory Cockshaw
Rory is a Viva! campaigner - which makes him, as he likes to tell people, a "professional vegan". When he is not talking to people about animal rights, he spends most of his time exercising - running, weightlifting, cycling, and (formerly) rowing - or cooking.

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