Do you think animal products have a useful contribution to make toward human health? If so, you clearly haven’t read Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s “The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health.” The “startling implications” eluded to in the title come down to this: any and every form of animal product consumed in any amount whatsoever is bad for us. Veganism, it turns out, is the optimal human diet.
Along with the American Dietetic Association’s position papers on a vegetarian diet, studies on Adventists and the anecdotal cases of successful vegan athletes and body builders, “The China Study” is key to the argument that veganism is not only a healthy way to live, but may in fact be the healthiest. Vegan authorities swear by this book. People go vegan because of it. If “The China Study” were discredited, it would be a significant setback for veganism.
And that’s why some vegans don’t appreciate that Denise Minger, a 23-year-old former raw vegan, seems to have done just that.
This summer, Denise applied her interest in statistics and research to either a good or evil cause — depending on where you stand — by thoroughly dismantling Campbell’s bid at scientific immortality. In a series of entries on her blog Raw Food SOS, Denise demonstrated that Campbell’s anti-animal-product conclusions in his 2005 book did not match the data from his own research.
Always eager to defend his life’s work from uppity pro-meat subversives, Campbell posted a short rebuttal via a vegan blogger. Denise spent her next turn on "The China Study: My Response to Campbell". Campbell then penned a lengthier second response, which inspired Denise’s "The China Study: A Formal Analysis and Response". So far Campbell has kept any further protestations to himself.
Campbell critics say that his responses didn’t address most of Denise’s key points. Vegans tended to side with Campbell, however, sometimes for reasons as basic as ‘I am a vegan and Campbell defends veganism.’ As one vegan wrote: “So, whilst [Denise’s] work is impressive for the amount of time and effort she’s put in, as a vegan I am, not surprisingly, very firmly sat in Dr Colin Campbell’s camp. I just believe Dr Campbell.”
But some vegans found Denise’s critique harder dismiss. Tynan, the blogger who posted Campbell’s first response, was one of them — he abandoned veganism two weeks after reading her initial China Study entries. Denise Minger may not be the worst calamity ever to befall veganism (that honor goes to Gary L. Francione), but vegans who rely on the health argument to drum up new converts have cause for concern.
When Denise isn’t tap dancing all over everything T. Colin Campbell has done with the past two or three decades of his life, she is a freelance editor, tutor, writer and web/graphic designer who likes art, hiking and Scrabble.
But let’s see how the tap dancing is going.
You gave up meat at the age of seven because it repulsed you. Did you ever have ethical reasons, or was it always pure disgust?
As I got older, I definitely cozied up with the ethical reasons. Once you start associating with other veg people and watching the “Meet your Meat” PETA videos, it’s kind of hard not to jump on the ethical vegan bandwagon. I always loved animals anyway. And I still vehemently oppose factory farming.
Plus, vegetarianism and veganism totally have their own gravitational force. Once you put a meatless philosophy at the core of your life, you start reeling in everything possible to support that — health arguments, ethical arguments, environmental arguments, sustainability arguments, etc. — until you convince yourself that avoiding animal foods is the only “right” way to live life. I think it’s really hard to be a vegan solely for health reasons or solely for ethical reasons, because eventually, all the pro-vegan arguments smoosh together into one giant ball of virtuous delusion. That was my experience, at least.
How did you talk yourself out of the ethics of veganism when you started eating raw dairy and then eventually meat?
The dairy wasn’t too hard because I sourced it from small farms where I could investigate how the animals were treated. But with fish/meat, it wasn’t really a matter of talking myself out of anything — I was really unhealthy and probably on the verge of some total breakdown anyway. I had no conscious plans of ever eating meat again, but during an end-of-the-semester potluck in college, someone brought a platter of sushi and sashimi — and in a strange fit of compulsion, I shoved a bunch of salmon into my mouth. It was amazing. I was buzzing afterward and was physically satisfied in I way I hadn’t felt for many years.
So it wasn’t a matter of deliberately revising my ethical stance. It was more like ethics vs. biology jumped into a boxing ring together, and biology clobbered my vegan tunnel vision into smithereens.
I know there are vegans who’ll read that and think I was just weak/evil/etc., but when you spend a long time feeling crummy and then find a missing piece that makes the crummy go away — well, that’s a persuasive moment.