One topic that occasionally creates a stir on vegan sites is the proposal that vegans be OK with eating oysters, usually with a reference to a Slate piece from a few years ago by Christopher Cox. Cox argues that oysters have no nervous system, so, as far as we know, they cannot experience suffering any more than plants can. In addition, oyster farming (which accounts for 95% of oysters consumed) has a minimal impact on the environment (less than much plant farming), and can actually improve water quality. Even renowned vegan and animal rights philosopher Peter Singer has gone back and forth on the oyster question.
Why otherwise consider eating oysters, particularly if, like me, you dislike the taste and texture? They are nutritional powerhouses, rich in B12, iron, and zinc – which can be difficult (though not impossible!) for a vegan diet to supply adequately. (In fact, when considering eating oysters, we need to be careful not to overdo and wind up with too much zinc in our systems.)
Why am I writing this? Briefly:
After 10 months on a vegan diet, I found myself shedding more hair than I should. And I was worried. Like anyone who goes vegan for the animals, I need for this diet and ethical lifestyle to work. If I decided to eat a plants-only diet for purely heath reasons, and my hair started falling out, I would merely say, Well, this isn’t healthy for me, and put some animals back on my plate. But that is not the case.
My vegan diet has been, I believe, well-constructed, based on beans, lentils, rice and other whole grains, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits and nuts (and, yes, vegan desserts!). I take B12 religiously. I am conscientious about adding vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. I have ground chia seeds in my daily oatmeal. I noticed very quickly that soy was not working for me, so I avoid it. Most of my food is unprocessed.
Also, some non-diet issues need to be considered: I am hypothyroid (managed with medication) and have just recently hit menopause. I had a recent adjustment to my thyroid medication, and that can certainly affect hair, as can the hormonal changes brought by menopause.
But I had a gut feeling that my diet was not quite making it for me, so I decided to add bivalves in, just to see if it helped – and the hair loss stopped in less than a week.
Should I have waited for my next blood tests to check for deficiencies? Perhaps. Could I have sought out an RD to tweak my food choices? Certainly. But I took this route, and it seems to have solved the problem, whatever it may have been (lack of iron? zinc? or protein, somehow? I just don’t know).
So, I need to come out as a “bivalvegan”for now. Full disclosure: I have not yet found a way to prepare oysters and mussels in a way that I can get down and keep down (I have never liked seafood much, and the texture of oysters is not pleasant to me), so I have been eating fried clams in the meantime. (No, not the healthiest choice, but I can stomach them.) Clam collection is NOT benign – it usually involves sea floor dredging – and it is NOT as clear for clams (as it is for oysters and mussels) that there is no suffering involved. But I am working on it, and I see myself in the very near future passing on the clams and simply adding some sort of oyster dish to my diet, twice a week or so. Or coming off the bivalves and seeing if the hair loss does NOT come back. Or getting a workup and finding a possible alternate route if some deficiency is apparent.
I am changing the name of the blog to reflect this change in my diet and lifestyle.
I am doing my best! As are you.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Very Vegan New Year – as vegan as we can make it. For the animals.