There’s Vegans, and Then There’s German Vegans


American public radio highlights a recent report by German nutritionists warning about the potential risks of a vegan diet: 

Berlin resident Moza Kabbar … says there's a huge boom in enthusiasm for veganism in the city.

But not everyone in Germany is on board. In a new paper, the German Nutrition Society says a vegan diet can't provide everything your body needs.

"With a pure plant-based diet, it is difficult or impossible to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients," states the German Nutrition Society's new position on the vegan diet. "The most critical nutrient is B-12," which is found in eggs and meat. The group says if you follow a vegan diet, you should take supplements to protect against deficiencies.

According to the German nutritionists, other "potentially critical nutrients" that may be a challenge to get in a vegan diet include omega-3s — found in fatty fish — as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and selenium. So the group recommends that vegans get advice from a nutrition counselor and be "regularly checked by a physician." In addition, the society recommends against a vegan diet for pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding, children and adolescents.

Advocates for veganism say the new position from German nutritionists goes too far.

"With a little planning and knowledge, rest assured, you can get everything you need from a vegan diet for great health … at any age," Jimmy Pierson, a spokesperson for the Vegan Society, based in England, told us by phone….

But to make sure you're covering all your bases, "I would recommend [taking] a standard multivitamin," [U.S. dietitian Lisa] Cimperman says. It's a good insurance policy for vegans.

As for putting kids on vegan diets, the American Academy of Pediatrics says children can be well-nourished on all kinds of vegetarian diets, "but nutritional balance is very difficult to achieve if dairy products and eggs are completely eliminated," the position states. The academy recommends that if your child is following a vegetarian diet, "you need to guard against nutritional deficiencies."

Allow me to engage in some armchair sociologizin' here. Notice that this American news source quotes a Brit and an American, who both say perfectly sensible things about veganism. The target audience for the German nutrition report is not people like this. The target is German hard-core ideological vegans. These exist in the UK and US also, but I'd wager there are more of them here in Germany.

Why? Because Germany is the land of philosophical Idealism, deontological moral absolutes, and sayings such as "To be German means to do a thing for its own sake" (g, Wagner) and "A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself." (Adorno). And, since the late 1960s, a public discourse which is drenched in moral judgment.

Many German vegans are vegans not just because it's healthy, or because they don't want to see animals exploited. They think in rigid ideological categories. They are fundamentally convinced, like fundamentalists, that mankind was fundamentally never meat to consume animal protein, and that doing so is fundamentally immoral. Not only that, taking supplements would be an admission that a vegan diet is not fundamentally sufficient, weakening its claim to be the only fundamentally morally acceptable way to feed oneself.

You encounter the word fundamentally a lot in German. Also the word konsequent, which describes someone whose actions align scrupulously with their stated principles. I have met many German vegans. The majority are sensible and take supplements. But there's a pretty large minority who absolutely refuse to do so, seeing it as an unacceptable ethical compromise. The notion that they would change their habits when they have children is also seen as…an unacceptable ethical compromise. After all, what is more important than passing on your own fundamentally morally superior values of absolute nonviolence and sustainability to your children, so they will continue the lonely, voice-in-the-wilderness crusade for a better world? Assuming, of course, that the neural tube defects leave them able to communicate.

These are the people the German nutritionists are trying to reach. Of course, hard-core ideological German vegans will ignore the message, because that's the kind of people they are.

As Wickham Steed put it: "The Germans dive deeper — but they come up muddier."

11 thoughts on “There’s Vegans, and Then There’s German Vegans

  1. This reminds me of an interview I heard, some years ago, probably on Deutschlandradio. The topic: reducing carbon emissions. The spokesperson for some environmental organisation was asked what he thought about buying carbon offsets. He didn’t like them. That, he said, was a way of buying your way out of making a real commitment. Those may not have been the exact words, but that was the gist of it.


  2. Of course, this is just personal experience, but I think that many vegans in Germany come from hardcore punk subcultures. And they got their “straight edge” ideas not from Hegel and Kant, but from American bands like Fugazi or the Dead Kennedys (I’ve heard stories of upper-class people in Berlin being a bit frightened to go to vegan supermarkets, as they’re usually full off tattooed punks). So I’d somehow doubt that there are more in Germany than in the States.


  3. I am not sure if this is related to the German mentality, I think it is more caused by the strong tradition for naturalism, the remnants of which are Reformhäuser (a type of ecological store), Waldorfschulen, FKK (Nudism), Heilpraktiker (which is a licensed medical quack that is even allowed make his own pills).

    All of these go back to the mid 19th century, alltogether they are called “Lebensreform”

    Long before Whole Foods opened in the U.S., every single town in Germany already had natural food stores, though on a much much smaller scale.

    The ideas of Lebensreform still pervade German society, there are all kinds of absurd diets (eat only green things, eat only things plants give up voluntarily, eat only stuff exposed to the sun).
    Every German household does a bit of this, vegans are just one of the fringe groups.

    If veganism is not enough, then there is cocovorism:


  4. “All of these go back to the mid 19th century, alltogether they are called “Lebensreform””

    Steve Sailer has several times written about the hippy movement originating in German back to nature ideas (and in particular an early health food store in california run by German immigrants).

    I noticed this in Rossmann.

    I was in Berlin for a work related meeting and had a horrible headache and wanted to buy some pills (I’m American and don’t truck with herbal incense nonsense).

    Anyhoo… in Poland pills are easy to get. Go to a kiosk or convenience store and you can buy some small dosage drugs to make the hurt go away. None of this worked in Berlin around my hotel where the lady at the newstand looked at me as if I were from Mars when I asked for some aspirin. I finally decided to go to Rossmann and…. found aisle upon aisle of herbal tea type stuff and no blessed industrial chemicals.

    I finally went into an Apotheke and asked in my crappy German for something for a headache and found myself in an interview with a suspicious pharmacist who seemed to be planning an intervention:
    “Do you get headaches often?” said in the tone of a drug counsellor…

    I finally got my antihistimine narcotics and vowed never to return to Germany without a large stash of medicine.


  5. I apologise for my use of colorful language, but these people (hardcore vegans) are a fuckin’ bunch of idiots. Without their ancestors being carnivores they wouldn’t even exist.


  6. Sorry, but I do not understand the following Phrase from the 3d paragraph:
    “that mankind was fundamentally never ?meat? to consume animal Protein”.
    What does the meat there?


  7. Well, each vegan does something good to mankind (wasting no natural resources for the production and transportation of meat etc.), so please be a bit kind.


  8. The Apotheker have always had a powerful lobby which denies other stores to sell (most) pharmaceutical products. They claim that someone selling such products should have expert knowledge on this.

    Why the interrogation? Well, the are tens of thousands of people out there who severely damaged their organs by chronic use of some kinds of pain killers (most notably, their kidneys, leading to the necessity to use kidney machines; ask you friendly nephrologist), or suffered from internal bleedings, or simply got severe, difficult-to-treat chronic headache. Therefore, trying to lower the rates of such unpleasant and expensive health sequelae, for example through informed advice by a pharmacist, appears sensible. Maybe this would never be possible in the USA, given the widely known obsession of US-Amerians for analgetics; feeling affronted and becoming angry just because of such a question is a typical sign of substance dependence (SCNR).

    By the way, from placebo research we can conclude that herbal teas will be as effective as chemical pills in treating headaches, so give Rossmann a fair try next time.


  9. “feeling affronted and becoming angry just because of such a question is a typical sign of substance dependence (SCNR).”

    To be clear, I wasn’t affronted or angry, just kind of puzzled and frustrated that something that’s so simple in Poland was taking so long in Germany.

    I think the headache was a result of air pressure changes (I’m what they call a meteopata in Poland – what do you call a person with Wetterfühligkeit in German?) but I couldn’t explain that well in German and didn’t want to try in English for the principle of the thing.


  10. Perhaps these “nutritionists should introduce themselves to one of their vegan citizens…Patrik Baboumian…the world’s strongest man and holder of 4 world records as well as many German strength records…


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