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Culture War Roundup for the week of May 1, 2023

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Almost every time I get into a discussion about veganism, nutrition is brought up. People claim that it’s hard to be healthy, get enough protein, or not be deficient in key minerals on a vegan diet. As an accomplished runner, and 4- year vegan, this always baffles me. In my time as a vegan, I’ve set PRs in the 10k (30:49), 5k (14:56), Marathon (2:36), mile swim (19:00), bench, and squat (they’re embarrassing, I’m a runner). I spend about $50 less on groceries a week than I used to (non-processed meat is expensive yo),my acne has cleared up, and I generally feel better. An my success is one story among the millions of vegans and hundreds of millions of vegetarians that lead healthy lives. But that’s all anecdotal. What I want to show in this post is that it's not actually that hard to get all the nutrients one needs on a vegan diet.


Let’s start with protein. I’m 150 pounds, and with the recommended RDA of 0.8 g/kg body weight for protein intake a day, I only need 55g of protein. If I ate nothing but white flour (3g protein per 100 calories), I would exceed this amount (60g). There is the issue of grains (i.e. bread) having low protein bioavailability (closer to 40-50%), but this can be partially remedied by eating something like sourdough, or just not something absurdly stupid like getting all your calories from bread. Protein deficiency is so absurdly rare that it’s almost impossible to have it without calorie restricting, even on a shitty Western diet. However, the average American is either some kind of athlete or has aspirations to be one. RDA for athletes is up to double this amount: 1.6 g/ kg body weight, or 110 G protein for me. I can hit this if I try, but my daily consumption is usually around 100g protein, at least during the times I’ve tracked intake. While protein intake has not been demonized like the other two macronutrient groups, research suggests that high-protein intake is actually negatively associated with longevity. People also bring up complete proteins, but I also think this is a non-issue on a balanced diet. Soy beans contain all nine essential amino acids, and rice and beans together also make up a complete protein. There's also the issue of Methionine/BCAA consumption: they seem to be associated with decreased lifespan, but they also are necessary for muscular anabolism so it's sort of a win some you lose some situation. Animal proteins are richer in BCAAs, but I'm not sure if this a good or bad thing.

Vitamin D

Ideally you should be getting this from UV exposure. However that isn’t possible for 3–6 months during the year in locales above 30 N or below 30 S. I supplement during the winter. Animal products like milk and meat have appreciable amounts of vitamin D, but these are either added later (milk) or supplemented in the animal feed. If you insist on a vegan dietary source, mushrooms with UV exposure or sunlight exposure before cooking have enough vitamin D to meet the RDA.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, DHA and EPA. DHA and EPA can pretty much only be found in marine sources (algae or fish). ALA is common in plant foods such as flax and chia. I personally take an algae DHA supplement daily, but this may not be necessary because I consume about 7g of ALA from plant sources, including Chia and Flax. The RDA for DHA+EPA combined is between 250–500 mg. Assuming middle of the range 5% conversion between ALA and DHA (source), I still get enough omega-3s without the supplement. Flax and chia are super cheap and super easy to add as a garnish to salads, overnight oats, baked goods (although this destroys the omega-3s), and the famous chia pudding.


This is fortified in soy milk and nutritional yeast. This is supplemented in most animal products as well, either in animal feed or post production. If you really want a natural source of b12, duckweed has 750% of the RDA per 100g. I've also started homebrewing Kombucha, which by my own TLC (thin-layer chromatography) analysis has plenty of b12. I'm sure this is true for other fermented foods as well.


Anecdotally my serum ferritin and hemoglobin levels increased when I became vegan, probably because of dropping dairy. My tracking app says I get plenty more than the RDA of 18 mg of iron (which is already 2x what is needed for males). Main sources are dark chocolate, sea-weed and dark, leafy vegetables. Yes, plant iron is less bioavailable, but heme iron (animal iron) is a carcinogen, and you can increase iron availability by eating iron rich foods together with vitamin C. Oftentimes these two nutrients are in the same food.


Again this is supplemented in soy milk, but even without that I get more than enough calcium to exceed the RDA of 1g from a variety of sources including and not limited to nuts, leafy greens, flax, chia, oranges, kiwi fruit, and sea weed. There is a range of bioavailability from these foods, but the main non-vegan source of calcium (milk) is around 30% of bioavailability, which is the upper middle range of plant foods. Dairy is not a health food for a variety of other reasons, so I don’t think this is an entirely fair comparison.


I cook with iodized salt, but also eat seaweed. Iodine is also available from plant sources, but the yield varies wildly depending on the iodine content of the soil.

Other Nutrients

Some people also claim vegans suffer from vitamin A, vitamin K and zinc deficiencies. Vitamin A can easily be found in spinach and carrots. Vitamin K in kale, kiwi and chia, and zinc in beans, flax and small amounts in pretty much every other food. Zinc is in nuts and seeds, but I also eat oysters (not sentient and are sustainable), which are almost too rich in Zinc and other essential metals. Plant K2 can only be found in natto, but again the conversion rate isn't that low, and is probably upregulated if you don't intake enough vitamin K2 from your diet.

I’m not claiming that a vegan diet is optimal, but it seems pretty clear from both research and my anecdotal experience that is possible to be successful athletically on a vegan diet. Considering that American levels of meat consumption are unsustainable environmentally (we would need 8 earths if everyone ate as much meat as Americans), and generally seem to result in poor health outcomes, it seems that moving closer to a vegan diet would be better for all of us. While regenerative grazing can generate meat in a sustainable manner, it cannot do so on the scale of factory farming, and thus cannot satisfy the insane American demand for meat. There’s also the issue of ethics to consider: cognitive research has shown that many farm animals (cows, sheep, chickens come to mind) show many signs of intelligence similar to young children and pet animals. I've become much more open to the idea of small-scale animal farming, where animals are treated humanely, but still ultimately killed and eaten, but this still entails eating far less meat. Nutrition isn’t a serious barrier, so what’s your excuse?

Nutrition isn’t a serious barrier, so what’s your excuse?

I mostly agree with everyone saying they don't need an excuse, but I see your kind of thinking a lot in EA/Rationalist spaces, and I think it's completely wrongheaded, so it's probably worth spelling out my philosophical position.

If you found out tomorrow that animals had no qualia whatsoever, would that change your behavior? It shouldn't. Whether or not animals have qualia has no effect whatsoever on the causal progression of the universe. It doesn't matter at all to anything that can be perceived by you.

"But doesn't that imply that empathy itself is irrational? Couldn't you apply the same arguments to humans? Surely we should care about their qualia right?"

Here's the difference: What is empathy for? What is it's purpose? Why do we have it? Is it because God, or Omega, or the aliens running the simulation want us to be nice to other conscious entities? No. The purpose of empathy is to approximate good decision theory. Anytime two people spontaneously cooperate in the one-shot prisoner's dilemma that's good empathy, and it's good decision theory too. Anytime someone cooperates against cooperate bot in the prisoner's dilemma, that's just dumb. Animals are cooperate bot (or defect bot I guess). You defect against cooperate bot (and defect bot) because their decision is not influenced in any way by anything. The mosquitos are not going to stop biting us if we abolish factory farming. You are applying the tool of empathy far beyond its intended distribution, and you are getting suboptimal results because of it.

I think you generally make a good point here.

Whether or not animals have qualia has no effect whatsoever on the causal progression of the universe.

This, though, I think is just factually wrong. The only reason "do animals have qualia" is a question we care about is because humans have qualia, and talk about those qualia, and thus the qualia of humans have an effect on the causal progression of the universe. If animals have qualia, it is as a part of their evolved responses to their environment, and it was only selected for to the extent that it causes their behavior to be better-suited for their environment.

Humans behaving weirdly when presented with environments well outside the ancestral? Story of civilization right there!

Frankly, I have empathy for those who I have empathy for, it's baked into my values, and no amount of argument will make me care about cows, pigs or chickens. The only reason I'd stop eating them is because lab grown meat is both as good and cheaper.