An Ethical Case For Not Being 100% Vegan?

As some of you know, I have been following the smartest vegans and seeing what I can learn from them.

I would say that I’ve reduced my animal calorie consumption and increased my plant-based consumption by more than 50% since spring. Most of the reduced calories are from dairy and beef. Most of those calories have been offset by an increase in whole grains and legumes.

So far my health feels exactly the same, which is mostly great. My weight is the same. My skin is the same. I do feel a bit sharper mentally, but that could be due to summer sunshine (Seattle gets a bit dreary in the off months) or an increase in meditation minutes. Not sure.

However, I discovered one marker that I have been tracking for years that has gone in the wrong direction. My iron level has dropped to its lowest level that I’ve seen.

According to Wikipedia, the average hematocrit level, which is the ratio of the volume of red blood cells to the total volume of blood,  for a man is between 40.7% to 50.3%. In order for a man to donate in Washington, a minimum level of 39.0% is required.

Since I started donating, my iron levels have dropped, which is exactly what I wanted to happen. See my 2010 post The Selfish Case For Donating Blood. This past winter, I mentioned in the post Frequent Blood Donations and Injury Recovery that I now had to wait 9-10 weeks between donations, as I tended to be just short of the 39.0% requirement. I’d sometimes get 38.8 or 38.9. The Peasant Diet as well as the Potato Hack are lower in iron than the more Paleo diet I had been consuming.

I also mentioned in that post, that I would reduce my winter donations. Instead of donating every 8 weeks all year long, as I had been, I would donate every 9-10 weeks from spring to fall.

On Friday, I went to donate blood and my levels were 36.0! All those iron-rich plant-based foods that have become my new staples apparently aren’t being absorbed or they aren’t enough, as my iron levels have dropped to my all-time low. Chia seeds, lentils, buckwheat, and oatmeal are no match for beef. At least in my system. And yes, I was eating a lot of fruits loaded with Vitamin C to increase iron absorption.

Note that 36.0 is not an unhealthy iron level. But, the blood banks need a higher level, because the act of donating will further lower iron levels until the body can replenish the lost blood. In other words, they don’t want to take your pint and then let you leave in an unhealthy state.

Here comes the ethical question. Is it ethical – even for someone that loves animals – to eat just enough animal products to maximize blood donations? If I eat red meat on a regular basis, I can donate 6 pints of blood a year. The more I cut back, the lower that number goes. If a pint of blood can save a life and we as a culture value human life more than animal life, then what is the ethical answer?

I’m guessing some vegans might respond that one could do more to raise their iron levels. And I would accept that if I learned and incorporated all the tricks to boost iron levels on a plant-based diet that I might be able to donate 1 or 2 (maybe 3) pints per year, but I seriously doubt I could give 6 pints. That is just me. It’ll vary from person to person.

blood donation

I need 2 more pints to get my 5-gallon pin.

This is just a fun thought experiment. I’m not planning on going 100% plant-based. I am increasing that number though.

How will I boost my iron levels so that I can resume donating blood? I posted the idea last year before I even got the idea to go more plant-based. See the post An Offal Vegetarian. I’m going to resume eating organ meat from cows, but this time instead of cooking it up on an irregular basis, I’ll be supplementing daily. Amazon sells grass-fed beef liver capsules and beef organ capsules. I wasn’t sure which one to buy, so I got both.

I’ll let you know if the combination of an increasingly plant-based diet mixed with the organ-meat supplements boosts my iron levels. I really want to earn that 5-gallon pin before winter arrives. 🏆💉


Add yours

  1. This speaks well for cardio,
    your hemoglobin goes down,
    (the oxygen carrying moiety,)
    yet your fitness improves.

    Case closed!

  2. @MAS
    I don’t think the social vegan community would agree with your reason that we as a culture value human life more than animal life. So their answer would be no. And non-vegans would have no problem with you eating meat in any case.

    In other words, I don’t think this argument, while interesting, would change anyone’s mind.

  3. @Jim – I don’t believe that is true with a majority of vegans. I think they value human life over animals, just by much smaller margin than the rest of us.

  4. @MAS
    After a brief internet search, regarding the value of animal and human lives, I agree with your belief of the majority opinion. A lot of interesting articles and surveys came up with that search, by the way. For example, if forced to choose, 40% of people would save the life of their pet over the life of a human stranger. 🙂

  5. The answer is yes. The fact that you would ask such a question indicates that you’re becoming yet another pitiful soy boy. Stop before it’s too late. Better check your estrogen levels.

  6. AFAIK there are no satisfying answers to such ethical dilemmas, whether they are “directed” at vegans or not. It depends on premises we accept and even then the moral system may contain undecidable sentences on morality.

    We may start with something simple. How many lives of cows is worth one human life? Or is it always human > any amount of cows? What if the human is braindead? What if we alter DNA of that human piece by piece so (s)he ceases to remain human? Does the specie even matter (many argue it’s sentience or even sapience that matters)?

    Fortunately in most cases most of the time it’s lentils vs steak dilemma with no other meaningful consequences attached, and then answers is pretty obvious. Just do no (less?) harm.

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