To Meat or Not to Meat?

By Vanessa Johansson

The case for sustainability and respect for life presents an argument against the vegan diet. So do the life-span charts.

One woman’s quest for a healthy, sustainable diet leads beyond raw foods veganism.

Years ago, I was the co-owner of a 40-restaurant Subway franchise in multiple states. That income allowed me to retire; I never needed to work again.

Then I began to uncover the horrors of factory farming, as well as the health challenges caused by the consumption of cooked meat. I knew my days of being a franchise restaurant owner were over.

I began intensive experimentation on my own body with herbs and raw foods. I studied intensely for seven years, earning a degree in nutrition along the way. I watched my body shrink and grow and go pale and fill out and get sick and weak. Hives, acne, a sore throat for 18 months, candida, weird emotional stuff, and so much more colored my raw vegan days. I have been front row witness as well as in-house medicine woman to my three superhero children and my brave and willing life partner.

When I stepped onto this extreme path seeking health, I was in large part motivated by the understanding that other feeling and living beings suffered so I could have life. I cut anything with a face from my diet. I felt that if I ate lower on the food chain, not only would there be more food for all, but there would be less suffering in the world. I wanted to preserve the natural resources of this planet. I knew eating meat was resource intensive. I believed conventional farming methods were responsible for pretty much all of the illness and disease being experienced today, not to mention the destruction of our land, water, air and trees.

I stand in a very different place today, and it has been a riveting journey to get here. I know with certainty that my position and perspective will continue to evolve as my understanding continues to grow.

Plants are living beings

The “I don’t kill my food” rationale for eating vegetarian does not hold up. This was a painful admission to make to myself. I loved believing that I had eradicated the killing of other beings from my karma. Unless you are growing your own food or buying only from local small farms, eating a plant- and grain-based diet means you are being supported by monocrop agriculture, which wipes out entire biosystems. The vegan diet plays a part in the destruction of a viable and healthy, sustainable ecosystem.

My next sticking point was the issue of what is alive and what is not. Is a tree less alive than a deer or a cow? Read The Secret Life of Plants and you will know that plants are as conscious as you and I. A 300-year-old tree may be more conscious than the average human adult today. Plants are life, the big life. Everything else is little life, depending on the big life for survival.


“What is sustainable?” is the next question in the carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore dialogue. It is a wonderful step taken as a living being when one becomes aware that this is a shared planet, and that all need to be fed, sheltered, watered, and given their time in the sun. How can I live in a way that is sustainable over the course of my life and makes life sustainable for as much other life as possible? Rule number one is to understand that we can not pollute the pond that we live in. “Sustainable” will of course mean no more pollution than can be easily handled by the earth and trees and waters and by our own bodies and the bodies of all living things. Sustainable ideally means that what we take is renewed quickly and easily. Is food flown in from the South America sustainable? The number of calories required to get it from there to me outweighs the nutrition it provides.  Add in the pollution caused by producing and then burning the jet fuel, and mining and producing the metal for the planes and trucks that carry the food, and it becomes clear that this is not a sustainable way to eat. Eating food grown where I live, in soil that is loved, is sustainable.

It used to be that the food supply regulated the population. A community or tribe would not have more people in its fold than there were resources to support them. A direct relationship with your food reduces waste. Respect for the soil and water are keys to planetary health and the health of all living creatures.


The raw vegan living foods diet is a cleansing diet. But over time, if a body remains in a mode of cleansing without taking nutrition back in, it will begin to break down.

Somewhere around four years into a raw vegan diet, I began to feel what I will call “hungry.” I did not know why. I chalked it up to needing to cleanse more, and so I did just that. Lots of juice fasts, lots of intestinal cleanses, more of what I had already been doing. It was not making me feel any better.


“The ‘I don’t kill my food’ rationale for eating vegetarian does not hold up.” —Vanessa Johansson

Though I had read all of the books on why vegan is best, as well as amassing a group of raw vegan personalities as friends, something was still not adding up in my own body. It was hard to let go of what I had decided was true and allow something bigger to teach me. I learned a lot in that transition about the nature of life and the constant movement of consciousness as we evolve. What was true six years ago is not true today. Our perspective is always limited and we can only see from where we stand, so we must simply trust the journey, do our homework, and evolve out of arrogance.

I came to understand that my body is profound in its wisdom. I can only continue to learn how to attune to this wisdom, bow to it, and be respectful of its magnitude and my own brain limitations.

I can hear the vegans and raw foot enthusiasts writhing in agony as these words are being read. What needs to be clearly understood is that all of the studies done on meat and dairy eaters and their health, or lack thereof, were conducted on people eating conventional, not organic, and of course they were done on people eating cooked animal products. This is a critical distinction. From“The China Study” and “Diet for a New America” to “Food Revolution,” they all focused and reported on conventional methods of farming and processing animal products and cooked protein for their statistics and studies. I am talking about raw, organic, free-range, grassfed. This paints an entirely different picture.Over time I found that the raw vegan diet becomes too flimsy. I don’t know how else to say this. There is a nagging feeling that something is missing. There is a very feminine quality to this diet that for a lot of people simply does not work long-term. Plant foods contain an abundance of phyto-estrogens, especially nuts and seeds including coconuts and avocados. Combined with the estrogenic environment emerging from hormone disruptors such as phthalates, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and plastics, we are truly in a state of estrogenic dominance. After years as a raw foods vegan, I felt soft and weak no matter how much I exercised. Right about that time, I began hearing that some big names in the raw vegan world had changed their minds about some animal products. For example, David Wolfe, a raw vegan for over 15 years, self-proclaimed authority on extreme nutrition, and author of many books on the raw vegan diet as a success technology, now promotes raw, free range, grass-fed organic dairy such as butter, milk, cheese and egg yolks.

These animal-based foods stimulate a different, more masculine, range of hormones and chemicals. End results of a less estrogenic diet will be strength, flexibility, lean muscle, mental sharpness, and noticeably enhanced brain function due to the high percentage of long chain fatty acid and omega-3 fatty acid profiles.

I deeply feel the absence of the omega-3 fatty acids, found in high amounts in fish, when I go long periods of time without eating them. My whole family has noticed this for themselves, and we periodically eat raw salmon or cold smoked salmon from Alaska. Adding in raw milk and egg yolks has also been met with a two thumbs up from the family after years of raw vegan eating. We all just feel much better. We source the highest quality animal products possible, and appreciate the added health and clarity that this transition has afforded us.

Epidermal and nerve growth factors such as vitamins B-12, A, D, and K are in animal products but cannot be found in plant food. A vegetarian diet lacks the fat-soluble catalysts needed for mineral absorp­tion. Over time, this can lead to breakdown in the body as well as critical deficiencies.

Nucleotides are found in the highest concentrations in nutritional yeast, egg yolks, marine phytoplank­ton and sardines. These are critical longevity foods as they prevent the corruption of the DNA codes which are literally our body’s Instruction Manual from God. Think Caesar salad, a meal fit for a king.

All four of the longest-lived peoples of this planet include a portion of animal products in their diets. The Hunzas, the Okinawans, the Vilcabambans, and the people of the Caucasus Mountains of Russia all eat animal meats, fats and dairy. The vegetarian inhabitants of southern India, on the other hand, have the shortest lifespan of any peoples on earth.

Through my personal nutrition journey, I was able to get out of my head and into my body and simply pay attention and listen. I encourage you to do the same for yourself. I still love my superfoods and abundant greens from my garden. I love my backyard grapes and peaches and tomatoes. I am turning the basketball cement pad in the backyard into a year-round winterized garden. I also now love my fermented raw milk, raw eggs and raw wild salmon. Go figure.

Vanessa Johansson is the CEO and owner of RainbowShadow Labs in Oregon. She lives in Salt Lake City.

This article was originally published on October 31, 2011.