The hidden benefit of veganism

Last night, at Matt Yglesias's book party, I was chatting to a couple of friends about my recent conversion to an animal-free lifestyle. The one thing I didn't expect was that it actually reduced the amount of time I spend thinking about food. This surprised the hell out of them, and it also surprised the hell out of me, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

If you are a woman who grew up in the eating disorder culture of Manhattan (and I assume many other places), you never really get over a certain obsession with what you eat. With time and a certain amount of determination, you learn to stop berating yourself for eating fattening, unhealthy food, and hopefully you unlearn the grotesque habit of turning everything you've eaten for the last week, and everything you plan to eat for the next one, into a major conversational topic. Nonetheless, there's still a little voice in the back of your head that speaks every time you open your mouth to put food in it, saying "Should you really eat that?" Mostly, I learned to tell it to shut up. But it was there, just the same.

That question has pretty much vanished from my mind. It's not that everything I eat is healthy--I breakfast much too frequently on ice cream sandwiches or plain white bread. But while it's pretty easy to miss key nutrients, it's pretty hard to actually eat an artery-clogging diet. And there are plenty of vitamin supplements for the nutrients.

If you care about animal welfare, it similarly removes that vexing question: "Where did this come from?" Everything I eat, I eat in good conscience. (And yes, I'm aware that rats die in fields of grain, etc. I'm all about harm minimization, not absolute purity; I wouldn't hurl myself in front of a moving train to save a rat either.)

The result is that I actually spend less time worrying about what I eat, even though I spend somewhat more time figuring out where to find food I can eat. The hedonic tradeoff is, surprisingly, on the side of veganism.