dr. Milton Mills vegan
Sometimes vegans are funny. Well, not so much funny as, really freaking annoying. Arguments for veganism come from an emotional base, thus its logic is usually skewed, and relies on untruths and wishful thinking. This is why arguing with vegans is generally such a frustrating experience - they've made up their mind from an emotional perspective, and none of your facts are going to make a bit of a difference.

For an exercise in frustration, take a look at the Vegan Fallacies page. Note the number of unsupported statements, appeals to emotion and instances of circular reasoning. In fact, here's a fun game - go to the Your Logical Fallacy Is page and use it to analyze the Vegan Fallacies page and see how many logical fallacies you can find! Get the kids involved for some family fun!

The following video came to my attention recently and seems to be making the rounds on social media. It's a clip of an apparently smart doctor making arguments for veganism that sound plausible - until you really take them apart. It's yet another case of a vegan making a lifestyle decision based on emotion, and then applying intellectual arguments to support that decision.

The thing is, the logic doesn't hold. Dr. Milton Mills is apparently a fundie Christian who thinks the bible commands believers to go vegan. So right away, we see the basis for his veganism is coming from a place of religious feeling, one that is based on faith, yet he cherry-picks scientific points (and gets many of them wrong) to bolster this feeling. In short, he's running on emotional thinking.

Here's the vid:

Right off the bat, the title of the video, 'Only plants make protein', is not true. Proteins are made from amino acids. Both plants and animals (and bacteria, incidentally) take amino acids and form them into chains. When 50 or more amino acids are in a chain (up to 3000+), you've got a protein (smaller amino acid chains are called peptides or polypeptides, depending on their length). Plants, animals, bacteria, basically anything with RNA, makes protein.

In the video itself, it seems that Dr. Mills is actually saying that only plants make amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, but even that isn't true. Bacteria make amino acids. Scientists synthesize them in the lab all the time. There's even reason to believe they naturally occur out in the wild, given the right circumstances.

Let's take a look at Dr. Mills' argument in the video, piece-by-piece. He starts out:
All protein is made by plants. No animal makes protein. Any protein found in animal tissues is recycled plant protein.
As I said above, this isn't true. Again, real issue is that he seems to be conflating proteins and amino acids. Saying that all protein found in animal tissues is plant protein, he's ignoring one rather glaring omission - digestion. When an animal or human eats a plant, before they can make any use of it, it has to be digested and absorbed. Digestion of protein involves breaking the protein chains into their constituent amino acid parts. In fact, proteins cannot be absorbed, by animal or human, until the chain has been broken down. Once a protein is broken down, it's no longer a protein. Just like a car, broken down into all its individual parts, can't really be called a car anymore.

So let's say an animal eats a plant, digests all the plant protein to individual amino acids, absorbs them and then uses those amino acids to make new proteins. These can no longer be said to be "plant proteins". They're animal proteins, constructed by the animal to function in its body for animal purposes.

I realize that all this seems academic and nit-picky, because who really cares if something is labeled a plant or animal protein? It's just protein. But such is the nature of the argument being made. So let's indulge this vegan reasoning, for the sake of argument, and say that what Dr. Mills really meant to say is that the building blocks from those proteins are of plant origin. Do all amino acids come from plants? Dr. Mills says:
The thing that is specific to protein is the presence of nitrogen in the amino acids. Nitrogen comes from the air. Only plants have the ability to take nitrogen from the atmosphere, break the molecule apart and then incorporate that nitrogen atom into a newly synthesized carbon backbone that the plant makes from carbon dioxide, water, under the action of sunlight, and create the amino acids.
Actually, plants don't have the ability to take nitrogen from the air to make amino acids any more than humans do. Plants get nitrogen from the soil and from nitrogen-fixing bacteria that live on their root systems. He sounds smart, but he's really making mistake after mistake here. He'd probably benefit from some animal fats in his diet to help feed his brain.

But again, let's give him this one and continue, because the gist of this part of his argument is kinda right (but in the end it doesn't matter).
It then strings those amino acids together into proteins. And then animals come along and eat those plant proteins and recycle them into their own tissues. Then other animals sometimes eat those animal tissues and recycle the proteins again.
Note the tone with which he admits that other animals "sometimes" eat those animals and recycle the proteins again. Like it's a dirty little secret that would be better left unsaid.

But yes, plants have the ability to take raw material components and turn them into amino acids. Humans and animals can do this to an extent, but while plants can make all the protein-building amino acids, humans are unable to make nine of them (out of twenty). This is why those nine are called essential amino acids - we need to get them from food because we can't make them. So yes, plants make amino acids, animals eat plants and make proteins from their amino acids and we eat animals and/or plants and get our amino acids from them.

In the interest of indulging this vegan even more, we have to permit him a diversion. We're really giving him a lot here, but we're in this far. Maybe he'll say something really mind-blowing next.
But the largest, strongest animals on this planet are all strict herbivores.
Well, this is not mind-blowing. And it's also not true. As one Facebook poster pointed out, whales are one of the largest animals on Earth and they eat krill. Not an herbivore. Giant squids eat sea creatures. Let's not get started on dinosaurs.
They get all their protein directly from plant sources. And I point out to people all the time, in Western civilization, and actually civilization the world over, we built our civilization, human civilizations, on the backs of herbivores. We didn't hitch lions, tigers and bears to our plows. It was the oxen and the horses, because only they had the strength and the stamina to do the work required to build civilization.
I think our ancestors didn't hook up lions, tigers and bears to plows because they are carnivores that could easily overpower and eat humans. I don't know that strength and stamina was really the first criteria, and I'm not sure what entered into the mind of Paleolithic Joe when first deciding "which animal should I hook my plow to?" but "the thing that always tries to eat me" probably didn't make the short-list.

But what's the point here, Dr. Mills? It sounds like he's saying that, because the growth of human civilization involved domesticated herbivores for labor, we should be herbivores too. Maybe, like, a brotherhood sort of thing? 'Thanks for doing all the work, herbivores, so I guess I won't eat you now.' I find it hard to believe that that's his point because that really doesn't make any logical sense. Maybe it's that "strength and stamina" comment - because these particular herbivores have strength and stamina, it must be because they're vegan. Notice he's not bringing sloths, koalas, pandas, sheep, goats, etc. into his argument. But OK, let's go with it.

Whether or not an animal is big and strong is not determined by whether they are eating plants or animals. This seems rather obvious. Yet vegans often use this argument as a jumping-off point to say "if these big strong animals can get that way on nothing but plants, then so can I! Plant Power!" But it's the fallacy of false equivalence to assume that elephants and gorillas can be compared to humans on something as fundamentally unique as diet. It doesn't matter that they are eating vegetables; it matters that they are eating what they are best suited to eat.

Technically, elephants eat fruit, bark and grasses. That obviously doesn't mean that humans should eat fruit, bark and grasses to build strength like an elephant. Wild oxen eat grasses, roots and lichen. They can get big and strong on this diet because their physiology is ideally suited to accommodate that diet. They've got four stomachs, home to billions of bacteria, which can ferment plant fibers and turn them into fats to be absorbed (how many stomachs do vegans have?). This fermentation releases the bound proteins from the fiber so that they can be digested in the last stomach. The last stomach is acidic, like a human stomach, and it denatures the proteins, allowing enzymes to get in and break apart the proteins chains to their individual amino acid building blocks, which are then absorbed. They also get animal protein (gasp!) from all the bacteria that ride their way into that final acidic stomach where they can be digested.

Human digestion does not work this way. We have our single acidic stomach before the intestine, where the fermenting goes on. Ruminants like oxen ferment first, acidify second. Humans do the opposite. And, comparatively-speaking, we don't do much fermenting. We're not built to have lots of tough plant fiber in our diets because our colons are short and have a much quicker transit than in herbivores. This means that, even if the bacteria in our colon are able to break down and ferment the fiber in vegetables, any protein that is released is past the point in our digestive tract at which it can be broken down and absorbed (the acid stomach). Consequently, most protein that's bound in plant fiber is going to remain undigested and excreted.

In other words, we don't get the required protein from the same sources as herbivores because our physiology is not built to deal with those sources. Vegans love to say that there's enough protein in plant sources to run our human physiology, but that rests on the false assumption that all the protein contained in plant foods can be digested and absorbed. It can't.

That's not to say that we don't benefit from some veggies. Vegetables in the human diet tend to be lower in fiber, or have less of the really tough fiber found in grass and leaves. Getting protein from legumes, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds is possible, even more so if vegans are supplementing with protein powders that are pre-isolated from these sources. But there's a very solid reason we don't eat grass, bark and leaves.

So again, to compare the strength of herbivores eating their vegan diets to humans is false equivalence. We can't eat the same diet as they do because we aren't built to do so. Vegans and gorillas might both be eating plants, but they're not eating the same plants, so it's really not the same thing. "That gorilla got super-strong eating leaves, so I'm going to get as strong as a gorilla by eating quinoa!" Well, Godspeed little vegan, Godspeed.

Finally, at the end of the video, Mills gets to his point:
So there is plenty of protein in plant foods and, as I said, all protein is originally made by plants and it's best to cut out the middleman and get your protein directly from the plant sources.
And this is where the whole thing falls apart (well, not really, since a solid case had not been built up in the first place). I can forgive him for saying that all protein is plant protein, even though it's only kinda-but-not-really, and I'll forgive him for saying that plants sequester nitrogen from the air, even though they don't. But to say that "it's best to cut out the middleman and get your protein from the plant sources" does not follow from anything that he has previously said. This is why he's been emphasizing from the beginning that all protein is plant protein, because he's carrying around this "cut out the middleman" fallacy and he thinks you should too.

But he hasn't given any reason why he thinks it's better to 'go to the source' for protein. The fact is, it's actually not a very good idea, and that applies to things other than protein.

Remember, there are certain amino acids that are essential in our diet because we can't make them. In order for a protein to be considered a complete protein, it must have all the amino acids present in sufficient quantities. Well, no plant food contains all of those essential amino acids; no plant protein is complete (vegans have a list of magical plant foods that are complete proteins, but don't believe them; these magical foods are always low in at least one of those essential amino acids). So vegans have to combine different types of foods in order to make sure they get all the essential amino acid bases covered. Beans and rice, nuts and bread, whatever and something else - none of their foods can be eaten in isolation if they want to get complete protein. So every vegan meal is a series of puzzle pieces that needs to be combined in order to get something whole.

So that's a pretty good reason right there not to "cut out the middleman" and get your protein from plant sources. Animals have conveniently collected all the essential amino acids in one tasty steak for you. All animal foods are complete proteins. Eggs, dairy, meat, organs - all delicious, complete proteins. That's why animal foods taste so complete. "Mmmm, this burger tastes so complete. Not like that rice over there. That tastes so totally incomplete, it makes me sick." Meat eaters don't have to worry about complete proteins because all their needed amino acids are coming to them in the perfect ratio for what their bodies need.

Dr. Mills' argument that plant protein is superior because it's from the source doesn't make any sense in the bigger picture. Every nutrient works its way up the food chain as higher beings consume lower. The higher beings make use of what the lower have assimilated into themselves from what they ate. At every step of the way, these nutrients are changed by the being that eats them and incorporates them into their physical system. Because the higher beings are biologically-adapted to get their nutrition this way, it only makes sense that they do so and not do anything stupid like "cutting out the middleman."

Even plants break down rocks and soil into constituent minerals and incorporate them into their physical structure through a process called chelation. This allows herbivores and omnivores to assimilate the chelated minerals, because they can't deal with unchelated minerals very well. Yet by Dr. Mills' logic, we should skip yet another middleman and go straight to eating rocks and soil. Or why not poop and rotting carcasses? Plants get lots of nutrition from poop and rotting carcasses. But I don't see Dr. Mills telling everyone to skip the middleman on that one. Maybe that's in one of his other videos.

So this is the nature of most vegan arguments. As soon as they get out of the arena of subjective morality and into science and facts, the result is word salad (and don't get me started on salad). It all sounds impressive and, judging from the traction this video is getting, and the comments on the video, he's convincing a lot of vegans that their dietary choices are actually rational and not just emotional, faith-based wishful thinking. While it's clear that the guy doesn't really understand the damage he's doing, it's hard not to get mad when you think about the number of people being led astray. Hopefully at least some people will be able to see through false logic and do the right thing.