This winter I’ve started an experiment that has lead to a major life change. I think this will probably come as a shock to many of those that know me, but in the past few months I’ve made the decision to eliminate animal products from my diet. Vegan isn’t quite the word to describe it. I still indulge in dairy products every now and then, and I’ll even eat certain meats on special occasions. But I’ve been making an effort lately to keep to a plant-based diet. And I feel great!
I guess the first question you might be asking is: why? And it’s not a simple answer. Really, once you start doing your research, there are a million reasons to keep to a plant-based diet. Many of these reasons I was aware of, but the one that spurred me to change might surprise you.
Ever heard of world hunger? Yeah, you have. It’s an epidemic mostly blamed on overpopulation and not enough resources. But one night I was listening to NPR and heard an interview with a lady who claimed that this wasn’t necessarily the case. In fact, she claimed hunger was an epidemic hugely avoidable. Her ideas planted a seed in my head that I couldn’t quite let go of, so I read her book. In Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe presents some interesting statistics about world hunger and it’s origin. The cheapest crop for our planet to produce is grain, and we are producing it in over-abundant quantities. There is no reason every person in the world can’t have access to it. And yet, rather than having this grain available for human consumption, we feed over 60% to livestock. This makes the livestock gain weight faster (which leads to a fattier, ‘tastier,’ but less healthy product), and allows ranchers to raise the price of their meat. The people suffering from the hunger epidemic could afford the grain, but not the meat, and since the grain isn’t available to them, they go without.
Lappe suggests that if we could just shift our food norms to plant-centered diets, the epidemic of hunger could effectively be eliminated.
Now, obviously that’s no easy task. Food is a cultural issue and I’m not naive enough to think we have a definite solution to this problem here. But if I can reduce the demand for grain-fed meats by one person, why shouldn’t I? One person at a time, right?
There are other reasons to go plant-based, of course. I always kind of scoffed at vegetarians who didn’t eat meat because they didn’t want to kill those cute fuzzy animals. I still believe that our bodies evolved to eat meat, that this is the circle of life, and that there is nothing wrong with that. But being at the top of the food chain comes with responsibility – a responsibility that for the most part, mankind has completely neglected. In addition to the hunger issues, animal cruelty is a big part of our meat and dairy production processes (see a somewhat silly, but well explained video about it here). And don’t even get me started on the environmental impacts of today’s agriculture. We’re over-farming and planting crops in soils that can’t hold them, which is leading to serious depletions of nutrition from our topsoil. The way we do agriculture today isn’t sustainable. And considering what I’ve devoted my career to thus far, it didn’t seem morally consistent to support something that does so much damage to this beautiful place we call home and I’m called to protect.
In the end, morality is what it came down to for me. When I thought about it, I realized how far my food choices had strayed from my personal ethics. I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinions and moral codes. But I think it’s important to remain consistent within your own standards. Otherwise, how can you really take yourself seriously?
Do I still crave a juicy rib-eye every now and then? Sure. And I’ll still eat meat as long as it’s free-range, grass-fed, and preferably local. Of course those are hard boxes to tick off, and they usually come with a price. So I just save those indulgences for special occasions. In general I keep vegan when I cook for myself at home and vegetarian when I eat out (dairy products are very difficult to escape in restaurants these days). And as great as I feel about this choice, I never want to take myself too seriously. When I’m a guest in someone’s home or an effort has been made by someone else to prepare a meal for me, I’ll be happy to accept whatever has been placed in front of me. It’s my personal choice and I want to be careful not to impose it on others.
But since you are reading my blog, I can’t continue this post without emphasizing how amazing this diet has made me feel, and without encouraging anyone to give it a try. In addition to feeling morally uplifted and totally empowered, I’m making better choices about how to fuel my body. Vegetables are good f0r you – no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Every day more studies come out singing the praises of plant-based diets. Science is proving that eating less meat can dramatically reduce your risk of (and in some cases even reverse) heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, birth defects, and even cancer (Don’t believe me? Google it).
And guys, it’s easy. Way easier than I ever imagined. The possibilities are endless. If you think about your choices when planning a meat-based meal, you’ve basically got three options: beef, chicken, or fish. But there are 102 different types of vegetables in the world. Not to mention your expanding choices when you include soy products and beans. And it’s not as expensive as you might think. There are almost always deals on vegetables at the grocery story (10 for $10 may seem like more than you’ll ever need, but most fresh veggies freeze really well!), and come on, there’s not a whole lot that’s cheaper than rice and beans.
So here’s a challenge for you – it’s called Meatless Mondays, and it’s a pretty popular social media phenomenon these days (you can google that too). The idea is to try to go without meat (and if you’re brave, animal products in general), for one day a week. It’s a great way to give something new a try and do good for the universe. And if you like it, you can expand on that. If you don’t, you can quit it. And if it’s just right for you, that one day a week will make a difference. That’s three fewer meals affecting our planet and our people in a negative way. Those things add up.
Trust me, it feels good.
PS – Happy first day of spring!