Musings on Food after One Week of Being Vegan

You would like to start off by saying, this was purely accidental. But here is the story nonetheless.

Part 1: Dairy

Upon your arrival to Seattle, you started experiencing stomach aches and nausea. This was unusual, you had not experienced this in close to a year. The only difference you noticed in your diet was the HUGE amounts of dairy you were consuming. Between Maria’s aunt, who cooks like Paula Deen, and your bed and breakfast host, Linda, you were quite literally saturated with dairy products.

After some experimentation, you discovered that you had a mild case of lactose intolerance. You were handling yogurt every few days and whole milk in your coffee when you lived in San Francisco, but clearly whatever was happening here was too much for you. You decided, after some research, to lay off dairy for a while.

The results: you felt great. Your symptoms ceased in just one day and came back anytime you consumed dairy after that in any large quantity. 

Part 2: The Research

Now you want to set the stage for what is coming next. First, you have always known that diet can affect your health in numerous ways but you now had the time to pursue this topic with more vigor. This pursuit is also fueled in part to your fascination with the pending food crisis and your disagreement with others about how to solve it.

How are we going to feed all of these people? we clearly can’t do this with our current food system and naturally, this lead you to the question of food itself. What does it take for humans to be healthy? What foods are needed to feed the world and ensure the health and well-being of those that inhabit it (and sustainably, at that)?

The material you exposed yourself to varied from mainstream documentaries to journalistic works, articles, studies published in scientific journals, blogs, and books. For the past month or so, you have inundated yourself with literature on the subject of nutrition to better understand what the optimal human diet looks like.

An aside: You were speaking with a good friend of yours about your findings, and he seemed resistant to your information. He will only accept material from you on this subject that has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals. While you have read studies published in scientific journals, you do not think that material outside of this circle should be ignored or immediately discredited. And fodder for this entry will come largely from these “other” sources.

The truth is, academic journals are great, but in addition to being generally VERY biased toward currently “accepted” ideas, they are also usually poor sources of a “big picture”, simply because they focus on single nutrients at one time (this is what we must accept given the nature of the scientific method). But the fact is, humans are multivariate. We move, we work, we have different levels of exposure, different predispositions, and different backgrounds. We are subjected to varying levels of stress, strain, toxins, and varying environments.

Given that, you decided the best approach to getting a glimpse of what optimal health looks like, is taking all of the information available and with a bit of independent fact-checking, draw some general conclusions. And that is what you did.

This research turned up some interesting finds. First you’ll start with the light stuff. Documentaries.

You watched Food Inc. Forks Over Knives, and Food Matters. Also, a few lower-production films like the Gerson Miracle and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Most people have seen Food Inc. and it is good at outlining some major issues surrounding food. It addresses ridiculous things like why a hamburger from McDonalds costs less than a bag of tomatoes. You consider Food Inc. to be a State of the Union in regards to food. It covers many different perspectives and it is a great first look.

Forks Over Knives is the documentary that accompanies a study that you will get to a bit later, but it focuses on the effects of animal proteins on the body and shows how we could be much healthier if we reduced our consumption overall because we consume more meats and animal foods than ever before and it is positively associated with cancer (but more on that later).

Finally, Food Matters gives a more new-age view. It opens with the quote “let thy food be thy medicine.” Essentially, this documentary affirms that the things you put into your body DO matter in regards to your overall health and humans would do well to consider altering their diets before becoming slaves to the medical industry.

These films are packed with countless testimonials of people with serious complications like diabetes, skin rashes, high blood pressure, hypertension, chronic headaches, erectile dysfunction, and respiratory problems, all of which are cleared completely with a few weeks on a plant-based whole food diet.

Regardless of the specific stance you take, they all more-or-less give the same lesson. More plants and whole foods both in regards to environmental health, and human health.

You must admit these were rather convincing in and of themselves. But that did not stop you from soliciting some support from more “reputable” sources.

You started reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. This is the most comprehensive study on nutrition ever conducted. It spans 23 years and accounts for hundreds and hundred of variables. This was fascinating because this gave you a very thorough look at some serious scientific inquiry. The summary is this: Campbell discovered a positive correlation between animal protein and cancer. Essentially, if carcinogenic toxins were present in the body, the animal protein allowed these toxins to be processed by enzymes and damage DNA. The removal of these animal proteins resulted in a reduction of cancer cells in the body. The conclusion: animal foods (meat and dairy) actually promoted cancer when it exceeded 5% of rat’s diet’s regardless of the levels of carcinogen exposure.

This caused quite a bit of controversy (incidentally, food is about as sensitive as religion to most people). And this controversy expressed itself sharply in the Paleo community.

A bit of background: the Paleo diet is the consumption of only meat and vegetables and other nuts and fruit. It excludes all grains and refined carbohydrates and refined sugar and dairy. It also centers around mostly whole foods, but these whole foods include eggs, fish, and other meats. The philosophy is that it tries the best it can to mimic the diet of humans in paleolithic times. Now enter Denise Minger.

Denise is a Paleo spokesperson and she has a great blog entitled RAWSOS. She formulated a critique of the China Study to point out Campbell’s study seems to link heart disease to animal foods. Really heart disease is caused by an increase in cholesterol which is more correlated to sugar consumption than animal fat. So okay, Minger’s bias is that she wants to argue in favor of animal foods. And while she and Campbell may disagree as to the true culprit of heart disease (I am not a scientist, and I don’t really care that much), they both put forth the same dietary recommendations. Plant-based, whole food diet. 

Neither Campbell or Minger think refined carbohydrates, refined sugar, or wheat products are good for people, so the crux of the disagreement becomes how much meat we should be eating. And that brings you to your next point.

Part 3: Meat

You love meat. Meat is delicious. But there are some things you should consider before you decide yay or nay. The good news is that the decision doesn’t have to be so black-and-white.

First, there is sustainability. The fact is, meat production is the single most detrimental thing to our environment. It costs a lot to feed and raise animals. Moreover, most of the grain this country grows is to feed livestock. Fun Fact: cows and pigs and sheep don’t even naturally eat grain. Their food is grass, which is free on farmer’s land. There need not be a reason to buy feed for these animals at all. That being said, if we were to take all of the grain we feed to livestock, we would have enough to feed everyone on the planet with an excess leftover that could support another 2 billion people.

Hold that thought for a moment and consider the next facet of the meat conversation.

Second, there is meat’s effect on human health. T. Collin Campbell and his colleagues point out that increased consumption of dairy and meat is positively correlated with cancer growth. The fact is, we consume more meat and dairy products than we EVER have in the past. Historically (up to the 1940’s) meat was not an every-day occurrence on the dinner table for most Americans. The government didn’t subsidize it. Farmers had more autonomy in production, so the odds are that the meat you did consume was grass fed, farm-raised, good old-fashioned meat.

Remember the Paleo diet? That camp argues that refined flour, wheat, and sugar is to blame for the increase in heart disease, not animal protein consumption. But you would like to confirm something about a paleolithic diet that you feel people often misinterpret  You do not think  the Paleo diet is necessarily wrong or bad for people. But if we are attempting to emulate the eating habits of paleolithic man, then by all means plants, nuts, seeds, and whole foods that you can forage for a cultivate are key.

Was meat a part of ancient man’s diet? Sure it was. But given the recent discovery that man was not the voracious hunter he is portrayed to be, but rather, an opportunistic scavenger. It is safe to say that the amount of meat ancient man consumed made up a very small portion of his overall diet. Just because paleolithic man ate meat and vegetables, does not mean the split was exactly 50/50.

Yes, humans are omnivores, but we resemble herbivores much more closely. The shape of our teeth and jaw, our intestinal tract, our eyes and nose. Even our hands and fingers. All of this points to the fact that though we can consume animals, it was not a primary source of our energy or calories.

Part 4: Conclusion

From a health perspective, we consume just way too many animal derived foods. Environmentally, we consume way too many animal derived foods.

Eat lots of plants. Eat lots of whole foods. Just to be CLEAR: whole foods includes things like meat and eggs.  Is meat bad? No, but too much of it is (jsut like anything). Animal foods aren’t really linked to heart disease, but they are strongly linked with cancer. And when you do enjoy it, you’re going to make damn-well sure it is the best quality organic meat you can find. Furthermore, take advice of EVERYONE and stay away from processed and refined wheat, soy, white flour, and sugar foods.

You can’t help but wonder…if everyone ate how we are supposed to eat, then why shouldn’t  we be able to produce food for everyone on the planet? If demand for meat were at a reasonable level, the why couldn’t we produce all of our meat organically? Animals will be healthier, and people will be healthier.

So you’re lactose intolerant and you’re too poor to buy quality meat and you refuse to eat refined processed foods. Hence, whole-food vegan for now. That’s your story and you’re sticking to it.

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2 comments

    1. I’d more likely attribute your health to your age and level of physical activity. Let’s follow up in 30 years.

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