Friday, February 24, 2012

The complexity of "health": Why I don't consider myself a health nut by eating plant-based

Even though I'm only 5 months into this new eating lifestyle, I can say I have already experienced a wide variety of reactions and comments from every end of the spectrum!  Going in to becoming plant-based I expected the skeptics and hard core meat eaters to throw some questions and negativity my way.  What I DIDN'T expect was the the judgement of fellow "Vegans" or other health enthusiasts.  I'm sure the meat eaters out there are thinking "But you gave up animal products.  Why in the world would would others doing the same thing for the same reasons give you grief??".  I had the exact same reaction.  But, parents can probably relate to this, as when you have your first child you are bombarded with opinions and ridicule from other mommies and daddies for not being a "good enough" parent.  Parents out there are nodding their heads I'm sure!  Of course, that comment is coming from the parents I know, as I do not have any children yet.

Let me see if I can try to explain the turmoil so you can understand it.  Let's say you decide to give up red meat, because of the reports on how bad it is for your health.  Well, what about the other meats?  They have been linked to diabetes, every cancer in the book, not to mention heart disease, obesity...the list goes on.  Plus the hormones we are ingesting!  OK, so I'll give up all meat.  But wait, seafood is a meat too (anything that is the flesh of a living thing is meat, for all you Catholics who beg to differ ;-), and they suffer when killed to be eaten as well.  It has the same effects as any other meat does. Not to mention what it does to our ecosystem!  So we'll give that up too.  But what about eggs and dairy?  It has just the same carcinogenic effects that meat does.  Not to mention it's link to asthma and seasonal allergies, and our bodies can't digest it properly.  Plus it has blood and puss from the factory farms practices.  And the dairy cattle and chickens are even more abused and neglected as the meat factory farms!  And don't even think about the organic and free-range versions of these products.  Those still are factory-style farms and many are treated similar if not exactly like the regular factory farms.  Plus, it still has negative effects on your health.  So fine, let's go Vegan!

But wait, what about those leather shoes you're wearing!  Vegans don't use animal products in any way!  And don't think about that honey either.  Tens of bees are killed every time the honey is extracted from the hives.  So we'll throw out all our leather, wool, and honey too.  Hold on, those jelly beans and sprinkles are coated with the secretions of a certain species of beetle to make them shiny!  You have to cut all that out too.  Whew, OK, we got that all cleared up.  But wait, did you really just eat some cotton candy at the ballpark last night?!?  You know that much of the refined sugar we eat is processed using bone char.  Yep, that means an animal product.  How dare you!  Good, you won't do that again I'm sure.  Now wait, those processed veggie burgers and hot dogs have soy and other GMO products in them.  Do you know what that can do to your body??  Not to mention the birth defects if you have a baby!  No, only homemade veggie burgers for you!  No, you can't go out to eat.  What if that bread has a spot of dairy in it?  No, you can't chance it.  You better clear your dining out schedule.

Whew, OK we're eating a perfect, healthy diet now, no processed foods, no animals being harmed.  But wait a minute...aren't you heating your food up in plastic bowls?!  Most plastic containers have BPAs in them!  Talk about cancer and metabolic risks!  No, we need to find all BPA free plastics.  Throw that crap away.  And don't forget all your kid's toys, they probably have BPA as well.  Well crap, canned food is often lined with BPA, so you better get to the health food store and find some BPA free canned goods.  Hold on, did you just put your groceries in a PLASTIC bag?  Hell no!  You are killing the environment!  Not to mention clogging up our landfills.  That crap doesn't denigrate for thousands of years!  Not to mention it kills the fish in the oceans.  No, take your own cloth bags to the grocery please.  They hold more anyway.  Wait, did you actually just DRIVE to the grocery?  It's less than a mile away!  You are wasting our oil resources, not to mention killing the ozone and children with asthma with the pollution you are creating.  Plus you need the exercise you damn couch potato.  What kind of example are you setting for your kids?  Wait, speaking of kids, what about your furry ones?  Aren't you feeding Fido regular dog food?  It has MEAT in it!  Not to mention it is processed crap.  Dogs are much healthier with a plant-based whole foods diet.  So make sure to make an extra plate of your dinner for him.  Throw out that processed animal killing crap, jeez...

Do you see the problem here?  Where do you start?  And where does it end?!?  The reality is, it doesn't.  No matter what you do you will get negative feedback from someone.  You can never do enough for some people, plain and simple.  So as you can see, although I eat a plant-based diet with very little processed foods, and use my reusable shopping bags as often as I can, and have started replacing my old plastic containers and bottles with BPA free ones, in some people's eyes I'm STILL not doing enough.  Personally, I believe that anything we put in our bodies is of the up most importance, to our health, to the health of our current and future children, as well as passing the good habits to others.  Healthy food is the best medicine out there, to both help current health conditions as well as prevent new ones.  And not eating animals (or their products due to factory farms) is the best thing you can do for other living creatures and the environment, not to mention to get the attention to the food industry that we demand healthier, safer, and more humane practices.

But no one should feel overwhelmed.  All you have to do is do your research and take one small step at a time.  The next time you are at the grocery browse through the health food section.  Pick up a non dairy milk, a whole grain like quinoa or bulgar, or meat substitute to try out.  Or better yet, find some recipes online and make your own!  My favorite resource is The Happy Herbivore website, which has both a blog as well as TONS of super delicious and healthy recipes.  And while you're there, pick up a couple of reusable shopping bags.  If you aren't too concerned about the landfills, keep in mind that the bags hold a lot more groceries and are much easier to carry than plastic or paper ones.  Then go home and try your hand at a meat and dairy free meal loaded with tons of vegetables and whole grains.  Try a new meal every week.  Next time you're at a restaurant try the veggie burger (Red Robin can replace any of their burger creations with a veggie burger.  Just as delicious!), or grill your own at your next barbecue.  The longer you try these new things the more you'll realize what a variety there is out there even cutting out those 5 most popular precious meats we have grown up with.

You don't have to go whole hog (pun intended) and never eat meat or dairy again.  But I will tell you that even though my intention was to MAYBE become a vegetarian and POSSIBLY replace SOME of my dairy products with non dairy ones, it took me less than a weekend to cut out all meat, and within just a few months I also cut out dairy and eggs and never looked back.  And this is coming from a cheese and milk loving ice cream freak!  But if that isn't your style after dipping your toe in a few meatless meals then no problem, just do what feels right for you.  But I promise that you will not only feel better health wise (even if you aren't suffering from any health issues at all), but you will also feel good about yourself for just doing something good for yourself and other living creatures.

The new Vegan isn't a tree hugging hippie Nazi type.  It's someone who has a passion for themselves, for animals, AND for other human beings as well.  They don't judge others for eating a shrimp or drinking a milkshake.  They applaud you for what ever amount of effort you can make.  It's about compassion, for all others, but especially for yourself.  And it's the last one that I am reaching out to now.  :-)

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