The Hesitant Herbivore, Part 3

In which I examine the pros and cons of cutting almost everything I like to eat out of my diet.

When we left off, I was on the precipice of making the decision that might fundamentally change my life:  Leap into the scary abyss of a plant-based diet or stay safely on the cliff of selective compassion, constant fatigue, and general digestive distress

In the cons column, I had: “I might starve” and “Is life worth living without the cheese and ice cream?”

On the pros side, I had “It might be worth it if I could fit into size 8 jeans again.” Yes, I am that vain. But amazingly, vanity wasn’t the factor at work here. Sure, I want to lose weight and I was hoping a new lower-fat diet would help me do that. But mostly, I wanted very badly to feel better. My forties have not been kind, and I’m still trying to learn how to live in my changing body.

Wouldn’t it be great if all cows, and people, got to feel as good as this one?

And that’s why, after all these years, I was willing to take the leap. Though I’d love to be able to say it was my compassion for farm animals that finally won out, in reality it was a completely selfish motive that finally gave me the edge I needed.  I have come to believe that the human body is not designed to process dairy products as an adult and that amount and nature of the meat we eat is not necessarily a healthy thing, either.

So with my odds of fully-functional longevity in mind, I started compiling my “pros” list.  Here are the basics.

Health:

–          Weight – I gained 50 pounds after I quit smoking 6 years ago, and it’s caused a whole host of problems for me from my aching feet to how I breathe when I sleep. And I’ve had no success at losing weight and keeping it off. According to the Mayo Clinic, vegetarians (especially vegans) usually consume less fat and fewer calories and have lower body weights that their meat-eating counterparts. No guarantees of course since there are still plenty of fatty, sugary foods I can eat but if I avoid those too, my chances are looking good.

–          Cholesterol – Mine is borderline high and I would really like to stop it there. Now the jury seems to still be out by how much this is controlled by diet and how much by genes, but the consensus seems to be, it’s a combination of both. So doesn’t it seem slightly insane to end up taking medication to control the adverse effects of your food when you can just change your food instead?

–          Type 2 diabetes – This is very possibly looming in my future if I don’t take extreme measures. See “weight.”

–          Your colon will thank you, said a vegan friend of mine who maintains that colon cancer is a big danger for dedicated carnivores. From what I’ve read, there does seem to be a positive correlation,

–          Recently, a long-term study by some Harvard folks that tracked the eating habits of 110,000 people over 20 years claims a high correlation between red meat consumption and early death.

–          Society – Can you imagine how much the cost of health care would drop if the population switched to a vegetarian/vegan diet and the numbers of people suffering from high cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and a whole host of other diet or weight related maladies suddenly plummeted?

Humane reasons:

via Humane Society

–          Living conditions for domestic animals are appalling.  Meat and dairy are big businesses and everything is secondary to the profit margin. To produce meat, milk and eggs quickly and cheaply many animals are confined for their entire lives– in barns, in gestation crates, in veal crates, in stacked cages. The animals often have little room to move, aren’t allowed to forage or graze or go outside at all.

–          Conditions in slaughterhouses are often horrifying.  Again, the profit margin seems to demand speed over humanity. The animals are “processed” with little regard for the terror or pain that they feel.

Years ago, I read a book by Dr. Temple Grandin called Thinking in Pictures in which she describes her experience as a person with high-functioning autism as motivation and fodder for her work in developing humane livestock handling processes. If every slaughterhouse in the US was designed (and managed) by Temple Grandin, a woman who has championed the ethical treatment of animals I think I would feel much better about the method, if not the need, of putting food animals to death.

–          People insist on eating things which call for brutal practices. Ever heard of foie gras, for instance? It’s the liver of a duck or goose fattened to unnatural proportions by force feeding the birds by stuffing a tube down their throats into their stomachs. The French, the largest (though certainly not the only) producers and consumers of foie gras, even have a term for this barbaric practice. It’s called gavage. According to French law, “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” I think that’s a fancy way of saying, we’ve been doing it for a long time, so it’s okay.

–          And finally, if all this cruelty is practiced in the name of feeding people, consider this: The grain used to feed animals could feed hungry people. And the water used for raising food animals could be used for raising crops and for human consumption.

The issue of farm animal welfare is pretty huge and I only touch on a few things here. For more information about the treatment of farm animals and about health issues related to a meat-based diet, you can follow the links below.

 

For the scoop on lactose intolerance, see this article in USA Today based on a peer-reviewed paper recently published in PLOS Computational Biology: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-30-lactose-intolerance_N.htm)

For info on red meat and colon cancer see http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Red-meat-and-colon-cancer.shtml

For the link between read meat and early death see this article in the LA Times:  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/13/health/la-he-red-meat-20120313

For the information on farm animal welfare go to:  http://www.humanesociety.org/news/publications/whitepapers/farm_animal_welfare.html

For A Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production:  http://www.ncifap.org/_images/PCIFAPFin.pdf

For PETA’s reasons to go vegetarian see:  http://features.peta.org/ChewOnThis/chewsheet.pdf

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8 Comments

  1. I totally agree on all of it. Including the aching feet and wanting a size eight again. Now to keep it up. I heard on NPR the other day that a scientist has figured out how to make soy powder taste, smell, look and feel like chicken. I can’t wait, because I love chicken and that will be the had one to avoid.

    Reply
  2. I hate to admit that although I do try and buy organic and farm raised, free range… whenever I can, sometimes the price rules it out and I turn to the run of the “mill” product. In addition, seeing as I can only zip my size 10’s lying on my back and not breathing and hate that I’m in a 12 … I too would love to be back in a size 8.

    There is no other way around it… the 40’s have been an evil bitch to me too my friend. Trying to lose weight like I did in my 30’s is impossible. I have managed to restrict our red meat intake to two or three times a month. But I rely heavily on chicken and fish as our protein source, even though I am aware of the usually horrific processing methods.

    I’m sure this sounds like a dumb question but… what is your go-to staple for protein now? Soy products? I’d love to try it but think I will meet with some heavy resistance from the hubs on this one. I did however just send him a text asking him what he thought about becoming vegetarians… no response so far. No surprise there. But I would like to reduce our dependence on meat of the fleshy kind so perhaps I’ll try to start sneaking soy based items into things.

    Thanks for the series. It is certainly food for thought!

    Enjoy the rest of your long weekend. Hope you’re not already dealing with tons of homework 😉

    Reply
  3. Good luck, Fork. I admire you for doing this. No, I’m not going along with it, as with my health issues it is all the healthy stuff that makes me decidedly unhealthy, but still. You go girl! All the best with achieving the goals — especially the one of being healthier again.

    Reply
  4. Paul J. Stam

     /  September 1, 2012

    With all you gals expressing an opinion i don’t know if I dare say anything, so i won’t, except I’m rooting for you. Let us know how you’re doing.

    Reply
  5. Best of luck. I have heard that you will also decrease your carbon foot print by cutting out meat, especially red meat.

    Reply
  6. Yay, good for you! And seriously, if you need any help, just holler. Not that I’m the *best* veggie out there (despite my lifelong practice), but I try. And my friend is a fellow veg, and she, well…makes EVERYTHING from scratch. Just crazy. You’ll feel better, once you find your nutritional balance — and you’ll be assured you’re finding that “kinship with all life,” to quote a very famous book and man. 🙂

    Reply
  7. Good for you! At the very least, you can be confident that you’ll feel better; my wife definitely noticed a difference fairly quickly after she stopped eating meat. I’d probably feel better physically were I to stop, but the depression…

    Reply

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