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

The Hesitant Herbivore, Part 2

Yup. Hate it all.

I hate fruit. I hate oranges because they’re pulpy, bananas because they’re mushy, and grapes because they pop like eyeballs might when you squeeze them between your teeth. I hate mangos because they’re slimy without their skin and smell like pepper. I hate watermelon because it smells like cat pee (to me). I like kiwi because they’re pretty, but I hate the way they taste.

I also hate most vegetables. Beets, broccoli and asparagus are all gross. Brussels sprouts are beyond disgusting and I’m not overly fond of peas or carrots.  And beans. I really hate beans. Pretty much, I hate almost everything people eat that grows in the dirt.

So naturally I decided to become a vegetarian. And then I thought, Oh shit. I’m going to starve.

I’ve been a carnivore all my life and always figured that’s the way nature intended it to be. And I’ve probably spent more time than your average bear contemplating nature’s intentions. I’m a natural history buff – fossils, bees, birds, trees – I think it’s all pretty fascinating stuff.  As a kid, I was one of those nerds who loved a good nature documentary but I had to cover my eyes when the lions caught the zebra or the polar bear dragged a seal out of a hole in the ice. Nature is grand and glorious and brutal. And that’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s the way life works.

And so we human beings, as part of nature, are also brutal, because we have to be. Animals are food. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Or is it?

A hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors ate what they could gather in the forest or the fields and also what they could hunt, kill and cook in order to survive. Even when agriculture was invented, supplementing their diet with meat from newly domesticated animals was a logical choice for early people. But things have changed. Now there is Kroger. Now there is Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Costco, Safeway, Publix, WalMart Supercenters, and The Pig (or Piggly Wiggly for those of you not familiar with this fine southern grocery establishment).

Gathering ain’t what it used to be.

There’s a supermarket on virtually every corner in this country where a person can go and buy a wide variety of nutritional plant-based foods and a bottle of B-12 supplements and be just fine even if they never ate meat again. So after 46 years, I finally realized the problem with the logic I used to justify my carnivorous diet. There is nothing natural at all about our modern way of life, so why would I use nature as a model for my behavior?

I learned a new phrase recently:  “selective compassion.” It just what you might imagine – the act of compartmentalizing the compassion you allow yourself to feel for other living things. On the one hand you have people, dogs and other pets, animals in the wild, and wild animals in captivity and all of these, as amazing living things, are deserving of our compassion. And then there are animals that become, or provide, food – cows, chickens, pigs are the most common in our culture. And seafood. (Isn’t is interesting how we use our language to reduce a whole host of ocean creatures to food with one compound word?)

I realized I’ve been practicing selective compassion all my life (as most of us do). Though I’ve believed for a long time that there are more humane dietary choices for us modern humans, it took me 46 years to get up the gumption to even try a meatless diet, because I was afraid that if I allowed myself to feel compassion for our “food” animals, I would have to stop eating them. And then my retarded palate might just kill me.

So for me, the time had come to put up or shut up. It’s hard to be a bleeding-heart animal lover and a carnivore. I was either going to have to learn to eat more things that grow in the dirt, or admit that human beings are brutal by choice not by necessity…

Look for part 3 tomorrow in which I will expound upon the evidence that finally helped me overcome my fear of “death by vegetable” and led me to become a vegan convert.

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