Eat Your Vegetables and Other Radical Ideas

Like rubber necking on the freeway when passing a car wreck, there are some things we know we just shouldn’t do, and yet, it can be tough to fight the urge.  These things include going to the grocery store on an empty stomach, saying “See you next year!” on December 31st, and reading the comments to articles online.  With the anonymity of the internet, people post freely, saying whatever is on their minds without the usual editing we’d do in our day to day lives.  This week I came across this article on processed meats and how dangerous they are to the health of all humans, but especially children who are developing their food habits.  Teach them the way to eat now, and that may well be the way they eat the rest of their lives.  Researchers have learned that eating processed meats raises one’s risk of colon cancer.

Judging from the comments, you would have thought the article was telling people to get rid of their own offspring instead of lunchmeat.  When it comes to change, people can be resistant.  We are creatures of habits.  These habits get associated with feelings of family and comfort and tradition, and gradually those habits in our minds become family and comfort and tradition themselves.  Ask people to change and you could be met with an indignant, “How dare you?!”  The readers went on the defense, ready to protect the thing they enjoyed from the “food police.”

It’s interesting how language, like calling someone a name like “food police,” gets used to bring down a group.  The point of the word is to disempower the person or persons they are against.  If a woman is opinionated and someone calls her a bitch, that person’s aim is to take away the woman’s power.  If she is reduced to only being a bitch, the hope is that her words and opinions will also be reduced.  So when people call those who care about wholesome diets “food police,” they’re trying to minimize the group they ridicule.  It’s also a way that the listener can brush off the message and say, “Those health nuts are crazy.  People will never change.”  Actually, this sentence says more about the messenger than it does the message.  People will change if they are, one, in a place where they’re open to hearing the information, two, if the information is given to them in an honest and respectful manner, and three, if the information is compelling enough to make the growing pains worth it.

I go on hikes occasionally with a vegetarian and vegan hiking group.  As you might guess, while hiking up a mountain many times the conversation winds up at veganism.  There are some people in the group who came by a plant-based diet as a part of their own family tradition.  Because of religious reasons, that’s the diet they grew up on.  However, most of the people in the group became vegetarian and vegan out of experiences and realizations in their own lives.  They sought out information and then felt compelled to change because of that information.  Some people lost a family member to heart disease or cancer and wanted to see both how it could have been avoided and also how they could save themselves from the same fate.  Some people saw videos and films about the lives the animals live and the deaths they die within animal agriculture and felt compelled to change.  Some people were empowered to change for their own health.  The ages of the hikers range from young to old and cover all ethnicities.  The group is a wonderful example that anyone, regardless of age or background, can change if she or he is motivated to do it.

On this point, I was reading an article recently about funding for cholesterol medications.  A columnist had written a piece about additional funding and research going into finding new and better drugs.  There was a backlash amongst his readers saying that instead of pumping themselves with drugs, people could be eating a plant based diet to lower their cholesterol naturally, saving themselves from the negative side effects of the drugs and gaining the positive side effects of lower body mass indices, more energy, and a longer life.  The columnist agreed that the readers had a point, but said that in conversations he’d had with doctors, the doctors said they felt lucky if people changed from fried chicken to baked.  The doctors didn’t think people would be receptive to change, and so they didn’t give them that message.  It reminds me of something Dr. Dean Ornish said.  Ornish has proven that a plant based diet can help prevent and reverse heart disease.  His diet, along with those of Dr. McDougall and Dr. Fuhrman, have shown that a plant based diet works for healing our bodies.  Ornish said, “Why have we gotten to the point in American medicine where it’s considered radical for people to exercise, eat a healthy diet, manage stress and stop smoking?  To assume that people won’t change is self-fulfilling.” If you’re never given the information, why would you change?

Medical costs for obesity related issues have doubled in the past ten years.  Two hundred thousand teens and pre-teens are using cholesterol medication.  About a million Americans will die this year because of cardiovascular disease.  To answer these problems people will starve themselves on “cleanses” or alter their bodies with gastric bypass surgeries.  They’ll live on medications with a laundry list of side effects and allow doctors to cut open their ribs with spreaders to give them a heart bypass.  Yet telling people the benefits of a diet based on whole foods that come from the earth’s soil is so radical, so extreme that we won’t even bother mentioning it?  Seriously?

According to the American Dietetic Association’s updated position paper on vegetarian diets, “Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet.”  Read more about it here.

To say that people won’t change is to deny my own experience and the experience of so many others who have been won over by the health, vitality, and well being that comes with a whole foods, plant based vegan diet.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at people who have changed, why they’ve changed, and what that has meant to their lives.  I hope you’ll be inspired by their stories.  Maybe you’ll be motivated to enact some positive change in your own life.