I will always be a vegan. Now that I know, what I know. I have seen the remarkable effects physically, mentally, and spiritually. Sounds dramatic, right? Well, it has been. In my early 40’s I was carrying around an autoimmune diagnosis, 40 pounds of extra weight, I was depressed and tired. Now, not quite 4 years later, my doctor still marvels at my annual blood-work. He is amazed that I am at my recommended body weight and not taking any medications. Amazed because the Mayo clinic estimates 7 out of 10 of us adults are taking some form of a prescription drug, with many of us taking 3 or more meds…and 75% of us are overweight and 40% of us are obese. Being sick and overweight has become the new norm. Therefore it’s not surprising that the US is ranked dead last in the “healthy’ category against 10 other wealthy countries in the world. How is that possible?
Well, imagine you are sitting at a table and you keep banging your leg against the chair so long and so hard that it becomes bruised and quite painful. Finally, someone comes along and says, “Hey, I’ve got a medication that will soothe your pain and another medication that can fix those nasty bruises.” So you take the pills, and sure enough, the pain goes away and your skin looks better, so you think you’re healed. But you’re still banging your leg on the chair, and now because the real problem has never been addressed, your original issue has become catastrophic. Yet nobody ever tells you, “Hey stop banging your leg on the table.” Doctors are taught to prescribe medications for a certain set of symptoms. They are not required to recommend nutritional interventions and, in fact, nutrition is not even a requirement in most medical schools. With the AMA only allowing doctors 15 minutes to spend per patient, it’s not long enough to talk about diet anyway, it’s just long enough to write a script. Because the truth is there is no money to be made if we are all well, only if we are sick.
Heart disease and diabetes are directly correlated to an excessive amount of animal protein consumption and are rarely related to genetics. But a good many people believe they are simply victims of their genes, doomed to a life of middle-age weight gain, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. And we are seeing a rise in colon cancer rates for the first time in people in their 20’s, a disease not normally seen until our 50’s. A recent study by the Pentagon revealed that 71% of young men between the ages of 17-24 (over 24 million) are ineligible to serve in the military because they are physically unfit. And I am sadder, yet, that we are rearing a generation of kids who are not predicted to live as long as their parents…all because of our food choices.
Truth is, four years ago, I never gave much thought to the likes of a cow, a chicken, or a pig. I only knew that they would eventually become food bought in a store. I never made a connection that those packs of chicken and ground beef were once living breathing animals. I didn’t know that they were purposely hidden away on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), because if we actually saw what was happening to them we would be disgusted and appalled. I felt better buying cage-free eggs. Though more expensive, I figured cage-free was better because these chickens were allowed to run around in the sun. What I didn’t know was that baby chicks have their beaks cut off so they don’t peck other chicks in their cramped living quarters. And that cage-free really just means that tens of thousands of chickens are crammed in warehouses instead of cages, and where there is only 1 foot of space per chicken on average. Many of them sustain painful lesions and suffer from ammonia blisters due to sitting on unsanitary floors. A sad life indeed.
I also didn’t know that dairy cows were forced to stand in inches of their own excrement while getting milked 10 months out of a year until they are eventually turned into ground beef. I didn’t know that most E-coli outbreaks in lettuce and kale stemmed from a CAFO’s waste lagoon, or pools of poop, that pollute our fields, rivers, and streams. And worse, some of these CAFO’s can make the individuals living by them very, very sick. Don’t even get me started on Duplin County, North Carolina.
I have also learned that it takes a lot of money and resources for us to eat these animals. I didn’t know that lobbyists fought to have our tax dollars subsidize the meat and dairy industry. I didn’t know that it takes nearly 2,400 gallons of water just to grow just 1 pound of meat. I didn’t know that 800 million people could be fed with just the grain that livestock eat alone. And that much of that grain is produced here in the Midwest. It’s why they call Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, eastern Nebraska, and eastern Kansas the corn-belt because we grow corn for livestock. In fact, more than 90 million acres of grain is planted here just to feed livestock feed alone. It is also an area where cancer rates are on the rise and the levels of pesticide use are skyrocketing.
But that’s not the only thing…about 24% (some argue it’s more like 50%) of all global greenhouse gases come from our support of commercial agriculture. These warming gases are caused by things like livestock methane gas production, and deforestation, or the clear-cutting of trees in order to make room for more livestock. You’ve probably heard that the Amazon Jungle in South America in on fire. That is because they are a developing nation that is looking at places like the U.S. (land of the rich and plentiful) as an example. So now they are cutting down trees in record numbers because they have discovered the economic value in cattle production; those companies who own the factory farms are the fuel for the fire. And those who have long associated eating meat with affluence and prestige inadvertently fan their flames.
Plant-Based eating has never been shown to cause disease. In fact, it has actually been shown in some cases to halt and even reverse many diseases. It is a way of eating that supports our bodies ability to do its job naturally, without drug intervention. It is better for the animals and better for the planet. I am hopeful the tide is turning and more and more people are waking up, so to speak. I remain mindful that a few years ago, I didn’t know any of this either. And I am joyful at the prospect that others may follow their own journey because of myself, or countless others like me, that have inspired them to do so. Being a vegan is one of the greatest gifts this life has given me.