Why would anyone forego their food heritage and the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is “oh so yummy!” to embrace a bunch of plants? Wouldn’t that be going backwards? Doesn’t meat = prosperity, the “food of kings” as they say? Don’t we need to eat meat for protein and dairy for calcium? What about the US Dietary Recommendations, My Plate – they recommend meat and dairy in addition to fruits and vegetables?
These are all very good questions and all deserve very good answers which I hope to provide you with over the coming weeks and months. But for now, let’s just take a 1000 foot view on why some people are choosing to change to a whole-food plant-based lifestyle.
Science-Based Approach with Dramatic Results (1)
Let’s start with the basics… Plant-based nutrition is a powerful science-based approach to nutrition that stands on the weight of evidence that has been found over the past 100+ years. This large pool of evidence suggests that a diet – that is, what makes up the foods you eat on a regular basis – comprised of whole plant-based foods not only puts a halt to the Western degenerative diseases but can in fact reverse them! Of course this also implies that if you don’t yet have signs of a Western disease, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, to name a few, a plant-based lifestyle can dramatically reduce your risk of getting one and improve your quality of life. Based on this weight of evidence, many people are choosing to switch to whole-food plant-based eating whether it’s to overcome symptoms of or the diseases themselves, and the change has been successful with dramatic improvements to the point that many people are able to actually get off all the medications they were once on to manage their disease and others have been able to get off most of them. The most profound thing about this is the range of health issues that have been healed through this same change in lifestyle. How great is it to learn that YOU have the power to effect change in your health simply at the end of your fork?!
Healthcare or Disease Management?
Did you know that, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) figure, the U.S. ranks #1 in the world in health care costs but 37 in the quality of health care (2)?! I find it very ironic that we call the place we go to essentially manage our diseases with pills and medical interventions “Healthcare.” Does anyone else see the disconnect here? Our “healthcare” system has really become simply a disease management system. Great in an emergency, but not so great when it comes to more long term care of symptoms and diseases. It’s not taking care of the healthy, but the sick and diseased and really in many cases, especially in the case of degenerative diseases, we are simply managing the symptoms by putting bandaids on them and often times never really getting to the core cause of the symptoms. So people stay sick instead of getting healthy.
Consider this, when you have a problem and you go to the doctor or emergency room, often times they are not looking for the underlying cause, such as in high blood pressure for example. They consider it as is, perhaps tell you it’s age related or genetic and give you some pills to pop to manage the problem and send you on your way. I can remember going to the emergency room about 7 years ago for the most uncomfortable heart palpitations (if you’ve had them when you are at rest, you know how uncomfortable and annoying they are!). It was a worse than usual bout at the time and I knew it was not “normal” so we went to the ER just to be safe. When my EKG came back normal, the doctor wrote me a prescription for antianxiety pills. He never once asked me about stress or anxiety or any other symptoms that would have led him to believe that I had been having an anxiety attack which I can honestly say I WAS NOT! So we left and I refused to fill the prescription because I KNEW that was not the cause of the symptom. That was the start in my deflated trust in our “healthcare” system. I don’t blame the doctor necessarily – he was doing what he was trained to do – I blame the system. So like me, many others have sought other avenues for healing the underlying causes of their symptoms, knowing that there must be something more to this story, that their body – my body – was not having the symptom simply because it lacked the “pill,” but that something else was at the root of it. Unfortunately, many of us have repeatedly tried to find solutions through the current “healthcare” system with no avail before looking for more natural solutions, many of which have turned to a whole-food plant-based lifestyle.
Social & Environmental Effects
There are certainly many harmful environmental and therefore social effects from the meat and dairy industry as well. For starters, the number one cause of deforestation of our rainforest is, in fact, factory farming (3,4). As most people have heard before, who knows what all we’re losing when we cut down the rainforest as we haven’t discovered all the wonders that live there and which could now be lost forever. Not to mention the loss of oxygen with less trees and the increase in pollution from all the gasses released from the livestock (yes, I mean burping and farting!). This accounts for the most damage to our ozone layer.
Then we have the loss of our croplands. Due to standard crop industry practices, we have major issues with erosion which causes a yearly loss of croplands which is not helping our food shortage problems. In addition, most of our crops are used as livestock feed for our meat and dairy industry. This means that instead of using the crops grown to help with the world food shortage, we are using a great deal of it to feed the livestock which in turn produces much LESS food for us. Take for example, that “for every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about [one of the following:] 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef” (5,6,7).
With the majority of our crops going to feed livestock, we are also seeing a huge issue with our fresh water supply… in effect, America is running out of fresh water! In the U.S. almost half of the water used goes towards raising animals for food (8). It’s estimated that we will run out in as little as 20 years (8)! Consider this, to produce the wheat used to make a one pound loaf of bread requires 250 gallons of water, whereas, to produce the grain & hay a cow needs to eat in order to produce one pound of beef requires 5,000 gallons of water! That’s a HUGE difference here!
Another major issue is with pollution of our fresh waters as well as oceans & seas. The biggest polluters of America’s waterways used to be factories but are now farms (8). According to the National Resources Defense Council, “from 1995 to 1998, one thousand spills or pollution incidents occurred at livestock feedlots in ten states and two hundred manure-related fish kills resulted in the death of thirteen million fish” (9). Unfortunately, this stat has not changed much since then. In Wisconsin alone, there were 76 manure spills in 2013, totaling 1 million+ gallons of manure (8,10)! (So if you’re in Chicago and you’re wondering why the beach is closed due to E.coli levels… well, I’m going to assume you can put two and two together here.)
Lastly, we have the creation of Dead Zones in our oceans. These are caused by the runoff of nitrogen fertilizers used on our croplands which flow into the oceans creating an imbalance in the ecosystem which in turn removes all or most of the oxygen from the waters, leaving them devoid of all oxygen breathing life (5). Again, with the majority of these crops produced as livestock feed, you can see how a change from a more meat-based diet to a more plant-based diet could have significant impacts on the health of our oceans, as well as our croplands, rainforest, fresh water supplies, food shortage concerns, and the hole in the ozone layer.
As you can see, there are a variety of reasons why people are choosing to follow a plant-based lifestyle, namely the weight of scientific evidence, the health effects, the lack of healing from the current state of our healthcare system, and the social and environmental effects of supporting the current meat and dairy industries… and this is not an exhausted list.
What did you find most interesting? What topics do you want to hear more about in future posts? And if you have made or are starting to make a change towards a whole-food plant-based lifestyle, what was your most compelling reason?
- Forks Over Knives documentary, Lee Fulkerson, May 6, 2011.
- David Kirby, Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010), 8.