In Part 1, I started telling the story of why I made and continue to make the choice to be plant based. I talked about the Blue Zones – the 5 places in the world where people live the longest – and how one predominant life-extending feature they all have in common is their plant based diet.
But there’s more too this than just a desire to live a long, thriving life (even though that could be reason enough!).
I’m going to be blunt here. How animals are raised and slaughtered for food, how egg-laying chickens “live”, and how dairy cows are treated all make me sick. It is one of the most troubling industries, even in countries that aren’t producing the inane quantities of meat and animal products that we are here in the U.S. On most factory farms, animals are pumped full of food, hormones and antibiotics so that they grow big unnaturally quickly, live their long days in cramped, filthy quarters, and then go through a stressful death.
People are constantly on diets and are thinking about lean protein, so they only want chicken breasts (no fat-laden dark meat!) and that means our smart chicken farmers figured out how to breed chickens with massive breasts to please the consumer, while the chicken can barely walk without falling down beak first. This is one of the most direct links between how we use our dollar at the supermarket and how this translates into what and how food is produced.
There is so much to be said to this point, but the most important takeaway is that you have a voice and a vote with what you you buy.
The only reason that people can afford to have so many animal products on their plate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and maybe a snack or two is because of subsidies. It’s estimated that US taxpayers spend around $38 billion yearly to subsidize the meat and dairy industries. One way this works is because corn and soy are the two most heavily subsidized crops and this corn and soy goes to feed animals, not humans. Without both direct and indirect subsidies, meat would be prohibitively expensive, or at least pricey enough that you would only be eating it once a day at most.
Looking at the environmental burden, especially in light of the California drought, here is the amount of water in gallons it takes to create a pound of food:
Beef: 1,847 gal/lb
Sheep: 1,248 gal/lb
Pork: 718 gal/lb
Chicken: 518 gal/lb
Rolled or Flaked Oats: 290 gal/lb
Pasta: 222 gal/lb
Sweet Potato: 46 gal/lb
Eggplant: 43 gal/lb
Broccoli: 34 gal/lb
Tomato: 26 gal/lb
Plants on the other hand take far less land and water to grow and don’t create yucky methane or manure while they’re at it.
“But how do you get enough protein?” It’s a question that comes from good intentions but also from a lack of knowledge of how much protein is in plant foods and a misbelief about how much our bodies actually need.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram. This number is calculated to meet the requirements of 97.5% of healthy individuals. Now you might say that most adults are not healthy, but our diseases are usually related to the quality of food we eat and a surplus of calories or of things like trans and saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar. True protein deficiency (kwashiorkor) is not seen in Western countries. In fact, protein deficiency is always tied to calorie or energy deficiency. Giving children in third world countries more calories from grains (not meat) treats their condition.
For the general person who is not a training athlete or suffering from a condition that increases calorie and protein needs, the RDA appears to be more than enough. And people most certainly can meet or exceed the RDA without trying. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that women eat about 70 grams of protein a day and men 102 grams. These amounts exceed even other higher protein recommendations given for the general population that go up to 70-80 grams for men and 58-68 grams for women.
|Food||Amount||Protein (grams)||Protein (grams/100 Calories)|
|Quinoa||1 cup cooked||
|Spinach||1 cup cooked||
|Broccoli||1 cup cooked||
It would be more reasonable to ask people following a meat- and protein-rich diet how they get enough fiber, antioxidants or phytochemical as these are all found solely in plant foods!
Globally 65 billion (with a B!) land animals are killed for food each year. People are eating a lot of meat.
Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, Heart Disease and Cancer all have a connection to animal protein. Plant foods on the other hand can reduce the risk of all of the above. Oxidation and inflammation are key players in disease, and what fights this? The antioxidants and phytonutrients that I mentioned earlier, which are found only in plants. A plant based vegetarian or vegan diet also tends to be higher in fruits, vegetables and fiber and lower in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium than non-vegetarian diets (aka diets that contain meat).
The Adventist Healthy Study 1 and 2 are excellent for comparing vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pesto-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets and their nutrient patterns, mortality, and links between chronic disease, cancer, and other variables. A publication in 2014 found that “Vegetarian diets in AHS-2 are associated with lower BMI values, lower prevalence of hypertension, lower prevalence of the metabolic syndrome, lower prevalence and incidence of diabetes mellitus, and lower all-cause mortality.”
Dr. Dean Ornish has done tremendous work in showing that it is possible to not just prevent but actually reverse heart disease on a low fat, plant based diet.
This little section really could be an entire book or books, so please consider How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Greger and Proteinaholic by Dr. Garth Davis for their comprehensive research and references into how and why the plant based diet is optimal for health.
So in a large nutshell, this is why I choose to be plant based. It’s a lifestyle that makes me feel good and makes sense. It’s good for the body and mind, the environment and animals. It’s also how we were designed to eat.