We have had a lot of discussions with a lot of people from various walks of life since starting down this path. And I’m sure we’ll have many more in the years to come. I think the most universal thing I have noted is that once people hear we are doing it for health reasons (and aren’t conscientious objectors), they listen a lot better.
Some are skeptical. Some are receptive. All are intimately interested in how they can make their (and their family’s) lives better and not die from heart disease, cancer or the other myriad of Western diseases. It is an intensely personal interest – of the “I don’t care about other people – what can you do for me and my family” variety. It has really reinforced for me that anyone trying to fight for animal rights, holistic living, “saving the earth” or any other environmental/bleeding-heart agenda is barking up the wrong tree.
One of the unintended side-effects of this way of living is a smaller footprint. Ahisma will mostly fall out of it – but for completely different reasons. People that want to “save the world” would do better to adopt a “save yourself” mentality – you’ll make more progress. I believe in empathy and conscientiousness as much as the next person, but my health is a far greater motivator for change than “altruism”.
So I want to cover some of the larger issues we have encountered in going to a whole foods, plant-based diet, and also some of the tricks that will hopefully help you.
RULE #1: Your health is more important than anything. Next is your family. Then your job.
There are some people that would disagree with this, but I don’t generally like those people or have much in common with them. 😀 Your health is the wellspring from which all else flows. If you don’t have your health, the other two will fail. If you need to take time off of work to get started on this, do it. It will pay itself back tenfold.
Suggestion #2: Don’t sweat the small stuff. (aim for < 5 oz per week of meat)
Vegans usually drive themselves crazy trying to find food that conforms to their ideals when in social situations, or go hungry and crazy from lack of nourishment. I work downtown for a corporation that is filled with meat and potatoes people. I deal with a lot of Alberta country folk, who are cattle ranching and wheat producing people (or their families are). The dairy industry owns 1/3rd of the farmers, and the cattle board another 1/3rd – and many people sport “I love Alberta beef” bumper stickers. This is not a vegetarian or vegan friendly town.
So when we have corporate functions where we have a meal choice, I will ask for a vegetarian meal – I have done it for Melanie in the past and there were no issues. When I am going to a vendor presentation I will do the same. When we go to a pub for a department lunch I will order the spinach salad and whatever else I can find that is whole foods, plant-based.
But when we are out in the field on a trip for work and someone shoves a choice of 4 different meat sandwiches in front of me, I will shut up and eat one of them. As a personal goal, I am striving to keep my meat consumption down below 5 oz a week – that puts me in the same nutritional boat as the rural Chinese who had staggeringly lower rates of Western diseases, and where things like Heart Disease are unheard of. This allows me the flexibility to live within my job, and professional life, while still keeping my health risks tolerably low.
Campbell discusses the risk factors showing benefits of reducing animal protein intake all the way to 0%, but I can’t see it happening with my job. (Melanie can do it, however.) So I’ll shoot for < 5 oz per week instead.
(quick calculation: 2000 calories/day * 7 days/week * 10% protein * 10% from animals * 1 g protein/4calories * 1 oz meat / 7g protein = 5oz meat per week). But don’t let this be an excuse to “be bad” for no good reason – society will force your hand enough.
Suggestion #3: Be aware of your food options, and choose the best of the worst if necessary. Be active in planning food options where possible. (See Rule #2)
– I will choose fish before chicken or beef when forced into it.
– I will avoid dairy at all costs.
– I will avoid those crappy bakery muffins loaded with butter and eggs that never really taste that good anyways and are sitting in the lunch room.
– I will choose fruit over cake loaded with eggs, white flour and butter.
– I will try to get us to go to ethnic (East Indian, Vietnamese, etc.) restaurants instead of pubs or rib joints for department functions as they are more likely to have food that I want to eat.
– I will not obsess about the whey powder in margarine or other nutritionally unimportant ingredients.
– I will pick a can of plain fruit juice out of the pop fridge at work instead of a coke or sugar-infested cranberry juice.
– I will not feel bad about eating a ton of potatoes, carrots, beans and salad at an all-you-can-eat meat buffet for work.
Suggestion #4: Give the whole-foods, plant-based diet a month to start working its magic
Week 1 is mostly about your digestive system switching its enzyme balance. You won’t have enough of the enzymes needed to fully and properly digest this diet right off the bat, and you’ll have too many of the meat-digesting enzymes in there. You’ll probably eat a lot more this first week, but won’t gain any weight as your body is inefficient at digesting the nutrients initially.
As time went on we found that our stools softened up, became more regular, and weren’t as stinky. (I actually thought we smelled like the baby – who’s eating as naturally as possible) My energy level went up, and I craved more voluntary exercise (like the rats from chapter 3). My metabolic system seems to have levelled out – I don’t have the crazy spikes and crashes after meals like when I was eating a lot of meat. I feel generally healthier and happier and more energetic – despite the fact that I’m getting significantly less sleep with the new baby around. YMMV, but the research also shows significant changes in Type 2 diabetics and most people’s blood cholesterol levels after only 3 weeks. So maybe get your cholesterol checked pre and post to get a feeling for the numbers.
I have also tightened my belt by two notches after two months – in a healthy and sustainable sort of way.
Suggestion #5: Try new things, and don’t be afraid to sink $500 into wasted cooking experiments. It will pay off.
We have screwed some dishes up, and had to put some money in the garbage can. We also threw out old dairy, eggs and meat (it actually sat there in the fridge, untouched, while we were reading the book – it was a psychological journey to finally dispose of them) – which is lost money. But just do it, and don’t look back.
Try some vegetables you have never even heard of before, and use Google to help you find a recipe. Spend a little money on some different grains and try them out. Get a bread maker and a blender and experiment with them.
At the end of the day, it is cheaper to eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and you will make that money back. Both in health, and in food cost savings (if you do it right). There is no better “investment” in our future that we have ever made. (except maybe getting married 😉 )
Suggestion #6: Shop around, and try new stores
I have spent most of my free time over the past several months sourcing food, comparing costs, researching what I actually want, and learning that whole foods is a tough nut to crack. There is no single source that will give you everything. Here are some hints: Safeway is not your friend (except for quick produce), CoOp is a little better, Superstore has great ethnic food and is way cheaper than Safeway (although in general their produce is much worse quality), Costco has lots of great stuff (including nuts, frozen fruits, quinoa, brown rice, etc.) but limited selection, Community Natural Foods has hard to find stuff (but is pricy) and tends to confuse organic, whole and healthy.
Suggestion #7: Make quick snacks and carry them with you
Instead of being forced into a gas station to buy overpriced SPITZ and salted peanuts, throw a whack of nuts into a tupperware container with some raisins and dried apricots. It will go further then you think and takes about 1 minute to put together before running out the door.
Suggestion #8: Treat all health advice with a healthy dose of skepticism and fear – aka – “A sample size of one is meaningless”
Between lobby groups, industry representatives, people who failed statistics doing statistics for a living and well-intentioned “sample size of one with no logical analysis” people, there is a google link for any theory you want to espouse. It is safer to go with a ton of independent research than just one study.
If someone is trying to convince you based on one study, ignore them. If they are trying to convince you based on testimonials and allegory, remember that people only tell you the good stories. If they make lots of claims with no citations or empirical evidence to back it up, toss ’em out the window.
You don’t need any supplements, you don’t need fancy consultations, and you don’t need to count calories, fat and carbs.
Just eat as much as you want of a variety of whole, plant-based foods.
Suggestion #9: Keep Calm and Carry On
I have quite literally woken up in a panic in the middle of the night wondering: “Am I getting enough protein? Am I starving myself? Am I getting the right nutrients? Are the girls going to be missing something from their diets?” After all, this flies in the face of the nutrition information I was force fed as a kid, that my parents tried to ingrain as gospel, and that this province wants to be true.
But all the evidence points to this being a more complete way to eat. You get more of all nutrients, including all the ones that meat/dairy/eggs cannot provide. Billions of people before me have led complete and full lives as vegetarians.
Strive to be that vegetarian that people respect – dazzle them with your knowledge of nutrition, biochemistry and empirical evidence. You won’t win many friends talking about “ending bee oppression and enslavement by boycotting honey”.
Suggestion #10: Learn how to cook, and learn how to substitute in dishes
You can use most of the old recipes that you love, you just have to use different ingredients. Instead of making spaghetti sauce with meatballs, throw in green lentils and chick peas (and some extra beans and mushrooms). Instead of making butter chicken, make it with coconut milk, beans, red lentils and yams/potatoes. You might even like it more…
Baking requires a bit more effort as even vegan cookbooks use a ton of white flour, but remember that whole wheat flour + water works just like white flour, and there are ways to rise cakes without eggs (like egg replacer, flax eggs or baking soda). There are a bunch of baking books available for vegetarians and vegans, just remember to pay special attention to avoid the dairy, white flour and eggs as some recipes are not WFPBD friendly, but can easily be made so.
Suggestion #11: Talk to your friends and extended family about your lifestyle change
They may be more receptive than you think. Considering that Campbell covers (i) animal studies (ii) epidimiology (iii) biological mechanisms (iv) dietary interventions and (v) insider viewpoints, it makes for a very convincing package altogether. The more you talk about it, the more you will learn and become familiar with the reasons why this is an important change to make.
Or point them to this blog if you can’t remember everything. The link for this series of posts is: http://www.meli-mello.com/?cat=89. Start at the bottom and work your way up.
Most people have friends or family affected by one or more of the “Western” diseases, and more people than you may be aware of are on pills for various ailments like high cholesterol. I have been surprised at how many people I know that can be directly helped by this information, and I see no need to hoard it to myself. I know (or have known because they’re dead now) people that suffer from high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney disease, cancer and alzheimer’s. So basically everything on the list. We are all affected by this.
There is never a bad time to start in on a whole-foods, plant-based diet, and it is never too late.