Category Archives: Health

CNN’s “The Last Heart Attack”

Heart attack is the number one killer in America. To put that another way: Heart attack is the most likely reason you’ll die. And even more frightening, in more than half of heart disease cases, the first symptom is death. But the really sad thing is that heart disease is completely preventable!

CNN recently aired a special called “The Last Heart Attack,” hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, which explores the causes and various treatments for America’s number one killer: heart disease. The American Heart association predicts that there will be 33 million more Americans with heart disease in the next 20 years (that’s you and me, folks), unless we change.

After spending a year investigating the issue, Dr. Gupta concludes that “with what we know right now, we could see the last heart attack in America.” And the way to end all heart attacks, he says, is to “eat nothing with a mother, nothing with a face.”

“In hundreds of patients, data now going back over 20 years, once they start eating this way, you make yourself heart-attack-proof. We know that if people are eating this way, they are not going to have a heart attack. ” – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

“Heart disease could be as rare as malaria today if we simply put into practice what we already know.” – Dr. Dean Ornish, president and founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute

You can watch the full 40-minute special right here. (Fast forward to 22:50 to jump to the part about preventing heart disease through diet. Or for an even shorter clip, fast forward to 29:15.) This could literally save your life.

(Email subscribers will need to click through to the Powered By Produce site to watch the video.)

“It’s a food-borne illness and we’re never going to end the epidemic with stents, with bypasses, with the drugs because none of it is treating causation of the illness.” – Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease

“We’ve eaten our way into a problem and we can eat ourselves out of it.” – Dr. Terry Mason, chief medical officer at Chicago’s Cook County Hospitals

An Interview with Yours Truly

My friend Caitlin is writing a research paper for her Master’s degree on the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. She asked if she could interview me for her research – I was so honored! Here is the interview:

1-What was your primary reason for becoming a vegetarian?

I went vegetarian after learning about the horrible animal abuse on factory farms. I’m not just talking about the actual act of slaughter, which is performed in painful and torturous ways, but I’m also talking about the abuses that the animals endure throughout the entirety of their lives. As I learned more about how awfully the animals on factory farms (which produce 99% of our meat, dairy, and eggs) are treated, I became more and more uneasy with eating meat. But the specific thing that “put me over the edge,” and convinced me to go vegetarian for good, was a collection of first-hand accounts from slaughterhouse workers who openly discussed the deliberate and malicious abuse that they inflicted on the animals, without any hint of remorse. It broke my heart to realize the immense suffering that these animals endure, it made me sick to my core to realize how horribly cruel humans can be to animals, and it blew my mind how rampant this behavior is in the meat industry.

It took me 27 years to make the connection that farm animals are the same as all animals: they feel joy and pain, just as your dog or cat does, just as a horse, or an elephant, or a lion does. I realized that if I’m appalled by abuse to dogs, or slaughter of dolphins, or poaching of elephants, or hunting of mink for fur coats, then I should be even more appalled by the way cows, pigs, and chickens are raised and slaughtered for meat, because it is undeniably worse. And I finally understood that by purchasing meat, I was not only condoning some of the worst animal abuse imaginable, I was funding it. Once you know something, you can’t un-know it. So once I knew what was happening to those animals on those factory farms and in those slaughterhouses, I couldn’t in good conscience continue to support that system.

2-What are some of the health benefits of a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle?

Oh gosh, how much time do you have…?!

1. I’d say the greatest health benefit of a vegetarian diet is the reduced risk of heart attack. Heart attack is the number one killer in America. To put that another way: Heart attack is the most likely reason you’ll die. And even more frightening: In more than half of heart disease cases, the first symptom is death. But the really sad thing is that heart disease is completely preventable.

Heart attacks are caused by blocked arteries. Arteries become blocked over time by cholesterol and saturated fat. Animal products (all meats, including fish, as well as dairy and eggs) are the only source of cholesterol and saturated fat (with the exception of a few vegetable oils, like coconut oil and sunflower oil, which contain saturated fat but no cholesterol). A vegetarian diet is significantly lower in cholesterol and saturated fat, and a vegan diet does not contain any cholesterol or saturated fat!

The American Heart Association recommends a (total) cholesterol level of under 200. However, about 35% of all heart attacks occur in people whose cholesterol level is 151-200. Research indicates that a cholesterol level below 150 will essentially make you heart-attack-proof. [source] The average American’s cholesterol level is 200. The average vegetarian’s cholesterol level is 161. The average vegan’s cholesterol level is 133. [sourcesource]

(Note: Trans fats, which come from processed foods, are another source of arterial blockage, but they have been phased out of most products. They are even banned by law in some states.)

2. Related to heart disease, is blood pressure. Clogged arteries cause your heart to have to work harder to push the blood past blockages. Plus, saturated fat causes your blood to become more viscous, or thick, (more like grease and less like water), which means your heart needs to push harded to get the blood flowing. And, vegetarian diets are lower in salt and higher in anti-inflammatory flavonoids that are found only in fruits and vegetables. So, vegetarians and vegans have lower blood pressure.

3. Another very serious issue associated with blocked arteries is stroke. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death and the first-leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the US. Stroke often attacks with no warning signs and results in death 25% of the time. The majority of strokes are caused by blocked arteries that lead blood to the brain. Some other strokes are caused by burst blood vessels in the brain, often due to uncontrolled high blood pressure. It is said that 80% of strokes are preventable. [source] Vegetarians and vegans, who have less (or no) arterial blockage and lower blood pressures, are much less likely to have a stroke.

4. The second-leading cause of death in the US is cancer. One-third of the population will develop cancer in their lifetime. There are so many different types of cancer that are caused by so many different things, that it’s too difficult to address them all succinctly. But, in general, one-third of all cancers are related to diet, and vegetarians are 12% less likely to develop cancer (any type). [source] Specific cancers that are directly linked to eating animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) are colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, stomach cancer, leukemia and lymphoma. In some cases, the risk of certain cancers is reduced by up to 75% by going vegetarian. Vegetarians are 45% less likely to develop blood cancers and lymphatic cancers [source], 75% less likely to develop myeloma (bone marrow cancer) [source], 50% less likely to develop colon cancer [source], and 40% less likely to develop prostate cancer [source]. These are some significant numbers!

There’s a variety of reasons that a vegetarian diet protects against so many cancers, some of which include:

  • Cooking meat (any type, including fish) creates a carcinogenic compound called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs. [source] (For more information, Google “heterocyclic amines.”)
  • Animal protein (but not plant protein) is acidic and because cancer cells are also acidic, it’s important to eat non-acidic foods (like plants) to balance the pH of the body and prevent further cell damage. [source]
  • Vegetarian diets contain higher levels of antioxidants, phytochemicals, and vitamins found in fruits and vegetables, which protect DNA from damage (this is the root cause of cancer).
  • Animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) do not contain any fiber and, therefore, can stay in the digestive tract (stomach, intestine, and colon) for a long time. Vegetarian diets are high in fiber (which only comes from plants), so the fiber helps to quickly push food through the digestive tract, without allowing it to sit in there and cause trouble for too long. This helps protect against stomach and colon cancers.
  • Most meat, dairy, and eggs is produced with the use of hormones to make the animals grow faster and bigger, or to produce more milk or eggs. These hormones remain in the meat, dairy, and eggs that we eat and are linked to hormonal cancers like breast and prostate cancer.
  • Vegetarian diets are lower in fat and being overweight contributes to many types of cancers. [source]

There are definitely more than just these, but getting into the individual details of how meat contributes to each specific cancer type would take quite a while!

5. Diabetes (type 2) is quickly on the rise in America. Currently, one in 12 Americans suffers from diabetes, but researchers estimate that as many as one in three people born after the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. [source] Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, amputation, and kidney failure, and diabetes doubles your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. And just like heart disease, diabetes is entirely diet-related. There are so many studies proving that a vegan diet can reverse diabetes.

One study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine compared type 2 diabetics on the American Diabetic Association’s (ADA) recommended diet, to type 2 diabetics on a vegan diet. They found that the fasting blood sugars in the vegan group decreased by 59% more that the ADA group and the ADA group needed to maintain their medicines, while the vegan group was able to control their blood sugars with less medicines. But, one of the most interesting results was related to protein. Because diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys, diabetics often lose large amounts of protein through their urine. The study found that the ADA group did not improve in this aspect and, actually, protein loss worsened, but the vegan group, on the other hand, had reduced protein losses. [source]

6. Vegetarians and vegans have lower rates of osteoporosis. This is because the average American actually consumes way too much protein! Your body can only absorb so much protein. Any excess protein (including protein from dairy) in your diet gets converted to acid. To try to neutralize this excess acid, your kidneys leech calcium (a base) from your bones, stressing the kidneys and putting you at a higher risk of osteoporosis. [source]

7. And last, but not least, vegetarianism helps prevent obesity which we all know can lead to and contribute to a whole host of ailments. Because vegetables are naturally low in fat an calories, filling up on veggies instead of saturated-fat laden meat (and dairy) helps to maintain a healthy weight. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of body fat compared to height. A “normal” BMI ranges from 18.5 – 24.9. An “overweight” BMI is from 25.0 – 29.9. And an “obese” BMI is anything over 30. The average American BMI is 28.8. The average vegetarian BMI is 25.7. And the average vegan BMI is 23.6.

8. Because of all the above reasons, vegetarians have a longer than average life expectancy. Various studies have shown life expectancy increases in vegetarians from 3.6 years up to 7.28 years. [source] The variability likely has to do with how long an individual has followed a vegetarian diet (you can’t expect that going veg on your 75th birthday will add 5 years to your life!).

3-When you first stopped eating meat, did you worry that you were getting enough protein? iron? B12? etc.

When I decided to stop eating meat, the very first thing I did was read about the health implications of a vegetarian diet because I definitely wanted to make sure that I remained healthy. What I found was a wealth of information on how vegetarian diets are generally healthier than omnivorous ones! (This, of course, reassured me that I’d made the right decision in giving up meat.) The doctors, scientists, nutritionists, and athletes whose books and articles I read, made it infinitely clear that it is nearly impossible to suffer from a protein deficiency, so long as basic caloric needs are being met. You’d literally have to be starving to not get enough protein (but at that point, protein isn’t your biggest problem). Almost all whole foods have some amount of protein, even fruit! So, no, I never worried about getting enough protein because I’d educated myself on the subject.

As for the other nutrients, like iron, B12, and zinc, I knew that it was possible to become deficient in these areas (unlike protein), so I just did a few Google searches on good vegetarian sources of each of these nutrients to ensure I was eating some of them. I found that I was already eating many of the good iron sources (soy, spinach, canned beans, quinoa), the B12 sources (dairy), and the zinc sources (soy, beans, nuts, dairy). So, again, I didn’t feel like I needed to worry about getting enough of any particular nutrient.

Plus, I’ve always taken a multi-vitamin (almost) every day. This obviously can’t be your sole source of a particular nutrient, but it can certainly help to fill in small gaps on days where you may not eat as much spinach, or beans, or nuts, or whatever. As long as you’re eating a variety of whole foods (and not just processed junk, like potato chips and Oreos, which are both vegetarian), you will easily get all the nutrients you need on a vegetarian diet.

4-I have often heard people say that they feel hungry right away if they don’t eat enough protein. Do you know anything about this?

Yes, nutritionists do say that protein helps you feel fuller longer. But this is not limited to animal protein! Plant protein will have the same effect, so ensuring that you include a vegetarian protein (like cheese, beans, tofu, nuts, spinach, etc.) in your meal will easily solve this problem. And you don’t need to center your meal around the protein to include it – add beans or nuts to a salad, toss some spinach and chickpeas into your pasta, or just serve a side of peas with your veggie dinner.

There’s also another nutrient that helps you feel fuller longer: Fiber. Fiber not only fills you up, but it also slows down the digestion process, keeping you fuller longer. Plus, fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and helps lower the risk of heart disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes, gall stones and kidney stones, and constipation. Fiber really is a super-food but, unfortunately, the average American diet contains less than half the recommended daily amount. Fiber is only found in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole wheat products, nuts, beans, etc.). Animal products do not contain any fiber. None.

It’s not difficult to feel full on a vegetarian diet, just load up on the fiber (the great thing about vegetables is that you can eat a ton of them and not have to worry about fat or calories!) and include some vegetarian protein.

5-Do you try to eat “complete” proteins? I’ve heard those are important and can only be found in meat and quinoa. But I know beans and rice, for example, together make a complete protein.

Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 21 amino acids, 12 of which your body produces internally, and 9 of which your body can’t produce so you must get them through your diet. These 9 are called the “essential amino acids.” A complete protein is a food that contains an adequate proportion of all 9 essential amino acids. Nearly all whole foods contain protein, and nearly all forms of protein contain all 21 amino acids in some quantity. However, proportions of those amino acids vary by food, and some foods may have lower amounts of one or more of the essential amino acids. So, there are many foods that contain all 9 essential amino acids, but the level of one particular amino acid is too low to qualify it as a complete protein. (This table shows the level of each essential amino acid needed to quailfy a protein as a complete protein.)

All animal products (meat, eggs, dairy) are complete proteins, but there are also some plant-based complete proteins, like soy, quinoa, hemp (ps – hemp milk is delicious!), buckwheat, spirulina, and amaranth. Plus, foods can be combined to form complete proteins (and it just so happens that we instinctively pair these foods together already!), like beans and rice, or beans and corn, or hummus and pita bread, or nut butter on whole-grain bread, or pasta with beans, or veggie burgers with bread, or tortillas with beans, or split pea soup with whole-grain bread. Typically, the perfect pairing is a vegetarian protein (like beans or nuts) with a grain (like rice, pasta, bread, corn).

But here’s the important part to know: You don’t need to pair these items together in the same meal! Research shows that you can spread your food combinations over a two-day period to effectively create complete proteins. So, if you eat a spoonful of peanut butter with lunch today, and a piece of bread with lunch tomorrow, you’ve got yourself a complete protein.

This really isn’t something you need to consciously think about. As long as you’re eating a variety of foods (don’t eat only zucchini for every meal, every day, please) it would be extremely difficult to not acquire all 9 essential amino acids. In fact, Frances Moore Lappe, the author who originally published the protein-combining theory in 1971 (indicating that vegetarians need to consciously combine foods to make complete proteins), retracted her position on protein-combining in 1981, stating, “In 1971 I stressed protein complementarity because I assumed that the only way to get enough protein … was to create a protein as usable by the body as animal protein. In combating the myth that meat is the only way to get high-quality protein, I reinforced another myth. I gave the impression that in order to get enough protein without meat, considerable care was needed in choosing foods. Actually, it is much easier than I thought. With three important exceptions, there is little danger of protein deficiency in a plant food diet. The exceptions are diets very heavily dependent on [1] fruit or on [2] some tubers, such as sweet potatoes or cassava, or on [3] junk food (refined flours, sugars, and fat). Fortunately, relatively few people in the world try to survive on diets in which these foods are virtually the sole source of calories. In all other diets, if people are getting enough calories, they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.” [source]

6-What does a vegetarian need to do to make sure she gets all of the nutrients she needs?

It’s really pretty simple – eat a variety of whole foods. By “whole foods” I mean non-junk foods. Sure, potato chips, cookies, and ice cream are vegetarian, but you’re not going to get your nutrients from those. Vary the fruits, vegetables, and grains you eat, because you get different nutrients from different foods, and there’s really nothing more you need to do!

However, if you’re particularly concerned about specific nutrients (iron, zinc, B12, etc.) try just keeping track of how much you’re consuming of it for a few days to see if it’s really something you need to worry about. If it is, research what vegetarian foods have higher amounts of that nutrient and be sure to incorporate those into your diet more often. Or even consider a supplement if you’re that worried about it. Vitamins are a great thing.

I always recommend (to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians) taking a daily multivitamin because, well, why not?!

7-What does a VEGAN need to do to make sure she gets all of the nutrients she needs?

Veganism is only slightly different than vegetarianism in that by dropping the dairy and eggs, you lose your only source of vitamin B12. Interestingly, B12 isn’t made by animals, it’s made by bacteria. It’s found where things are unclean (like on rotting flesh…). Though the required amount of B12 is miniscule (3 micrograms a day), it is still critical to normal nervous system functionality. So, it’s important that vegans take a B12 supplement. Nearly all daily multivitamins contain 100% of the daily recommended value of B12.

Also, meat, dairy, and eggs are the only dietary source of vitamin D, so vegans need to ensure that they get their vitamin D from the sun. The recommended daily amount is 15 minutes of sun exposure per day.

Other than that, same as above!

8-What are the main health risks involved in not eating meat?

I’ll start by saying that it is NOT protein deficiency! I’ll repeat: You do not need to worry about getting enough protein. Ever.

But there are other deficiencies that are very real possibilities. These include: Iron, vitamin D, zinc, iodine, vitamin B12, and calcium (especially if you’re vegan). But it is easy to avoid any deficiencies if you are eating a varied, well-balanced diet.

To get more iron, try soy, pumpkin seeds (one of my favorite snacks!), quinoa, spinach, white beans, lentils, prune juice, tomato paste, and dried peaches.
To get more B12, eat eggs and dairy products. For vegans, sprinkle some nutritional yeast over your meals, drink B12-fortified soy/almond/rice milk, or take a vitamin supplement.
To get more calcium, eat dairy products, leafy greens (like spinach, kale, collard greens), soy/tofu, broccoli, okra, and almonds.
To get more zinc, eat dairy products, nuts, leafy greens, beans and lentils, peas, and squash.
To get more iodine, use iodized salt instead of sea salt, and eat dairy, soy, and leafy greens.
Vitamin D is a bit different, as the only food source of it is meat, dairy, and eggs. So vegans must ensure that they get their vitamin D from the sun. Get outside and play (15 minutes per day)!

*All of the above can also be supplemented with vitamins. A daily multivitamin will contain most of these.

9-Do you adapt your diet when you are training for a race

I do, but only slightly. Ok so, I’ve already harped on the fact that you don’t need to worry about getting enough protein. The official government-recommended daily amount of protein is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. Most people (especially those who eat meat) already get much more than this (as I discussed in question 2). However, the protein needs for “athletes” or “highly active people” is higher than for average Americans.

Exercise and sports physically break down your muscles and protein repairs and rebuilds the muscle. So the protein needs of athletes are influenced by the length, frequency, and intensity of their workouts. Marathoners, who are running much more often and for much longer distances than average, need about 50% more protein than a sedentary person. Body builders may need as much as 100% more than a sedentary person. [source] So, yes, when I’m training for a marathon, I do add a daily protein supplement. I use a vegan protein powder made from peas. But it’s important to remember that most people do not need a protein supplement, even those who are going for a 30 minute to 1 hour jog, 3-4 times a week.

10-Have you ever had a medical professional be concerned about your diet?

Never. Nor any of my trainers/coaches. Nor do I have low iron levels when I go to donate blood (I do eat a lot of pumpkin seeds..!)

Cheese Addiction Rehab Program

It seems that many vegetarians (myself included*) struggle to make the leap to veganism because of one thing: cheese.

I’ve found that most vegetarians agree that eggs are as easy to drop as the meat. And non-cheese dairy has plenty of not just adequate, but downright tasty subsitutes (butter, ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, milk, and even grated parmesan). But cheese seems to be the vegan Achilles heel. What is it about this stuff that causes some of the healthiest eaters and some of the most outspoken animal rights advocates to declare, “I could NEVER give up cheese!”

For a lot of people we’ve talked to, cheese is the lone item that often still has its hooks in them. So many people have complained to us about how hard it was to give up cheese that we almost felt like we needed to set up some kind of support group in the basement of an area church where we served burnt coffee (with soy creamer) and let people talk about how many days cheese-clean they’ve been.

-From the book Vegan Freak: Being Vegan In a Non-Vegan World

Part of the answer lies in the addictive qualities of cheese. Yes, that’s right, cheese is addictive. It’s not like you’re going to go into seizures or begin vomiting when you give up cheese, but certainly the opiate qualities of cheese help to explain what makes it so hard for people to stop.

The principle protein in milk is casein. (Casein makes up 80 – 86% of the proteins in cow milk and 60% – 65% of the proteins in human milk). When we digest casein, something called casomorphins are formed. And these casomorphins have an opioid effect on us (similar to morphine but with one-tenth the power). In other words, it makes us feel good.

Cheese is produced by curdling the milk (by adding rennet, an enzyme produced in mammalian stomachs to digest mother’s milk, which “digests” the milk into cheese – um, gross!). The curds become cheese and the whey (liquid) is discarded. Doing this causes the casein concentration to be much higher in cheese than in milk. This is why Dr. Neal Barnard refers to cheese as “dairy crack.”

But wait, there’s more. Cheese also contains an amphetamine-like chemical, phenylethylamine (also found in chocolate) which is often called an aphrodisiac because it “arouses the pleasure areas of the brain,” and is even used as an anti-depressant because of its mood-elevating qualities.

Evolutionarily, these chemicals are probably present to create a positive association between the baby and its mother and her milk (that’s just a theory). But today, humans consume more cow’s milk than calves do and average cheese consumption in the US has tripled from 1970 to 2008, from 11 pounds per year to 33 pounds per year, per person.

Not to mention that dairy farmers and the USDA are loving this constant growth in sales. In fact, they love it so much that the USDA spends $140 million annually on marketing cheese and making slick deals with companies like Domino’s Pizza and Taco Bell to double the amount of cheese in their products. These deals result in even more cheese sales and even larger waistlines. (Average weight for American females increased from 140 pounds in 1960 to 164 pounds in 2002. Males increased from 166 to 191 pounds.)

With opiates and the US government against us, what’s an aspiring vegan to do?

For starters, because of the addictive quality of cheese, trying to wean yourself off dairy-crack isn’t the right approach because the cravings will continue (you don’t wean a drug addict off heroin in rehab, you remove it cold-turkey). Dr. Neal Barnard recommends making a commitment to go dairy-free for just three weeks. He asserts that this is enough time for your cravings to subside.

To help you through your three week withdrawal period, I’ve created this list of disgusting cheese facts** that you should bookmark and read anytime you have a cheese craving. (You’re welcome.)

  • Cheese is made from milk, and milk contains pus and blood. Animals that are continually milked day after day develop infections and sores on their udders resulting in blood and pus in the milk. You may comfort yourself by thinking that the dairy is pasteurized, but while the pasteruization will protect you from becoming ill, you are still eating pus and blood. As Vegan Freak puts it, “Look at it like this: you could stick a dog turd in an autoclave and render it biologically harmless with significant pressure and heat. Yet, we’re willing to wager that you’d not be anxious to eat it unless you have some very strange proclivities indeed.”
  • In order for mammals to produce milk, they must become pregnant. Dairy cows are continually re-impregnated through artificial insemination within 2-3 months of having their previous calf. Naturally, a cow would nurse her calf for 9 months to 1 year, but the dairy industry removes the calf from the mother after only a few days, so that the milk that was meant to nourish her baby can be made into cheese for you. Separation of calf from mother is extremely traumatic. Both the cow and calf bellow and show obvious signs of distress when they are separated, often continuing for several days, leaving those within earshot in no doubt that it is a harrowing experience for both.
  • The calf that was taken from its mother is slaughtered for veal. (Yes, the dairy industry fuels the veal industry.)
  • Many cows are physically exhausted after 2-3 lactation periods, at which point they are sent to slaughter and end up in “low quality” beef products like ground beef, canned goods, and baby food. If you think no animals are being slaughtered as a result of dairy, you are completely wrong.
  • Cheese isn’t just a disaster for the cows, it’s also a disaster for you. One cup of diced cheddar has a whopping 532 calories, 385 of which come from fat. That includes 28 grams of saturated fat, which is 139% the recommended total daily value. To all that fat, you can add 139 mg of cholesterol and 820 mg of sodium.
  • And forget about being vegan – many cheeses aren’t even vegetarian. Rennet, which is used to curdle the milk into cheese is a stomach enzyme scraped from the stomachs of slaughtered cows. (Vegetarian rennets do exist – synthesized in a lab, no doubt – but it is difficult to to know which cheeses use which kind.)
  • A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people. That means California’s 1.4 million dairy cows produce as much waste as 28–56 million people. Millions of gallons of liquefied feces and urine seep into the environment contaminating rivers and groundwater, killing millions of fish, and delivering antibiotics and hormones into our water sources.

Dropping cheese from your diet should just be a natural extension of dropping the meat because whatever reasons you have for giving up meat hold true for giving up cheese (animal welfare, health, environment). To quote No Meat Athlete, “All it takes to stop completely is a decision.”

—–

*In order to be fully honest, I must confess:

I eat strictly vegan at home, but I’ll sometimes eat vegetarian when eating out or at other people’s homes.

At restaurants, I choose a vegan option if there is one, or I’ll request simple modifications to veganize a dish (I’ll have the chalupa, hold the cheese), but sometimes there isn’t a straightforward vegan option and I’ll choose a vegetarian one instead. (While Austin is extremely vegetarian-friendly, it’s not entirely vegan-friendly.) I also do not scrutinize waiters about ingredients (do you use butter or margarine?). And, I hate to admit it, but I occasionally order items knowing full well that they contain dairy (ahem, desserts).

At friends’ and family’s houses, I’m simply not comfortable asking them to prepare me a vegan meal. I find that people are extremely willing to make me vegetarian meals, as this is a request that everyone understands and respects. But once the word “vegan” comes out, I can immediately sense their intimidation. Even though veganism is only 2 ingredients away from vegetarianism (dairy and eggs), people interpret it as “extreme” and quickly become overwhelmed by the idea of being able to make a vegan meal. So it’s my personal decision (at least for now) to request vegetarian, rather than vegan meals, if I am a guest.

For me, this results in about 2 or 3 non-vegan meals a week. It’s something I’m not especially proud of, but it’s what works for me and my lifestyle at the moment.

**Most of the bulleted facts are from here or here.

____________________

Breakfast: Bean and potato taco from the cafeteria at work

Lunch: Veggie Max sub from Subway
Dinner: Sloppy Joes with Meatless Crumbles and Manwich

Recap of Dr. Oz’s Veganism Show

After being disappointed by Oprah’s veganism show, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dr. Oz’s veganism show, which aired yesterday…

IT WAS AMAZING!

Dr. Oz featured the documentary Forks Over Knives, which will be in theaters in May. The movie is based on the research from The China Study, which is a very comprehensive study on how diet not only effects health, but also how specific diet changes can prevent, reverse, and eliminate heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Here’s the Forks Over Knives preview: [If you get these posts through email, you’ll have to click over to the website to watch the video.]

The bottom line of the Forks Over Knives movie, The China Study book, and Dr. Oz’s show is this:

By eliminating three things from your diet, you can eliminate cancer and heart disease.

1. Eliminate Meat

Dr. Colin Campbell, PhD, one of the authors of The China Study explains, “We found that you could turn on and turn off the development of cancer, the progression of cancer, by nutritional means. We found that when protein is consumed in excess of the amount that’s needed, it turns it on. You take it away, it turns it off. And the protein we were using was an animal-based protein. Plant-protein didn’t do that.”

Then Dr. Neal Barnard, head of the Physican’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), elaborates, “And by the way, when I say ‘Don’t eat meat,’ I mean not just red meat. We’re throwing out the chicken, we’re throwing out the fish, we’re also throwing out the eggs, and the animal products in general.”

When Dr. Oz questions “throwing out the fish?” Dr. Barnard responds by explaining, “People think, ‘Fish have Omega-3 and that’s good.’ True enough. But most of the fat in fish is not Omega-3. Most of the fat in fish is a mixture of various kinds that are just completely unnecessary for the body and all they basically do is fatten our thighs. Fish also has cholesterol, and it doesn’t have what you need. It doesn’t have fiber, it doesn’t have vitamin C, it doesn’t have those healing properties.”

“So where do we get our protein from?” Dr. Oz asks. To which Dr. Barnard replies, “There’s protein in whole grains. Here I’ve got quinoa, amaranth, millet. All the whole grains are really good protein sources. Nuts as well. I’ve got walnuts, pistachios, almonds. But really the protein champions are the bean group. I’ve got pintos, black beans, kidney beans. They not only have a lot of protein in them, but they also have something else. They have soluble fiber that lowers your cholesterol.”

And Dr. Oz notes that these are all inexpensive sources of protein. He also says to take a multi-vitamin that includes B-12 because we’d normally get B-12 from meat.

2. Eliminate Dairy

Dr. Barnard explains, “It’s not just milk. When you take at look at cheese, yogurt, all the dairy products, they’re actually a bigger contributor to saturated fat, that’s the bad fat, bigger than meat. But it’s easy to get good nutrition without dairy products.”

“What about calcium, potassium, and vitamin D?” asks Dr. Oz. To which Dr. Barnard replies, “Green leafy vegetables are loaded with calcium. I’ve got broccoli – broccoli doesn’t want to brag, but it’s 30% protein, it’s got a lot of highly absorbable calcium – look at kale, collards, Brussels sprouts. Potassium: fruit, it’s a wonderful source. And vitamin D, the real source of vitamin D is sunlight on your skin. That’s the natural source. Now there is vitamin D in milk, but most of that is just added at the factory, it’s not natural. And if you get soy milk, rice milk, almond milk, oat milk, they add vitamin D to those as well.”

3. Eliminate Processed Foods (including Olive Oil)

Processed foods include junk food and refined grains (white rice, white pasta, white bread, etc.) Dr. Oz asks what to eat instead of the processed foods. Dr. Barnard says to go for whole grain pastas and whole grain breads. And for snacks, go for seeds and fruit. Then he says, “This may surprise you a little bit, but I consider oil to be a refined food. If you think about it, where do you get olive oil from? There’s no faucet on the olive tree. You take the olives and remove all the fiber, all the pulp, and concentrate the oil. And people then take it and go ‘glug, glug, glug’ all over their salad, all over their pasta, and they’re gaining weight and they’re wondering why. It’s ’cause all the fat you’re packing into the diet. So, instead, my salad is topped with a little balsamic vinegar, or just take a lemon and spritz it over the top. Delicious.”

They then show a quick, easy salad dressing that doesn’t use oil (because Dr. Oz thinks that removing oil from salad dressings will be the hardest part for most people): Thyme + lemon juice + garlic.

Dr. Oz says that this will not just change your life, it could save it.

Also featured on the show, and in the move Forks Over Knives, is Rip Esselstyn, firefighter and author of The Engine 2 Diet, a book that chronicles the amazing health changes experienced by a group of Austin firefighters who adopt this diet. Esselstyn notes, “If a firehouse in Austin, TX can do this, any house in America can do this!”

And I’d like to note that not once was the word “vegan” ever used during the whole show. Dr. Oz also stressed that this is not a “diet” – it’s a way of eating that you should be following all the time.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with frozen strawberries & blueberries, a banana, and almond milk

Lunch: Korean veggie taco from Chi’lantro

Dinner: Veggie Flatbread (aka cheeseless pizza) with tomato, spinach, and artichoke hearts. One of my favorites!!

What Are We Eating?

I loved this infographic from visualeconomics.com.

And I’m completely floored by the amount of non-cheese dairy! What are people eating so much of that is making up this huge section? Ice cream? Yogurt? (Oh those poor cows.*)
american-average-food-consumption

Mercy For Animals recently released undercover footage from a Texas farm that raises dairy cows. It is one of the most miserable things I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, this type of thing is widespread throughout the dairy and meat industries. When you purchase diary, you support this.

Opt for dairy alternatives like almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, or rice milk. Try soy yogurt and soy ice cream, or coconut milk ice cream. They are all just as tasty, and they prevent the cruelty shown in this video.

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Breakfast: Toast with peanut butter and a cup of applesauce
Lunch: Black bean tacos from Taco Cabana
Dinner: Pasta with olive oil, garlic, spinach, tomato, and broccoli

Pumping Iron

In the past couple of weeks I’ve coincidentally had a few people ask me about iron in a vegetarian/vegan diet, so here’s the full scoop on iron.

Why is iron important?

Iron is critical to the formation of red blood cells. Chronic lack of iron eventually leads to anemia (low red blood cell count). Anemia can cause headaches, fatigue, and decreased immunity. Anemia can be diagnosed by a simple blood test.

Types of dietary iron

There are two types of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells. Heme iron is found in meat (because of the blood). Iron in plants is arranged in a different chemical structure, and is called nonheme iron. This is also the form of iron added to iron-enriched and iron-fortified foods. Heme iron is absorbed by the body more easily than nonheme iron, but most dietary iron is nonheme iron. You do not need to have both types, so long as you get enough total iron.

How much iron do you need?

These are the Recommended Daily Values from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC):

Infants and children
• Younger than 6 months: 0.27 milligrams per day (mg/day)
• 7 months to 1 year: 11 mg/day
• 1 to 3 years: 7 mg/day
• 4 to 8 years: 10 mg/day

Males
• 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
• 14 to 18 years: 11 mg/day
• Age 19 and older: 8 mg/day

Females
• 9 to 13 years: 8 mg/day
• 14 to 18 years: 15 mg/day
• 19 to 50 years: 18 mg/day
• 51 and older: 8 mg/day
• Pregnant (any age): 27 mg/day
• Lactating (any age) : 9-10 mg/day

Vegan sources of iron

Soybeans (1/2 cup): 4.4 mg
Pumpkin seeds (1 ounce): 4.2 mg
Quinoa (4 ounces): 4 mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp): 4 mg
Tomato paste (4 ounces): 3.9 mg
White beans (1/2 cup) 3.9 mg
Tofu (1/2 cup): 3.4 mg
Spinach (1/2 cup): 3.2 mg
Dried peaches (6 halves): 3.1 mg
Lentils (1/2 cup): 3.3 mg
Prune juice (1 cups): 3 mg
Kidney beans (1/2 cup): 2.6 mg
Lima beans (1/2 cup): 2.3 mg
Navy beans (1/2 cup): 2.3 mg
Dried prunes (10 prunes): 2 mg
Black beans (1/2 cup): 1.8 mg
Pinto beans (1/2 cup): 1.8 mg
Raisins (1/2 cup): 1.5 mg
Whole wheat bread (1 slice): 0.9 mg

Also, you can find many iron-fortified foods, especially breakfast foods like cereals, oatmeal, and grits.

Tips for better iron absorption

Although nonheme iron is more difficult to absorb, there are some things you can do to increase your iron absorption.

  • Vitamin C aids in iron absorption, so combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods (Examples: Add mandarin oranges or strawberries to a salad with spinach and chickpeas. Drink a glass of OJ with your iron-fortified cereal. Eat some asparagus alongside tofu.)
  • Coffee and tea hinder iron absorption, so avoid drinking them with meals (or immediately after) if you have low iron levels
  • Calcium also hinders the absorption of iron, so avoid eating calcium-rich foods with iron-rich foods if your iron is low
  • Cooking in iron pots will actually leech some of the iron out of the pot and into your food (in a good way)

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Breakfast: Helen’s Kitchen Vegetarian Ground Beef and Veggie burrito (yes, for breakfast)
Lunch: Veggie sandwich from Jimmy John’s (sans cheese)
Dinner: Soy chorizo tacos and homemade salsa

Ground Beef: Cook The Shit Out Of It… Literally

Feb 5, 2011: American Food Service recalls 3,170 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Jan 8, 2011: Columbus Meat Market recalls 780 pounds of beef patties due to E. coli contamination

Dec 31, 2010: First Class Foods Inc. recalls 34,373 pounds of organic ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Aug 30, 2010: Cargill Meat recalls 8,500 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Aug 6, 2010: Valley Meat Co. recalls 1 million pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Jul 7, 2010: Rocky Mountain Natural Meats recalls 66,776 pounds of ground bison due to E. coli contamination

Jun 24, 2010: South Gate Meat Company recalls 35,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

May 15, 2010: Montclair Meat Co. recalls approximately 53,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Apr 21, 2010: Beltex Corporation recalls 135,500 pounds of beef trim products due to E. coli contamination

Feb 3, 2010: West Missouri Beef recalls 14,000 pounds of fresh boneless beef products due to E. coli contamination

January 19, 2010: Huntington Meat Packing Inc.recalls 864,000 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

Jan 11, 2010: Adams Farm Slaughterhouse recalls 2,574 pounds of ground beef due to E. coli contamination

(And don’t even get me started on the Salmonella and Listeria recalls!)

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More than you ever wanted to know about E. coli

Intestines are filled with bacteria. This is a fact that affects just about every creature with a gut, primitive or complicated. Most of the bacteria there are natural residents, helping to digest the food. Some of the bacteria there come from the water we drank or the food we ate. And much of this bacteria just passes quietly through. But sometimes, a bacteria that doesn’t belong in the digestive tract will end up there and wreak havoc. For humans, Escherichia coli O157:H7 is one of these. (The colon is where the ‘coli’ part of the name comes from and the ‘Escherichia’ part comes from the German scientist who described it in the early 1900’s. The ‘O’ part refers to the type of cell wall it has and the ‘H’ part to the flagella.)

A variety of different strains of E. coli live in the intestines of both humans and animals, and are a natural part of the digestive process, but different species carry different strains of E. coli. The O157:H7 strain is carried by cows, but not by humans. When this strain enters the digestive tract of a human, it can cause abdominal pain and cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal bleeding, and in severe cases, damage to vital organs such as the kidney, pancreas, and brain, and there is even a possibility of death. (The Centers for Disease Control estimate about 250 deaths per year due to E. coli infections. Here is a NY Times article about a woman who was paralyzed by an E. coli-tainted hamburger.)

The bad news on ground beef

Ground beef is the number one culprit for E. coli infection in people. This begs the question, why is ground beef laden with bacteria that resides in cow colons? One of the first posts I wrote on this blog, What’s Really In Your Hamburger, answers this question bluntly: There is shit in the meat.

E. coli is spread by feces. All animals (including humans) that carry E. coli shed excess E. coli bacteria in their feces. And ingesting cow feces contaminated with O157:H7 delivers the dangerous strain right to your gut.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

Infections start when you swallow [E. coli]—in other words, when you get tiny (usually invisible) amounts of human or animal feces in your mouth. Unfortunately, this happens more often than we would like to think about. Exposures that result in illness include consumption of contaminated food, consumption of unpasteurized (raw) milk, consumption of water that has not been disinfected, contact with cattle, or contact with the feces of infected people. Sometimes the contact is pretty obvious (working with cows at a dairy or changing diapers, for example), but sometimes it is not (like eating an undercooked hamburger or a contaminated piece of lettuce).

Inside the slaughterhouse, E. coli contamination can happen at any step.  First of all, the cows come in covered in feedlot feces.  The hides must be very carefully removed to ensure that none of that feces touches the meat.  This is especially difficult for trimmings, which are sliced from the outer surface of the carcass, which are used in ground beef.

At the gutting station, when the intestines are cut out, it is common for them to spill open, dumping their contents (that would be feces) onto the conveyor belt, table, floor, or the meat.  (Ever seen the movie Fast Food Nation?) And, if at any point one cutter’s knife comes in contact with the bacteria, they can spread it down the line to numerous pieces of meat.

Even despite reassuring labels like “sirloin” or “top choice,” ground beef is an amalgamation of cheap, leftover cuts of meat from hundreds (yes, hundreds) of different cows. Many meat producers ship scraps to a central grinding location where ground beef is produced from cows all across the country (or sometimes even world). When ground beef is produced in this manner, there’s more of an opportunity for contamination. A single  contamination from one slaughterhouse will be mixed with the meat from all the other slaughterhouses and can contaminate thousands of pounds of ground beef.

Current US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations allow fecally contaminated meat to be passed at inspection so long as the “feces are not visible to the naked eye.” Prior to 1978, the USDA required condemnation of any carcass with visible fecal contamination. But now, the USDA allows carcasses contaminated with visible feces to be “reprocessed,” rather than condemned.

What you can do

A 2001 survey by the Physicians Comittee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), found that 84% of Americans do not know that feces are the originating source for food borne pathogens. (Feces are also the source of salmonella, listeria, and campylobacter.) Thus, most consumers do not realize that when they get sick from eating contaminated foods, it is most likely because they ate feces. (Produce contaminated with E. coli, salmonella, listeria, or campylobacter is also a result of the produce coming in contact with manure.) The meat industry has cleverly hidden the link between food borne pathogens and shit. Consumers are led to believe that pathogens are an unavoidable part of meat products, but this is untrue.

So now that you know, should you still choose to eat shit-laced meat, make sure that you cook it thoroughly. The heat kills the bacteria (but you’ll still eat the feces).

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Breakfast: Fresh grapefruit (from the CSA!)

Lunch: Veggie rolls (with tofu) from How Do You Roll?

Dinner: Mixed veggies (frozen), blue potatoes (my favorite potatoes!), and My Favorite Things Salad

Quote of the Day Friday #1

I love quotes! I can’t really explain why. I guess I just like how people who have a way with words can boil a really complicated thing down to a single sentence or two.

Through all my reading about vegetarianism, I’ve come across countless quotes that I love. I occasionally incorporate them in my posts if they are relevant, but there are just too many to work them all in to posts. So, I’m now declaring Fridays on Powered By Produce to be “Quote of the Day Fridays.”

Tonight I’m going to see one of my favorite food activists, Michael Pollan, speak! I’m so excited! (Ed’s not quite as thrilled, but I’m dragging him along anyways.) So in honor of my excitement for tonight’s talk, let’s kick off Quote of the Day Friday with not one, but two, (related) Pollan quotes:

“The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them. ” – Michael Pollan

“What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization: to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick!” – Michael Pollan

(Also be sure to check out my list of quotes from famous vegetarians.)

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Breakfast: Whole wheat tortilla rolled with melted Veggie Shreds cheese
Lunch: Veggie rolls from H.E.B. (that’s a grocery store here in TX)
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Dinner: Cheeseless quesadillas – I used hummus instead of cheese! (I’ll likely post this as a Meatless Monday at some point.)

Scandal: The USDA’s Conflict Over Cheese

This front-page New York Times expose on how the government is pushing dairy (while at the same time supposedly shunning saturated fat and obesity) is causing quite a stir. Dairy Management, a marketing and promotion agency created by the USDA to push more dairy down our throats, is doing an excellent job. According to the NY Times article, “Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat.

Agriculture Department data shows that cheese is a major reason the average American diet contains too much saturated fat. The department’s nutrition committee issued a new standard this summer calling for saturated fat not to exceed 7% of total calories (about 15.6 grams in a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet). Yet the average intake has remained about 11-12% of total calories for at least 15 years.

cheese-consumption

I’ve previously mentioned (here and there) the blatant conflict of interest within the USDA and this is just another glaring example. The very same organization that creates nutrition guidelines is also working on behalf of the dairy, beef, pork, and poultry industries to sell more of their unhealthy, saturated-fat-laden, cholesterol-filled, products. From the NY Times article:

Dairy Management runs the largest of 18 Agriculture Department programs that market beef, pork, potatoes and other commodities. Their budgets are largely paid by levies imposed on farmers, but Dairy Management, which reported expenditures of $136 million last year, also received $5.3 million that year from the Agriculture Department to promote dairy sales overseas.

By comparison, the department’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which promotes healthy diets, has a total budget of $6.5 million.

And so it is very clear to see where the USDA’s priorities lie. But, where the heck does Dairy Management’s $140 million budget go?

Questionable research and false advertising

“Great news for dieters,” Dairy Management said in an advertisement, “Clinical studies show that people on a reduced-calorie diet who consume three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day can lose significantly more weight and more body fat than those who just cut calories.”

After spending millions of dollars on research to promote the notion that people could lose weight by consuming more dairy products, researchers — one paid by Dairy Management itself — found no such weight-loss benefits.  Even with absolutely no evidence to support their weight loss claims, the campaign went on for four years!

Finally, in 2007, the the Federal Trade Commission acted on a two-year-old petition by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group that challenged the campaign’s claims, by pulling the ads.

“If you want to look at why people are fat today, it’s pretty hard to identify a contributor more significant than this meteoric rise in cheese consumption,” -Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Partnering with corporations to push more dairy down our throats

Dairy Management has created several partnerships:

  • – Cutting a deal with Domino’s Pizza to include 40% more cheese on each pizza. Other pizza chains are now doing the same.  “More cheese on pizza equals more cheese sales,” Mr. Gallagher, the Dairy Management chief executive, wrote in a guest column in a trade publication last year. “In fact, if every pizza included one more ounce of cheese, we would sell an additional 250 million pounds of cheese annually.”
  • – Partnering with McDonald’s to launch McCafe specialty coffees that use up to 80 percent milk, and three new burgers with two slices of cheese per sandwich.  The result?  An additional 6 million pounds of cheese sold.
  • – Highlighting Pizza Hut’s Cheesy Bites pizza, Wendy’s “dual Double Melt sandwich concept,” and Burger King’s Cheesy Angus Bacon cheeseburger and TenderCrisp chicken sandwich. “Both featured two slices of American cheese, a slice of pepper jack and a cheesy sauce,” the department said. These efforts, the department reported, helped generate a “cheese sales growth of nearly 30 million pounds.”
  • – Partnering with General Mills’ Yoplait to develop yogurt chip technology that requires 8 ounces of milk.

All-out marketing campaigns

  • – Dairy Management, through the “Got Milk?” campaign, has been successful at slowing the decline in milk consumption, particularly focusing on schoolchildren.
  • – It has also relentlessly marketed cheese and pushed back against the Agriculture Department’s suggestion that people eat only low-fat or fat-free varieties.
  • – Maintaining momentum for single-serve milk by offering white and flavored milk in single-serve, plastic, resealable bottles.
  • – Financing studies on promising opportunities, including the promotion of chocolate milk as a sports recovery drink and the use of cheese to entice children into eating healthy foods like string beans.

And through all this shadiness, not only are our waistlines expanding, our arteries clogging, and our cancer rates rising, but we are also ingesting more dangerous hormones through dairy, dumping more and more toxic waste into the ground and our waterways, and exploiting and abusing more dairy cows in worse ways than ever before.

What you can do

It’s really very simple: use dairy alternatives. Soy, almond, rice, and hemp milk not only taste great, but they’re also suitable substitutes in recipes – yes, even in baking! Vegan sour creams, cream cheeses, and grated parmesan don’t have any cholesterol, contain no hormones, and are cruelty free.  And, ok, I’ll be the first to admit that vegan cheese doesn’t exactly taste like the real thing, but especially in dishes that don’t require a whole lot of cheese (like topping chalupas for example), they’re really not that bad – I promise. (You could even try mixing half real cheese with half vegan cheese.)

Be conscious of what you’re consuming and do your part to stay healthy, be wary of ridiculous marketing and promotion campaigns, help our environment, and have compassion for our fellow creatures.

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Breakfast: Amy’s Bean & Rice Burrito
Lunch: Mexican rice, black beans, soy chorizo, vegan cheese, and tabasco. It may not look real pretty, but it was real tasty!
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Dinner: Tofu pad thai at a new Chinese restaurant that I don’t remember the name of…

You Are What THEY Eat

We all know the old saying, “You are what you eat.” And it’s true. What we eat literally becomes a part of us. What we eat doesn’t just go in our gut, but it ends up in our blood, our veins, our muscle tissue, our fat deposits, our brain, our hair and fingernails, our organs, our skin, and our bones. [For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected pesticides in blood and urine samples from 95.6% of Americans tested. This is why it’s so important to be conscious of what we eat!]

It’s easy to see that what we eat effects our bodies, and much of it ends up staying in our system for quite some time (like pesticides, drugs, even corn). And it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that the same is true for animals – what they eat becomes a part of their body and much of it stays in their system for quite some time (like pesticides, drugs, even corn). So when you eat meat, you’re also eating what that animal ingested. You are what THEY eat.

The recall of over 500 million eggs due to potential salmonella contamination brought to light the crowded, filthy, and utterly unappetizing living conditions of most egg laying hens in the US. What was not as widely reported was the likely cause of the outbreak: contaminated chicken feed.

Meat, fish, egg, and dairy companies do not have to tell us anything about the feeds they use. Feed ingredients are closely guarded “proprietary trade secrets.” Even the farmers often do not know what is in the feed – they simply serve up whatever is provided to them by the meat company with which they are contracted.

[This is another subject entirely, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever really explained how the farmer-to-meat corporation relationship works. Basically, big companies like Tyson will contract farmers to raise chickens exclusively for them. Tyson will provide things like feed and will actually even provide the baby chicks! But the general consensus is that the farmers are getting royally screwed in these contracts.]

A closer look at what’s actually being fed to animals reveals a lot of bizarre stuff that most of us would not want in our food chain. (This is most likely the real reason feed ingredients are such carefully protected secrets.)

What They Eat

1. Corn and Soy
Because of a series of political events (including government farm subsidies and the Farm Bill), corn and soy have become incredibly cheap and therefore are the base of livestock feed. Livestock consumes 60% of the corn and 47% of the soy produced in the US.

The problem with feeding corn and soy to livestock is that their digestive systems are not designed to handle corn and soy. This feed especially causes problems in ruminants (like cows, sheep, and goats) but it also impacts pigs, chickens, and even fish! (Yes, they are now feeding corn to fish. Please agree with me that this is incredibly UNNATURAL.)

These animals can not properly digest corn and soy, so the chewed up food sits in their stomachs for too long without passing through quickly, as grass would. This results in fermentation acids accumulating in the stomach, which causes painful ulcers, and can lead to infections and abscesses in the liver, not to mention excessive indigestion and drooling/frothing.

Plus, the accumulation of undigested corn and soy in the intestines causes the growth of E. coli in the digestive tract (you know, that stuff that can kill you if you don’t cook your hamburger well enough? Oh, and PS – the E. coli gets from the cow’s intestine to your hamburger because there is shit in the meat.)

But these issues are outweighed because not only is corn & soy cheap, it is also fattening due to the way it is (improperly) digested. Prior to industrialized farming, steers were 4-5 years old at slaughter. Today, they are 14-16 months. You can’t take a beef calf from a birth weight of 80 pounds to slaughter weight of 1,200 pounds in a little more than a year on grass. It takes enormous quantities of corn, protein (see #3), and growth hormones (see #2).

You are what they eat: A corn based diet is not just unhealthy for the animals, but it is also unhealthy for the humans eating them. Besides the significant increase in E. coli, corn fed animals develop a “marbled” flesh: saturated fat woven into their muscles. And because the USDA is out to protect the farmers (not the consumers), their beef grading system is set up to reward this intra-muscular fat marbling with a “Grade A” stamp.

And just as pesticide residue is detected in over 95% of tested humans, animals subsisting on corn and soy ingest massive amounts of pesticides. When you eat meat, you also eat the pesticides that have accumulated in their bodies.

2. Drugs
Antibiotics and hormones are used to combat the negative health issues caused by a corn and soy based diet (the indigestion, ulcers, and E. coli in the intestine) and to repel the effects of very cramped, unsanitary conditions, where diseases thrive and spread quickly. And, of course, antibiotics and hormones speed up growth.

You are what they eat: Antibiotic and hormone residues are found in the meat, eggs, and dairy humans consume. And not only that, but traces of these drugs can also be found in vegetables that are fertilized with manure from drugged animals. And on top of that, human water sources have been contaminated with these drugs due to feedlot water runoff. And by the way, consuming these hormones is linked to cancer (especially breast, prostate, and colon).

Another very serious issue is that these antibiotics are always added to the feed and water (no matter what). This practice of “nontherapeutic use of antibiotics” causes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can effect humans (ahem, Swine Flu). Antibiotic resistance is a very serious public health problem that already costs the US economy billions of dollars each year, but even scarier than that, it could suddenly wipe out lots and lots of people. The World Health Organization calls antibiotic resistance one of the three greatest threats to human health.

3. Meat from the same and other species, diseased animals, euthanized cats and dogs, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, brains, and organs
Another way to fatten the animals as quickly as possible is to add “animal protein products” to the feed. This is another ingenious way for factory farms to cut their costs: feed the carcasses of slaughtered animals back to the live animals, including brains, organs, skin, feathers, hair, and blood. In addition to inducing cannibalism, animal feed can also legally contain dead horses, road kill, and euthanized cats and dogs. I am not making this up people!

You are what they eat: The spread of Mad Cow Disease was a direct result of feeding cattle parts to cattle. The US government has since put restrictions on the parts of cattle that can be fed back to cattle. Cows can no longer be fed cow brains, spinal cords and other central nervous system tissues, but they can still be fed cow blood and other cow parts. And cows can be fed rendered pigs, chickens, and turkeys that have been fed cow brains, spinal cords, and nervous systems. There are no restrictions on feeding rendered pigs to pigs or rendered chickens to chickens.

4. Manure and Other Animal Waste
It is common practice to add cattle manure, swine waste, and poultry litter to the feed as additional “animal protein products.” And the manure/waste/litter served up as food is allowed to contain contain dirt, rocks, sand, wood, and other such contaminants.

You are what they eat: Not only does this waste contain antibiotics and hormones that were fed to the animals, but it can also come from animals that ate rendered cow parts, and then be fed to cows, possibly enabling the spread of Mad Cow Disease. Plus, it’s just plain gross.

5. Plastic
Many animals need roughage to move food through their digestive systems, but since they are not receiving the necessary fiber from their corn-soy-“protein” based diet, plastic pellets are used to simulate plant-based roughage.

You are what they eat: Ya, so I’m not really sure that the plastic they eat directly effects you, but it’s pretty screwed up that we’ve messed with their diet so much that we have to add plastic for them just to be able to digest their food.

What you can do

If you’re eating meat, eggs, or dairy look for these labels:

Organic – No antibiotics nor hormones were used. An absolute ban on using rendered animal carcasses in the feed. No pesticides were used on the food they were fed. However, many organic-raised animals are still fed corn & soy.

Grass Fed – Not fed corn & soy. However, these animals can still be given hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.

Vegetarian Fed – Not fed rendered animal parts. However, these animals still eat corn & soy, antibiotics & hormones,  and pesticides.

*Grass fed used in conjunction with Organic makes for the best option.*

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Breakfast: A bean and Veggie Shreds cheese taco

Lunch: We had a potluck at work today! I work with a bunch of dudes, so our potluck consisted of: a bucket of KFC, brisket and sausage from Bill Miller’s, frozen eggrolls, and sausage calzones.  Luckily, there were actually a few veg items there too: I made these mini-burritos, there was also a potato-cheese casserole, a salad, and a 7 layer dip (no ground beef, thank goodness!), oh and a pumpkin pie.

Dinner: Artichoke, olive, and tomato pizza. I made mine cheeseless.
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