Category Archives: Thoughts & Ramblings

5 Things To Change Your Views on Eating Animals

1.Try to imagine how many animals are killed for food.

In the US alone, over 10 billion (with a ‘B’) land animals and over 53 billion marine animals are killed for food every year. That’s over 63 BILLION animals killed per year for food in the US alone. Can you even comprehend that number? No, you can’t.

Every second, 300 living beings are slaughtered for food in the US. Americans consume a million animals per hour.

The average American meat eater is responsible for about 200 animal deaths per year. Over a 79 year lifetime, that’s 15,800 slaughtered animals per meat eater. That’s a really huge number. Think about it.

2. Understand that heart disease is entirely preventable (and reversible).

Heart attack is the number one killer in the US. In other words, heart attack is the most likely reason you’ll die.

Yet, heart disease is ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE! Heart attacks are caused by arterial blockage, which is caused by cholesterol. Cholesterol is ONLY found in animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs). Plant foods do not have cholesterol. None.

clogged-arteries1Research indicates that a cholesterol level below 150 will essentially make you heart-attack-proof. The average American’s cholesterol level is 200. The average vegetarian’s cholesterol level is 161. The average vegan’s cholesterol level is 133.

Twice as many people die from “silent heart attacks,” or heart attacks with no warning, than those with angina, or chest pain, to warn them. You can stop and even reverse arterial blockage by not eating animal products. Change your diet before it’s too late.

3. Stop wondering where vegans get their protein.

The way Americans talk about protein, you’d think protein deficiency was the number one health risk! Guess what? It’s not. In fact, it’s not even on the list of ailments doctors are worried about in any country where basic caloric needs are being met. You’d have to be suffering from starvation (or be on a really terrible crash diet) to acquire a protein deficiency.

The official government-recommended daily amount of protein is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. The average American consumes twice this amount daily, which actually puts most Americans at risk for diseases caused by over-consumption of protein. Dr. Alona Pulde & Dr. Matthew Lederman who speak in the documentary Forks Over Knives said, “We’ve never treated a single patient with protein deficiency; yet the majority of patients we see are suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses directly resulting from trying to get enough protein.”

Nearly all unrefined foods contain protein (even fruit) and vegans have no trouble acquiring the recommended daily amount. This website shows a sample vegan menu and how easy it is to get daily protein on a vegan diet.
vegan protein

4. Give a damn about our planet.

Meat is one of the worst things we’re doing to this planet. The livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire world’s transportation industry combined! Researchers at the University of Chicago found that going vegan is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a standard American car to a Toyota Prius.

If every American ate meatless for just one day per week, the effect would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road. The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook states that “refusing meat is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.”

carvmeatAmericans eat more than double the global meat consumption average. At about 5% of the world’s population, we raise & kill nearly 15% of the world’s livestock total.

Compared with buying a Hybrid vehicle, or buying Energy Star appliances, or installing insulation in your house to reduce heating leakage, or making a tedious commute on the bus or bike every day, or basically any other green thing you could possibly do, eating pasta on a night when you’d otherwise have made fajitas is pretty much the easiest, and it could have the largest impact if you did it just once a week! Given that eggplant parmesan, bean burritos, and vegetable stir-fry are all delicious, this is not the world’s most onerous commitment. For the sake of the planet, don’t ignore the impact of what’s on your plate.

5. Stop telling yourself that there’s a difference between the animals in your home and the animals on your plate.

We balk at the thought of eating dogs, cats, or horses. But why is it ok to eat pigs, chickens, and cows?

Pigs are as smart as dogs (some scientists even say they’re smarter than dogs, chimpanzees, and 3 year old kids). They learn tasks very quickly. They are social animals that form close bonds with each other and they love cuddling.

_46706100_pigcat Cows have best friends and get stressed when they are separated from them. They cry for days when their babies are taken from them (as happens in the dairy & meat industries). And they get excited when they learn something new!

2237878968_0d35634851Chickens have out-performed human toddlers on tasks involving counting and self-control. Chickens are very social animals and show empathy for their chicks. They have a complex language with up to 30 different chicken calls, that we can distinguish, that each have specific meanings.

450Your dog or cat is no different than a pig or cow or chicken in terms of their intelligence, their ability to bond, and their emotional capability. All animals have the capacity to feel pain, suffering, and fear. Slaughtering pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats, fish, or any animal, is no different than slaughtering dogs or cats. It’s just not.

 

I Know This Much Is True

It's a vegan cupcake... obviously.

It’s a vegan cupcake… obviously.

This March is my six-year veggiversary!

On my two-year veggiversary, I shared why I went vegetarian – if you haven’t read it yet, please do.

This year I want to reflect on what I’ve learned in my six vegetarian years:

1. Doing good feels good.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Going veg feels amazing! It’s not just physically feeling great, it’s emotionally feeling great too. Making a conscious and daily choice to do something that reduces suffering, benefits the planet, and is good for your health, has a hugely positive impact on your overall well-being. Going vegetarian is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

2. Condemning others doesn’t help the cause.
It’s really easy for vegetarians to get up on a high and righteous horse (especially vegetarians who write blogs, ahem). But I’ve learned in my six vegetarian years that vegetarianism isn’t about condemning others. It is simply counterproductive to everyone involved for vegetarians to condemn meat-eaters (or vegans to condemn vegetarians). Obviously, pissing people off is very poor way to go about changing their minds – it doesn’t do vegetarianism any good, and it sure as hell doesn’t help any animals.

3. No one is perfect.
Vegetarianism is not about perfection. Vegetarianism is about living a compassionate and healthy lifestyle and doing the best you can to choose kindness over cruelty. Vegetarians (or aspiring vegetarians) shouldn’t beat themselves up about one slip-up. Just get back on track and keep going. Vegetarians shouldn’t hassle someone for only doing Meatless Mondays (instead of meatless every day), at least these people are doing something. And non-vegetarians shouldn’t expect vegetarians to be perfect. It is quite unnecessary to “catch” a vegetarian every time they own a leather product. I assure you, they are already very aware of it. Instead of bullying each other, or ourselves, for not being perfect, why don’t we extend our compassion to everyone and be supportive instead?

4. You are not alone.
Being in a minority can be isolating. As a vegetarian or vegan, you will no doubt be the brunt of every bacon joke, be stereotyped as a preachy hippie, and get into some heated discussions with defensive meat-eaters. And at times, it can become very overwhelming and disheartening. That’s why it’s important to interact with like-minded people. Having people in your life that share your philosophical beliefs, or people who will always have your back (whether they’re vegetarian themselves or not), makes it easier to face whatever the non-veg world throws at you. Spend time with friends and family who are supportive of your choice to go veg. Find (or start!) a vegetarian meet-up group in your city. And participate in the online community. Follow vegan/vegetarian blogs, Facebook pages, and Pinterest pages. Just remember that there are lots of us out there and you are not alone!

5. The times, they are a-changin’.
Over the past six years, it has been absolutely beautiful to watch people’s attitudes toward meat change. In my personal life, seeing family and friends cut back on, or completely cut out meat has been one of the most rewarding experiences of this journey. I love that moment when someone makes the connection: realizes that what we’re doing to these animals is abhorrent; realizes that what they’re putting into their body is unhealthy; realizes that it really is pretty damn easy to leave the pepperoni off that pizza; realizes that every meal, they can make a powerful, meaningful choice. I’m so impressed and inspired by those in my life who have changed their eating habits, and I’m so humbled by those who have said I’ve helped them to do so. There is without a doubt, more public awareness of the issues with meat production and the health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets than there was six years ago. The mainstream media more often exposes the cruelty and filth in the meat industry and our current health crisis is undeniably linked to our terrible diets. More people are becoming informed. And as more people become informed, more people change. And if enough people change, so will the system. And I see it happening (albeit slowly at times) and it makes me hopeful.

 

 

 

Why We’re Having a Vegetarian Wedding

When we started the wedding planning, one of the first things I told Ed was that I wanted to have a vegetarian wedding. Luckily, he knows me well enough to know how important this is to me and he agreed to do it.

But I’ve come to find out (through jokes like, “Vegetarian wedding? Then I’ll be hiding hamburgers in my purse for your wedding!”) that not everyone else understands why this is important to me.

So here is why:

The main reason I’m vegetarian is because of animal welfare. Sure, the fact that it’s healthier and better for the environment is great, but the reason I went veg, and will stay veg, is the animals. When I think about what happens to those animals who are slaughtered, it makes my heart hurt.

Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. If I knew that my wedding was responsible for the painful deaths of hundreds of animals, it would make me feel AWFUL. Just the thought of us spending such a large amount of money on something so torturous makes me feel ill. I want it to be a joyous occasion for our guests and for ourselves. And I do not want my wedding to be the cause of horrific suffering. Plus, I think our wedding should reflect who we are, as a couple and as individuals, and vegetarianism is a big part of who I am.

It has absolutely NOTHING to do with me trying to force people to eat vegetarian. I’ve  been asked why we can’t just have a vegetarian option available, but serve meat for those who want it. And this is why: Because seeing that many dead, abused animals at my own wedding  would make me feel uncomfortable, guilty, sad. And I just don’t want feel like that at my own wedding.

(So don’t get all worked up about having to eat cheese enchiladas and black bean empanadas – oh the horror! – at our wedding.)

The Ag-Gag Bill

I feel like I haven’t written a real post in forever. But today’s news about Iowa passing the first “Ag-Gag” bill made me sick and I simply can’t keep quiet about this.

For those who are unfamiliar with the so-called “Ag-Gag” bill, it is legislation that makes it illegal to film undercover footage of animal abuse and unsanitary conditions on factory farms. Illegal. And punishable by years of jail time.

Just in case you don’t have this straight, allow me to further explain: The people abusing the animals do not go to jail. The person who films them doing it in order to expose them does.

This is one of the most infuriating pieces of legislation I’ve ever heard of. First of all, whistleblowing is a legally protected right in America. But we have just exempted the animal agriculture industry from public scrutiny via undercover video, the most significant way to expose cruelty and unsafe practices in the food industry. And we have now further limited the rights of agricultural workers (a group that already has so few legal rights to begin with).

But besides the legality of it, the intent of this law is what really makes me irate. It is obvious that this bill was passed to allow animal agriculture to continue its heinous, abusive practices without the public knowing about them. The Iowa lawmakers and ag industry representatives claim that the law was put in place to “protect the animals from outsiders who could bring in disease.” How a worker wearing a hidden camera poses more of a disease risk than a worker not wearing a hidden camera is a total mystery to me.  It is obvious that big industry and money drove this decision, instead of morality. How can anyone possibly think it’s ok to protect animal abusers?

At a point in time where the welfare of our food animals is just beginning to break into the public consciousness, this is such a huge step backwards. Just this month McDonald’s vowed to phase sow gestation crates out of their supply chain. Yet here we are making legislation to protect not only gestation crates, but also even more malicious and deliberate acts of animal abuse. What an awful move in the wrong direction.

Earlier this week I went to a talk by Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. He made it very clear just how contradictory our society is towards the treatment of animals (especially food animals). In this country two-thirds of people have pets, there are 80 million self-proclaimed wildlife-watchers, and there are over 20,000 animal protection groups. Just think about all that time, energy, and money that goes into loving animals! Yet every year, 9-10 billion (with a ‘B’) animals are slaughtered, and most of them are treated miserably and cruelly. Why do we not see the contradiction in our actions? Why do we have such a huge disconnect? And why do we divorce our moral values when it comes to economics?

I have to believe that slowly, eventually, our society will realize that what we are doing to these creatures is wrong. And I believe that when people look back on how awfully we treated these animals, they will be ashamed… of us.

“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, ‘What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?’” – Jonathan Safran Foer

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Breakfast: Evol tofu and spinach burrito
Lunch: Veggie ‘sushi’ wrap from How Do You Roll
Dinner: BLT sandwich with tempeh bacon, baked sweet potato fries, and salad

A Vegetarian Journey

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been posting much more than recipes lately. Or maybe you haven’t noticed. Either way, I’ve been boring myself with my lack of posts lately. But each time I sit down to write something new, I just can’t come up with the right topic, or the right words. It’s more than just writer’s block. I feel like I’ve lost my drive, my fire, my… anger.

I used to get so worked up about the cruelty, the unhealthiness, and the environmental destruction caused by the meat industry! But I no longer seem to work up the same kind of emotion that I used to about these things. I keep trying to figure out how I got from here and here to where I am now: at a loss for words.

Part of me thinks I’ve just become desensitized to it all. I suppose a few years of reading and writing about some of the most cruel acts imaginable will do that to a person. Sadly, I’m no longer shocked when I see an especially gruesome video of farm animal abuse because I’ve only come to expect it at this point. (Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s horrendous, but I just don’t react they same way anymore.)

Another part of me feels like I’ve simply said all I have to say about this. How many times can I repeat myself before running out of different ways to say the same thing?

But part of me knows it’s actually because I’ve matured through various phases of this vegetarian journey, and have finally arrived at a point of acceptance.

The 5 Phases of My Vegetarian Journey

Changing your lifestyle because of a new set of beliefs (the belief that the way our food system treats animals is wrong) is a process, and looking back, I can now see that I went through some very distinct phases during this process.

1. Denial
Calling myself an “animal lover,” yet eating animals. Loving dogs, cats and horses, but funding the brutal killing of pigs, goats and cows. Tearing up when accidentally hitting a bird with my car, then chomping on chicken for dinner. Spending hours trying to rescue and save a baby squirrel, then scarfing down a hamburger minutes later. It makes no sense. Yet it all seemed so normal at the time. For 27 years, I was in complete denial about the contradictory nature of my actions.

2. Enlightenment
By chance, I stumbled across a book that taught me the truth, and I could hardly believe  how awful it was. That’s when the light bulb finally clicked on. I realized that my choice to eat meat was not only condoning, but also funding some of the worst animal abuse imaginable. And it made me sick that I was a part of this awful thing. Once you know how horrible the meat industry is, if you continue to eat meat then you are knowingly, consciously, supporting the animal abuse. I couldn’t in good conscience live that way, so I went vegetarian.

3. Action
In addition to changing my eating habits, I continued to read and learn more about vegetarianism. I learned about the health benefits, and the environmental impact, and quickly realized that vegetarianism not only saves animals, but it also saves our own health and our planet. I was feeling great, both physically and mentally, and I wanted to share this feeling and all of the information I was absorbing with everyone! I just knew that all I had to do was tell people the facts and it would be so obvious to them that vegetarianism was the best choice for themselves, the animals, and the planet, that of course they’d make the switch too! I was going to change the world through a blog!

4. Anger and frustration
Why isn’t this as obvious to everyone else as it is to me? Why aren’t more people appalled by what I’m telling them? Why aren’t the people who say they are appalled cutting back on their meat intake? Why aren’t the so-called “animal lovers” the first ones to go vegetarian? Why are the most unhealthy the most defensive about their diet? WHY DOESN’T ANYONE CARE? Is it really that hard to order a pizza with mushrooms instead of pepperoni? Do you honestly feel no guilt eating a hamburger when you know how awfully the cow suffered? How can you admit that you know the system is terrible, then continue to support it? You’re seriously telling me that you can’t commit to one vegetarian meal per week?! The more I tried to convince people, the more frustrated, angry, and sad I became at the level of indifference, the amount of irrational resistance, and the lack of courage in people to make a change for something they knew was right. And eventually, it all just became too much to handle.

5. Balance and Acceptance
After the mental overload, I backed off the activism for a while. This gave me some time to cool off, lose the anger, and realize that not everyone will process information in the same way that I do. Something that may seem obvious or easy to me is not necessarily seen that way by everyone else. I eased off the militant stance and adopted an “every little bit helps” approach. I not only changed my tone, but I completely changed my attitude. I realized that while most people are not going to go vegetarian, many people are open to eating less meat, and the best thing that I can do for the animals, the environment, and our own health, is to encourage and help those people. My goal now is to set a positive vegetarian example by providing useful information, delicious meatless meal ideas, and hopefully some inspiration as well. I’m trying to follow the advice of Ghandi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And the change I want to see in the world is compassion for ALL beings (vegetarian or not).

____________________
Breakfast: Evol spinach and tofu burrito
Lunch: Veggie plate at a BBQ restaurant (went with co-workers) – fried okra, mashed potatoes, garden salad, and peach cobbler
Dinner: Pasta with eggplant, brussels sprouts, spinach, olive oil, and garlic

Cognitive Dissonance

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
Leon Festinger, psychologist

I’ve always been fascinated by the brain and how it works, both physically (neurons and synapses) and psychologically. Most people are surprised to learn that I’ve studied the brain quite a bit, because I’m an engineer and don’t engineers just learn about wires and metal? But my area of study was Artificial Intelligence and in order to create artificial intelligence, one must understand natural intelligence, so I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject.

Recently, someone in my “Machine Intelligence and Cognition group” (we send each other articles about developments in AI, robotics, and neuroscience) sent an article titled “The Science of Self Delusion,” and I couldn’t help but see the direct application of this to vegetarianism.

It’s no secret that I’ve become frustrated in the past when people who have been presented the facts about meat (like the rampant animal abuse, the widespread environmental destruction, and the deadly health effects), CONTINUE TO EAT MEAT! But as I read the “Science of Self Delusion” article (which has nothing to do with vegetarianism), I quickly realized that I am not just trying to combat ignorance, gluttony, or self-interest, I am up against psychology as well.

Cognitive Dissonance

The quote above is from Leon Festinger, a psychologist best known for his Theory of Cognitive Dissonance which states that people will change their beliefs to fit their behavior, rather than changing their behavior to fit their beliefs.

This theory, unfortunately, is extremely applicable to vegetarianism. Everyone in their right mind would agree that the type of animal abuse that occurs in the meat industry is awful and that the environmental destruction is horrid. Yet, even those who claim to love animals and those who are proud environmentalists, continue to eat meat! Instead of changing their behavior to fit their beliefs, they make exceptions in their beliefs in order to condone eating meat. It is completely irrational.

See, here’s the thing about humans: Our reasoning is filled with emotion. Not only are the two inseparable, but the emotion arises much more quickly than the conscious thought. It’s said that this is an evolutionary feature, so that we are able to quickly react to our environment. Of course we don’t operate solely on emotion – we certainly reason and deliberate – but the emotion is immediate, while the reasoning works a bit slower. And even once the reasoning begins, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum; it is highly biased by our emotions.

And as it turns out, we apply our fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but also to data. We push threatening information away, and pull friendly information close. Often times, when we think we’re reasoning, we’re actually rationalizing, or biasing data in our minds to fit it to a predetermined conclusion. Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to favor information that confirms their predetermined belief. And disconfirmation bias is the tendency for people to expend a disproportionate amount of energy trying to disprove evidence that contradicts their predetermined beliefs.

It’s not that we don’t want to be unbiased, it’s just that we have a subconscious goal of self affirmation – maintaining the sense that you are “good,” “moral,” or “right” – and this goal often makes us highly resistant to changing our beliefs, even when the facts say we should.

Unfortunately, this completely blows away the notion that the way to persuade people is to present them with the facts. Actually, head-on attempts to persuade people can sometimes have the complete opposite effect, where not only will the person not change their mind when confronted with facts, but they will actually hold on to their wrong view even more strongly than ever.

So, it would seem that expecting people to go veg based on the facts flies in the face of, well, the facts.

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Breakfast: Smoothie with just cherries & banana (and ice & water). It was delicious!
Lunch: Black bean tacos from Taco Cabana
Dinner: Pasta with squash, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, and marinara sauce

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..!)

Guest Post: Omnivore Goes Vegan For A Month

For Lent, my cousin and her husband did a vegan fast. I thought it’d be interesting to get her perspective on the fast – from an omnivore’s point of view. This is what she had to say about over a month of veganism (completely un-edited by me).

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by Christine Wilson

As part of the season of Lent, the senior pastor at my church proposed a Daniel Fast. A Daniel Fast, simply put, is being vegan (no animal products) as well as no caffeine, sugars (except those found naturally in food), leavened bread, refined grains, or artificial sweeteners. We did ten days of the Daniel Fast, had a two day break, and then continued the fast for about three weeks. By the end, honestly, I was going more vegetarian than vegan.

I thought it was a challenging diet to fulfill, but I think a lot of that had to do with the no sugar/caffeine/bread as much as (if not more than) the vegan aspect. It took a lot of planning and creative thinking and searching the internet for dinners to make for my husband and myself. It seemed like it would get easier once I built up a stock of vegan recipes that I knew my husband and I enjoyed. It’s about trying lots of recipes and maybe only coming away with a few.

But there were a few that we tried that we are going to keep eating on a regular basis! We really enjoyed pasta with peas, pesto, and potatoes. I fell in love with homemade pesto while doing this diet and I even went and bought some basil to grow on my back patio so that I can continue to make it this summer. Vegetarian chili is awesome and we did not miss the meat in that at all! The strong chili flavors overpower everything anyway, and it was still so hearty with all of those beans in there. And we’ll keep doing meatless burritos (refried beans, brown rice, tomatoes, avocado), although I think I’ll be adding cheese and sour cream to that when we make it in the future. Which brings me to my next point…

The dairy was hard to give up for me. Probably the most difficult. I’m accustomed to drinking multiple glasses of milk per day. My go-to snack is a granola bar, peanut butter, and a glass of milk. I did try other milks, like soy milk and almond milk, which would be great for smoothies and recipes. But just drinking them straight was not the same to me as cow’s milk.

I did not miss meat at all. Except when it came to eating out at a favorite restaurant and I had to figure out what to get instead of my regular order. And after the diet ended, I was sometimes turned off by meat. I remember eating meatballs after stopping the fast and thinking, “Ugh. So much meat. Didn’t I just have meat yesterday?!”

I don’t think I felt too different while on the diet. I think I lost weight, because I actually got a few comments from friends and family members. I don’t own a scale so I can’t say for sure. I did feel “cleaner”. I don’t know if it was a perceived thing or a real physical thing, but I just know it felt great to not be putting a bunch of thick, heavy foods (like meat and dairy and junk food) in my body and instead putting high-fiber, fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, and water. Water never tasted so great to me.

In terms of the spiritual aspect of the fast, I feel like God did impress upon me to move in a new direction in terms of food and consumption in general. One of the reasons our pastor called the fast was to go against the intense need to consume we seem to have in our society. We do many things in excess, and it’s unnecessary, in my opinion. And it also exploits the earth God gave us, as well as the animals in it, and even people in other countries who make our products. While on the fast, God gave me new resolve to change my ways. It really, really does sadden me the way animals in factories are treated, and I think it definitely goes against God’s design. I think there is a natural food chain that He put in place and that eating meat and animal products is okay, but I think we overuse and abuse it.

So, moving forward, here are my goals. I’m going to buy meat only from the farmers’ market. I’m going to learn about the establishments where my meat is coming from and even try to visit them. I’m going to eat less dairy. I’m going to cook less dishes with meat, which goes well with the fact that farmers’ market meat is more expensive. I’m shooting for cooking only 1-2 meat dishes per week, and the rest vegetarian or vegan. When eating out, I’m going to first look through the vegetarian options to see if there’s anything I’d like. If I really, really don’t want any of the options, then I’ll go with a meat dish.

In addition to all of this, I’m also going to give up spending money (except on food) until Christmas-time. No clothes, no home improvements, no meaningless knick-knacks, no craft supplies, etc. I just feel so bogged down by consumerism, and I think God is calling me to much more purposeful things than shopping and filling my house with things that I will one day grow tired of and then get rid of or throw away. And don’t even get me started on UNfair trade and the exploitation of the people making our goods…

One of the main reasons I am going back to eating a little meat here and there is because it just seems so tied to so many traditional recipes. And, it is an easy, straightforward source of protein. But, I would really, really like to see it as the exception rather than the rule. In so many other parts of the world, where people have less, meat is special. It is not eaten every day. Here, it’s easy to eat every day. We can afford it. But, I feel that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

Thanks!

Thank you so much to everyone who left comments and sent me emails regarding Monday’s post. I REALLY appreciate all of the support! It’s good to know that there are some folks out there who care (and that my words aren’t falling entirely on deaf ears).

ThanksI was particularly impacted by something in a link from Molly. (Being a math & science minded person, numbers especially appeal to me.) The article said:

By choosing to be a vegetarian, we will accomplish a great deal of good over the course of our lives—we will spare many hundreds of animals from the malicious maws of modern agribusiness.

But each one of us could accomplish much more, in just one hour!

This may sound like an informercial scam, but it is true—for every person you convince to go vegetarian, you double the impact of your life’s choices. So, if tomorrow you hand out 60 booklets to new people, and just one person decides to go vegetarian, you will have saved, in only one hour, as many animals as you will save with every choice you make during the rest of your life.

In other words, if we agree that being a vegetarian is vital, then we must recognize that being an effective advocate for the animals is many times more important. Efficient outreach has truly enormous potential; if you think compound interest is a good deal, effective vegetarian advocacy allows for exponential returns!

The idea that persuading just one person to go vegetarian doubles my own decision to go vegetarian is SO POWERFUL! I’d never looked at it that way and it’s an extremely convincing reason to continue.

I just want to clarify that I don’t plan to quit blogging, I just want to switch gears for a bit. This will still be “a blog about food,” but (for my own sanity) I want to shift the focus off of convincing others why industrialized meat is so terrible (at least for now).

I just felt, lately, like ‘all this veg stuff’ was making me more sad and angry, and actually bringing me down, instead of making me feel good. And it should be something that makes me feel good (for doing what I think is right and for taking care of my body and the planet). So I need to take a mental break from the doom and gloom or I just might start burning down fur factories or something.

The blog continues, I just don’t know where it will go yet…

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Breakfast: Bowl of fruit – strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries
Lunch: Veggie Max sandwich from Subway
Dinner: Portobello ravioli and salad

Confessions

Apologies for not having a Meatless Monday recipe up today. We had internet issues last night so I wasn’t able to get one posted, but I should be able to get it up later this week. With regards to posting in general, I feel the need to confess that I’ve been feeling very uninspired lately.

I recently heard (though I can’t for the life of me remember where… maybe it was just a voice inside my head?):

“You don’t choose the cause. The cause chooses you. You have a purpose.”

I like to imagine that this is what happened to me. That it was fate which led me to that book that day. That the cause chose me because I had something to offer, some way of bringing this darkness into light, some chance at actually making a difference that matters.

And I tried. I really tried.

But I’m tired now.

I can only tell people so many times that they are eating cancer-causing, artery-clogging, environmentally-destructive, tortured, abused, mutilated, drug-filled, mass-produced, painfully-slaughtered, fellow creatures, then watch them continue to stuff their faces with it, before becoming emotionally and mentally exhausted.

It is difficult for me to describe in words (though some screams or tears might help), the immense frustration and sadness I feel from knowing, without a doubt, that the way we treat these animals is wrong, then watching those I know and love continue to support this heinous system.

I do realize that, sometimes, people don’t know the extent of the abuse, and I’d love to inform each and every single person. But to my extreme bewilderment and dismay, I’ve found that even when people become informed about what is happening, they still support it.

And I simply can not wrap my feeble little mind around this.

How can people knowingly pay for tortured animals? How can people who claim to be animal lovers not see how they are directly fueling some of the worst animal abuse imaginable? How can those who claim to care about the environment support an industry creating more greenhouse gasses than the entire transportation industry combined? How can people say they want to lose weight, lower their cholesterol, lower their blood pressure, and reduce their risk of cancer, then shove their mouths full of the ONLY THING that has cholesterol, the ONLY source of saturated fat, the thing that the American Institute for Cancer Research advises against in SIX OUT OF EIGHT of their tips to reduce your risk of cancer?

WHY DOES NO ONE CARE???

Not only is my sense of helplessness growing exponentially, but the toxic information overload is eating away at my soul (how many times can I read about humans intentionally shoving sharp objects up animals’ rectums before becoming completely jaded), and my trust in humanity is quickly fading.

So I sign off today not knowing where this blog will head. No, it’s not over, but until I find a renewed sense of faith in people to respond to cruelty and destruction by not supporting it, I can’t continue to pour out my bleeding heart day after day only to have it crushed again and again… it’s just too overwhelming.