You Are What You Don’t Eat

calfYou are what you don’t eat. And what you do eat. Or maybe you’re not food at all. So what, then, “are you” when it comes to nutrition and dietary choices?

Telling people I’m a vegetarian is the easiest way to explain why I don’t eat beef, pork, poultry or lamb. But it doesn’t explain why I do eat wild-caught fish and shellfish. It also doesn’t explain why I don’t eat sugar, refined carbohydrates or processed foods that contain ingredients I can barely pronounce. It doesn’t explain why I try to avoid the “dirty dozen” (the produce that absorbs the highest amounts of pesticides) or why, for me, a day without vegetables is like a day without water.

So what exactly am I, and does it really matter? Personal dietary choices are something like religious beliefs in a way. Just because someone claims to be a member of a particular religion doesn’t mean that person has the exact same beliefs and behaviors as all the other members of the group.

Why labels don’t really matter

Religious labels do not tell the whole story, and neither do dietary labels. Still, people seem to want them. It helps to have some “rules” if you need to explain to someone why you choose not to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. You really can’t just say “turkey is not part of my diet” and get away with it, but you can say, “No thanks. I’m a vegetarian.” It seems people expect a label with a definition attached to it, and then you are allowed to say no to the turkey. A case like that is a perfect example of “you are what you don’t eat.”

Dietary labels get complicated in some circles. It’s difficult to explain to your Italian mother that pasta is not something you eat now that your body is showing signs of carbohydrate intolerance. It took my mom years to adjust when I began to move toward a vegetarian diet. Now this?

If I had to find a label for my diet, I guess it would be unprocessed/clean, real-food vegetarian that also eats some kinds of fish and drinks red wine and too much coffee. (By the way, did you know that some vegans eat shellfish?)

But do you eat eggs?

Yes—cage free organic omega 3 eggs (unless I’m in a restaurant; then any egg goes). And, believe it or not, I really don’t like talking about any of this most of the time.

I know people imagine my dietary choices are restrictive or boring, but they’re really not. It’s true what they say; you stop craving things that are bad for you when you start eating healthier (and yummier) things instead. You don’t have to believe me, but there really are much tastier dishes you can make with veggies and lentils. Bacon grease or white bread are extremely dull by comparsion!

Why all this fuss about food?

My interest in vegetarian nutrition started when I was in college looking to shed the “freshman 15” (more like 20). Soon after I graduated, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. I took an actual test though I know it was a fad diagnosis at the time. I learned more about hormones and other unwanted things that accumulate in the fat of animal flesh. And I gradually made the shift to a vegetarian diet. As a DES daughter (one of millions whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy between 1938 and 1971), I’d already overdosed on synthetic hormones before I was even born. (The consequences of that is another story.)

As I learned more about the things going on in the food industry, particularly with respect to factory farming, I became more and more convinced that the lower on the food chain one eats the better. It’s better not only for that person’s health, but for animals and the entire planet as well. Ethical reasons for my food choices soon became as important, if not more important, than health issues.

Then I realized how complicated that can get!

It took years to get where I am now, and I’m sure my dietary choices will continue to evolve. I even earned a traditional college degree in nutrition. I believe the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well.

And life is just better when you care!

I think the important thing, whether you eat animal flesh or not, is to pay attention to how the food you choose affects you, the environment and the world. There’s always something new to be learned when it comes to nourishing not only our bodies, but everything around us as well. And life is just better when you care!

Why I’ve Supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals (And Hope You’ll Support the Sanctuary Too)

my turkey friendIn past years, Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals has taken place in cities across the country in October. This year, there was only one walk. It took place in Chicago on October 1, 2016. The Walk for Farm Animals events raised funds for the sanctuary, which cares for farm animals and educates people about the abuses they suffer at the hands of mass food manufacturers. In 2017, the sanctuary will launch a new fundraising event.

Why I have supported Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals

When I first moved toward a vegetarian diet decades ago, I found an article called “Why I Am a Vegetarian.” I typed up a list of bullet points from the article to carry in my wallet so I’d have an easy reference to share with people who wanted to know why I had stopped eating meat. It wasn’t that I didn’t know why, but in those early years, I found it difficult to talk about it without being defensive or sparking a pointless debate. At the time, the people around me weren’t in tune with my decision.

Over the years since, most people who know me have gotten used to the idea that I’m not going to touch the Thanksgiving turkey, and it’s really not an issue any more. More importantly, I’ve grown in my own understanding of the issues. I’ve learned more about how industrial farming abuses animals, destroys the environment and threatens the health of human beings. And that’s why I’ve participated in Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals twice and supported the event since I learned about it almost a decade ago.

I’m not much into preaching or telling other people how to eat (unless they ask; then I might share my views ), but I do think this is important. Here’s why.

It’s not just about the animals; it’s also about our planet and you!

Farm Sanctuary is actually a group of three havens for rescued farm animals (one in New York and two in California). Their mission that goes beyond the refuge they provide for rescued animals. As I mentioned, they educate people about the many ways in which factory farming harms the entire planet and all of its creatures.

You can visit Farm Sanctuary (I’ve been to the New York site) and meet the animals. If you do, your eyes will probably open a bit wider to the fact that each of these creatures is unique and has a distinct personality, just like your very own pets.

For some people, the fact that animals are treated cruelly is reason enough to stop eating them. But there’s much, much more.

Here, in a nutshell, is why I support Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals…

(And by the way, nuts are a great source of nutrients for most vegetarians.)

I’m not against humans eating meat if the meat is compassionately raised and healthy. But the thing is, it’s incredibly hard to find that kind of meat, and if you do find it, it’s likely to cost you more than you spend on a week’s worth of groceries.

The reason compassionately raised meat is so expensive is that the process of raising meat (and producing many other “foods” as well) has been transformed. Your burgers and chicken wings are mass-produced industrial products. They are brought to you by conglomerates that have no interest in the well being of animals, the environment, soil, water quality, food safety, nutrition or your health.

Do you think I’m exaggerating? If you’re not convinced, but you are interested, there’s a great site, Sustainable Table you can visit to learn a lot more about why we need to change the way we produce our food.

The Problems with Factory Farming

When you think of a factory, you probably think of things like mass-production, economies of scale, getting as many products as possible made as cheaply as possible, and things of that sort.

But do you think of health? Do you think of nourishment? A factory is no place to produce food meant to nourish you and keep you healthy.

Here are just a few reasons why not. The list is condensed from information you can find on the Sustainable Table website.

  • Factory farming is cruel and inhumane.
  • Livestock agriculture contributes to destruction of rain forests, global warming, soil erosion, water shortages, air and water pollution, and the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria.
  • It takes far more fossil fuel and water to produce a single calorie of protein from beef, pork or poultry than it takes to produce a calorie of protein from soy.
  • It takes up to 16 pounds of soybeans and grains to produce 1 pound of beef and between 3 and 6 pounds to produce one pound of pork or turkey. People in underdeveloped countries cannot afford meat. The grain used to produce so much meat could be feeding them.
  • The correlation between meat consumption and a wide range of diseases is well documented.
  • Because of industrialized farming practices, animal fat contains high concentrations of pesticides, herbicides, sterols, antibiotics, growth hormones, and other veterinary pharmaceuticals.

Still not convinced?

I know this issue is complicated and not everyone is convinced it deserves attention. But if you’re one of those people, please answer this (at least for yourself). Why is it okay that we treat certain animals as parts of our family and others as mass-market products?

The animals in places like Farm Sanctuary have a special bond of friendship with those who care for and support them, and I assure you, they are not less special than your own pets (if you don’t have pets, take a look at the pet-human relationships of people you know).But  if compassion for all beings is not your thing, consider the environmental, political, economic, and health issues. Is it not clear that our system of food production is in need of serious reform?

Without organizations like Farm Sanctuary helping to educate us all about the abuses of factory farming, we probably wouldn’t make a dent in changing the status quo. But luckily, such places exist, and the good news is things are slowly changing.

Is this just a vegan or vegetarian cause?

Of course it’s not! In fact, if you’re a meat-eater, it might be even more important for you to support places like Farm Sanctuary, that is, if you want safe, healthy food and would prefer not to see animals abused.

In order to reform the factory farming system, all people, whether strict vegans or just people who care about the health and happiness of all beings, need to get on board and support reform.

Will you help?

You don’t need to make a huge donation to make a difference. The more people we can get behind this cause, the more likely we’ll eventually change the minds and hearts of those can make a difference. We need people who have the power to clean up our food supply and treat farm animals with the respect all creatures deserve to step up and do just that!

Please consider a donation to Farm Sanctuary to support its mission. Or just let me know you think about this issue too.!

Thanks!

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