Last year, after nearly a decade of declining health, which was already being manifested in symptoms such as IBS, anxiety, headaches, heart palpitations, chest pains, hair loss, weight gain, fatigue and irritability, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 hypertension. I began taking a beta blocker that made my IBS worse, but relaxed me enough to protect me from stroke or heart attack.
I knew that changing my diet was the only way I would ever be able to stop taking medication. I knew the drill, too. Low-fat, lots of fruits and veggies, exercise, etc. While looking for various media to motivate me, I came across a couple of documentaries. Forks Over Knives and Food Matters were the most convincing and after watching them, I immediately began a vegan diet. I told my children how bad animal products were for their bodies and was even able to persuade them to stop eating meat. I was unable to sell my husband completely, but we had already cut back our meat consumption over the years, so he was willing to eat meat outside of the home only so that I didn't have to buy it or prepare it.
I wore my veganism like a badge. I was proud and noble. But, I wasn't getting any healthier. I was stuck with a deep, gnawing hunger, yet achieved minimal weight loss. I began to have some questions about this vegan lifestyle I was embracing. "It's all in the China Study" became my motto, and I reminded myself that all of the answers I needed could be found there.
However, my questions about soil quality and how it affects the nutrition of a plant-based diet remained unanswered. Eventually, I posed my question to the right audience and a friend sent me a link to Denise Minger's website, Raw Food SOS. My friend was unwilling to debate veganism, but clearly disagreed that a diet excluding animal products could sustain health long term.
Denise's website sparked a deep dig into the actual research (finally, my graduate education pays off!) of various studies and what I found stunned me and made me pretty angry. Holy confounding variables, Batman! Does correlation now equal causation?
For several months, I sat on the information I gathered, not really sure what to do. I knew that refined sugar and processed foods were bad. I was certain that animal products in their nature-intended forms (grass-fed cows and pastured chickens, for instance) were probably healthy to consume. But before I gave myself and my family the green-light for wanton animal-product consumption, I needed to be sure.
I googled Denise's name and found a couple of new articles/blog posts written by her, detailing the flaws of The China Study. One of those articles was on the Weston A. Price website and after reading it, I hung around and read several other articles. And that's when it clicked for me. I began reading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and Nourishing Traditions , followed by Pottenger's Cats . I dove into Death By Supermarket and eventually Eat Fat, Lose Fat . Performing Google searches for real food information brought me to Mark's Daily Apple over and over. By April of 2012, my family was drinking raw milk and I was apologizing to my kiddos for passing on bad information and setting the record straight about animal products, much to their delight.
Don't get me wrong, our diet has changed drastically over the last year and many of the changes we've made are similar to the changes that vegans make. In fact, we're probably pickier about food than we would be if we were vegan because know that we have to eat more than nutrient-depleted, conventionally grown vegetables and hyper-sweet fruit hybrids to survive. And don't get me started on grains. I don't dismiss grains as easily as, say, a Paleo-pusher, but I'm not going to poison my family with store-bought breads and crackers.
In reality, while managing a currently tighter-than-usual grocery budget, we have cut back on fresh, organic produce, cut out fruit altogether and center our meals and snacks around nutrient-dense, high-fat, high-protein foods, with a focus on animal products. Exactly the opposite of where our dietary path was leading us a year ago.
Over the past three months, my IBS symptoms have become less frequent and are non-existent most of the time. In fact, the fewer plants I eat, the better my stomach feels. I only get headaches when I eat gluten-containing, conventionally-prepared, industrial-food-chain wheat products (soured, sprouted and soaked wheat do not bother me). My blood pressure is normal, my heart palpitations and chest pain (which never fully stopped, even while taking beta blockers) have disappeared. And, the anxiety I experienced for years, is gone.
Oh, and I've lost 17 pounds, or about 5.6 pounds per month. While eating fat. Lots and lots of fat. Saturated fat. From animal products.
I know what you may be asking. What about the animals who have to die or be bothered to support my barbaric need for the food they can provide me and my family? I hear you. I've flirted with vegetarianism most of my life and fully supported my oldest son when, at age 7, he decided that killing animals for food was a horrible practice and became vegetarian.
I do agree that the way animals are treated in the industrial food chain is disgusting and heart-breaking. My spiritual views come into play here. I believe animals and the food they provide for us are sacred. I believe that the wholly unholy industrial food chain is a mockery of nature and a disgraceful misuse of the same. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) owners and operators should feel ashamed and the government officials who set the standards for operation at these garbage dumps should not be able to sleep at night.
On the other hand, I do not feel any guilt over drinking milk from happy, pastured cows, eating the eggs of healthy, pastured chickens and consuming the meat and fat of animals who are treated well and cherished like the noble beings they are while they are living.
I think that most vegans have their hearts in the right place. All of the vegans I know are loving, caring individuals who believe that they are on the right path when it comes to health. In fact, I admire their against-the-grain way of thinking. Anyone who challenges the status quo, has my respect, even if they are wrong.
I echo others in the real food movement who advice vegans to follow their spiritual beliefs, but not during child-bearing years and not before the body and brain have finished developing.
Yes, I respect the spiritual aspect of veganism, but the truth is that several other dietary changes are responsible for an increase in energy and health that vegans initially feel. I believe that anyone who stops eating store-bought CAFO meat, eggs and dairy will see an increase in health. If those same people stop eating vegetable oils, store-bought grain products, and refined sweeteners, they will be on the right path to optimal health. It is unnecessary to stop eating animal products altogether, but instead to choose animal products from sources who use ethical animal husbandry practices.
In conclusion, I can get behind the moral and ethical objections to eating meat that vegans use to support their position. I understand that the killing of peaceful animals for meat seems, well, cruel. I don't share that belief, but I understand and respect it. I do not respect the belief that veganism--especially raw veganism is healthy for omnivores. In the end, we all have to make the best decisions we can based on the information we have available. I am incredibly grateful for the work of Weston A. Price and others who have shown us not only what an optimally healthy person looks like, but what an optimally healthy person eats in order to stay that way and the role that animal products play in achieving optimal health.
This post was shared at Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.