Vegan – the BEST way to eat

*First, a disclaimer: I am not 100% vegan 100% of the time.  I have been mostly vegan, most of the time, for more than 10 years.  Sometimes I am strictly vegan, and sometimes I am vegan plus fish and seafood (more on this choice another time.)
That said, I do truly believe that eating vegan is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, for the animals, and for our planet.  Whether your motivation is purely to improve your own health, or to live a more compassionate life, or to protect the environment and our planet, you can’t go wrong with a vegan diet, it’s win/win/win!  There is lots of research to back this up, and I’ll put some links below for people who want the hard data, or more information.  But I’ll give you a few teasers right here!
The best book I have read on this subject is The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell.  The New York Times called this study “The Grand Prix of Epidemiology.”  The book is really well researched, well written, and very compelling. It’s like reading a murder mystery, and you are the potential victim! It starts off with laboratory research done on mice.  Then the findings are verified by the largest nutrition study ever done, with more than 6,000 participants.  The author said that in his research they were literally able to turn cancer growth on and off by altering the quantity of animal protein in the diet, especially casein, the protein from cow’s milk.  This REALLY got my attention.  Before reading this I had always though I would try my best to eat organic and live a healthy lifestyle, and just cross my fingers in the hopes of avoiding cancer, which seemed to be a crapshoot.  But this book convinced me our diet has much more of an influence on our cancer risks than I had realized.  According to the authors, and the findings of the studies, animal protein promotes cancer growth.  Eating a plant-based, vegan diet can also prevent, or reverse, obesity, heart disease, and adult-onset diabetes.
When I was in my 20s I lived in Senegal, West Africa for three years.  I saw firsthand the struggles of feeding large families on low wages.  The amazing fact about cattle is they can take grass, which humans can’t consume, and convert it to milk and meat which we can.  And that milk, which is designed to help a baby calf gain hundreds of pounds in the first year (think about that!) is a rich source of calories and protein for people who may not have many other options.
But let’s face it, this is not the reality for most of us reading this blog.  We are not at risk of undernourishment and lack of protein. And sadly, the meat and milk available to us is not from free-roaming animals.  Factory farming is one of the most inhumane practices that exists in the US.  The book Fast Food Nation is a really great one that outlines the practices.
I recently watched a movie called Vegucated, and the three people who volunteered all swore they would never eat meat again once they learned the facts.   If we choose to eat animal products, I would hope this be an informed choice, not one based on denial or false information.  Learn about your food!  “Cage-free” chickens may simply mean there are 2000 chickens crammed into one warehouse, sitting in and eating in their own feces.  “Antibiotic-free” dairy may mean that a cow with a common mammary gland infection goes untreated.
I grew up vegetarian, and have always been interested in nutrition, so I’ve known for quite some time about the ethical and health benefits of eating vegan.  But when I read John Robbins books The Food Revolution and Diet for a New America, I was completely surprised by the environmental effect that animal consumption has on our planet!  Shocked!
First of all, you have to love John Robbins.  His story is amazing.  I will have to write a separate piece on him because it is such a great story to tell!  He has plenty to say related to health and ethics as well, but it was the information he provided on the environmental impacts that struck me the most.  Here are just a few shocking facts:

  • It takes 24 gallons of water to produce a pound of potatoes, and 5,214 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef! (University of California Agricultural Extension)
  • You could save more water by skipping that pound of beef than you could by not showing for an entire year!!  (Calculated with 7 minute, 2 gallon showers)
  • “In both 1993 and 1994 the United States imported over 200,000,000 pounds of fresh and frozen beef from Central American countries.  Two-thirds of these countries’ rainforests have been cleared, primarily to raise cattle…”  Rainforest Action Network
  • The US makes up 4% of the human population, but eats 23% of the world’s beef
  • The amount of grain and soybeans consumed by US livestock could feed 1,400,000,000 people

Note my copy of the book was published in 2001, so these figures need some updating.  But I think you get the point.
The first time I tried to be vegan as I write about in the About me page, I quickly gave up because I wasn’t able to do it perfectly and became discouraged.  Now I have a different approach:  I try.  I don’t think it has to be an “all or nothing” approach.  If anything in this is sparking a call to action inside you, go for it!! Any amount of eating more plants and less animal products is going to lead towards improved health for you, the animals, and the planet.  If you are able to be 100% vegan I have absolute respect and admiration for you!  But if that seems too daunting, then I would say to make changes where you can, that feel sustainable and doable.   Maybe it means eating vegan two days a week.  Maybe it means doing a periodic 30-day challenge (which can be fun!) Maybe there are some products you can completely eliminate or replace with plant-based options (I recently discovered the joys of cashew milk, for example.)
Let me know in the comments below!  I would love to hear if you are inspired to make some changes, what you have done, and what your challenges have been.
For my favorite books on healthy eating, check out my Body & Soul Bookstore!
Photo details:  Pictured here are my own versions of three vegan Indian dishes, red lentil dahl, aloo gobi (cauliflower and pototoes), and saag (spinach.)