It's overwhelming to change one's diet. For me, it's not so much the cultural baggage of what I'm used to eating -- though that is no small hurdle -- but rather the overwhelming -- and often contradictory -- amount of information out there about what is wrong with our food system and how easy it is to eat foods that make us sick, or at least predispose us to developing illnesses in the future. We should be OUTRAGED at how our foods are made and at the (we hope) unintended consequences that result from that. And I'm not just talking about meat and dairy, though that's part of the story here.
After I eliminated almost all dairy and all meat from my diet eight months ago, I started getting back up to speed on some older health concerns, specifically the amount of CORN in our diet (not by intent, but due to the structure of the American food "system"), and the presence of genetically modified foods (GMOs). Do you know how much work it is to make sure corn syrup or maltodextrin or any of the dozens of corn products are NOT in your food? (By the way, they're indirectly in your meat too, because that's what factory farmers -- 99% of the meat sold in the US comes from factory farms -- feed their animals.) Do you know how hard it is to make sure that the soy products you buy are only made from non-GMO seeds? Or how much more it COSTS to buy foods that meet the criteria of organic, non-GMO and non-corn? It's possible to meet these criteria, but it ain't cheap or easy. It's time-consuming and adds a lovely overlay (read that in a sarcastic tone) to the family dynamic.
Recently, I read an article in the Huffington Post which suggested that gluten sensitivity may be way underdiagnosed in the US and that it may explain the proliferation of many diseases, everything from learning disabilities to fibromyalgia. Then I re-read some stuff about peanuts and peanut butter in The China Study and remembered that aflatoxin in commonly found in peanuts (and corn, it turns out). The best peanuts are packaged for eating; the moldy ones generally end up in peanut butter. Aflatoxin, by the way, is a known carcinogen and is impressively linked in studies to liver cancer. And I LOVE peanut butter and my kids do, too. Should I even be eating it or letting them eat it? After re-reading that study, I think not. Really. NOT. I'm not even sure the organic, just-peanuts-no-corn-syrup peanut butter is much better. Who's to say that the moldy peanuts aren't in organic peanut butter too??
Then there's milk and cheese. Cheese and yogurt have been the hardest things to give up as a vegan, and I have NOT found acceptable soy or rice-based alternatives. My kids still consume some dairy. Yet, the early chapters of The China Study are all about how animal protein (but, curiously, not plant protein) has been shown in several studies to prompt cancer growth. The animal protein used in these studies was casein -- the primary ingredient in cow's milk -- and the carcinogen exposure used in these studies was aflatoxin (in the form of peanut butter). If one's concern is the potential prompting of tumor growth vis a vis animal protein stimulation, then it does NOT matter whether the milk consumed is organic or not. I really don't think any of us should be eating dairy for HEALTH reasons; forget the factory farming concerns for a minute, or even the arguably "better" organic milk. The scientific evidence linking animal protein consumption to tumor stimulation is pretty solid, but curiously, not particularly well-advertised. Do you hear the pressures of the dairy industry? I do. They really just want you to believe that milk does a body good. Or prevents osteoporosis. At the very least, I think a conservative reaction to learning this information should be to cut back -- for some people, WAY back -- on dairy consumption. In a household with three kids and a cheese-loving husband, THAT is an overwhelmingly difficult goal.
My list of "forbidden" foods is growing; I don't eat dairy, fish, eggs, or meat and now I think I should avoid peanut butter, EVERYTHING with a corn product in it, and perhaps gluten too. And I think I had better re-read those labels for all the soy products I've been buying. Holy Moly. It was SO much easier being an omnivore.
In many ways, all these health warnings and news about factory farming and the food "system" come back to a simple fact: as a society, we don't cook much anymore. We grab things on the fly, or buy things that are partially prepared so that the home prep is minimal. We grow very little of our own food. Food producers know that and so have created products that fill that need, products that often need fillers or preservatives for shipping and storage purposes.
If we get ready to yell at the farmers and the "system," we have to first remember that they're likely to be willing to provide a product if there's a demand for it. They're providing what we're buying. If we want healthier food, we have to demand it. That takes action and energy, both of which go against the largely apathetic attitude of contemporary Americans. But stop being so trusting! Literally, your trust may be contributing to your poor health.
We have to change our approach to food. It should NOT be about what's fast, though many quick-to-prepare foods are also healthy. To REALLY get away from the processed, modified, potentially harmful food, we have to spend more time preparing (and growing or raising)our own, and have to accept that eating well takes time. Shortcuts can be far too costly in the long run.
As I said, it's overwhelming.
- My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.