A little while ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to write any more generic information posts without having some sources and serious information behind me. I can’t say that I’ll never write a hasty opinion piece ever again, of course, but this is one reason my latest post had been resting for quite some time under a comfortable blanket of dust.
But the main reason is because I’ve been cramming. Over the past month and a bit, I’ve been flipping through information, drowning my mind in lectures and interviews and documentaries, drawing up comparisons and reasons, and generally just stuffing my brain full of knowledge (some of it quite old) that I hadn’t even heard about until lately. And it’s so important that I simply can’t keep it to myself. Do I sound like I’m holding the main point of this post back? I am. Consciously. You’ll understand why. Don’t worry – it’s not because I’m trying to sell you anything (I’m not selling a “this is the secret” book or anything, but feel free to buy my fantasy novel if that would make you feel better).
So let’s go through this in five sections.
Nearly two months ago, my wife announced that she and her mother were going to follow a general-health detox program for a period of twenty-eight days. I volunteered to join her to be supportive and because I somehow managed to fool myself into thinking it would be some kind of curious adventure of food variety. Over the first few days, I watched all of my favorite foods – starting with eggs, lamb, chicken, butter, milk, and bread – slide off the menu. My food palette was pretty slim to begin with, so that dropped me down to pretty much just rice and nuts in terms of what I considered tasty food. Before and during the detox I readily and regularly consumed salad, but primarily because I wanted to be healthy, not because I enjoyed vegetables themselves. To my horror, rice dropped off the menu as well. The adventure turned into a nightmare.
It’s important to note that my wife, completely appreciating that I was coming along for the detox, wasn’t just dropping piles of leaves and roots on our plates – she was experimenting with combinations and taste palettes and coming up with all kinds of interesting foods.
Even though I appreciated her efforts, I sank into frustration. My tastebuds were telling me that everything I was doing to them was wrong and that I ought to give up and go back and stop tormenting them. I’d never gone through a true period of self-denial in terms of food – whenever I had taken anything off my daily plate, I had directly replaced it with something else that I enjoyed almost as much. This was a brutal step-by-step elimination of everything I had learned to love eating. It somehow registered in my mind that this was a permanent measure and that I would never be able to taste those tastes again. I even gave in and nibbled on snacks that I shouldn’t have while I was alone or at work. But my wife’s ongoing enthusiasm about the detox and our teamwork slapped me in the face for doing so. I told myself that I could handle a little self-denial for just the remainder of the detox program (only a couple more weeks at that stage). I replaced chocolate with dark chocolate for a couple of days and then knocked my habits aside and ate too many nuts instead to try and numb the addiction pangs. I checked how many days were left. Often.
It was never easy. I’m (still) convinced that a detox program is someone’s idea of torture and religion and boot camp all tied into one concept. I realize that it can help people find allergies and lose some weight, but I’m the kind of person who always considers anything I do (or try) for maintainability – can it work as an ongoing, low-maintenance lifestyle change? Although it’s hilarious to see that some people consider detox expensive (since when did vegetables and fruit juice and peanuts hit any kind of “expensive” status?), I’m aware that there are exploitative types who are completely willing to sell these programs for exorbitant sums with all kinds of attached products. Ours was free and recommended completely natural foods that could be sourced from any market, and several such healthy free detoxes or detox-style programs exist, such as the free 21-day vegan kickstart, which was designed by Dr. Neal Barnard, to help people sort through health issues and nutritonal alternatives to everyday food. His was not the one we followed, but the host of our detox does not have time to regularly offer the program.
In the middle of the detox, shortly after my resignation to the diet for the remainder of the twenty-eight days, the program host provided links to several documentaries and sources of information, such as Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, an Australian film documenting the experience of Joe Cross as he tries an extreme detox program of consuming nothing but fresh vegetable and fruit juices over a period of sixty days, and That Sugar Film, which is another Australian documentary that follows Damon Gameau as he tries to find out if there are any “healthy” foods that aren’t loaded with sugar.
I suddenly had a very dark picture of the food world I had been raised in and fed by. I’d always understood risks of eating too much sugar and junk food, but I’d never been challenged directly to try going clean – and certainly never while coming downhill after what had felt like an exhausting detox.
Dark realization did not hit me alone, though. It came hand-in-hand with a challenge. There is a curious side-effect when you gain all your menu items back after being forced not to eat them for a period of time: you suddenly realize that you somehow survived without them all. I became curious about how long I could go without certain foods, and (unconsciously) set a day-counter in my head for how long it had been since I had eaten… chocolate, for instance. Before the detox, I had often ran through weeks where I would eat a whole block (200g) of milk chocolate per week-day. I wasn’t the epitome of health, but (somehow) neither was I morbidly obese. I had dropped these habits by a large percent to try and lose some weight, but to no effect (a slow crawl upward had continued until I was approximately 120kg). As the detox drew closer to the end, I decided to maintain as healthy of a diet as possible. But before the final week was over, my wife asked me to watch a lecture by Dr. Michael Greger. I was stunned. Unlike a lot of sources slinging nutritional information around, Dr. Greger openly and often encourages people to actually question his findings. I learned to critically analyze more than just political propaganda and Hollywood writers. My eyes started to open.
Dr. Michael Greger was a refreshing start. Perusing his findings led me to discover other doctors and nutritionists such as Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Dean Ornish, and the (non-affiliated) Gary Yourofsky. Controversy is everywhere regarding all the things these men have said regarding nutrition and health, but of course I wasn’t about to let a couple of internet trolls stop me listening to good information, so I persisted. What I found was sound advice based on several things, including solid research, pure logic, and empirical observation. In fact, curiously enough, while all the medical arguments the doctors put forward were fantastic (how to prevent and cure our biggest killers, such as heart disease, cancer, and alzheimer’s), I found out that we can pretty much skip everything they say if we look at a simple observation that I first picked up in one of Yourofsky’s talks and then later from a transcript of Dr Sofia Pineda Ochoa’s video (she sourced a quote from Dr. William Roberts):
“Although most of us conduct our lives as omnivores, in that we eat flesh as well as vegetables and fruits, human beings have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores. The appendages of carnivores are claws; those of herbivores are hands or hooves. The teeth of carnivores are sharp; those of herbivores are mainly flat (for grinding). The intestinal tract of carnivores is short (3 times body length); that of herbivores, long (12 times body length). Body cooling of carnivores is done by panting; herbivores, by sweating. Carnivores drink fluids by lapping; herbivores, by sipping. Carnivores produce their own vitamin C, whereas herbivores obtain it from their diet. Thus, humans have characteristics of herbivores, not carnivores.”
This struck me as very nearly insanity. Humans, herbivores? That’d render half of my education, all of my eating habits, and most of my family’s holiday traditions as completely unnatural. But it also made so much more sense when combined with the medical studies referenced by Dr. Greger and the others. This isn’t even something new, though, as Pythagorus himself said the following:
“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”
But we still haven’t caught on? We pretty much only remember him for his theorum.
People talk about all kinds of reasons for us to eat animals and animal products. Vitamins, minerals, taste, religion, etc. Vitamins? The animals we eat got those vitamins from eating plants. Plants are a purer source of those vitamins. Minerals? Same deal. Taste? We actually don’t even (generally) like the taste of meat unless cooked and seasoned and oiled and salted. We enjoy the taste of milk products, but 1) we start our own lives with milk naturally (ever noticed that we don’t continue drinking human milk all our lives?) and 2) milk contains opiates, so addiction is not terribly hard to understand. Not sure who came up with the idea that we’re supposed to drink calf-grow-quick-juice for required nutrition. Religion? I haven’t yet seen a religious text that tells people to eat meat (or explains why) convincingly. Feel free to let me know if you have an example. In fact, Jews and Christians have reason to believe meat and animal products in general are off the table: the garden of Eden. What better ideal for Jews and Christians to strive to attain than nature in its perfect, sinless state?
“‘And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” Genesis 1:30, NIV
But they seem to be keen to be at the head of the meat-eating committee, and (Christians) like to quote Acts 10: 9-16 (Peter’s vision) as proof that we are to eat any/every animal. A nice spot of open-ended propaganda that actually never confirms itself.
We are told to drink milk and eat meat and eggs and countless other things. We believe it. We didn’t always believe it, as Yourofsky aptly points out – when we were little children, most (if not all) of us absolutely adored animals and wanted nothing to do with harming them. It’s not instinct. It’s learned behavior. We don’t even have intestines capable of properly digesting meat before it rots. Carnivores and omnivores have intestines three-five times their body length; our intestines are ten-twelve times our body length – just like all other herbivores.
I could go on and on about this and bring up details and examples (such as immediate, effortless weight loss, not to mention alleviation of “inherited” back pain after I stopped consuming dairy products), and I could fill quite a few more sections of details, but I’ll pause for now. Digest the information as you like, and drop me a query if you’re curious, but keep in mind that I’m not a doctor myself – I’m a history buff with a penchant for connecting dots and practical logic.
Humans are herbivores. It was a stupendously hard realization for me to come to; my imagination has been fuelled and moulded over time by Asterix (roast boar feasts) and The Lord of the Rings (stewed coneys) and religious traditions (lamb) and images of English nobility’s menus (partridge and venison) and Robin Hood (“stolen” venison) and Viking drinking horns and my dad’s dad’s dairy farm. My favorite characters in history and fantasy alike are lone-wolf characters who (usually) double up their careers as hunters to keep coin in their pockets. So I’ve got no end of sentimental reasons to choose to ignore the things I’ve learned. But I also have no good arguments to support a continued non-vegan lifestyle. My family thinks I’m nuts, and when thinking about my choice from their point of view, I’m inclined to agree. I used to think vegans were just weirdos who probably smoked stuff they weren’t really legally supposed to smoke. I was wrong. They’re just humans the way we are supposed to be.
Disclaimer: I am not endorsed by – or funded by – any industry or person I have mentioned (or any at all). I have no connections or conflict of interest affiliations to skew the information provided in this post.