Today I was approached by a friend who had a pressing question. She said she’s known some vegans that were really unhealthy. So she wanted to know how I managed to stay so healthy on a vegan diet. I told her that at 47, I’ve never felt better in my life. I eat a balanced diet and I know what nutrients I’m getting from almost everything I eat. I feel clear-headed, light, more relaxed and yet more energetic than I can ever remember being earlier in my life.
Now anyone can become “unhealthy,” regardless of what kind of diet they choose. “Is it fair to assume that not eating meat, dairy and eggs caused your friends to become unhealthy?”, I asked her. She retracted. “No, I guess it could be a lot of other factors.”
“There are vegans who don’t eat a balanced diet. Why should we expect that they or anyone else who does not eat a balanced diet would remain healthy?” I asked. And she said, “So what you’re suggesting is that their poor health is not necessarily a direct result of eliminating meat, dairy and eggs.” And I said, “Yep. That’s exactly right. In fact, we never need to go through an animal to get the ALL of the essential nutrients we need. We are not carnivores! Only carnivores need to eat flesh to maintain health and survive.”
And then I pointed out the fact that many of the herbivore animals that we have used to do the work that we were not strong enough to do got so incredibly strong by eating little more than “wild” grasses. The horses, oxen, elephants and yaks that we have used throughout the centuries to plow our fields and haul heavy loads all have incredibly dense and strong bones and massive muscles (compared to ours), and all they eat is plants. And yet we continue to insist that we must consume “grass-fed” beef to get the protein we need. Isn’t that just the height of irony? What if we were to go directly to the plant source and bypass the beef? What a novel idea that would be. What a truly sustainable option that would be.
And to think of the incredible variety of powerful plant proteins we have today beyond grass! How fortunate we are to live in an age of such plenty. “Just look at this Adzuki bean salad with spicy, creamy chipotle dressing!” I exclaimed. Adzuki beans pack 11 grams of protein in just a small 1/4 cup serving, far more protein by weight than red meat and loads of iron, potassium and other essential nutrients and 26% of your fiber needs for the day! “I ate about a one cup serving in this salad today, so multiply that times four!!”
I hope I have the opportunity to take this friend of mine beyond her health preoccupations to a deeper level of thinking about our relationship with food. We eat animal products because of a complex set of social and cultural factors that have conditioned our thinking since childhood. And it’s time to begin the process of questioning these social and cultural constructs that we have inherited. Time to “remodel our thinking.”