diet

November 11, 2019
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Far from a millennial fad, vegetarianism as a philosophy and practice has existed in some form since ancient human history. In fact, there is significant anthropological evidence to suggest that our Neanderthal ancestors subsisted off plant and fungi-based diets. We were not always the pinnacle of the food chain – for this lauded status we relied on the leap that technology and weaponry facilitated. Early scavenging humans could count on vegetation to support their dietary needs when hunting was not possible or animals were not plentiful. 

Beyond scientific conjecture, classical texts from the Mediterranean basin and Mauryan dynasty suggest a legacy of meatless diets. Philosophers, kings, and emperors alike espoused notions of ahimsa, or non-violence, as they applied religious and social ideas towards animals.  The Buddhist and Jain philosophical awakenings promoted vegetarianism as an ethical, practical, and healthy lifestyle. Pythagoras was the main proponent of vegetarianism in Ancient Greece. He presented the idea of kinship between animals and humans, with the rationale that human benevolence depended on mercy towards other creatures. In fact, before the 19th century, those who practiced what we now consider a vegetarian diet were known as “Pythagoreans”, so influential were the considerations of Pythagoras. 

On a holistic level, monotheistic religions and their respective societies have been less likely to advocate vegetarian diets. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (the dominant monotheistic religions of Western society) have subjected certain limitations on diet, but generally have encouraged the reign of men over animals as a guiding principle. These faiths guide humans on a moral path governed by interpersonal relationships and responsibility towards ‘God’ or ‘Allah’, disregarding our connection to animals and nature. Larger, organized religions obscured the pagan values and folk religions of cultures they colonized, bringing humans away from our natural habitat and under the control of the power-hungry elite. 

By the start of the Renaissance, a resurgence of vegetarianism as an ideal occurred, as some artists and intellectuals revisited the classical values of ancient Europe. Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Rene Descartes all were known to practice or advocate cruelty-free lifestyles to lessen harm towards animals. The philosophic, scientific, and political awakening of that era naturally connected with an expanded consideration of sympathetic behaviour. 

Within Europe, the dawn of the Enlightenment spurred new perspectives on animals and humanity’s moral obligations to fellow creatures. Social and political organization evolved rapidly during this era as new ideas flourished. Darwin’s incredibly impactful Theory of Evolution encouraged the widespread adoption of the ideology that animals and humans are interconnected, which was extrapolated upon by philosophers such as John Locke, who believed animals could communicate, feel pain, and express emotion, thus they were deserving of empathy and consideration. In the United States, the abolitionist (aim to end slavery) movement was largely supported by Quakers, who were also likely to discourage meat consumption. 

Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the age of Enlightenment ushered in the “Romantic” art movement. This era featured a renewed sense of connection to the natural world, as the prominent artists and thinkers called for an “aesthetic experience” linked with compassion and communion with nature. Eating meat was largely associated with indulgence and elitism. While the poor subsisted off of potatoes, vegetables, milk and porridge, the wealthy could afford to regularly consume meat. Vegetarians, therefore, were almost exclusively middle class intellectuals who hoped to emulate their values through their consumption choices while affording their own livelihoods. In their viewpoint, a simple vegetarian diet would be the keystone feature of an egalitarian society, as it would increase food supply, decrease land competition, and theoretically discourage class conflicts over these resources. Romantics were likely to denounce the class-ism, consumerism, and moral hypocrisy that animal agriculture produced. By establishing this connection, this artistic movement was grounded in harsh political and economic realities that influenced many subsequent thinkers and leaders. 

A parallel development in England produced the Vegetarian Society in 1847. A utopian spiritual community known as the Concordium, the Christian Bible Church, and readers of a popular journal at the time, the “Truth-Seeker”, were the founding members of the charity. They believed the movement was popular and influential enough to merit a formal organization. Gandhi was one of the society’s most popular members, as his philosophies of nonviolent resistance and compassion for animals influenced many around the world. The Vegetarian Society has operated consistently since its inception, advocating for cruelty-free policy and social movements through documentaries, publications, and celebrity endorsements. 

Still mostly a niche lifestyle movement, vegetarianism was brought into the spotlight in 1971 with the publication of Francis Lappe Moore’s highly influential Diet for a Small Planet. Moore advocated a simpler lifestyle that excluded meat due to its taxing effect on the environment. Her groundbreaking argument was that world hunger resulted from ineffective food policy, and the solution to food insecurity is the worldwide adoption of a vegetarian diet. Peter Singer introduced the animal welfare viewpoint into the discussion with his 1975 work, Animal Liberation. Singer popularized the concept of “speciesism”, a discriminating practice that involves treating animals from one species as superior to another for arbitrary reasons. 

A remarkable uptick in vegetarianism has occurred throughout the 2010s as the Internet and social media have made sharing information about climate change, animal treatment, and health effortless and incentivized through social approval. For the first time in history, vegetarianism is flooding mainstream culture as more people wake up to the harsh realities of these global issues. With an abundance of foods available year-round in all climates, fast food restaurants and grocery stores constantly broadening their offerings for plant-based customers, and parallel developments across consumer industries, there are fewer excuses than ever to ditch meat.


October 23, 2019
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The stereotypical image we hold of people surviving in cold climates includes consuming high amounts of meat, dairy and eggs. This cultural practice stems from a geographic and ecological necessity. In harsher climates, plant foods are typically difficult to cultivate because they cannot survive the intense temperature lows that humans or animals could. 

Many human health problems of our modern world can be attributed to lifestyle factors. Namely, our sedentary way of living in 21st century hyper-industrialized North America is a great leap from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that was practiced by most humans for the majority of our evolutionary timeline. Both omnivores and vegetarians alike have difficulty obtaining the right amount of Vitamin D during the colder months, which is why supplementation is the smartest strategy to avoid unwanted health complications. 

At colder temperatures, the human metabolism must expend more energy to keep us warm. Thermogenesis is the process by which certain foods produce a warming effect on the body. These foods are typically ones rich in protein and carbohydrates, which involve more energy expenditure to digest. Thus by burning more calories, our bodies feel warmer, just as if we were exercising! 

For some vegetarians, the holidays can be a lonely or isolating season. Many holiday meals in Western culture feature animal centrepieces, and if family or friends eat an omnivorous diet, this could be alienating for their local friendly vegetarian. One great way to bridge this divide is to bring a plant-based dish to dazzle and share with everyone, while ensuring you have something delicious to eat. Alternatively, you could seek out vegetarian friends or dedicated events that cater to your interests specifically. This is the perfect time to build community around shared values. 

Make sure to drink ample hot teas, coffee or cider between meals if you are feeling cold but don’t want to be eating all day long. This is a great way to keep hydrated without the chilling effects of downing cold water, and can help improve blood circulation. 

Another smart strategy for thriving throughout the winter is to follow seasonal availability of produce. Dietitians actually recommend this helps strengthen the immune system to keep winter colds or other sicknesses away. In British Columbia, look out for farmers’ delightful selection of pears, apples, squash, persimmon, brussels sprouts, broccoli, potatoes, beets, and so much more throughout the winter months. The beauty of eating with the seasons is that your food does not have to travel as far to reach you, meaning you can eat fresher and healthier food and while producing less transport-related emissions. Most importantly, you can support local agriculture, ensuring food security and building community. 

Many of the best vegetarian winter recipes feature these seasonal produce options. Try out a curried pumpkin ginger soup, borscht, apple crumble, roasted brussels sprouts, pear compote, or any other ingenious combination you can dream up! 

Beyond diet, there are great ways to mindfully embrace the cold. For this practice, we should look to the timeless wisdom of our Northern cousins. Norway may as well be Europe’s Canada, but they dare to enjoy their cold weather. This country embraces winter to the extent that they even have a specific word for the sense of coziness that can be indulged during the colder months – koselig. Norwegians look forward to skiing, fireplaces, hot drinks, and awing over the majestic natural landscapes that are at their peak of brilliance blanketed in snow. 

Even if Vancouver is not blessed with the snowy winter wonderlands that grace other Canadian cities, this by no means suggests that we should be left out of enjoying the cold. Let us embrace ice skating, plan the friends’ ski trip to Whistler, go tobogganing in Squamish, or simply plan special hot chocolate dates with our loved ones. If there is something to be cherished, to anticipate, to mindfully enjoy, the winter can fully inhabit its own special place in our hearts. 

 


September 4, 2019
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Before the Industrial Revolution, it was not common for the majority of people to eat meat on a daily basis. Most people were farmers or foragers before urbanization and technological change made other occupations more common. If these individuals did have access to meat, it was infrequent (i.e. a pig is slaughtered annually for a Christmas feast), and treated like a luxury item. This notion remains popular in comparatively less developed countries, where the consumption of meat is linked to a higher disposable income and social status. 

The capitalist-consumerist doctrine that thrusted countries like the United States into wealth and global prominence provided a seemingly endless supply of meat products. The consumer quickly learned the lesson that no matter what, how much, or when they wanted it (provided they had the funds to back up their desires), the market would provide. Thus ushered in a frightening era of factory farmed animals – billions of animals in the U.S. alone enslaved and tortured so the industry can spend as little money as possible while maximizing profits. 

Our current global population is approximately 7.7 billion, and we are straining the world’s resources as it is. One in nine people are hungry, and one in three are malnourished. Demographic projections estimate that humans will number 10 billion by 2050, with the majority of growth centered around Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. 

Research and historical trends have shown that as the population grows and more people are brought out of poverty, the demand for meat will increase as well. Although we should be wary of paternalistic international policy that attempts to control consumption patterns of other nations, the ongoing climate emergency demands immediate collective action. If we look to culture and ancestral dietary patterns rather than dangerous fast food propaganda, we have a much greater chance of doing better by our health, the environment, and the animals. Let us focus on encouraging and celebrating healthy plant-based foods, rather than condemning others’ choices, we can share, educate and inspire. Provide the information, and let them choose for themselves. 

Our globalized economy has at least as many drawbacks as advantages. While consumers in wealthy countries may enjoy unprecedented access to food, wealth and services, this comes at a great human cost. Our clothes and smartphones are manufactured by slave labour in developing countries, most often in East and Southeast Asia. Western corporations benefit from the cheap labour while their customers clamour for the cheapest price points. 

The situation with the global trade is just as bad, if not worse. Cereals are grown en masse in poorer countries and shipped to wealthier countries to feed livestock, robbing local populations of their food supply while fattening the animals that inefficiently feed the West. It takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef. 

Animal agriculture is also hugely resource-intensive. The same kilogram of beef requires 15,000 liters of water to produce. Approximately 30% of global arable land is used for livestock farming. The livestock industry uses a third of the Earth’s freshwater. If we were to reallocate resources to feed the hungry rather than stuff the obese, our planet could actually accommodate the projected population increase. 3.5 billion more people could be fed on vegetarian diets, where grains would be consumed by humans directly, efficiently, and ethically. 

Beyond the argument of pure resource efficiency, the consumption of meat impoverishes the world by straining our environment beyond its limits. 2019 has seen dire climate news come to the forefront of public awareness. Every day it becomes harder to ignore that sea levels are rising, the atmosphere is brimming with carbon dioxide, and biodiversity is declining rapidly. 

The poor will be hit first and hardest by the disastrous effects of climate change. They will be poisoned by polluted water sources and further malnourished by the lack of food, dislocated from their homes, and suffer disproportionately from extreme weather events. 

When our eating habits are responsible for elevated emissions and excessive use of land and water, meat consumption becomes a human rights issue. Far from putting the interests of animals ahead of humans, we can simultaneously help humans, the environment, and animals. The only losers in this scenario are those who profit off animal cruelty, and we ought to stop paying our own executioners. 


September 4, 2019
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Traditional thinking has asserted that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate copious amounts of animal protein. For modern adherents to paleo or keto diets, to follow in their footsteps is the perfect solution to our health woes. However, this thinking pattern neglects a vast body of anthropological evidence pointing to the contrary. 

Granted, humans have subsisted off an incredibly wide range of foods. It was to our evolutionary advantage to eat as broad of a diet as possible, particularly with the geographic range of our habitat and comparatively low position in the food chain. Yes, with tools, humans are adept hunters. We owe our status of predator to our brains, which have allowed us to use fire and weapons to circumvent our lowly prey status. However, this does not indicate that we are biologically designed to eat meat. 

For natural carnivores and omnivores, tools and fire are not necessary for transforming flesh into food. A lion has no issue tackling an antelope on the plains and eating the corpse raw. Carnivores use their incredibly acidic stomachs to break down the bacteria and parasites in raw meat that could poison herbivores with more alkaline systems. Humans are capable of eating raw meat, as sushi restaurants prove on a daily basis, but generally uncooked flesh can be dangerous and unwise for human consumption, leading to trichinosis, giardia, or toxoplasmosis. 

There are a few physiological characteristics which denote humans as something other than natural omnivores or carnivores. The length of our intestinal tract, approximately 6 meters, is much more closely related to that of herbivorous animals. Carnivores have shorter intestinal tracts that quickly expel rotting and decaying matter from the flesh they eat. 

While humans do have canine teeth, the majority of our teeth are flat-edged; better suited for crushing, grinding and chewing, rather than shearing. When humans do eat meat, knives do the work typically done by the sharp incisors and canines of a natural meat-eater. 

Before the widespread use of weapons, technology, and agriculture, humans would have had to rely on foraging through their natural environment for food. The majority of pre-agricultural societies were predominantly plant-based (with the exception of seaside settlements relying on seafood or northern communities that had little access to vegetation), with the occasional spoil shared amongst all members of the tribe. 

If humans were designed to eat meat, we ought to have more carnivorous instincts. Before societal conditioning kicks in at full force, presented by families, religious institutions, schools and media, children are generally compassionate to other forms of life. We will gladly take children to gardens and farms, but it would be traumatizing to take them to a slaughterhouse. Many children’s stories and movies feature farm animals as the protagonists. If we were honest with kids about how we serve up Bambi or Wilbur on their plates at dinnertime, we would likely have many more young vegetarians. 

An omnivorous diet was strategic in times of desperation. We cannot blame our ancestors for eating what was available in order to survive – we would likely do the same in their position. However, we live in an incredibly different world now. Simply because animals foods are available does not mean they are advisable. Given the environmental and ethical conditions of animal consumption today, the more humans that eat animal foods, the more we dig our collective grave. It is simply not sustainable or practical for 7 billion plus humans to eat so much animal protein. The nutrients that humans need from animal products (generally understood to be an assortment of amino acids, omega 3s, and Vitamins D and B12), are either easily supplemented or absorbed from plant foods with the right dietary planning. 

The decision to refrain from eating meat is an important, empowering, ethical stance. It means that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in – that you value compassion over tradition, and that you are in charge of your own health. In a society trying to turn us all into sheep, we must dare to break from the herd. 


July 17, 2019
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More than the rest of us, athletes must be incredibly careful about what goes into their bodies. They know that the food they eat fuels their physical activity, which must be at a peak level. For the best training results, they know their diet must be optimal. We could all learn a little bit from athletes when it comes to health, even if we aren’t about to run a marathon. 

 

So why might athletes give up meat or other animal products? Don’t they need lots of protein to build muscle and keep their energy levels high? Doctors, researchers, and countless vegetarians around the world would beg to differ. The truth is, it is possible to get all the nutrition your body requires from a carefully planned, plant-based diet. Switching to plants could even make you healthier, while feeling great about your decision that also helps animals and the environment. 

 

The findings are in – humans definitely don’t need to eat flesh to be healthy! The overconsumption of fatty, cholesterol-filled animal products is actually linked to heart disease, atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Those conditions would absolutely not be conducive to athletic performance. So it is easy to see why some may look for a better option. 

 

Plant-based diets, with their focus on whole, plant foods, tend to be much lower in fat and have much more fiber than the Standard American Diet (filled with highly processed, fatty animal foods and simple carbohydrates). 

 

Sadly, even those who are at the peak of physical fitness can be at risk for heart disease. One study found that 44% of endurance cyclists suffered from coronary plaque.  A great way to combat this buildup is to eat more plants, or leave animal products behind altogether.

 

Plant-based diets are known to reverse plaque build-up, lower blood pressure and reduce body weight. Because they are low in saturated fat and cholesterol, this diet can improve blood viscosity, helping oxygen travel through the bloodstream more efficiently. 

 

Without being bogged down by heavy, meaty meals, plant-based athletes have more energy at their disposal and have higher endurance levels. Inflammation, which is created through factors ranging from stress to high levels of meat consumption, can be a huge hindrance to athletic success. Studies have recently shown that a healthy-plant based diet can fight this inflammation by alkalizing the body and protecting it against the slew of diseases and discomfort that inflammation is linked to. Anti-inflammatory superfoods that some athletes swear by are turmeric, flax, hemp, dark leafy greens, ginger and blueberries. 

 

Flinging himself far from the fate of plaque buildup and heart disease, Adam Hansen, an endurance cyclist, claims that a “healthy, plant-based diet” helped him shatter the record and finish 20 Grand Tours in a row. He is not alone in aweing at the power of a plant-powered transformation. Record breaking, world-class strongman Patrik Baboumian credits his abnormally long career and natural-built buscles to his clean, vegan diet. 

 

Athletes from every sport are touting the success of their new lifestyles. One of the best female tennis players in the world, Venus Williams follows a vegan diet to manage her auto-immune disease naturally. Rich Roll, famous podcaster and ultraman, used a plant-based diet to overcome his addictions, lose weight, and completely transform his lifestyle. Tia Blanco, World Surfing Champion of 2015, cut out animals from her diet after being horrified by the treatment of animals in Cowspiracy. She now feels more energetic than ever before, and her diet and active life keep her effortlessly lean. 

 

Some will be in denial about the comprehensive benefits of a plant-based diet. They will ask where you get your protein, wonder if your muscles are withering away, and worry you will pass out from lack of chicken. You can breathe easy, run ahead and join the millions of others who are making the healthier and kinder choice – for the animals, the planet, and their own wellbeing.