food

October 25, 2019
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Health is a powerful weapon. It may not be a violent, conventional weapon, yet it is a tool that can be equipped to maximize human potential. The journey to health is one of self-discovery, empowerment, peace and renewal. 

There are many reasons people give for transitioning to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Often they cite a combination of factors, related to the ethics of consuming or harming animals, the environmental degradation associated with animal agriculture, and negative health effects of consuming animal products. Although the final argument is contentious within health circles, with opposing parties all eager to claim they hold the antidote to humanity’s nutritional woes, there are many proven health benefits linked to a vegetarian diet. 

In 2018, the Progress in Cardiovascular Disease report showed that a vegetarian diet lowers an individual’s risk of heart disease by an average of 40%. When properly planned, a whole foods plant based diet can stave off some of North America’s greatest health culprits, such as; osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and heart disease. Animal protein is rich in saturated fat, which can build unhealthy levels of cholesterol within the body and endanger the heart through arterial narrowing. Vegetarians are found to have lower BMIs on average, as plant-forward diets typically feature more nutrient-dense and less calorically dense foods. 

Particularly when departing from the Standard American Diet, the journey to a plant-based diet has the potential to completely shift an individual’s relationship with food. This lifestyle is empowering, as it enables vegetarians to mindfully choose each day which foods they will eat. No meal is a given, as it may have been prior to this change. When following the ways of our parents, culture and religion without question, we blindly subscribe to notions of familiarity. Inhabiting this mindset, there is little space for independent thought. Conversely, a plant-based diet involves a conscious shift towards a new way of life. In this daily decision-making, we have no choice but to be mindful. New questions enter our minds, and new solutions are discovered. 

Community is a vital component of the health equation. VVS is one example of a healthy, sustainable and compassionate community, but we are only one player in Vancouver’s prolific wellness scene. If it is possible to surround yourself with individuals who share your values, then you are much more likely to follow through with your goals. What better opportunity exists for your path to self-improvement than to be encouraged by like-minded peers? You deserve to be part of a group that supports and reinforces your beliefs, rather than having to fight against the tide of negativity that floods our world today. 

It is not a universal phenomenon, but for many, changes in diet can be the first domino to fall in the path of pursuing health changes in all directions. There is power to be enjoyed in the knowledge that you are capable of changing something as fundamental to your existence as the food you consume. If this is possible, why should other lifestyle changes evade you? 

Many individuals who have made the switch from omnivorous to plant-focused diets report higher energy levels with an increased desire to exercise. Living in a place as beautiful as British Columbia, there are ample opportunities to explore the natural environment. With your newfound energy and stamina, you will be well-equipped to make the most of the mountains, forests and bountiful bodies of water that endow our province with its spectacular reputation. Fortunately, regular exercise is linked to improved mood, better sleep patterns, lower stress levels, and a slew of physical health benefits.

For those who prioritize health, the benefits need not be limited to individual gains. When we are able to take care of our own needs, we are better able to care for our friends, family and community. We know that we have benefited from positive lifestyle changes, so we can wholeheartedly recommend these pursuits to those we care about. There is no underestimating the power of influence, which is as effective in the online world as it is in business or politics. 

Moreover, why should we stop at meeting our own health needs? Empowered by the positive feeling of eating well and exercising, we have the potential to be better stewards of our natural world. Compassion and diligence engineer progress towards a kinder future. If we are not crippled by our own doubts and problems, we can ambitiously tackle the issues facing our world. Individual wellness sparks the opportunity to pursue societal wellness. Let us move consciously in the direction of our dreams, for there is no mountain too steep for human potential.


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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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.