healthy

March 25, 2020
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The world is on lockdown – it’s epidemic time. In a few short weeks, the previously dismissable coronavirus has gone from a benign Chinese contagion to a global monolith with grave health and economic implications. 

Coronavirus is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. We have a careless attitude towards our planet. Although this Earth is our home, we do not value it for everything it provides us. The reason we are here today with such prosperity and “infinite growth” is because we ravaged our planet. We have got it completely wrong. In this mindless quest to satisfy every desire, we have doomed our own species’ future livelihood. 

The Earth cannot sustain the harsh demands of our bloated industrial and technological empire.  Our greedy lifestyles have evolved to strip innumerable natural resources from our planet and doom entire ecosystems.  

Nothing bout our current way of life is natural or sustainable. Merely the fact that there are 7 billion people with economic activity that creates widespread extinction events shows how unreasonable we’ve become. So many of our daily habits are toxic to our home environment. 

One should consider our lifestyles in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom to glimpse how absurd we truly are. We are too many revolutions removed from a lifestyle that our ancestors thrived in. It would be simple for someone to defend our current society – to talk about progress, technology, communications illuminating our lives. 

Even Vancouver, our seaside gem of glass and emerald, suffers from chronic issues that bear healthy consideration. The wealth disparity between the West Hastings penthouses and the street markets of Strathcona is unsettling to say the least. Our neighbours are experiencing debilitating poverty, yet we consider the vulnerable in our population no more than a nuisance. We have rejected the condition and environment of our natural human communities. Cities of 1 to 20 million people are the norm, yet alienating to our natural state. 

Simply put, we have  overcomplicated our lives. Monks and Buddhists, ascetics and minimalists are seen as extremists, while the lawyers, bankers, and politicians are the everyday-man. We are ignorant and careless regarding the natural world, when in fact it should be our first priority. We do not value the plants and animals, the environment around us when we would be nothing without them. 

Technology has bought us time,  it has bought us Band-Aid solutions, but one must only glimpse the chaos that is unfolding around us in March 2020 to understand that there’s a fundamental issue in the way we operate our lives. 

We ought to take stock of our immediate surroundings – to disconnect ourselves from the world economy to build self-reliance. Our global network brought a pandemic, a climate disaster, countless wars, and countless other casualties. We have alienated ourselves from our innate condition and forgot every aspect of what used to anchor us to our ecosystems. How could people be healthy when they’re fed deep-fried battery-cage chicken tenders, greasy fries, “diet” cokes, and carcinogens wrapped up in deli rolls? Our diets in the West are not nutritious. They have nothing to do with their local environments, and rely on society’s love of convenience and speed to barely fuel our busy lives. 

Once this virus runs its course, we must be obligated to reassess. We ought to seriously consider how we source our food, clothing, raw materials, technology, and household products. The origins of these possessions define our global economic system. We are mutually dependent. This has spelled success for many a businessman and export-oriented economy, yet with a tangible cost that may be too much for us to bear. The shock waves of our irresponsible lifestyles reverberate throughout the world to the tune of COVID-19. This pandemic ought to be the wake-up call we need to live more mindfully, sustainably, and well. Once the social isolation measures are relaxed, we have a tremendous opportunity to source more food locally, support our local economy, and build community resilience. These changes are absolutely possible and beneficial in our ongoing fight against climate change as global health scares radically shake up every societal norm we once took for granted. 


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.