I have a confession to make: about two weeks ago, I became vegan.
I no longer eat animals, things made from animals, or things animals make. So: no beef. No chicken. No pork. No fish. No shrimp. No eggs. No milk. No cheese.
No one is more surprised by this than I am.
Having just lost forty pounds on a diet consisting mainly of beef, chicken, eggs, and cheese, I would seem to be an unlikely candidate for veganism. After all, based solely on the ease and speed of my recent weight loss, it would seem that a high-protein, low carb diet aligns well with my metabolism and my lifestyle. And, indeed, having learned a whole new way of eating, I was reluctant to “mess with my success.”
And then we saw the movie Forks over Knives, which does a very good job of summarizing the scientific evidence of the benefits of a diet low in animal protein:
– In China, a comprehensive, long-term effort to map cancer types and rates reveals an important pattern. In regions where people eat very little animal protein, cancer is virtually unknown. Once animal protein is introduced into their diets, cancer rates rise dramatically.
– In Norway, when the Nazis commandeered all meat, eggs, and cheese for their soldiers, the population was forced to live on vegetables and breads. During those years, deaths from cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes plummeted. When the Nazis left and the meat came back, deaths from cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes returned to pre-war levels.
– In contemporary America, the number of citizens suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and cancer continues to climb. But, as many people have discovered, simply avoiding eating animals and animal products can be very effective arresting or reversing these conditions.
In short: a survey of the best scientific evidence available to us today indicates that “most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed,” by eating a whole-foods, plant-centered diet.
After seeing the movie, I started wondering if the diet that had helped me loose so much weight might actually, in the long term, be working against me. So I’ve decided to launch a second phase of dietary self-experimentation: ninety days on a diet as low as possible in animal protein.
This will not be easy for me. Frankly? I like a good burger. I loves me some fried chicken. Meat lover’s pizza is my hands-down favorite.
But I love life more than any of these foods. If going vegan helps me avoid illness and buys me ten to fifteen more healthy, productive years with Clyde … then, yeah, that means more to me than the occasional chili dog or slice of pizza pie.
Two weeks in, some observations:
– Going vegan is easier than you’d think. Especially in Atlanta, where we have many good sources for local vegetables and vegetarian dishes, I can almost always find something to eat. (And you can make some great quick meals at home. Last night we had vegan hot dogs on whole-wheat buns, with a side of home-made baked potato crisps. Yum!)
– Going vegan does require some planning. When we travel, I don’t expect my hosts to bear the burden of catering to my dietary experimentation, so we often carry our own food with us. (Just took some vegan breakfast burritos to Mom’s house, for example, over the holiday weekend.)
– Sometimes, you just have to eat what God provides. When eating at other people’s homes or in their favorite restaurants, sometimes you don’t have a vegan option. And during food-based celebrations, it’s almost anti-social not to partake of, say, the July 4th fried chicken or grandma’s chocolate cake or your family’s Thanksgiving bird. So, in situations like these, you may see me choosing to eat some chicken or turkey or salmon or cheese or egg or treat … but when I do, it will be rare, and it will always be the result of a conscious, mindful choice.
– Indulgence Day is important for me. When I first started losing weight, an indulgence day — a day off from the diet, with permission to eat as much as I liked of anything I wanted — was an important component of my plan. Indulgence days keep me from feeling deprived and help me defer less healthy choices to one day a week. I’m going to maintain this approach, at least at first, scheduling small amounts of meat and cheese for Saturday meals.
– I’m still losing weight. Now that I’m (mostly) vegan, I’m beginning to add some carbs (whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat wraps) back into my diet. So far, no weight gain — but I’m still very, very careful about the carbs I take in, and I’m watching the scales obsessively. I do not ever want to be fat again.
My question for you, dear reader: if you had good evidence that eating no animal protein could extend your life by 10-15 years and virtually eliminate the chance that you would ever suffer from cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease … would *you* be willing to let meat and eggs and dairy go?