How to Eat? Vegan? Vegetarian? Omnivore?
I am curious what your general philosophy is surrounding food/diet. Do you view humans as evolving towards a “kinder” diet (vegan) or do you see humans as needing the bodies and products of animals? At this point in my life (I am almost 50), I find myself utterly confused and wearied by the conflicting views and beliefs about food. I get completely overwhelmed by all the nutritional information. Also, I have a daughter who has decided to eat as a vegan. I ask you this because I do so much appreciate your intelligent and holistic perspective.
Hi Debra. Thanks for your question.
Well, I can only give you my personal opinion and perspective on this. As you say, this can be a very contentious and personal issue. When it comes to diet, what people elect to do can often be based on personal religious or philosophical beliefs rather than on health. I cannot comment one way or the other about that. Everyone must follow their conscience.
When it comes to health, however, I believe that the appropriate diet is one that is healthy for the person. If someone cannot tolerate gluten — say, it causes severe diarrhea or other symptoms — then they should not eat gluten until their body is healed from this intolerance. If someone is allergic to nuts, then they should not eat nuts until this allergy is healed.
For the rest of us, however, the answer is: eat as balanced and as clean a diet as possible. That means organic whenever possible, avoidance of all GMOs, an emphasis on vegetables and fruits, meat in moderation, whole grains, and avoidance of all processed foods. In other words, home-cooking! I’m also a strong believer in avoiding all forms of artificial sweeteners (they are literally poisons!) and drinking water as your primary beverage — although tea and limited coffee is okay too for most people.
I believe if America made one dietary change and replaced all soda and juices with water, the obesity and diabetes epidemics, and perhaps more, would be greatly reduced. The second change, which subsumes this one, is that if people learned to cook again and ate only what they could make at home, they’d be a lot healthier.
Another problem with most of our diets is that we eat too much. Eating out in restaurants has gotten us into that habit. If you want to assess your portion sizes, I suggest you follow recommendations of Weight Watchers, who provide excellent advice on that matter. Another habit we have developed, due to restaurant eating and advertising, is eating way too many cookies and other sweets. A little treat now and then is okay, but it should be a special thing, not an every day thing. If you are craving something sweet, eat a piece of fruit.
As far as vegetarianism and veganism, especially for children — frankly, I am not a big fan of this. I say this out of the experience of watching other families and their children. Vegetarianism is doable for some children if their parents really know how to balance their diet and bring them up to eat healthily. But children can be fussy eaters and it’s often hard to given them proper nutrition, regardless of the diet we provide. (One good strategy, however, is to have the whole family eat together for meals — that is, set a good example of everyone eating a healthy, balanced diet at the same table.)
Unfortunately, I have seen children in vegetarian homes become quite obese because they end up living on things like bread, pasta, and cheese. Not a good idea. Veganism has the added difficulty of lacking first-class proteins in the form of eggs and dairy, and possible deficiencies in vitamins like B12. I suppose it is possible to compensate for this with grains, nuts, and beans. But realistically, I personally believe that first-class proteins and nutrients are necessary for children’s bodies, including their brains, to grow and mature properly. For example, I know one boy who insisted on veganism as a child — in fact, he grew up to be an animal activist, so that was truly his life passion and I respect that. However, as a teen and young man, he was gaunt and weak, when he should have been at the peak of his vigor.
Another problem with vegan and vegetarian diets is a tendency to eat a lot of soy products as meat and dairy substitutes. Unfortunately, almost all soy is now GMO. In addition, there are many people who now believe that soy is not a healthy food in large quantities because of its estrogenic properties. Even the Japanese eat soy mostly in fermented form and in smaller quantities.
In other words, there may be some families who can make veganism (or vegetarianism) work, but in most cases, I think it’s too risky to play around with veganism for children. Our children can’t get a redo on their childhood growth. If children want to become vegan, they can do so as adults. If they insist, let them simply be vegetarian as they grow up and demonstrate their ability to properly manage their diet, growth, and health.
Finally, you don’t say how old your daughter is. If she is pregnant, I believe that the same holds true for pregnant women as for children. We can hold true to our beliefs and take what comes — for our own bodies. A pregnant woman, however, needs to think of the life growing within her. I believe she needs more balanced nutrition than a vegan, and perhaps even a vegetarian, diet can provide.
My two cents! I know that many will disagree! While our minds and souls may be evolving away from eating animal-based foods, I don’t think our bodies have quite done so yet.
Happy new year!!
Here is what I think about eating plant based ( aka veganism)…
Right on about the water! Unfortunately many municipal water systems allow a scary amount of toxic substances to persist in the final product. Buying water in plastic is expensive and leads to horrifying increases in land fill. South Florida, where we are now, was recently taken to task by the EPA for using too much chlorine to kill the E. coli and so substituted ammonia! Also fluoride is only in use now in North America as it is considered to be as dangerous to humans as lead.
So, what to do? Water is precious and necessary to human life. Our solution is to install a whole house filter system here. But not reasonable for many. Maybe just a simple system under the kitchen sink?
Vegan is a new word in the language, created around WWII, and is simply vegetarian shortened. Unfortunately, the word has been very politicized over time. So I use “plant-based” eating instead.
All humans, eating whatever diet, suffer a decline in B-12 absorption over time. Humans over 50 are advised to supplement their diets with OTC B-12 pills. Makers of almond milk are adding B-12 now. I personally take B-12 daily, at the age of 60.
I never eat soy. I don’t like it and turns out, soy is heavily processed along with being heavily GMO. Many alternates.
No question that eating a different way requires teaching and learning. It took me a couple of years to unlearn all that I had been taught about omnivore cooking and eating. Once we know, it is as easy, perhaps easier, and certainly cheaper, to eat plant based. Children and pregnant women are the future of the human race. I wouldn’t want to mess with that. However, it is because of their importance that I would plead that we have to think differently. Protein and its primacy is only a concept about 150 years old. The word protein comes from “proteus” and means first. The word came into use after being invented by a British scientist in the mid 1800s. Certainly the flesh of animals is a prime source of protein. But I would ask two things: what do the strongest animals in the world eat? Secondly, how much protein is the “right” amount? Like most things, more is not necessarily better.
Your reader is exhausted by the many conflicting claims in the diet world. As was I. But after several years eating plant-based I now feel settled and comforted. I no longer feel guilt associated with the eating of another’s body or eggs. I am educated about a balanced diet that excludes meat, dairy, fish and eggs. I am healthy and energetic. I feel that my choices are congruent with my other beliefs.
Good luck and good eating!
See Forks Over Knives. Books, cookbooks, recipe app, video, FB, web sites
See NutritionFacts.org. Daily references to studies about health.
Thanks Elizabeth! (A good friend of mine, to my readers…)
Like I said, people can make plant-based diets work… but it’s difficult for many. I must admit, I’m also dubious that people didn’t eat much meat, eggs, and dairy until 150 years ago… Well, I’m sure we’re eating more meat now (because it’s so cheap and easy to get), but certainly people ate a lot of eggs and dairy. Isn’t that the image we always have of rural life — of the milk maid, the egg ladies? Anyway, lots of good info, thanks Elizabeth!!
As far as water — in my family we use a solid carbon block filter (reverse osmosis unfortunately gets rid of needed minerals), but unfortunately I don’t believe it removes flouride — a dangerous scourge to be sure. To think people were giving their kids added flouride drops (I remember our pediatrician recommending this!) or dental flouride treatments of teeth (pushed by dentists). Any earnest exploration of this topic will reveal that flouridation is a dangerous sham.
Right now my family is experimenting with a somewhat esoteric water structuring device. I’m not sure what I think, but I do think it revitalizes vegetables and the water tastes better than even the filtered water.
I have some personal experience to add to this topic. I am 53 and have been a vegan since 1986. It was very difficult at first as I did not know how to cook and there were very few health food markets back then. I forced myself to learn to cook and began going to farmers markets for fresh produce and then began to grow my own. Over time it became easier and easier. Now I don’t really give it a thought, it is just how things are. I have two teenage boys who have been raised vegetarian. Amy is correct in that it can be a challenge to get kids to eat well but with persistence it can happen. Both boys are incredible strong and healthy. They also were not vaccinated so that is a factor as well I am sure. If someone wants to raise a vegetarian kid it can be done!