My wife and I have been eating “plant-based” for about a year now. We don’t eat meat or other animal protein. (No cheese. No Soylent Green.)
Ruth is a MRI/Radiology nurse and she started to notice that sick people are sick, largely, (pun intended) because they are fat (fat is my language, not hers!); bad knees, bad backs, diabetes, various cancers, heart disease, poor hygiene, poor taste in music, and the like. “Are we fat,” I asked? She said, “We are on the verge.” Our doctors were starting to look at us condescendingly over the top of their glasses.
I immediately recommended the paleo diet because paleo is what cavemen ate — supposedly allota barbecue. (Cavemen also did allota starving to death, I’m guessing.) But as it happened, a friend of ours had just lost 85lbs on the “Forks over Knives” plant-based diet. Ruth watched the documentary and despite my subtle attempts to mock it, she said, “I’m doing this.” I said I’d do it with her for 8 weeks. (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21). It’s been over a year.
So here’s what I’ve learned:
#1. We’re not vegan. People say, “Oh, you’re vegan!” and I say, “No. Plant-based is WAY worse than vegan.” And they say, “What could be worse than vegan?” And I tell them, “No added oil. We have to eat our salad dry.” This also eliminates alotta vegan friendly foods (fake cheese, fake mayo, fake sour cream) because they’re loaded with oil. A pure plant-based person worried about heart disease won’t even eat nuts. It’s bleak.
#2 Veganism is a religion, but we aren’t believers. Most vegans love mosquitoes, hate factory farming of chickens, worry about puppy mills, and if they saw a human baby drowning right next to a fawn, they’d feel conflicted. But respect for animals and worship of animals are different things. I’m happy to kill animals for food. It doesn’t bother me that cows are forced to lactate forever so we can eat cheese. But now people assume, because we don’t eat meat, that we must be PETA wackos. That’s annoying. We are wackos, but for other reasons. Plant-based people aren’t necessarily vegan.
#3 I don’t get all the science. I don’t really care, quite frankly. There does seem to be a pretty strong connection between animal protein and cancers. Maybe it’s just that plant-based people are thin. Maybe it’s just that we eat more vegetables (and maybe we could keep eating meat if we did so in moderation). Or maybe it’s just because tofu has magical cancer fighting, diabetes busting, fat fighting properties that make anybody who eat it magically healthy. My wife has read all the books and knows all the research — ask her if you really care. I was skeptical till I found out our local research and teaching hospital (University of Rochester/Strong Hospital) employs plant-based nutritionists and insists that cardiac patients follow the diet. That’s enough for me.
(This (German) meal looks healthy, but it’s slathered with butter and loaded with fat. Germans don’t do vegetarian, let alone plant-based. I suffered through, though. 🙂 )
#4 Americans eat like kings. Which is to say, we eat like pigs. Nobody in the world eats more than we do (nearly 4000 calories a day, by some measures). (DailyMail.com) We eat three huge and rich/fatty meals a day, snack between meals, and have ice cream and/or popcorn almost every night. Meat consumption has exploded in the past 100 years (NPR). I recently ate dinner with a 75 year old man who said that he wasn’t poor growing up, but his family only had meat once a week. Today, we eat sausage and bacon for breakfast, cold cuts for lunch, and for dinner, a steak or a chicken breast about the size of a queen sized pillow. Is it any wonder that we are the fattest nation on earth? Actually — that’s not true. We are only the 8th fattest. Only 72% of us are overweight or obese while 79% of the good citizens of the Cook Islands are overweight (1st place! Yea Cook Islands!). (W.H.O., 2016)
#5 The diet annoys our friends. They dispute the science or complain that we don’t want to go out to eat as much (we don’t). Maybe there is something in the diet that inherently asserts, “We are eating intelligently and you are eating stupidly.” We don’t feel that way, but that’s how some seem to read it. But what is more upsetting to people is that, I think, the diet constitutes a refusal of hospitality. People who invite guests to dinner are offering their best — and now we’re saying their best just isn’t good enough. I get that. The relationship between food and friendship is strong! Our kids were really mad at us for awhile. The burgers, hot Italian beef, and pork chops suddenly disappeared, (Who wants to mooch a meal of grits and chickpeas?), but we are slowly converting them to plant-based.
#6 Faking traditional meals is disappointing. You can’t copy meatloaf or chicken cordon blue with plants. You can make legal dough, legal sauce, and cover it with traditional legal vegetables, but it just won’t taste like pizza. It will taste like somebody tried to make pizza and screwed up (because they forgot the cheese). We make a cream sauce to put on black beans and potatoes, and we love it, but it’s not sour cream. Plant-based is an acquired taste.
(legal twice baked broccoli potatoes from the Plant Pure Nation Cookbook, by Kim Campbell)
#7 Your tastes change. Really. It’s been a year and we enjoy our meals way more than we used to. I’m sure that’s due, in part, to Ruth’s cooking skills. But I also think we’re adjusting. I suppose if you decided to only eat, say, Cambodian food for the rest of you’re life, you’d really come to enjoy the wonder and subtleties of Cambodian food. Long before we got started on this diet we were lovers of beans; Puerto Rican rice and beans, black beans and rice, and etc., so that has been really easy (plant-based people eat alotta beans). We eat differently and we’ve grown to like it and the occasional meat/cheese cheats are typically disappointing. I suppose one of the things that makes vegans/etc. so annoying is that they, not realizing how much their tastes have changed, inflict their recipes on meat eaters: “Here! You’ll really love this! It tastes just like meatloaf!” Um. No it doesn’t. (Our plant based tacos are pretty close, though. And our banana/cocoa frozen smoothie w/ almond milk. And our roasted garlic potatoes. And our…)
Disclaimer: The smell of meat on a charcoal grill still makes me tremble.
#8 We’re eating healthy. It really amazes me how often the guy criticizing my diet is stuffing his face with chili dogs, french fries and cheese nachos: “WERHER OO OOO ET YR PRTEEN [Where do you get your protein]?” or “You’re going to get rickets and die.” This is so strange — as if there are no nutritional deficiencies in the standard American diet. And even if our diet has a sin of omission (B12 and D don’t come in vegetables), we can always add a little nutritional yeast or drink almond milk to compensate. But you can’t compensate for the sins of commission in what most Americans eat — processed foods, fatty meats, and Ding Dongs. If you only eat kale, you’ll die, but imagine someone sitting on a bench eating rat poison and saying to someone eating kale, “You know, kale is not nutritionally complete.”
(Rise ‘N Roll Bakery, Key Lime Donut. Mmmmmmmmm.)
#9 We strategically cheat. When I was still raging against this diet I read an article that said people most likely to lose and keep weight off, cheat — strategically. When a plate of nachos comes around at a dinner party, the strategic cheater eats 3 and quits. The non-cheater refuses the nachos, but then breaks down and eats three, and later eats the whole plate and says, “Well, to heck with this diet” and blows up like a balloon. I intend to eat a Wendy’s frosty once a year. I will eat kringle (a Racine WI pastry) when I visit my folks and Rise N Roll donuts when I visit my sister (Nappanee, IN). I ate a full blown traditional meal at Thanksgiving, including dark meat and gravy. One day, Ruth said, “We’re going to the NCFR and getting a Grecian omelette with the home fries (at least it was vegetarian).” I felt guilty about this till I found out that Dr. Esselstyn, one of the plant based gurus, eats 10 Reese’s Peanut Butter cups each year on New Years Eve. If I eat a non-legalistic plant-based diet 95% of the year, I’m guessing I will still enjoy a substantial health benefit.
#10 We feel better. Who knows, maybe it’s too late. 50 years of dietary recklessness may have done me in. Maybe the diet will get debunked or maybe we’ll just get lazy and slide back into our typical American ways. Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to die earlier but eat lavishly. But at this point we are a year in and my wife and I are both down 20lbs without dieting, without being hungry, and without counting calories. My wife is off her cholesterol medicine (I haven’t been tested yet). We have both experienced significant digestive benefits and all of my hair grew back. OK, that last bit was a lie, but last summer my 53 year old plant-based self ran a half-marathon (and it was a trail marathon on some seriously steep hills). We don’t want to live forever — we just want to do our part to make sure we remain trim, active, and healthy… till the very end.
http://www.forksoverknives.com (for links to all sorts of books, videos, etc.)
How Not to Die, Greger
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Esselstyn