Exploring Food Hypocrisy

If you’ve been a devoted reader of my blog (for which I’m eternally grateful) then you know I’m a fan of the phrase “You have to start somewhere.” I’ve said that changing a little is better than no change at all, and that every societal paradigm shift in history started out small. But every so often I come across something, an article, a documentary, a book, that makes me feel like the little change just isn’t enough. This time it was Cowspiracy, a documentary about the environmental impact of animal agriculture, which you should all go watch on Netflix right now. The film begins with the narrator and “protagonist” for lack of a better word, Kip Andersen, retelling his discovery of a U.N. report that said that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhose gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Andersen soon learned that his previous attempts at environmentalism — taking shorter showers, composting, conserving electricity, riding his bike — were basically insignificant in terms of saving resources and reducing his carbon footprint compared to the resource drain and carbon footprint of animal agriculture.

Now, none of the startling truths Andersen uncovers in the documentary was really news to me, exactly. You may remember I wrote about this over a year ago. And I stopped eating animal products regularly a while ago, but the film definitely made me feel like I should be eating less than I do now. Most of all, it made me pretty appalled at the amount of meat, dairy, and eggs I see being served everywhere, all over campus and at restaurants. And it made me laugh darkly at the hypocrisy of the “water saving” flush mechanism on the toilets in some of the buildings on campus, because to get one hamburger’s worth of meat takes enough water for two months of showers.

Contrary to what you might be thinking, I actually didn’t want to make this post about hammering you with statistics to guilt you into becoming a vegan. I want to ask the question: why, when we learn that our food system doesn’t align with the values we profess to uphold, do we not change our behavior or demand change from the industries growing and manufacturing our food?

Is it that we don’t actually value things like conserving natural resources, treating people and animals humanely, lower health care costs, and a nourished population of children and workers?

I hope that’s not it.

Is it that we don’t really believe that animal agriculture is the number one cause of ecological disruption and climate change? Do we not believe that millions of chickens, cows, pigs, and other livestock, not to mention farmworkers and restaurant workers, are abused every hour of every day? That we are about to run out of fish any damn second? Are we in denial?

That’s a bit more likely. It’s certainly true that plenty of people are still blissfully unaware.

Or is it that it is simply too difficult for us to prioritize the future above the present? Is it that we cannot, without repeated education and effort (and often that’s not enough), grasp that the long term costs of eating the rib-eye steak right now far outweigh the carnal satisfaction?

Ding ding ding! I think we have a winner.

Most everyone wants to be kind. Most everyone wants this planet to thrive for future generations. Definitely everyone wants the foresight to be able to save themselves from having to pay in the future for their choices in the present. Well here, I’m giving it to you.

If you value health, kindness, and a sustainable future, and more importantly, if you eat food, you have so much power at your disposal to turn the tide.

If you are unconvinced, if you need motivation, if you’re a skeptical soda-drinking carnivore but you really do want to do your part, reach out to me and I’ll give you some ideas. Also please check out the Cowspiracy facts page.

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We Need Bugs In Our Food

Let me start by saying that I’m really not a big fan of bugs. I mean, most people aren’t, but I’m one of those wimps who has to get my mom to kill the spider on my pillow for me. And don’t even get me started on bees. I’m terrified of them. I turn into an irrational baby when one gets too close to me, and I avoid them at all costs. I’m convinced my phobia is rooted in my childhood, during which my dad frequently told me the story of how he almost died from an anaphylactic reaction to a bee sting. I’ve never even been stung. When I was little, if you had told me there was a way to get rid of all the bees in the world, I would have been all for it.

Now, though, as averse as I am to them, the knowledge I have acquired forces me to concede that bees are actually essential to our survival. I admit I don’t know that much about it, but bees are pollinators, which means they facilitate the fertilization of certain plants that allows them reproduce. And they don’t just pollinate flowers — bees are responsible for pollinating many crops that are integral to our food system. Without bees, the diversity of our diet would decrease substantially, to the point where it would be even more difficult to feed the world nutritiously than it is now. And unfortunately for us, bees are steadily disappearing, in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Many researchers have linked this horror to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are meant to kill harmful pests, but seem to be killing beneficial ones as well. So not only are chemical pesticides hurting farmworkers and the environment and to some extent consumers, they are also probably hurting an organism that is crucial to a consistent supply of food. What’s more, attempting to get rid of “harmful” pests with chemical pesticides is also not great, because in our monocultural industrial agriculture system, the insects grow resistant to the chemicals and they become ineffective, leading to the need for harsher pesticides. There are better ways to manage crop-eating pests.

I might be able to forgive the accidental killing of bees because I know that it was indeed accidental. What little faith I have in agricultural chemical companies assures me they would never intentionally get rid of necessary pollinators. But what is even more acutely concerning and less excusable is the crusade to get rid of much tinier bugs — I am referring to certain disease-causing bacteria. Our society’s overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial substances to attempt to sterilize our environment has consequences, namely the destruction of beneficial bacteria and the proliferation of harmful, pathogenic bacteria that are resistant to these antibiotic substances. By far, the worst abuse of antibiotics is in the food system, as I’ve written previously. Industrially raised livestock are routinely fed antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease. The disease prevention is considered necessary because the animals’ living conditions are generally unsanitary and disease-promoting. With all of these antibiotics, the number of strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria is growing and there are still shockingly high counts of pathogenic bacteria found in samples of industrially raised meat. There are better ways to raise healthy animals.

I can think of several other examples of the necessity of various types of bugs, but alas, I must get back to studying.

Move over, Easy Mac

If you, like me, are in college and living off campus, you will likely find yourself at some point needing a convenient source of sustenance that does not require extensive preparation. It would be great if we all had the time, wherewithal, and skills to cook our meals from scratch all the time, but I concede that for many college students this is just not feasible. What I cannot accept, though, is this reliance on pseudo-foods like Easy Mac and instant ramen that I have witnessed of late. These things might stave off your hunger, but they are doing shit for your health (regardless of weight, in case you were thinking you can eat all the junk food you want because you’re thin). Thus, I have been inspired to come up with some more wholesome alternatives. Disclaimer: I am not yet a dietitian, so these suggestions aren’t backed by a certification, just my college and self-education up to this point.

Now, my go-to snack is always raw fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, and baby carrots, which are tasty and ready-to-eat. I always say, “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not really hungry.” Usually I dip the carrots in hummus. Apples, carrots, and hummus will probably last you a couple weeks in the fridge at least, but ripe bananas will only last a few days before getting brown (at which point I mash them up in my oatmeal). Only buy them if you know you’ll eat them before they go bad.

In the completely ready-to-eat nonperishable snack category, I would recommend any kind of (unsweetened) dried fruits and/or nuts — hell, make your own trail mix! — as the most wholesome options. If you’ll eat a loaf of 100% whole grain bread before it gets stale or moldy, keep some natural nut butter and all-fruit jam around to make a fast sandwich. You can also freeze bread and just defrost or toast it when you want it. Crackers like Triscuits, which are made with only whole wheat and salt (and delicious, by the way) are also a solid choice in a pinch.

Now, for microwaveable hot food — please steer clear of the Cup-of-Noodles and other highly processed instant meals. Go for instant oatmeal (even better if you get the plain one and sweeten it yourself) or canned soup that is broth, tomato, or bean-based with lots of beans or vegetables—lentil and split pea soups are my favorites. I have also seen seasoned instant lentils and instant brown rice in microwaveable packets, which are way better than Easy Mac, even if it’s not quite as healthy or cheap as cooking it yourself. I also love popcorn, which by itself is a very healthy whole grain, but save microwave popcorn for those desperate situations because there can be some questionable chemicals and partially hydrogenated oils in the flavoring (which are probably safe in small amounts). Orville Redenbacher’s SmartPop has the least added fat of any variety I’ve seen and tastes great.

Yay for fast, healthier snacks. Comment if you have other suggestions.

If There’s A Miracle Nutrient, It’s This One

I’ve ranted many a time to you about how everyone is too focused on nutrients and trying to find the one panacea to eat or eliminate to cure all of our nutritional woes. Sometimes it’s omega-3 fatty acids, sometimes sugar, sometimes protein, sometimes kale, sometimes vitamin blah blah blah. But I maintain that this kind of thinking is mostly a waste of time; if we focus on eating a variety of whole, plant-based foods, we’ll cover the rest of our bases.

BUT even I can’t help but sing the praises of dietary fiber, which I’ve written about before, and the average person could use a huge additional helping of fiber in their diet.

Some people can’t imagine how vegans manage to eat enough protein, but the fact is that no one is deficient in protein. On the other hand, most people are deficient in fiber — but not most vegans, I’d wager.

Fiber does a variety of beautiful things, including:

  • helps lower blood cholesterol
  • helps lower blood sugar
  • swells in the stomach, making you feel satisfied and less likely to overeat
  • facilitates healthy movement through the digestive system

The most miraculous action of fiber in my humble opinion would definitely be the fullness factor. I heard of a weight-loss study recently (can’t for the life of me remember where it came from) in which the only instructions given to participants was to eat a certain amount of fiber every day, and they lost a significant amount of weight because the fiber kept them from overeating.

And if you didn’t already know, you can only get fiber from minimally processed plant foods. (Well, food processors add supplemental fiber to packaged foods, but evidence of benefits comes from consumption of the whole foods.) The higher the fiber content of your diet, the lower the caloric density. Since I started eating a mainly whole-foods, plant-based, and high fiber diet, I actually eat a lot more food in terms of mass and volume, but the same or fewer calories. And anything that lets me eat more is a miracle in my book.

If you feel compelled to look at a specific nutrient as the index of the healthiness of your diet, let it be fiber, for two reasons: one, because fiber itself has many important functions in chronic health, and two, it is probably a good measure of how much of your diet is whole plant foods.