I am going vegan. Again. I tried in 2004, but didn’t know much about nutrition. I can and must make it this time. Several events converged to scare the eggs and dairy right out of me. [Update in December 2018: My Taster and I are happily celebrating our 7th veganniversary!]
I haven’t felt this jittery since I saw Alien and The Shining on the big screen, triggering a sleepless summer. But this time, the scary stories are real. I’m frightened and angry. Last week, Bill McKibben of 350.org spoke in Raleigh at a small church crowded with environmentalists. He described our planet as being so changed that it isn’t recognizable, so changed that it needs a new name. That’s why he calls his new book Eaarth.
Still shaken from Bill McKibben’s talk, I went to my first holiday party of the season, where a friend gave me a hard, hard time about writing another cookbook that included eggs and dairy. He’d gone vegan about 15 months ago after his fifth heart attack and was certain doing so had saved his life. Denny compared my choice to the one he’d faced recently: trade his red sports car to a father seeking a Christmas present for his daughter or stick with his old truck and know that he hadn’t contributed to a sixteen-year-old’s inevitable speeding and possibly serious injury or death. “I didn’t want to do something that I thought might kill somebody,” he said.
Denny and his wife were so convincing, so glowing with health, that I re-read The China Study this weekend. In its own way, it’s as shocking a tale of willed blindness and corporate corruption as Eaarth. It made me rethink the way we eat and made me shift the focus of my next book.
In case that wasn’t enough, I got a taste of Eaarth last night on the way to the first of two parties in downtown Raleigh. The rain had barely started when my Taster and I left the house, but was pounding down fifteen minutes later when we left the car two blocks from the first party of the night. The storm surged, nearly knocking me off my feet and drenching me with rain. My umbrella snapped inside out and broke; my Taster’s “storm-proof” umbrella met its match too. I literally ran for shelter around the corner of a skyscraper, then fought my way back to the car and drove home, too wet and shaken for either event. If I hadn’t been wearing sturdy shoes to baby my still-healing foot, I would surely have been blown to the pavement. Was this yet-another record-setting event of the sort that McKibben says should terrify us? Probably not, but it was to me: I worked downtown for eight years and had never before experienced such winds and rain.
Read on to get scared yourself … and to see how we can make a difference with our food choices.
- Eaarth says that the level of carbon in the atmosphere that will support life as we know it on our lovely planet is 350 parts per million or below. We’re at 390 ppm plus now and rising at about 2 ppm per year. McKibben heaps on studies and examples to convincingly show that global warming isn’t something we need to slow as a kindness to our grandchildren, it’s a current danger for our parents. He says:
We’ll need to figure out what parts of our lives and our ideologies we must abandon so we can protect the core of our societies and civilizations.
- The China Study says that eating animal products of any kind, especially milk but also meat, eggs, and fish, triggers many diseases of affluence, including heart disease, cancer, blindness, dementia, broken bones, MS, and diabetes. We’re not talking about increasing your chances of devastating illness by 2 or 3%. The differences are enormous, such as the group that had 49 coronary events before adopting a healthy diet and zero for eleven years after they switched to a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Another diet switch eliminated chest pains in 60% of heart patients, sparing them and our health-insurance system around $40,000 per patient compared to the cost of by-pass surgery. The cover of The China Study says it is the most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted. Over 8,000 statistically significant associations (95% certainty or higher) between diet and disease were analyzed to reach a compelling conclusion:
Whole, plant-based foods are beneficial, and animal-based foods are not. Few other dietary choices can offer the incredible benefits of looking good, growing tall and avoiding the vast majority of premature diseases in our country.
- It’s like a scene early in a horror movie, when most of the townfolk are humming along with their daily lives, while a giant comet plummets toward them or an irradiated rabbit starts snatching babies, but no one will listen to Lassie. On the local front: I live about 15 miles from the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency, a place positively aglow with environmental awareness. But go out on the highway and even the Prius drivers tear around at 70+ miles per hour, burning up our precious fossil fuel to get to work a minute or two early. On the global front: this is the first time in years that not even one U.S. Congressperson is attending the United Nations climate talks, now taking place in Durban South Africa. As Michael Jacobs writes in The Huffington Post:
And then, of course, there is the United States. Its position is straightforward: it wishes this whole subject would go away. In a pre-election year, facing a Republican Party in which climate scepticism has become an article (literally in some cases) of faith, the last thing President Obama wants is to drag global warming back into the domestic debate.
- The China Study was published in 2006 and Dr. Esselstyn’s Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease was published in 1995, but diet change did not even serve as an hors d’oeuvre in the health-care talks of 2009. It’s absent from the post heart-attack nutritional training at a well-respected local hospital, as I was shocked to find out when accompanying a friend to the sessions. The hospital’s nutritionist focused exclusively on choosing better processed foods and making better choices at fast-food restaurants, with no idea how to advise vegetarian patients. And the healing effects of a plant-based diet isn’t old news or small news: Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn combined forces in the current hit documentary and book Forks Over Knives.
In short, our planet is sprinting toward becoming uninhabitable and our standard American diet is making our very bodies uninhabitable, with our leaders ignoring or contributing to the well-documented situation. As Bill McKibben said, the CEO of Exxon would make an unbelievable Bond villain, one who wakes up every morning to change the very climate of the world for personal gain (bwha-ha-ha-ha!). Who could be evil on so large a scale?
What to do? Part of me wants to curl up under the couch and shiver. Part of me wants to jet down to a tropical island to snorkel among the coral reefs while they still exist. Yet another part thinks I should have some bacon cheesecake, because living to see the next phases may be downright unpleasant.
But instead, I’m going to drop the dairy, make my next book vegan, and continue working as energetically to slow global warming and promote health as long as I can. You may barely notice this on the Cook for Good site and in the recipes. I’ll still be cooking delectable dishes with affordable, seasonal, real food. There just won’t be any more eggs or dairy. You can mix these plant-based recipes in with your current favorites, vegan or not. I’ll be writing about how to convert some Cook for Good classics to this new way of cooking too.