The other day I saw the movie, “What the Health”. This film, like many before it, lays out a case for following a vegan-focused diet, while showcasing the negative aspects of dairy and meat consumption. I have heard all of these arguments many times before, particularly after attending a three weeks “Life Transformation Program” at Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach. Here, one eats only raw vegan foods for three weeks, while learning about how to live a healthy life, something that becomes a natural conversation when focusing on simplistic, wholesome foods. While ones’ body feels significantly better, ones’ mind does as well.
Another argument for cutting out meat and dairy comes from The China Study, an enormous epidemiological study that investigated the link between what local Chinese people eat, and the risk of developing various types of cancer. It was proven that there was a strong connection between how much animal proteins (meat, dairy, eggs) one ate, and the chances of getting cancer. So, if one is to believe these studies, one may rethink biting into that Peter Luger’s steak or grabbing some hot dogs off the grill.
But waittaminute! I would like to point out a principle that is not really considered in these studies, and that is QUALITY. That is, the quality of the foods we eat.
Growing up in Norway, I had access to a lot of natural, organic foods. While we often picked fresh corn, carrots and cloud berries from our own backyard, we, as a hunting family, also consumed a wide variety of wild game, from moose, deer, grouse, and capercaillie. Being a Norwegian, we also had access to a wide variety of fresh, high quality fish. As I skim the aisles of Whole Foods or a neighboring deli, and I can’t help but remember walking out into our garden in Oslo as a kid, and digging out a carrot from the earth, wiping it off and eating it whole.
Ultimately, I think the notion of producing foods oneself or through a community will be vastly more nourishing than getting hold of vegetables that have been produced and transported halfway around the world before being consumed. There is also a reason why vegetables are seasonal! But this idea, isn’t new or unique and the good news is that there are several start ups popping up that focus on producing vegetables and herbs in the comfort of ones’ urban apartment.
My point is that when studies say that eating animal proteins can be harmful, I would ask what kind of foods, and in turn, what were they given to eat? It’s therefore necessary that we should first and foremost focus on what exactly the food contains. We can say that on average a cow in America is fed about 50 % of its staple in corn. Does that mean that we actually eat partly corn when we eat that meat? In addition, to make the cows grow more quickly, and at the same time prevent infections from occurring, a cocktail of hormones and antibiotics are usually given, which may not be that healthy if we get in our system when eating the meat. In countries like the US, the way cows are treated is not what we, according to human standards, would call humane. The cows stand in narrow enclosed spaces for most of their life. This is in contrast to a moose that can freely roam around in nature, and eat exactly the food it wishes. While people may criticize hunting animals, a hunter knows where his or her meat came from, and how it was killed. Modern day packaging would never state the process in which the animal was killed or consumed, unless it’s highlighted as kosher or halal. Even when one reads “organic” you need to really dig deeper into what organic could really mean. Maybe, pesticides weren’t used, or organic pesticides were, but then what did the animals eat?
In Chinese Medicine, we learn that one key principle for eating is not to have too many food-group combinations in the same meal. For instance, eating meat without highly starchy foods (such as potatoes and pasta), but rather with green leafy vegetables will make the food much more easily digestible. In contrast, when eating highly starchy food, it is advised to avoid animal proteins at the same time if we really want to absorb the nutrients in the best way. The colon on average may carry a few kilograms of partly undigested meat, when it’s paired with the wrong food group, so it’s important to consider the proper combinations. Another principle we learn from traditional Chinese Medicine, is that it is wise to eat fruits alone, or leave them alone. If you don’t mix fruits with other things your body can digest them properly.
In our capitalistic world there is often a huge focus on profit. No surprise here. And obviously, in the realm of food, there is a big focus on how to produce more of the product. The effect is that the more of something generally leaves the company with a bigger profit. Factory-like settings and slaughterhouses are filled to the brim with more animals than they actually can possibly hold. All while, they are fed cheap foods such as corn. And in the case of chickens, farmers may give a cocktail of hormones to accelerate the growth, making them plumper. What is scary about this, is that we may get traces of this in us when we consume these products. What we therefore need to ask ourselves is, the animals we eat, well, what do they eat? And also, we need to pay attention to the emotional strain such animals go through when they are killed, as that also ends up in our system.
Of course, given the state of our overpopulated planet today, we are constantly in need of consuming more and more food. Since animal proteins such as meat are very nutrient-dense and calorie-rich, it is natural that the demand for these nutrients increases as the population grows. This is why established and innovative entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson are investing in the production of laboratory-produced meats. If you look at what these pieces of meat contain, they are virtually the same as beef or chicken, and so on. The only difference is that it doesn’t contain traces of growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. While, not the most natural, it’s definitely a safer, market-friendly way to craft meat on a broader scale. We can only speculate what is being lost if you compare a lab-crafted steak to that of a wild moose steak.
So what´s the solution?
Pay attention to where your food comes from and how it was fed and treated. In higher quality foods generally cost more, because it usually cost more to produce. It can also take a longer time to produce since only natural processes are involved. I am a strong believer in eating a diverse range of foods, but pay attention to the way you combine them.
When I look at my grandmother, who is nearing her 102nd birthday, and I observe her diet of game, fresh vegetables, river-caught fish, I can’t help but recognize that she has chosen to eat whatever she’s wanted and it’s the quality that has kept her alive, well and healthy.