Veggie Muncher: Why I Eat Plants.

And where I get all that protein...

I am one week away from a year long trip around the world and am about to meet 65 new people who I will travel with for the rest of the year.  Only about 2-3% of the world's population is vegan, so it is inevitable that I will face two common questions: 1) why are you vegan? and 2) but where do you get your protein?  While I welcome these questions and surrounding conversations, instead of explaining up to 65 times within a few days span, I figured I would take the opportunity to enumerate the reasons for my pain-in-the-ass self-imposed dietary 'restrictions' :)

plant eater

I initially went vegetarian my first semester in college (2003) after a reading in a Women's Studies class convinced me that the treatment of animals and the factory farming industry was barbaric.  So, it started for the animals, but evolved so much from there. I read and watched anything I could get my hands on- animal treatment related books and documentaries, health related material and environmental treatises about the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.  The transition to a 100% plant-based lifestyle happened in August of 2008 when I read more about the antibiotics and hormones in dairy (the only animal product I was eating at that point) and started working as a nurse practitioner and seeing first hand that the food we are eating is making us sick!  Food forms the building blocks for our cells (yes, you are what you eat), therefore food can either build you up, or knock you down. 

With all of the transitions in my eating I noticed improved energy and mood regulation, improved physical stamina, brighter eyes, healthier hair and nails and an overall improved lust for life and adventure!

So here, in no particular order, are my main reasons for munching exclusively on plants.

1) Prevention and reversal of chronic disease.  Type 2 diabetes (and arguably Type 1), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and many forms of cancer are not diseases of age, but rather diseases of lifestyle, namely diet.  A whopping 70% of disease is caused by lifestyle choices. I could go on about this for hours (it's basically my life's passion and the catalyst for my business endeavors), but I'll spare you. Bottom line: a whole foods plant-based diet can prevent and even reverse our nation's major killers. Curious to know more?  Check out nutritionfacts.org, The Plantrician Project or Forks Over Knives for the science based evidence.

2) H2O.  Did you know that more than half of all water consumed in the U.S. is used for animal agriculture?  It takes 460 gallons of water just to produce one quarter pound hamburger.  Want to buy a gallon of milk?  That will be 1,000 gallons of water, thank you.  Save water: eat beans and shower with a friend.

3) Climate change.  All eyes are on climate change deniers (#earth2trump), fossil fuels and fracking at the moment.  These things are bad, no doubt, but 18% of all global emissions come from animal agriculture and switching to a plant-based diet can reduce your carbon foot-print by up to 50%.  This is a much more dramatic impact than forgoing car travel in favor of pedal expeditions. 

4) Land Conservation.  I'm about to adventure to some pretty kick ass places- all contained in less than 55% of the world.  Know why?  Because livestock covers 45% of the Earth's total land, and nearly half of the contiguous U.S is devoted to animal agriculture.  The land has been ravaged and depleted of minerals, leading to massive deforestation in an attempt to find new land to farm.  Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of Amazonian rainforest destruction.  One and a half acres of land is needed to produce 375 pounds of meat.  Compare that to the 37,000 pounds of plant food that can be grown on the same amount of land.  Another terrible byproduct of deforestation and animal agriculture: it is the leading cause of species extinction. Save the rainforest. Save biodiversity.  Save our oxygen supply.

5) Ocean Conservation. As many as 63 billion pounds of fish caught globally every year are thrown out.  Some scientists say we could see completely fish-less oceans by 2048. Moreover, the waste runoff from animal agriculture leads to ocean dead zones- areas overtaken by oxygen deprived algal blooms rendering them inhabitable by any aquatic species. 

6) For the animals. I just love them.

For more information on the environmental impact of the agricultural industry, I recommend the documentary Cowspiracy

And finally....

Where do you get your protein?!?!

To which I say: Where does a cow get their protein?  Or, where do you get your fiber?  Unless I'm suffering from starvation, protein deficiency is pretty impossible.

1) Kale has more protein per calorie than red meat.  Fact.  Greens, beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, lentils, brown rice = all my protein needs.

2) Protein myth debunked here, here and here.  

3) The average American woman consumes 70 grams of protein daily and the average man more than 100 grams.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 46-56 grams per day. Animal protein, especially in excess, can cause a lot of harm to the body.  

smoothie

It's been 14 years since I went vegetarian and 8 1/2 years since I went completely vegan.  My dietary choices have not been at all restrictive and there is no element of will power or self-control.  That's because this lifestyle has dramatically increased my energy, healed my relationship with food and body image, allowed me to eat abundantly and has given me the opportunity to try so many types of food I probably wouldn't have tried otherwise. As a nurse practitioner and aficionado of scientific and evidence-based fact, I did my research before I made the leap to Veganism and made sure I knew exactly what I needed and what foods I needed to get it.  As long as I'm eating a wide and colorful variety, nutritional deficiencies are extremely unlikely (yes, even protein).  I've run 25 marathons and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro eating 100% plant-based and my annual physical exam continues to show optimal labs and a clean bill of health.  I truly feel as though I am thriving with this lifestyle.  

My dietary choices come, in part, from a place of compassion, and although I believe we should all be educated about where are food actually comes from (and what's in it) I withhold judgement about other people's food choices.  I am more than happy to engage with curious minds in a discourse about my diet.  My aim is definitely not to preach or disparage.  Respect my food choices and I'll respect yours in return, although I might try to cook you a delicious plant-based meal :)