Up until five months ago, if you had asked me if I could eat a vegan diet, I would have said “No way! Give up cheese?!” Yet here I am, happy, healthy and cheese-less. It has been an easy transition and I can only ask myself why it took so long. The damage to my health is, thankfully, reversible. But, ten billion land animals are killed for food every year in the US and I contributed to that number.
Like many lacto-ovo vegetarians, I felt pretty good about my food choices. I know so much more now. I won’t pound you with the facts and the statics of the dairy industry. Not in this blog post. Other people, like Colleen Patrick Goudreau, lay it out better than I can. Suffice to say that any idyllic images of dairy cows that you have in your head are inaccurate.
This journey began for me and my partner a little over a year ago. We wanted to lose weight and we did. As we were transitioning off the medical diet, we decided to further our understanding of nutrition and body weight. Books and documentaries, podcasts and blogs, we consumed them all. The unexpected consequence of that research was becoming vegan. The scientific evidence overwhelming confirms that a whole food, plant-based diet is optimal. The impact on the animals and the environment just added weight to the decision to change our eating habits.
Eating habits. What an interesting phrase. Rarely does such a true description roll off the tongue. That is exactly what we all have: habits about food. Habits can be changed. I don’t want to belittle the effort needed to change any habit, much less one involving food. It is of primary importance to understand how addictive much of our modern food is. There is no better way to describe it. High fructose corn syrup, milk protein, fat and the myriad chemicals used in food processing act on our bodies in ways often indistinguishable from substances we think of as addictive, things like opiates. Which is not to say that men in black suits are adding drugs to our foods! Take casein, milk protein for example. It has a chemical compound which is so similar to morphine in composition that researchers named it “casomorphin.” Scientists speculate that the compound is there to calm the infant as he or she drinks and reinforce the desire to nurse on mother’s milk. Processing milk, however, enhances the levels. Take cheese, for example. Cheese is concentrated casein, which means that pound for pound, cheese is seriously saturated with addictive casomorphin. Now take a moment and think about cheese in your life. Do you love it? Do you crave it? Is it impossible to imagine life without cheese?
You’ll get over it. Go 30 days without having any dairy products and you’ll be fine. You’ll be able to look at a cheesy piece of pizza and see the fat and cholesterol, and the pain and suffering of the dairy cows and you’ll say “No thanks.” Your body will respond to the blessed absence of all that cholesterol. Your arteries will slowly lose their plaque and your waistline will shrink. The same thing will happen as you eliminate sodas and other processed foods from your diet. The more you begin to eat whole foods, the more your palette will awaken and you will taste food in ways you never have before. If you are eating the standard American diet (which includes eating outside the home for almost half of your meals), then your taste buds are coated with chemicals. There is so much salt swimming around inside you that it’s a wonder you can taste anything at all!
Switching to a vegan diet will change how you view the world. You will suddenly think about how weird it is for a human adult to drink milk. Adult cows don’t drink cows’ milk. Milk is for babies so why the hell are we drinking it? I understand that for most people the word vegan has foreign or radical associations. I was the same way. Not even a year ago I was nervous that my vegan niece was coming to visit. Oh my god, what can I feed her?! Why does she insist on this restrictive diet? Why isn’t she happy being a “regular” vegetarian? Well, we all survived her visit and it was a good testing ground for the changes to come. I learned that being vegan is about doing my best to live a simple life. Being vegan isn’t about being angry or judgmental. It’s not about keeping score. I just need to do whatever I can to improve my health, reduce animal suffering and help the planet. I hope you will do the same. What do vegans eat? Almost everything. Why eat this way? Because it is better for us, for the animals and for the earth. Welcome to our vegan world.