That Old Chestnut…. Views on Food

20 March 2018. Filed under category General Philosophy.

Over two years ago (!) I thought I would start up a series of articles called ‘that old chestnut’ which was intended to take a common excuse which isn’t really excusable and get to the bottom of it. The first article was about people who try to justify illegal downloading on the basis that a wider audience gets to hear the music.

This second piece is essentially about food choices. I think it’s a good topic because there are a plethora of old chestnuts when it comes to food. On why you can’t eat only a plant based diet: “but where will I get my protein?” On why you’re fat: “I’ve tried literally everything and no diet works for me!”  On why you drink too much: “I like to drink!”

plantbased-diet

Food choices have become a big issue for my family because, in a nutshell, we have recently transitioned toward a whole foods, plant-based, diet. It effectively means being a ‘vegan’ although I don’t know that I really identify with that term.

People will be motivated to follow a plant-based diet for one or more of three main reasons:

For me, the decision to go to a plant-based whole foods diet was the most selfish one, namely my personal health. Not that I felt my health was in bad shape because for some time now I had been cutting down on processed food but, when I watched the documentary Food Choices at the prompting of my wife, the scientific explanations behind the benefits of plant-based wholefoods just felt logical and correct*. I can openly admit to taking some of it on faith but the clincher is that there is no vested interest in telling you to eat plant-based whole foods. There could be an evil genius behind the whole movement (picture a boardroom with malevolent cows, chickens and pigs seated in human-skin bound chairs) but, on balance, the advice to eat more of what we already know is healthy is hardly revolutionary.

By contrast, there is a great deal of continually conflicting information about what meat/animal products are good or bad for you; not to mention that industrial farming is intentionally hidden behind locked gates so the general public is kept ignorant.  Misinformation is also spread on purpose by vested interests such as the dairy industry.calcium_bone_fractures1

For example, milk is packed with protein and calcium. It is a fantastic growth food – if you are a calf. And even a calf never drinks milk again once it is weened. Yet we are encouraged to drink milk and eat diary products for our whole lives. Countries with the highest dairy intake are also those with the highest bone fracture incidence which is directly correlated with calcium deficiency. In other words, Milk products result in a calcium deficiency rather than building stronger bones. Furthermore, the ethical practices of the dairy industry are in many ways even worse than where cattle are raised exclusively for slaughter.

If you give milk to your children you are not making the best choice for their health. In Britain, when my daughter was at primary school, they had a program to ensure every child had milk every day. Who do you think is behind that kind of initiative?

Of course, at this point many will declare ‘all in moderation!’ An ice cream tastes good after all and once a week isn’t going to harm anyone. You know that is probably true. Eating one ice cream cone is not a death sentence, but the full scale risks to public health are not well publicised and moderation is a slippery slope. I find it easier just not to bother and, to be honest, am a little incensed at the intentional misinformation or outright lies spread by vested interests that want to sell you more product under the guise of ‘it’s a personal choice’.gotmilk-milklipnicki

The food industry now is essentially the equivalent of the tobacco industry forty years ago. They know the products they sell are killing you in a slow moving and inevitable fashion but are lobbying as hard as they can to prevent regulation or outright deny any wrongdoing. Year on year they devise new and improved ways to pump you full of shit your body doesn’t need. This goes well beyond the meat industry of course. Perhaps processed foods filled with added sugar are actually worse but my recommendation is to look at cutting them all out.

Back to meat, the most common argument for eating a moderate amount of various animal products is that it allegedly provides the best source of protein and/or you would have to eat an enormous amount of food from a plant based source to get the equivalent level of protein. The world’s largest and most powerful land animals are all herbivores…but they do spend a lot of the day eating.

The reply to that argument is that you do not in fact need nearly as much protein as you are told you need by the meat industry. You can quite easily derive all the proteins and nutrients you need from a purely plant-based source. Furthermore, modern humans eat too much on a daily basis anyway. You can survive on a lot less as a general rule and you will have better heart and brain function.

That said, a blender is your friend, so you can pack a hell of a lot of fruit, seeds and vegetable matter into a smoothie for a meal.

The ‘all in moderation’ retort will get rolled out a lot but, as mentioned above, I find it is better just to draw a line in the sand and stick to it. Fad diets don’t work in the long term because they are just trying to sell you a quick fix. If you are overweight you should be looking to permanently change your lifestyle, not shed a few pounds for a short term goal like fitting into a wedding dress.

The intention herewholeplantsdiet is for you to have a hard think about what you eat and why, for your own sake and those of your children who are learning bad habits for life. Of course, you might be someone that simply doesn’t care about any of the three motivators I raised at the beginning but I doubt anyone like that read this far anyway. (They certainly are formally excluded from being a fan of Monsterworks).

In the end, let logic and science be your guide.

My advice, if you are interested in healthy living generally but don’t want to jump into the deep end of purely plant-based/whole foods, is to take the slow path I did and firstly eliminate processed foods entirely while adopting two ‘fast days’ a week where you intentionally eat less (roughly 600kCal or 2500kJ of good food on the fast day). Even those steps alone will have huge benefits. The plant-based thing can come a bit later when you do more investigation, because there is still a little time before the environment collapses entirely.

If you do jump straight in to being an uber-vegan, the worst that can happen by following a plant based diet for a while is that you might lose a bit of weight and feel better. Many people find they need less or no medication for various ailments and there is a whole other industry of vested interests that don’t want to see that happen. Fight the power. Don’t get me started on supplements.

If all of this turns out not for you then just go back to your old habits. Even if you find you are literally starving due to this crazy lifestyle an average person can survive for months on a reduced calorie intake with no long-term adverse side effects.

For further info, there are a number of documentaries that cover this subject. If you are like me you should be naturally skeptical about any information you are being fed through a documentary but, at the same time, you cannot use skepticism as an excuse to bury your head in the sand. Try:

https://www.forksoverknives.com/

http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/

http://www.foodchoicesmovie.com/

It’s a bit lonely here on my high horse, but come and join me when you can and we will judge everyone at the supermarket check-out together.

 

*The only part I haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of yet is the recommendation by some plant-based gurus to take a vitamin B12 supplement. This is reportedly the only supplement an average person will need unless they are deficient in something through having a bad diet. A good balanced plant diet will provide everything most people otherwise need.

Yet it is pertinent to ask “if a plant-based diet is so great and provides everything, why do I need a synthetic supplement?” Good question. Since B12 comes from bacterial sources (hence why it is found and passed on through meat consumption) it could be that we are just too clean these days and don’t get a good dose from a purely plant-based diet.

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