One of my favorite bloggers–Shane at GroundtoGround.org–recently wrote about a “new” protein option: mealworms. Yes, mealworms. Of course, eating insects isn’t really a new concept at all. It is very, very ancient. And this leads me to a topic that I’ve been contemplating the past couple of weeks, human diet.
What is the optimal sustainable diet for human beings? Can diet cure disease, especially those pesky autoimmune diseases that seem to be arrowing through our populations with debilitating, even tragic, effect? Will a diet that includes plenty of animal product ultimately destroy the planet? Or, looking at this from another angle, will a diet that restricts meat in favor of water-and nutrient-sucking monocrops like grains destroy the planet? Is it wrong to eat something with a face? And how does all this relate to the goal of living locally?
Obviously, I can’t answer all these questions in a single blog post. Heck, I probably couldn’t even scratch the surface in a single book. Here is what I’ve been reading and watching and thinking and doing this January:
1. Started out by watching the film FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD at the local library. This is basically the story of a man who was overweight and suffering from an autoimmune skin disorder who healed himself on a juicing fast. Theory: concentrated nutrients in the juice plus cleansing allows the body to heal itself. http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/
2. Watched the film FORKS OVER KNIVES which explores the idea that diseases can be eliminated or controlled by rejecting processed foods and animal products. http://www.forksoverknives.com/
3. Watched the film FOOD MATTERS which attempts to show that our highly-processed, chemicalized diets are causing health problems and gives solutions for healing. http://foodmatters.tv/content/about-the-film
These three films pretty much advocated for a diet VERY strong in minimally-processed, plant-based foods. Diabetes, heart-disease, hypertension, cancer, inflammation, etc. were all cited as consequences of our unnatural diet. I have a pesky asthma problem that I’ve been trying to heal for years now. I was excited to watch these films, and thought…well, maybe. I knew I wouldn’t go to straight juicing, at least if I could help it. For one thing, I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a good juicer. For another, it just seemed a tad drastic. So I decided to give the vegan way of eating a try.
No. I have to go back even further.
A few years ago, I tried a macrobiotic diet which is almost vegan. It does recommend fish and shellfish products in moderation. While I liked the weight-loss that occurred and the energy I felt, my asthma did not seem to respond at all after seven months and my skin took on a rather sickly pale, yellowish tone. Soon I added meats back in my diet while continuing to eat a lot of veggies and fruits. I also began the process of trying to eat from local sources, including eggs, milk, and meat.
Cut to the present. So, vegan eating would be a challenge for me on a philosophical level. Rice isn’t grown in New England, right? But I went ahead and started cooking some of my old macro foods and tried some new vegan recipes. They were delicious, but no matter how much I ate, I couldn’t feel satisfied. This was different from the macro…because I was getting no seafood? Really? And as I continued to cook some local meats for my family, I noticed how those foods began to smell better and better to me as time went on.
Then, almost two weeks after giving up animal foods, I came down with a rip-roaring virus. I ached from the deepest part of my bones all the way out to my skin. As soon as I had some appetite back, what did I consume? Homemade chicken soup and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream! I either craved those animal foods because there was something nutritionally necessary in them or else I was still detoxing and craving what was bad for me. Which was it? As my grandfather used to say, damned if I know!
I thought I’d continue with the vegan diet for awhile, treating my body like my own little pet test rat. I sat down to watch an episode Peak Moment Television (check it out…very cool!) while eating a vegan lunch of mushroom/garlic/onion fried rice on a bed of arugula, and pow! A title caught my eye: The Vegetarian Myth. Wait a minute, I thought. Myth?
4. Scarfing down my rice and greens, I watched while the host of Peak Moment Television interviews Lierre Keith on her book, The Vegetarian Myth. Then I downloaded the book to my Kindle and have been reading it as voraciously as I had eaten that pint of Chunky Monkey ice-cream a few days before.
Talk about blowing the vegan theories out of the water! It wasn’t exactly all new to me, either, as I had read about Weston Price and his studies on traditional societies and their diets years ago. The skinny on the myth? Humans need meat. Oh, and civilization and agriculture are going to ruin the environment. Hmmmm. http://www.amazon.com/Vegetarian-Myth-Food-Justice-Sustainability/dp/1604860804
5. Because I just can’t leave well-enough along, I had to google “vegetarian myth debunked” and discovered a plethora of counter-arguments. Try it! Oh, the fun we could have arguing about diet, nutrition, sustainability, civilization, animal rights, and justice.
***************** long pause*************
What did I eat today? Steel-cut oats cooked in a slow-cooker with chopped dried apricots and dates and a banana. Coffee with soy milk. Baby spinach, leftover rice, and macrobiotic nashime veggies: onions, squash, carrots & kombu (a seaweed) cooked slowly on the stovetop with a couple inches of water (really, really delicious, I kid you not).
Oh, and a natural ground turkey burger that tasted heavenly.
Between all the information about fat-soluable vitamins only found in animal foods to endothelial cells that heal only in the absence of animal foods I am a mixed-up, don’t-know-which-way-to-look-for-my-food human being.
And then there is Shane with his mealworms. Sigh.
A quick poll of my social media friends yields practical advice. Eat in moderation. Every body is different. Do what works for you. We are designed to be omnivores. Put bacon on everything (Good one, Scott C!)
Finally, I have to also think about my localista endeavors. The most local diet I can get in Maine is going to have to include animal foods, plain and simple. My local area is rocky and hilly…suitable for grazing animals but not necessarily for raising a lot of rye and wheat. Definitely no brown rice. I also have come to understand (or believe) that a sustainable agriculture necessarily includes animals in order to create a closed-loop system. In other words, we need something to eat the grass we can’t digest, to turn that grass into food we can digest, and to provide nutrients in the form of manure back to the earth. On this point, I have to agree with Keith rather than the vegan-diet proponents.
Perhaps–in order to heal a chronic condition or to detox from a western-style diet high in processed foods and chemicals and too much meat and cheese from nasty feedlots and meat-processing facilities, antibiotic-pumped cows and debeaked chickens and pigs laying in their own filth–a juice fast and vegan approach is a way to reboot. Then, when health is restored, eat foods from local, sustainable, organic farms similar to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Nix the processed stuff. Go extremely easy on the sugar. Eat lots of vegetables and local fruits. Meats and fats in moderation.
Like Michael Pollan concludes in his book In Defense of Food, perhaps the best prescription for a fairly healthy individual is “Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.”
What do you think?