When was the last time you passed judgement on someone else’s food choices? Mine was last week. We had some friends over for dinner and one of them flat-out refused to eat salad. It was a lovely salad, too. With roast pumpkin and everything. I didn’t say anything, but in my mind I was thinking, “How can someone not eat salad? It’s weird.” Being judgmental is not a great quality to garner. I know that. But it does go both ways. I changed my diet drastically after being diagnosed with cancer four years ago, and since then I have seen the looks and sensed the conviction from friends who think that salad is for rabbits and a plant-based diet is for hippies.
It’s an ongoing battle. I know vegans who treat their dietary dogma like a cult, disapproving of anyone who doesn’t see things their way. And I also know of meat-eaters who will go out of their way to be disrespectful of someone’s decision to leave animals off their plate.
While I passionately believe that the factory farming system has got to go, I also believe that whether one eats meat or not is his or her own personal choice. While I personally believe in the amazing power of plants, I don’t think I have the authority to tell someone that their preference for meat is a crime. I will tell them to buy it from an organic, grass-fed and grass-finished source. Whether someone is vegan, vegetarian, pescitarian, omnivorous, Paleo, raw vegan or fruitarian is not my beef. We are not all made up the same. One person’s medicine is another person’s poison, and who are we to say what works best for everyone?
Which is why I would like to put something on the table. Instead of directing the fight at the original source of our food, why isn’t the battle aimed at what is done to our food once it’s been farmed? Surely that is of more concern.
Michael Pollan, author of the best-selling book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, has made it his mission to get us to open our eyes to the “edible food-like substances” we are trying to pour into our bodies in place of real food. He says:
“After spending several years trying to answer the supposedly incredibly complicated question of how we should eat in order to be maximally healthy, I discovered the answer was shockingly simple: eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat. Or, put another way, get off the modern western diet, with its abundance of processed food, refined grains and sugars, and its sore lack of vegetables, whole grains and fruit.”
It’s clear how amazingly resilient our bodies are. We can go years, tens of years even, without fuelling them with any form of proper nutrition and they will still continue to bounce back and give us multiple chances to make it right. But this doesn’t mean we are invincible. It is inevitable that the time will come when our body says, “Enough is enough.” I was only 22 when mine decided to give me a swift kick up the bottom and feed me the ultimatum: clean me up or I will revoke all living privileges.
At first I thought these changes would kill me. How could I go on knowing I would never be able to eat a hamburger or a supreme pizza ever again? And no more Coke? Ever? It seemed ridiculous. But, thankfully, my situation was so otherwise hopeless that I was forced to choose the healthy life. The beauty of it was that upon making that decision, I’ve discovered there hasn’t really been any sacrifice. The foods I eat now far exceed my former diet – in taste, satisfaction, and nutrition.
Dr. David Katz recently wrote a brilliant article about how the food we love to eat can also be the food that loves us back. We don’t actually need to choose between good health and culinary pleasures.
“We know that diet can be and often is the difference between good health, and ill health. This is not controversial,” Dr Katz writes. “The trouble is, we have propagated the view that we have to choose between food we love, and health we love. And since food provides immediate gratification, while good health is a long-term return on a long-term investment, the immediate gratification of food tends to prevail. We eat, drink and make merry – and defer worrying about the cost. But the cost eventually comes due – all too often in the form of a serious chronic disease that need not have occurred.”
So again, I ask, where is the real food fight? I’m not saying we should stop arguing in favour of kindness to animals, because the way we treat animals in the modern food system should be a crime. What I am saying is there is a war zone in the processed food industry that needs to be faced. We cannot continue to voluntarily pour toxic chemicals into our bodies multiple times a day and expect to get away with it. Chronic and life-threatening disease will be inescapable. A life full of limitless energy, health and happiness will be forfeited.
A friend of mine sent me a text the other day telling me how she took her son to school armed with a packed lunch. “I’ve never felt so judged!” she wrote. Apparently the teacher asked her what the deal was, seeing as the school supplies lunch for their students. My friend explained to the teacher that her family is vegetarian, they don’t eat processed foods, and most of what they eat is organic. Nicely, she explained that she is doing her best to raise her kids on a whole food diet. I think this should be commended.
In a society where eating nutritionally devoid, chemicalized, synthetic “food-like substances” is normal, and organic, plant-based whole foods is “crazy” – where should the real food fight be?