Guest Author Hannah Healy of Healy Real Food Vegetarian
Ok, maybe not “created” equal, but not all vegetarians choose to eat the same thing or have the same opinions about nutrition. There are a vast array of assumptions about vegetarians; vegetarians only eat tofu or fake meat, vegetarians hate meat eaters, vegetarians only eat salad, vegetarians don’t eat dairy products, vegetarians are loud-mouthed protesters that will ruin your steak dinner or throw red paint on your coat. These are stereotypes. Similarly, it would be an assumption to say that all meat eaters are fat slobs that eat at McDonald’s everyday or that all meat eaters have a lust for blood.
Photograph Credit – Sandrine Love. All Rights Reserved.
Of course some vegetarians do eat soy products and think killing animals is wrong and so on, but you may be surprised to learn that many vegetarians, like myself, never eat soy products, don’t hate meat-eaters and choose not to eat tofu, veggie burgers, soy milk, pasta or other so-called “vegetarian foods.” I opt for whole, unprocessed foods instead. Vegetarians can’t all be lumped into a generalization any more than meat eaters can.
Some Weston A. Price foundation advocates have made some assumptions about vegetarians and vice-versa that has contributed to an almost “us vs. them” rivalry between the two groups. If you are not familiar with it, the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) was created to share the nutritional findings of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who studied how various traditional cultures’ diets affected their dental health. WAPF now educates the public on traditional diets and how they can improve overall well being. Considering that WAPF recommends eating various types of meat for optimal health it’s not surprising that they might want to argue against vegetarianism.
However, vegetarians and WAPF don’t have to be natural enemies. Both groups agree on many things and have more in common than they think. It may come as a surprise that even as a vegetarian I appreciate some of the information that WAPF has provided and feel healthier after making some dietary changes that I learned about through WAPF. Whether you are a WAPF supporter or a vegetarian I believe there is something to be gained from working together and respectfully learning from each other instead of bickering back and forth.
Vegetarians and The Weston A. Price Foundation
I agree with the Weston A. Price foundation [WAPF] on a lot of fronts. I know it seems strange that, as a vegetarian, I agree with many of the principles of an organization that heavily promotes the consumption of meat, but if you look closely at these principles you’ll see that WAPF and vegetarians have some similar ideals. Even though WAPF supporters eat meat I respect them for caring about where their food comes from and their desire to make a difference. This is the basis from which to make a change in our industrialized food system.
- “we oppose unsustainable methods of corporate agriculture, which drive out small farmers, thrive on the use of pesticides and chemicals, deplete the soil, produce an inferior product and cause tremendous harm and suffering to countless animals
- we believe that the typical diet of the average (meat-eating) American is extremely unhealthful
- we believe that the practice of raising vast amounts of grains to feed the cows that are turned into fast-food hamburgers is wasteful and destructive of our environment (Raising a cow on grains is the equivalent of raising a child on a diet of candy. The cow will get very fat–which is what drives the practice in the first place–but it also makes the animals unhealthy, makes them produce copious amounts of methane, and greatly diminishes the nutritive value of the milk and meat which are obtained from it. Exclusive grass feeding makes for a happy, healthy animal, provides superior nutrition in milk and meat, and naturally limits the number of animals that may be raised in one location.)”
One of the reasons that I choose not to eat meat is in protest to the factory farming industry. I hope that someday in our future there will be no more factory farms. WAPF has the same hopes for the future of our food. They staunchly oppose eating meat from CAFOs and only recommend eating grass fed.
I believe that if you do choose to eat meat, the only humane way to do it is to get your meat from farms that you know treated animals well. Farm animals were domesticated by humans, we’ve created them to rely on us to survive. It is inhumane to abuse our position of power over the animal by treating them like a commodity without feelings of pain and suffering. To assure that the animal you are consuming was raised humanely and was able to feed on grass, like nature intended, is better for the environment, farmers, the animal and your health.
Both vegetarians and WAPF recognize that our diets can be greatly influential. We can affect change by choosing not to support an industry that values the almighty dollar over the health of our country, of our children, of our animals and our earth.
“We don’t need a law against McDonald’s or a law against slaughterhouse abuse–we ask for too much salvation by legislation. All we need to do is empower individuals with the right philosophy and the right information to opt out en masse.” -Joel Salatin
Living Abroad and The Wake-up Call to Change My Diet
I have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for about 10 years and have gone through many dietary changes. I used to be one of those vegetarians that basically ate the Standard American Diet (SAD), a diet of heavily processed foods, high in sugar, grains and lacking in nutrients. It was more or less the same as any standard meat-eater but I switched out low-quality meat for fake soy meat products. I didn’t feel very good and had a constant craving for sweets and refined grains. Being healthy was important to me, but I didn’t look into what healthy actually meant any further than a box of bars that said “heart healthy!”… I was subject to the media’s healthy marketing scheme and that was good enough for me.
A few years ago I was accepted into a program to teach English abroad and went to live in Galicia, Spain. It was there that I really felt my worst. In keeping with Spanish tradition I had pastries for breakfast including plenty of chocolate croissants and churros with ultra pasteurized milk and coffee. At the school I worked in, the only snack provided in the teacher’s lounge was cookies, pastries and coffee with powdered milk and sugar. I was dependent on sugar and had intense cravings all the time. I was going to the convenience store for a candy snack almost every day. I’d follow that up with a lunch with lots of white bread, cheese and maybe a few vegetables or eggs every once in a while. Needless to say it didn’t take long for this to take a toll on my body.
In Spain it’s common to have espresso and a pastry for breakfast at 8 or 9am, then have a snack of coffee and cookies around 11am and not have lunch until 2pm. I don’t know how they do it, but from when you wake up until 2pm you’re basically running on sugar, processed white flour and caffeine! Many Americans have an idea that Europeans are naturally healthy and subsist on a mostly traditional diet, but Europe has encountered many of the same health problems as the U.S. due to the industrialization of food. I was surprised to learn that like the U.S., Spain also has an obesity problem.
As a result of such a poor diet my immune system was very weak. I was sick about 1 to 3 times a month and after a few months I was physically and mentally exhausted. I had never been sick that often before in my life. At one point I got the flu, which lasted several days and once I slowly recovered and finally felt back to normal a soreness started developing in my throat again along with aching body pain, a congested nose, and sinus headaches. I couldn’t believe that after battling the flu for a week and then recovering that I went right back through the motions of getting the flu mere days after already having it! That was a wake up call for me.
I’ve always believed that what you eat affects your health and that you can heal yourself naturally with diet. Yet, In getting swept up in the romantic idea of the European lifestyle of coffee and croissants I had ignored all common sense for being healthy. I had stopped regulating my poor eating habits. After such an intense bout of sickness I began researching natural ways to restore my immune system online.
My First Exposure to the Weston A. Price Foundation
When I first heard about WAPF I read an article called Zapping Sugar Cravings by Jen Allbritton, which talked all about the detrimental effects of sugar on your body and immune system. I would highly recommend reading this article, as it details what sugar actually does to your body. Allbritton explains,
“White blood cells, called neutrophils, are a primary player in the immune system… these “germ-destroyers” become much less effective at their job when sugar is consumed (table sugar, fructose and even orange juice), and this immune malfunction can last up to six hours after consumption…the reason for this six-hour despondency is that the neutrophils are too busy dealing with the inflammatory mess created by the influx of sugar.”
After reading this I realized how much I had been weakening my immune system by eating so much sugar. I had even snacked on candy while I was sick! My body never had a chance!
It was then that I decided to quit sugar for good. After that I read more and decided not be a vegetarian that still eats the Standard American Diet. I stopped eating highly processed GMO soy products. I incorporated more nutrient dense foods into my diet like pastured eggs, vegetables, butter, whole milk yogurt and fermented foods. Some of these items were not easy to find in this part of Spain. Like the U.S., Spain also has an overabundance of sugar laden low-fat and non-fat processed food products claiming to promote weight loss. I had to take a train 30 minutes to the next town over to stock up on the good whole milk yogurt.
Healthy Choices for Vegetarians
Since my return from Spain I’ve been happy to have an easily accessible supply of raw milk, organic fruits and vegetables, grass fed butter, sprouted grains, pastured eggs, and the supplies to make my own fermented foods and drinks. I avoid sugar and soy and try to prepare grains by soaking or sprouting them.
After changing my diet I’ve felt better in a multitude of ways. I haven’t gotten sick or even had a cold in over a year! (Knock on Wood!). My sugar cravings have lowered. I have more energy. Before changing my diet, I used to be tired all the time. I needed at least 9 hours of sleep to be able to function properly throughout the day without feeling groggy. I know it’s good to get sleep, but 9 HOURS!? who is able to get that much? Most people need 6-8. I was hardly ever able to get that much sleep, so I was basically tired and groggy all the time. I didn’t even realize that this wasn’t normal until it changed. Now, if I get 6 hours of sleep I have plenty of energy throughout the day.
Anyone who eats the Standard American diet full of processed foods can create a better diet for themselves whether they eat meat or not.
Although it may not seem like it at first glance, WAPF does have some useful information for lacto-ovo vegetarians that can help to improve overall health. They promote the use of pastured eggs and dairy products which supports humane treatment of animals and results in more nutrient dense food. They recommend cutting out processed foods which often have harmful and unnatural additives. They only suggest eating grains if they are soaked or sprouted which makes them more nutritious. They recommend eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha. They recommend cutting out or drastically reducing sugar intake as well as unfermented soy products. Even as a vegetarian I put many of these dietary suggestions into practice.
Everyone has different reasons for eating the way they do, be it moral, religious or health related. Choosing how to eat can be a complicated decision that takes into account what is good for you, what is necessary for survival, what makes you feel healthier, what is good for the earth and what is good for your mental well-being and conscience. Everyone comes up with different conclusions when faced with these decisions and some don’t think about it at all. It has always been important to me to educate myself, take in the information that is valuable to me and listen to my instincts.
After a conversation with Sandrine Love, the head of Nourishing Our Children, I was interested to hear that in her organization they never use the word “should”. She’s found that it more often hurts rather than helps. People feel that they are being judged or belittled when being told that they “should” or “should not” do something which in-turn causes them to reject such suggestions.
It’s important to remember that every body is different and that the food that makes you feel great may make another person feel terrible. So it’s best not to assume that what works for you will work for everyone.
I find that being respectful to others’ choices and being a good example is much more effective than proselytizing your position. Most people, including myself, don’t respond well to unsolicited lifestyle advice. In my opinion the best you can do is to be open about your choices and be available to share that information when people ask you and are ready to digest it.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl
About Our Guest Author
Hannah Healy is the creator of the Healy Real Food Vegetarian blog where she shares her original recipes. She lives in San Francisco with her boyfriend Victor and terrier mix dog Lentil. Hannah enjoys playing music, spending time with her boyfriend, playing hide and seek with her dog and having a pot of tea with friends and family. She hopes to grow her blog and release an ebook full of healthy vegetarian recipes.