03 June 2021

Pursuing health in a land of sickness

It started with the pigs.

For most of my life I ate pretty much like a typical American. That included eating meat, with little or no thought to what meat is or where it comes from. But due to a long-standing interest in evolutionary biology, I steadily learned more and more about animals -- including how similar they, especially other mammals, are to humans in many ways. For example, the other great ape species have the same blood types as we do -- A, B, O, etc. In the case of chimpanzees the blood chemistry is close enough that transfusions between species would be possible, with individuals of the same blood type.

Around 2008 my reading made me aware that pigs, in particular, are at least as intelligent and emotionally sophisticated as dogs. This made me uncomfortable with the thought of eating their meat. Most people, at least in the West, would not be comfortable with eating dog flesh because we think of dogs as quasi-persons. But I realized that eating pig meat was no different -- so I stopped doing it.

Over time, as I slowly learned more, I extended the same principle to mammals generally. Cattle and sheep are not as intelligent as pigs, but they're also self-aware creatures, and I could simply no longer blank out the knowledge that what I was eating was part of the corpse of a conscious being. Finally I gave up meat altogether. Even animals like chickens and fish seem obviously self-aware to some extent, and they certainly have the capacity to suffer.

And suffer they do. Most meat now is produced on factory farms, where doomed animals are kept in horrific conditions of overcrowding and immobility, constantly dosed with antibiotics to suppress the infectious diseases which would otherwise run rampant under such conditions (and even so, disease is often widespread). Unlike many vegetarians, I don't really like animals -- they're unpredictable, generally not very clean, and in many cases dangerous; I don't like having them around me. But I don't like the thought of them suffering.

But I still hadn't grasped the implications of it all for human health. If anything, I worried that eliminating meat might lead to malnutrition. I was still eating things like eggs and cheese, as well as the wide range of processed junk that makes up so much of the "normal" American diet.

By the beginning of 2020 I knew I needed to do more. I had lost some weight, but at 225 pounds and 5'11" I was still clinically obese, and I was about to turn sixty. That put me in the express lane to a stroke or a heart attack. I started educating myself more about health and came to realize that animal by-products like cheese and eggs are probably even more toxic to the human system than meat is.

The pandemic was the final straw. It soon became clear that if you catch covid-19, overall health has a lot of impact on how badly it harms you. I observed rigorous isolation to avoid the virus, but I knew I could not totally eliminate the risk of getting it. So I cut out all the remaining animal products and most of the junk food. It was, I suppose, partly a way of feeling proactive and taking action rather than being passive in the face of the viral threat.

I also became something of a fanatic for learning as much as I could about the effects of various kinds of food on the human body. Human anatomy and biochemistry are those of a herbivorous animal, not an omnivorous one, and our pervasive problems of obesity, diabetes, arterial damage, and a dozen other scourges, are simply the kinds of things that happen to an animal when it eats the wrong kind of food. Such problems have historically been rare in populations which traditionally ate a mostly starch-based diet with very little meat, as in much of Asia -- but as prosperity brought American-style eating to those cultures, American-style health problems have quickly followed. Conversely, among Americans, it's vegans -- those who eat mostly vegetables, fruit, nuts, and legumes, eschewing animal products and keeping processed stuff to a minimum -- who statistically suffer least from such ailments. All this self-education helped me stick to the new path.

The results far exceeded expectations. By the end of 2020 I had lost thirty pounds, and the joint inflammation flare-ups and chest pains which had plagued me for most of my life had almost disappeared.

This isn't a "diet" in the sense of a temporary program to be followed until its goals are achieved. It's a reversion to what should be the norm. I consider it analogous to quitting smoking -- except that no will-power is involved.  The thought of eating any kind of meat now absolutely disgusts me.  There's no temptation to be resisted.

In terms of popular thinking and moral consensus, I think meat-eating today is about where slavery was around 1800. Most people still accept it as a normal part of life without giving it much thought. Only a small minority recognizes that there's a serious moral problem there, to say nothing of the health issues. But that minority is growing with time. There is, at least, fairly widespread awareness of how much animal farming contributes to global warming. But that issue is only the tip of a very large, ugly, and dangerous iceberg. Over time, I hope and believe, the reality of the problem will become widely understood despite the dense fog of misinformation, propaganda, and wishful thinking that now obscures it. Until then, at least I personally am no longer implicated -- and no longer harming myself.

[This essay originally appeared as a guest post at Happiness between Tails blog -- slightly edited.]


Blogger Sixpence Notthewiser said...

I live with a vegetarian, and her philosophy is very similar to yours when it comes to why she became a vegetarian. She still eats some cheese and eggs occasionally, but that's about it. I am then, a vegetarian by osmosis. I think untethering ourselves from meat is very, very difficult for some people, but it's not an impossible. It's also cheaper. Meat is very expensive.
Kudos to you for the complete upheaval on your eating habits. Bet it feels fantastic.


03 June, 2021 08:02  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Glad you're seeing such health benefits from your lifestyle change! That's great!

03 June, 2021 09:55  
Blogger Mike said...

I took a prediabetes course that was a year long. I lost 30 pounds. But without the instructor watching over me I've gained 20 of it back.

03 June, 2021 10:05  
Blogger Dave Dubya said...

Congratulations on losing weight during the pandemic. It seems more people gained weight over the past year and a half.

I'm down about 10 pounds, just by getting rid of the habit of eating junk food and sugar every day. That's the other cultural dietary tragedy of our time. Getting regular exercise helps, too.

Eliminating red meat is the next step for me. Living with someone who is fond of meat makes it more difficult, but we're going in the right direction by cutting our regular junk food consumption.

03 June, 2021 12:52  
Blogger Lady M said...

I loved this post when I read it the first time and love it even more the second. It is such a beautiful testimonial to taking control of your health. Everything you say resonates with me. Going plant based in Oct. 2019 was the best decision I have made regarding my health. It is more work in the kitchen but my body feels 30 years younger. All the changes I blamed on aging are gone. I have strength and energy, I sleep better, I don't gain weight, my cholesterol is under control without meds. and all the tendinitis I dealt with since turning 50 has disappeared. I know I have said this all before in your comments and I will say it again to whoever will listen. I don't miss animal products - not one bit. If only I can get his Lordship on board. He mostly eats plant based but when he falls off the wagon, he has an attack of gout totally due to rich animal products in his diet.

03 June, 2021 14:24  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

I'm glad that changing what you eat has helped you.

04 June, 2021 10:48  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sixpence: It does feel fantastic. And I think avoiding meat becomes easier once you've done it for a while. It certainly did for me.

Debra: Thanks! It's made a huge difference.

Mike: If it doesn't feel natural, dietary change can be hard to sustain. I think self-education is very useful -- if you know how harmful eating meat really is, it will be easier to stay off it because the temptation will decrease.

Dave: I've heard that a lot of people gained weight during the pandemic, which is unfortunate since obesity actually makes you more vulnerable if you catch the coronavirus. Junk food is very bad. It's mostly just fat calories with almost no nutrition.

Lady M: Thank you and congratulations! It's interesting that you mention gout. For years I was plagued by flare-ups of pain and swelling in my joints, and in February of 2020, just before the pandemic, I had several which were bad enough that I missed substantial work time. At various times I needed to take time away from the blog because my hands hurt too much to type. In the cases when it got bad enough to go to a doctor, they often diagnosed it as gout. But since I completely cut out animal products, I haven't had any such cases.

Mary K: Thanks! It certainly has.

04 June, 2021 21:11  
Blogger NickM said...

I'm a vegetarian. My wife is vegan. Thing is I'd just really miss cheese. I'm kinda waiting for vegan cheese to get it's act in order because a lot of vegan products are excellent. Vegan cheese isn't but it'll happen - probs around the same time I get my jetpack.

I'm also English. Why do I say that? Because it's a lot easier to avoid animal products here than in the USA - back when I ate meat I was also dating a vegetarian from Atlanta, GA. People in the States thought she was some form of communist or something. Not over this side. So respect to you Infidel. I do know it's a lot tougher over there. I first realised that about 25 years ago when I saw (in the USA) and advert for "Beef flavoured Chicken".

05 June, 2021 06:32  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I'm thinking long and hard about being a vegetarian...meat just sort of...sucks.

05 June, 2021 23:18  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: I hope you do find a satisfactory cheese substitute. Over time you'll probably find you don't miss it, though. I don't.

I think a lot depends on which part of the US you're in. It's a lot easier to be vegan in Portland than in Atlanta.

JackieSue: I hope you keep thinking about it. This guy is a good source of easy-to-digest information.

08 June, 2021 05:19  

Post a Comment

<< Home