Choice Matters

Every choice has impacts that often go further than we’ve ever known

Choices Matter – Let me Count the Ways!

Most of us grew up learning the same basic “truths”, particularly those of us of a certain age. We learned that we needed plenty of milk in our diet to insure sufficient calcium for strong bones and teeth, and that the food pyramid told us all we needed to know about nutrition. We learned that the Doctor knew best about what our body needed and was obliged by the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”, and that their first obligation was to their patients…to do their utmost to heal their ills. We learned that government agencies like the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture, which updated the recommendations for our dietary guidelines every 5 years) were interested in promoting better health.

We learned that our genes held our destiny, and for some of us, we were born with a ticking timebomb just waiting for that fateful moment when some preordained illness would strike, sometimes with a death blow, sometimes with lifelong incapacitation. We learned that animal products in particular should be the focal point of any healthy diet because they provided the greatest amount of protein, the most essential nutrient for our bodies, ensuring strong muscles and healthier living. And we learned that as part of the nature of things, certain animals were destined to be part of our food chain, just as we see in many other parts of nature…there are predators and there is prey. And for the most part, WE were the top of some of that food chain.

But here’s the thing.  What if what we had learned was wrong? And if what we’d learned was wrong, what was right? Frankly, for the most part of my life I never even questioned any of these “truths.” One of my very favorite sayings, though the exact source is uncertain, is “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Well, I guess some of us take longer to be ready for their teachers than others, but the way I look at it, better late than never!

It was the spring of 2014. I’d been on a quest to try to lose weight (again, I might add, and in a way it felt like just another in a long line of attempts to finally conquer my ever-expanding waistlne) when I happened upon a documentary on Netflix that had a very odd name. It’s called “Forks Over Knives.” It appeared to be about science and weight loss, so I dforks-over-knivesecided to check it out. Over the next 90 or so minutes, I found myself captivated by what I was seeing, much of it contradicting many of the truths that had long been the foundation of how I saw much of the world. While everything in it seemed valid, and certainly the presenters all seemed credible, I must admit I found myself filled with questions. Certainly when it came to health and weight loss, the fact that so much attention was given to plant based foods made perfect sense.  After all, who doesn’t know that fruit and veggies are good for you. But could it be possible that they could make THAT much difference? And could it possibly be that so much of what we thought we knew about nutrition had been so sorely misunderstood? And who were these “experts”? Were they really credible?  What were other researchers and physicians saying? And where is the evidence?

Over the next several weeks, and during the many months since, I’ve found myself emersed in answering, not just those questions, but many more.  And the more I’ve learned, the more questions I’ve had. Like how do our food choices impact our overall health and well-being. How do they impact the environment, other people (it had never even occurred to me that what I ate had ANY impact on anyone other than myself, except during my pregnancies). And what about our healthcare system and insurance rates? And, of course, the animals. What about the animals? Don’t we need them to keep ourselves healthy?

Gallons Water to Produce 1 Lb Beef

Animals Killed/Minute for Meat

US Annual Deaths from Heart Disease

When I was little, my mom would always encourage me to eat everything on my plate because there were starving children in Africa. My understand, and hers as well, was that I should eat and be grateful that I had food to eat, because so many others do not. But the reality is actually much bigger than that. According to research at Cornell University more than half of US grain, and nearly 40% of world-wide grain production goes to feeding livestock. That’s food that could be feeding starving humans. When we choose to eat meat, we’re supporting a system that is actually taking food out of the mouths of other people. That’s not something any of us chose to do. We’ve been caught up in a system that’s created that reality. But, now that we know the truth, what are we going to do about it? And while our water supply is dwindling, we use 1799 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of beef, while the footprint for grains like corn and soybeans is in the 100-200 gallon range. We have the means to fee the world and a whole lot more, but not if we’re trying to do it with meat!

Heart Disease is currently our number one killer disease. Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) is only one type of heart disease death. So think about it … 325,000 people in the US die each year where death is their very first symptom! A young friend of mine was one of the lucky ones when he experienced, in his mid 30’s, a heart attack. Thankfully he was able to get help in time. For nearly a third of a million Americans each year, that’s not the case. Taken as a whole, though, 610,000 people in the US die each year due to Heart Disease. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health) “The concept of risk factors for heart disease—which include high blood pressure, elevated serum cholesterol, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and physical inactivity—is well established.” Interesting, arguably all of those risk factors except smoking are diet related. I say “arguably” because health and weight issues are often the reason why people don’t get the physical activity they would were they not fighting obesity. Truth be told, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.