Sunday, February 10, 2013

Day 7: Tuesday, Feb 5th

The focus of today's post will be FOOD! As I mentioned in my first post, I have been vegan for about 6 months. Becoming a vegan was a slow and gradual process. I grew up as a burger-loving, steak- munching carnivore. Bored one night during my junior year of college, I found the documentary Food Inc. on Netflix and decided to watch it. Food Inc. examines the system of factory farming and agribusiness that has come to be the dominant form of farming in this country.  Before watching Food Inc, I had not given much thought to how my food was being raised, but the documentary made me realize that factory farmers have little-to-no regard for the wellbeing of their animals, their employees, nor for the safety of  the consumers of their products, WE THE PEOPLE! Their main concern is profit, and profit alone. After watching the documentary, I got my hands on all of the literature and film that I could regarding the state of food and farming in this country. I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Sir Walter Howard's Agricultural Testament and Upton SInclair's Jungle, which although written in 1906, remains extremely relevant today. For a few weeks, I refrained from eating meat, but despite everything I had read, I went back to being a carnivore, mostly because I went abroad to Argentina, which has some of the best and most delicious beef in the world. The superior quality of Argentinian meat, when compared to the meat produced in the USA, is due to the fact that while our cows eat corn and are kept indoors for the majority of their lives, Argentinian cows still graze outdoors and eat grass. Cows are unique animals because they are ruminants, which means they have 4 separate compartments in their stomachs, one being the rumen, which is able to break down tough plant fibers, such as grass. Therefore, unlike humans, cows are not only able to eat grass, but are designed to eat and survive solely off of  grass. Cow's stomachs are not built or meant to digest corn, yet we have completely replaced their grass fed diet with a corn fed diet, which causes cows to develop many sicknesses, which consequently forces farmers to heavily inject cows with antibiotics, hormones, and steroids. These sicknesses and injected hormones are then transferred to humans when we eat steaks and burgers. Although research is still being conducted on the matter,  it is beginning to become evident that many of our modern day health issues and sicknesses can be attributed to the overabundance of hormones and antibiotics in our food. 

Even though I knew these facts, I still continued to eat meat until the end of the my senior year. Then I saw Forks Over Knives, which explores and demonstrates  the health, societal, and environmental benefits that come from eating a whole grain, plant based diet, free of all animal by-products, including dairy, fish, and eggs, and most processed food.  The argument they make and the evidence they provide is overwhelmingly convincing and almost impossible to ignore. For example, the documentary follows various( some near-death) patients with severe,  life- threatening health issues, such as diabetes and cancer, who have all been virtually cured of their sicknesses and diseases by switching to a whole foods, plant based diet. One patient in particular is a middle aged man with diabetes who, at the start of the documentary, takes numerous pills and injects himself with insulin each morning because his doctors told him that was the only way he could continue to live. The man complains that he feels exhausted, unhappy, and lifeless on a day-to-day basis .The man than becomes a patient of Dr. Matthew Lederman and Dr. Alona Pulde, doctors who believe in using diet and exercise to treat and reverse diseases instead of pills and injections. They tell the man to immediately stop taking all of his pills and to instead commit himself to exercising everyday and to eating a diet full of vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains.By the end of the documentary, the man has lost a considerable amount of weight, has significantly lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol, no longer needs to take a single one of his pills, and most importantly, has a newfound energy towards life. Essentially, he completely reversed his diabetes and turned his life threatening disease into an almost nonexistent factor in his life. While Food Inc. and my earlier readings had opened my eyes to the moral benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet, Forks Over Knives demonstrated the incredible health benefits that come from these diets. With the combination of these two forces,  I could no longer ignore everything I knew and decided to cut out all meat from my diet. However, for a few months, I continued to eat eggs, cheese, and other dairy products, such as ice cream, milk, and yogurt. I kept saying to myself that I couldn't imagine living without cheese, eggs, and ICE CREAM, three long time staples in my diet. 

However, one day, my friend Ron and I decided to take the final step and to eliminate all animal by -products from our diets. It is often easier to commit to a healthy diet or exercise regimen when you have a friend along for the ride who you count on and who counts on you for support. Ron and I both worked at a restaurant,which meant we were constantly confronted with the temptation to break our commitment to our diets. We both stayed strong, yet I was still convinced that the cravings for cheese, fish, and ice cream would only increase as  time went by. However, at about the three-week mark, I realized that the opposite phenomenon was occurring; my cravings for dairy and processed foods decreased more and more each day , while my cravings for vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains,like quinoa and bulgur, only continued to increase. It is hard to describe, but vegetables and fruits began to taste more delicious, sweet, and satisfying than they ever had before, as if my taste buds were undergoing a type of metamorphosis and rebirth. A sweet potato now tasted as decadently sweet as a piece of cake, an avocado as creamy as a milkshake, kale and sprouts made my tastebuds explode with happiness. I begin to feel more naturally energetic and could now bounce out of bed at an early hour without any sluggishness or grogginess.  Also, The 4' o'clock slump in energy that used to hit me like a bag of bricks no longer existed. It was clear to me that my body was thriving off of my new diet, thanking me for finally putting in the type of fuel that it truly needs. At the start of the diet, I thought that I might eventually return to eating meat and dairy, but now, after experiencing the amazing benefits of a plant-based diet first hand, there is no going back for me,

One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of my new diet has been experimenting and exploring  new recipes and new ways to cook with vegetables, grains, beans, and meat substitutes, such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan. While many believe that vegans only eat bland,tasteless food meant for horses and rabbits,this is by no means the case. By using spices, sauces, and unique cooking methods, whole, plant- based foods can be prepared in a variety of delicious, satisfying ways. Each day in the kitchen is a new adventure for me and I was especially excited to try the recipe below for a Winter Soup with quinoa, winter vegetables, and beans. This recipe was given to me by my good friend Alex Epstein, who had found it through his girlfriend Sonya, who had originally discovered it on the blog blogs are a great way to find new recipes and unlike cookbooks, they are completely free!). This vegetable- broth based soup contains all of my favorite foods, kale, sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, and not only is it tasty, but also extremely nutritious. The cumin, chili powder, jalapeƱos, and coriander give this soup the most perfect balance of sweetness, spiciness, and wholesome goodness! Before serving, top the soup with copious amounts of sprouts, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and tortilla chips. Your taste buds will immediately thank you. From the first bite, I fell in love with this soup and I knew I would be making it over and over. It is perfect for cold winter days and is extremely easy to make. 

Here is the link for the recipe- you can thank me later.

Here is a picture of how my soup turned out:

Through this post, I am not trying to advocate that everyone must switch to a vegan diet. Rather, I am telling you how being a vegan has changed my life in the hopes that you may be inspired to eat more vegetables and fruits. If you have thought about becoming a vegan or a vegetarian, maybe give it a try for 10 days and see how you feel. You may hate it or you may love it!

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