October is National Vegetarian Month. According to Wikipedia, the purpose is to “bring awareness to the ethical, environmental, health, and humanitarian benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. World Vegetarian Day initiates the month of October as Vegetarian Awareness Month, which ends with November 1, World Vegan Day, as the end of that month of celebration.”
As I am practicing a 7 Day Raw Food Cleanse this week, I consider it serendipitous that I began the cleanse in the month of October. Although I’ve been plant based for a couple of years, eating raw fruits and veggies this week has raised my awareness of and gratitude for this health lifestyle.
I don’t often offer reasons for why this is a great lifestyle. Instead, I prefer to live my life as an example of one who has benefitted greatly from changing my diet, and answer questions when people ask. In honor of the month, and the week I am experiencing, and truly, in honor of the extraordinary healing I have received, consider the facts below about eating more fruits and veggies.
First let’s look at the definitions of three words that are frequently used interchangeably.
Vegetarian – a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons.
Vegan – a person who does not eat or use any animal products.
Plant Based – a diet based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits, but with few or no animal products.
Vegetarians avoid meat but may use other animal products. Vegans strictly avoid ALL animal products including honey and beeswax, leather, silk, wool and fur, and cosmetics containing animal products or that were tested on animals. Plant based eaters choose whole foods and avoid meat, dairy, eggs and fish but may use honey or wear clothing derived from animals.
The thing all three groups have in common is that they don’t eat meat.
I classify myself as plant based. I do use organic honey, although I probably wouldn’t if producing it killed the bees, but I avoid most other animal based products in all areas of my life.
Why Eliminate Meat?
From Forks Over Knives:
1. Reduces inflammation in the body, lowering risks of heart attacks, strokes and autoimmune diseases.
2. Lowers cholesterol.
3. Gives the body’s microbiome a makeover, which reduces the risks for obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and liver disease.
4. Positively changes how our genes work, slowing the aging process.
5. Reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. Animal fat, animal-based iron, and nitrate preservatives in meat have been found to damage pancreatic cells, worsen inflammation, cause weight gain, and impair the way our insulin functions.
6. Gives the body the right kind, and right amount, of protein, reducing risk for cancer. The average omnivore in the US gets more than 1.5 times the optimal amount of protein, most of it from animal sources. Excess protein is stored as fat or turned into waste, and animal protein is a major cause of weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, and cancer. On the other hand, the protein found in whole plant foods protects us from many chronic diseases.
7. Makes a huge impact on the health of the planet and its inhabitants. Animal agriculture is destructive to the planet. It is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and is a leading cause of land and water use, deforestation, wildlife destruction, and species extinction. About 2,000 gallons of water are needed to produce just one pound of beef in the US. Oceans are rapidly becoming depleted of fish; by some estimates, oceans may be fishless by 2048. The current food system, based on meat and dairy production, also contributes to world hunger—the majority of crops grown worldwide go toward feeding livestock, not feeding people.
Equally important, animals raised for food are sentient beings who suffer, whether raised in industrial factory farms or in farms labeled “humane.” Eating a plant-based diet helps us lead a more compassionate life. After all, being healthy is not just about the food we eat; it’s also about our consciousness—our awareness of how our choices affect the planet and all of those with whom we share it.
Celebrating National Vegetarian Month
I get it. Change can be difficult. My switch to plant based was initially to shift my health. As my body healed, I became aware of the other benefits that extended beyond my own health.
Here are ways you can increase your fruit and veggie intake, even if you don’t feel ready to make big changes.
• Create a Meatless Monday and/or a Fresh Food Friday meal each week, experimenting with new foods, prepared in new ways. Plant based doesn’t mean boring salads. Far from it!
• Look up recipes on Pinterest for inspiration. In the search bar type Plant Based Recipes or Vegan Meals.
• Instead of starting the day with a heavy breakfast or sugary cereals, try a fruit smoothie. Combine bananas with fresh or frozen fruit or greens and just enough water to make the smoothie pourable.
• Replace a soda, or two, with herbal teas or a fresh juice. Run your favorite fruits and veggies through a juicer and enjoy.
• Take a plant based cooking class, online or in person, and learn new ways to prepare nutritious meals.
• Plant a garden and benefit from growing your own food.
• Go grocery shopping with a friend and challenge each other to shop from the produce section only. Brainstorm together and come up with meals to create from the abundance there.
It’s About Life
The best way for me to celebrate National Vegetarian Month, other than taking excellent care of my health and wellbeing, is to make a positive impact on others. An opportunity appeared this afternoon, to discuss the benefits of a plant based lifestyle with a young man working in a grocery store. He studied my shopping cart and then curious, asked me good questions about why I eat the way I do.
How long have you been plant based? Why did you change your diet? Was it difficult? What about the holidays? Do you skip the turkey?
We had a wonderful conversation. His openness allowed me to be open. I wasn’t trying to force him to change. He wasn’t trying to defend his choices or ridicule mine. We simply discussed what it means to be plant based, and the impact animal agriculture is having. And we chatted about health and how crucial food is to keeping our bodies running smoothly, or not.
I appreciated him. And I am grateful for this whole month set aside to increase awareness of what it means, to individuals, to animals, to the planet, to be vegetarian, vegan or plant based.
Giving up sugar, dairy, eggs and meat isn’t a death sentence. It’s a life sentence. Long may we all live, in the greatest possible health.