I spent the majority of my life until the age of 22 as a vegetarian or vegan. My primary motivation was concern for animals, particularly those raised conventionally on factory farms. Even eating ethically raised meat has been challenging for me, as I have always struggled with the idea of killing animals to eat. It’s hard to mentally separate animals that are raised for food from those that I keep as pets. They are all cute, fuzzy, loving, and intelligent. Not to mention the effects of livestock production on native wildlife and contribution to deforestation.
Despite this, I began eating meat in response to widespread beliefs that animal products are important for overall health and that common plant-based foods are detrimental. I found arguments in favor of ancestral diets to be highly compelling and slowly began to incorporate meat into my daily diet and eventually into almost every meal.
I followed a paleo-type diet for over 3 years. I tried a variety of diets within that framework, including very low-carb, intermittent fasting, and autoimmune protocol. Sometimes I felt really good and sometimes I felt absolutely terrible (I’m looking at you ketosis and intermittent fasting).
Many of my food choices arose from fear of non-paleo foods. Fear that beans would destroy my skin and my gut, fear that fruit would make me fat, fear that eating anything not on the autoimmune protocol would trigger some underlying autoimmune disease.
I read and listened to everything I could about a paleo way of eating. I ascribed fully to every paleo-supporting argument, faithfully arguing about the horrors of legumes, the misinformed nature of vegetarian and veganism, and the myriad problems with eating carbohydrates.
And truthfully, I feel duped.
Duped by a growing movement that has become an incredibly profitable industry. Let me be clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people profiting from promoting an ancestral way of eating and living. Many people have had great success with healing their bodies and minds and vastly improving their health via a paleo-type diet and way of life. My goal is not to discredit or criticize this way of eating.
My point is that this way of eating is by no means the ONLY way to find health and vitality. To say otherwise is irresponsible and shows a real lack of understanding of the world and the human body. People are different, societies are different, and diets throughout the world reflect that. And yes, people can be incredibly healthy on non-paleo diets and while eschewing animal products entirely.
So in April I quit paleo and and started moving toward a whole-food plant-based diet, and I feel happier and healthier than ever. I avoid animal products, not out of fear of what those foods might do to me, but because that is a conscious choice I am making in an attempt to limit animal suffering. And I still eat eggs from the free-roaming chickens on my parent’s 2-acre property. Those are some dang happy birds who get to live long, natural, social lives. (update: I have since stopped eating eggs).
Ultimately, my decision to quit paleo and start to remove meat from my diet stems from the difficulty I have with eating animals, with the suffering inherent in the meat system, and with the negative impacts the meat industry has on the environment and on wildlife. Even pastured meat is not exempt from these problems. My love of wolves alone is enough to keep me from ever wanting to eat grass-fed beef again*. I believe that it is possible to thrive on a plant-based diet. The seemingly infinite number of happy, healthy, and successful plant-based individuals are testimony to this. As is my experience over the past 9 months.
Who knows where my food future will take me, but I am so happy to be moving away from fear of food and toward a way of eating that is more in line with the way I want to exist on this planet.
*The massive crusade against and consequent extermination of wolves is fueled almost entirely, if not solely, by cattle ranchers. These are ranchers who graze their cattle on federal forest and range land. Their cattle are being attacked on public land. Not in their pastures, but in the forests that are home to wolves. This grazing is truly a privilege, not a right, and wolves are being murdered en masse because ranchers are literally putting vulnerable prey directly in the wolves’ home and then exerting their influence to have those wolves killed. It’s disgusting and gut-wrenching, and I can only hope that someday it can be stopped.
Photo Credit: “CH cow 2 cropped” by Daniel Schwen. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – link