Awaken Your Inner Vegan!

Part 2 of a guest post by Jim Dunlop, a loyal reader, frequent commentator, and self-declared “flexitarian”. I hope Jim’s story inspires you–wherever you are–to begin taking steps to improve your diet and health today.

Once I finally realized that meals didn’t need to be centered around meat, I started examining the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. William certainly expressed his firm convictions gained from Dr. Campbell’s “The China Study”, and the results are compelling. I also found the Meatless Monday website a very practical resource. It explains the movement’s historical significance–having been part of a massive WWI consumption reduction campaign by Herbert Hoover–and how mainstream medical professionals agree on the benefits of going meatless. The website stated “Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic, preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.”

“That’s awesome!” I said to myself. “If going meatless only one day a week can have those kinds of benefits, then how much MORE could I benefit my health if I went meatless TWO days a week… What about THREE? Four? Okay… Let’s not get TOO carried away here…” And yet, it was then I had a second epiphany — another “aha!” moment… If we eat three meals a day, many of us already eat one-third of our meals meatless.  I’ve never been one to eat much meat at breakfasts, and I know many devout carnivores who don’t, either… Cereal, oatmeal, toast, eggs, fruit, are all commonly eaten breakfast foods without an once of meat anywhere in sight! Well, if we are already eating ONE meal meatless, all we have to do is extend that same kind of thinking to two more meals, and the next thing you know, you have a meatless DAY. Repeat this the next day, and before you know it, you have a meatless WEEK. It’s all just one small step at a time.

Fast-forward to year-end holidays, my biggest fear of having a complete reversion and going on a meat binge hadn’t happened, but I would be lying if I said I had adopted a completely vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. However, several significant events in my life have caused me to question my dietary choices and priorities in life:

  • First of all, my wife and I saw the movie Forks Over Knives — a very sobering and clear documentary outlining the effects of the massive, wholesale consumption of meat and dairy products that have become the staples of the Western diet. The movie highlights the research of Dr. Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, a medical doctor who has successfully treated many devastating, degenerative conditions by simply prescribing an all-plant based diet, without meat and dairy. CNN’s Sanjay Gupta reviewed the film very positively, and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it a potentially lifesaving work. Also featured is Dr. John McDougall, author of the McDougall Diet, another heavy-hitter in the world of lifesaving vegan dietary changes.
  • Then, only days before last Christmas I got an e-mail from my mother, who informed me that after many months of seeing various doctors and getting countless tests done, my father was diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis. Of course, the entire family was devastated by the diagnosis, as there is no known cure for this mystery disease and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Or, so I thought until I started doing a bit of research about MS and how diet can affect the prognosis and outcome of the disease.

It turns out there has been a wealth of knowledge written about autoimmune diseases such as MS, but only for those with their minds open enough to listen. I came across the research of a certain Dr. Roy L. Swank. He has sometimes been called the father of Multiple Sclerosis for all the work he has done in this field. Beginning in the 1940s, Dr. Swank helped hundreds of MS patients prevent neural degeneration to a significant degree over a 34-year period and documented it in a peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet. I discovered that after Dr. Swank passed away in 2008 at the age of 99, it was none other than Dr. McDougall who took up the mantle of his lifelong work in MS research. After I watched an hour-long lecture Dr. McDougall gave on diet and MS, I became ever more convinced that the path my wife and I embarked on was the correct one. Not only that, if I could get my parents to see and understand all this, then perhaps this whole vegan thing might actually help my father get well and stay well for many years to come! I immediately ordered a DVD copy of Forks Over Knives to be delivered to my parents, and sent my mother a link to Dr. McDougall’s lecture on MS. Who would have thought that a simple, meat, dairy, and fat-free diet could stop an insane disease like MS in its tracks? The writing is on the wall for all to see, and although many have criticized Dr. Swank’s long-term MS study and many scientists and doctors continue to assert that NO diet has been shown to significantly affect the outcome of this disease, Dr. McDougall’s lecture explained this phenomenon all too effectively. It’s called: “N.I.H.” Not Invented Here. In other words, because these doctors and scientists cannot claim credit for this groundbreaking research, they prefer to sit on the sidelines and actively criticize and deconstruct work that has the potential to save thousands of lives. How selfish! But how true… It’s human nature, I suppose.

Even though we’ve recommitted ourselves to eating properly in the face of all we’ve seen and read on the topic of the healthful benefits of a meat-free, dairy-free diet, I cannot say we’ve cut out these things entirely… Nowadays I call myself a “flexitarian.” I can take meat or leave it, but I do actively cook vegan meals at home now… I actively seek ways to cut out meat and dairy whenever and wherever I can. And I must say, that most (if not all) the meat my wife and I have eaten since summer was while eating out. In fact, I really can’t recall really buying any meat lately (I know for sure there’s none in my fridge or freezer). And since summer, we’ve cut out a good part of dairy as well. Dairy has never really agreed with my digestion very much, and since I’ve discovered soy milk can actually taste better than regular milk, (and somehow managed to convince my wife of that too), I’ve only been buying soy milk recently too.

I still have no idea how this will all play out in the future. But for the time being, I’m happy with my dietary choices, and am especially glad I’ve been able to diversify my menu in such a way that my plate is usually a rainbow of colors, whereas before it was largely only dichromatic. The best way I can conclude my story is to share a couple of fantastic recipes I’ve learned on my journey thus far, thanks to people like William and all the others whom I’ve asked for tips and recipes, and which I hope you will now enjoy as well.

Dr. Fuhrman’s Quinoa Cannelini Bean Salad

Sergei Svetloff’s Authentic Russian Borscht

Maricel Presilla’s Moors and Christians (Moros y Cristianos)

Much appreciation to Jim for sharing his firsthand perspectives of his dietary awakening and striving for increased health and vitality. If you would like to share your story, by all means contact me via this site.

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