My Dad is a big, strong man of few words. He just gets things done, no problems at all. It was a shock when I heard that Dad had to have surgery for colon cancer. It was a bigger shock to hear that he had to immediately have a second surgery within 24 hours, as his wound had become septic. It was very sad when I walked into his ward as I could not identify my father. The big, strong and silent man had become gaunt, weak and fragile. He ended up staying in hospital for 8 weeks. I could only be there for a week, sitting with him every day for 15 hours, watching Dad drift between waking and sleeping. Whilst he slept, I would be reading (there was no internet connection), or watching the patients in beds around me, or their loved ones by their bed. There was so much suffering, by both patients and their loved ones. The patients were not dead, but they were not living. It was a painful life at the brink of death. It looked like slowly dying.
My Dad was in a ward with patients all suffering from “lifestyle diseases”. At times, I would gaze at them wondering, if they wondered what they would have done differently if the clock was wound back 30 years. Then it struck me. Their 30 years ago, is my now. I can do things differently, now.
It is often misunderstood that if an individual does not eat animal protein, that one is vegan. I’m here to clarify the differences between a whole food plant based versus a vegan diet.
A whole food plant based diet excludes any animal protein. However, the term “whole food” means including only very minimally processed or non-processed foods. So whilst BBQ Shapes and Oreos does not have any animal derived products, they are typically not part of the whole food plant based diet.
Veganism is a philosophy and way of living. Vegans seek to exclude as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals. This includes not eating any animal products, but also not wearing any clothing derived from animals (e.g., leather, wool) or using products that involves testing on animals.
You may find BBQ Shapes and Oreos part of a vegan diet as they are devoid of animal protein. However, they will not wear wool or leather, and will choose to use beauty products that does not contain beeswax and has not been tested on animals.
An individual on a whole food plant based diet will be concerned about a minimally processed diet devoid of animal protein. Beyond diet, they may not be concerned about other aspects in which animals have been used.
A whole food diet is one that is minimally processed. One way of thinking about it is, if you see the food, does it look like what the farmed ingredient looks like. Uncooked rice does, but rice flour doesn’t. And rice crackers definitely does not. The thinking is that as food goes through more processing, it loses its original nutrient content, stripped of its fibre and its ability to nourish the body.
A plant based diet is one that is devoid of animal proteins. No meat (e.g., beef, pork, chicken, fish), eggs or animal secretions (e.g., milk).
There sometimes hear anxieties from people new to the whole food plant based diet over what is or what isn’t considered whole foods. Is tofu whole foods? Is soy sauce ok? What about canned kidney beans? My response usually is, if your pantry or fridge still has spam, baked beans, Caesar salad dressing etc, focus on replacing those first before you sweat the less evil options.
I experienced Christmas witnessing purchasing of paper to be torn off and thrown out. Gifting of plastic knick knacks that brought a few minutes of laughter then to be tossed into the Salvation Army bin to alleviate any guilt of a product that will last on the planet for thousands of years. It also opened my eyes how to excess we consume food in the weeks leading up to 25 December, the one day intended for celebrations. Food, which nourishes our bodies, have become something of decadence. And because we do it every day in my first world, there was no appreciation of the decadence but an expectation. It became apparently that the way I was eating was encouraging and supporting a way of farming that is not sustainable for our planet. There is no way that we can have truly free range hens in a sustainable manner, to feed my dozen eggs a week diet. Once I made that connection, I knew I had to make a change. I did not think I would be able to give up eating meat, nor did I think my friendship circles would be able to accept what I did most often with them, sharing meals that included meat, so I decided I would stop eating meat 6 days a week. The 1 day a week would be my wild card to feast with my friends.
Being an active individual, my first concern was getting enough protein. I embarked on a quest of researching a vegan diet for athletes. Might as well look at the extreme. If athletes can perform and stay healthy on a vegan diet, It would be ok for me and my moderate activity on a vegetarian diet. It was the first time I had clarity about how much protein a body actually needs, how much protein plants have, and how achievable it is to be an animal protein free athlete.
Interestingly, my research that stemmed from protein deficiency concerns lead me to other evidence of what animal protein does to the human body. There is an abundance of resources out there which I won’t go into details. In short, animal protein leads to the production of IGF-1 that results in muscle cell growth, but also cancer cell growth. Animal protein also results in the production of TMAO that leads to the inflammation of the body, which causes much of the lifestyle diseases we experience in the modern first world.
I was sold. I went from fully fledge omnivore to eating meat one day a week. And within weeks, adopted a whole food plant based diet.