From junior to senior year of college, I was president of the environmental club, and a majority of the members were attempting to save the animals one plate at a time. It’s amazing how our social circles and projected persona can impact the way we eat.
As omnivores, we have the ability to eat a wide array of foods, and with our ever improving cooking skills and ability to chemically and genetically morph foods, the list of possible meals continues to grow. It’s both a blessing and a curse, causing us to often turn to our knowledge, awareness, and philosophical beliefs, to dictate the “best” diet for humankind. We are but mere mortals, and often these notions are not always congruent with what nature has determined is ultimately best for our bodies.
I grew up eating a pretty normal American diet as a kid of a mom who was on a budget but also a gourmet. I ate Lucky Charms™ every once in a while. I was “normal”-ish, but it soon changed. I can still remember that turning moment when the media announced that Cheerios™ accidentally sprayed Durisban, (an insecticide banned in 2001 that kills insects by attacking the nervous system and has been linked to neurological effects, developmental disorders, and autoimmune disorders, on some of their grain silos) and their customer service was not nearly efficient enough to satisfy my mother. I can still see my mother standing in the kitchen next to our rotary phone yelling at the lady when she was unable to tell my mother whether or not the bright, yellow Cheerios ™ box in her hand had been effected by this toxic pesticide. A General Mills™ product has never been knowingly permitted into the house since.
By the time my mission became to save the planet and to do it by fighting factory farming, I had eaten crunchy enough through my teens that vegetarianism seemed like pretty logical progression. I flip-flopped from veg to omnivore to vegan and back again.
Once I had graduated and moved home to my parents, I was vegan and doing my 200 hour Yoga Teacher training. The ethics portion of the yogic philosophy kept me going strong in my veganism as I began to delve into the topic of ahimsa, or non-harming. My flexibility was improving and I was losing weight. It all seemed perfect, until my joins became so sore that I found yoga to begin to become uncomfortable.
Luckily, my mother is a member of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a group that supports eating a diet based on that of our ancestors, including organ meats, lots of fat, raw dairy, and especially bones broth. Bone broth was the key to my rehabilitation. My joints ceased to ache; I had more energy, healthier skin, hair, nails, and even teeth.
It was challenging to mentally come back to eating a diet heavier in animal products, but I soon was beginning to understand, that we must first have ahimsa towards ourselves.
Stocks have been found throughout the cultures of the world for as long as humans have been cooking, and they come with a long list of health benefits from improving digestion, joint, and even thyroid health. When properly prepared, stocks are extremely nutritious containing gelatin, minerals from the bones, marrow, and vitamins from the vegetables in the form of electrolytes, which are absorbed by the body with ease. Interestingly, Dr. Francis Pottenger, found that stock supplies hydrophilic colloids to the diet, similar to those of raw fruits and vegetables. Unlike most other forms of cooked proteins, which repel liquids making them harder to digest, gelatin in broths actually attracts liquids even after it has been heated (Nourishing Traditions, Fallon 116).
Living in a society where people so often are seeking youthful skin, healthy joints, and cures to other ailments, stock is a great place to start. What better than cartilage, skin, and bones to support our own? That is exactly what stock does.
Our ancestors’ innate knowledge of healthy cooking is an invaluable resource, and I have yet to hear of any ancestors being vegan.
Now, about 3 years after the flip flopping (minus one last try at ovo-(raw)lacto vegetarianism), I most recently have begun to explore the world of the Paleo Diet, taking on the Whole30 challenge of eating no legumes, sugar or sugar supplements, grains, dairy or alcohol.
While the plan is a short term Paleo extreme as a means of resetting the body and not necessarily a sustainable, long-term diet, it really taught me even more about my body, especially the benefits of taking soy and sugar out of my diet completely.
As a vegan, I found myself avoiding soy, but it was impossible to avoid it when going out. If I went to Starbucks and wanted a latte, it had to be soy, eating the vegetarian options at restaurants, especially Asian, generally all had soy. And yes, I could have drank my coffee black, and I could have ordered my dishes sans soy, but when you are already having to say no to so many other things on the menu, sometimes you just want to be able to order a dish without special instructions.
Grains were another challenge. I’ve been mostly gluten-free for the past 3 years, but it’s not because I have Celiac, it’s because I just feel better, and the way that we process our wheat at this point on the food processing timeline, it just doesn’t leave nearly enough nutrition in it to make it worth the effort of chewing. Being able to eat meat makes eating gluten-free 90% easier than being a vegetarian. Restaurants and cookbooks are constantly padding their vegetarian dishes with noodles, rice, and bread. Going 100% grain-free for 30 days would have been impossible without meat, unless I had been eating mostly salads, and that’s just boring.
The biggest challenge of them all, was giving up sugar, and not just sugar, all sweeteners: stevia, maple syrup, honey, cane sugar, agave, all of it. It wasn’t the biggest challenge because I missed my chocolate (technically I was allowed to have 100% cacao), but because sugar is in absolutely everything!! Seriously, go out and try to find a sweetner-free package of bacon. Go on. Try. I’ll give you $50 if you can and don’t have to order it online. Sugar is in everything, and it makes complete sense. We are programmed to crave sugar, salt, and fat for survival, but now that we can get all the food we need from the farmer’s market, grocery store, or restaurant, we have to use our willpower (don’t you wish you could pick up some extra willpower at the market?) to say no to all of those sweet, salty, and fat filled foods. Unfortunately, giving up all forms of sugar (minus naturally occurring fructose in fruits) I also had to give up dairy to avoid lactose. God, I missed butter.
Along with the soy, grains, and sugars, there were also no additives or preservatives allowed. This meant cooking most of my meals myself. I was definitely very conscious and actively planning my meals, a skill I believe many of my fellow 20-somethings lack. It was a wonderful learning experience in cultivating self-discipline.
While there has been some divide between Paleo and Weston Price, I must say that I learned some invaluable things about my body from this Whole30 dietary reset. I lost about 10 lbs. eating this way (I was not significantly over-weight when I started the program), my skin looked great, I had less body odor, I had no menstrual cramps and my period duration was about 3 days shorter than usual, and I slept great. That being said of the amazing results, it took a lot of painstaking withdrawal to get there—a true testament to the addictive qualities of processed, sugar-laden foods.
Whether you choose to follow a Weston A. Price diet, Paleo diet, vegetarian, or even vegan, listen to your body. Don’t let the ego and dogma come between you and your health. Many of us have forgotten to really listen to our bodies. What does joint pain mean? What does a cramp mean? Are you really hungry or is it just dehydration? What does your poop say? Sometimes these questions make us uncomfortable, or we forget to ask them because ignorance is bliss. Everyone’s body is different and needs different things, but eating an organic, whole food based plan is the bottom line. Whether your food is Vegan or Paleo, if it’s processed, it’s still processed.