I’m not going to lie, converting to a plant-based lifestyle has not been easy. And I’m not completely there yet. Maybe I’ll never be totally plant-based, but what’s important to me is that I’m heading in the right direction.
One of the biggest surprises for me during this whole journey has been how much I have educated myself about our food and where it comes from. People often ask me if I miss eating meat or dairy, but once I found out how most of that meat and dairy gets onto your plate, I lost any desire to put it into my body. If someone can honestly say to me that they know where their meal comes, what it consists of and the impact that it has on the environment and other humans and they still feel comfortable eating it, I say good on them. For me, though, there are just too many problems here in the western world that could easily be solved if we all went a little bit more plant-based.
The issue of food running out is already becoming a public issue here in the UK. Supermarkets and markets have been fighting over the price of milk and celebrity chefs are doing their best to get people to use the bits of meat that are usually thrown away. In an interesting article published by the BBC, solutions to the problem of food shortages are discussed, including growing meat in a test tube and farming insects, all of which scientists are currently wasting thousands of pounds to test. An add-on to the article is a debate about whether a vegetarian could eat a test-tube burger. Not only am I horrified that the BBC would pose such a question, which to me only has one answer (no, of course a vegetarian could not eat a test-tube burger), I also wasn’t impressed with their assumption that people only turn vegetarian for two reasons, religion and animal cruelty. The argument for vegetarians eating this processed mutant food is that, although the initial sample still has to come from a live animal, the animal doesn’t die therefore it’s OK.
In the same article Dr Elizabeth Weichselbaum, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, talks about the importance of eating meat for a healthy diet. OK, so let’s have a quick look at where the western ideal of a nutritional diet has left us. On Friday 24th February 2012, The Metro newspaper published an article about the rising numbers of hospital admissions due to obesity. The statistics they quote are scary:
‘The number of weight-loss stomach operations has risen 12 per cent in one year as fatter people try to reverse the rising tide of obesity.
There were 8,087 operations in England’s hospitals in 2010/11, up from 7,214 the previous year, according to NHS data.’
The Metro 24/02/2012
One in four people in the UK are now classed as obese. What is even scarier is that in the child population, the figure is three in ten. We are teaching our children how to live unhealthy lives and become overweight. Only 25% of the population eat the recommended 5-a-day of fruit and vegetables, which by the way is supposed to be a recommended minimum. What shocked me the most in the data was that 20% of people said they walk less than 20 minutes a year. I can’t even comprehend how that can be possible. Reading the article reminded of when I worked with children about ten years ago. Serving dinner to a group of young boys one night, I asked them if they wanted carrots and one of the boys asked me what a carrot was. I was stunned that a child could not recognise what is a very common vegetable in the UK. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The boy tried the carrots and liked them so much that the next night he asked for just a plate of carrots. Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of children out there who do not get the right advice.
My hope is that we won’t start regularly breeding insects or growing burgers in a test tube to feed the planet, and that in twenty years time eating a plant-based diet will be the norm and not the exception. Twenty years ago, when I was a child, we faced a very similar crisis. The hole in the ozone layer was a very real threat to our existence. The answer was right in front of our noses, to stop using CFCs, but the use of these chemicals was so ingrained in our daily rituals that most people couldn’t comprehend life without them. The best way to make change is to educate, and that’s exactly what happened. My peers and I were taught about the dangers of CFCs from a young age, and as a result we have grown into a generation that don’t use them. In particular, there is a film called ‘Two Seconds to Midnight’ that we were shown at my high school and that had a profound affect on me. If you think of the entire history of Earth as a 24 hour clock, with the Big Bang at midnight on the first night and present day at midnight on the second night, then humans only arrived on the planet at two seconds to midnight. However, we have had more impact than any other inhabitants. This was the film that led me to think about my place on this planet and the footprints that I leave behind. We have the opportunity to teach today’s children about the benefits of leading a plant-based lifestyle, to stop them becoming a generation of morbidly obese adults and to prevent food shortages. I don’t think we can afford not to educate them.