In November 2011, I made the decision to progress towards a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Since then, I have learnt so much about where our food comes from, and what it does to our bodies and the environment. Along the way, I have encountered many obstacles and challenges. I have also been asked lots of questions, most of them valid and a few off them more than a little odd. One of the aims of my blog is to chronicle my experiences as a plant-based traveller. So, hopefully these Plant-Based Pauses will provide a little more explanation and maybe answer some questions that my readers may still have.
‘People eat meat and think they will become as strong as an ox, forgetting that the ox eats grass.’ – Pino Caruso
I don’t tend to broadcast the fact that I’m a plant-based vegetarian because, to be honest, it’s not really anyone else’s business and everyone has the right to choose their own lifestyle. However, whenever a situation involves food, and let’s face it that’s very often, it’s an unavoidable subject. People notice that I’m not eating the same as them, and that I have to ask lots of questions about what the meal contains. One of the most common reactions, always said with confidence, is ‘but it’s natural for humans to eat meat’. When I ask them ‘why is it natural for humans to eat meat?’, however, I have never yet met an omnivore who has been able to give me an answer other than ‘because it is’. They know that it is natural for them to eat meat, which is when I point out that everyone knew the Earth was flat before Christopher Columbus came along.
Not only do I know that it is not natural for humans to eat meat, I also know why. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that every species could be vegan. Cats, for example, are designed to eat meat, although you will get the odd cat that it the exception to the rule and chooses to be vegetarian (my aunty’s cat Squeakers for example). There are some animals like apes, humans and dogs, however, that are more suited to eating plants.
For a start, we are a downright lazy species. We know this because we have designed a modern world for ourselves where technology does everything for us. We no longer have to move off the sofa if we do not choose to. So, when our early ancestors were roaming the planet looking for food, if they’d had the choice between a plant that grows out of the ground or a meal they had to chase down for four hours and kill, I think I know which one they’d go for. Lots of people today argue that it is the hunter-gatherer instinct in us that makes us want to eat meat. I have no problem with that if you actually go out and hunt the animals yourself, however I tend to find that most of the people making the argument ‘hunt’ their food pre-prepared in plastic containers from the supermarket.
Anatomically, we are better suited to eating a herbivore diet. Firstly, we have the right teeth for it. Most of our teeth are flat and our jaw can move side-to-side, perfect for grinding down and crushing plants. Carnivores, on the other hand, have sharp, pointy teeth that are designed to seize, kill and dismember prey. The four canine teeth we do have are blunt and small, and are thought to be used for display and/or defence (think of when an ape warns off a potential threat). Can you imagine actually trying to pull meat off an animal just using your canines? Try it next time you’re eating a chicken leg.
There are lots of other reasons why we are biologically better suited to eating plant-based, for example our colon which, like in other herbivores, has a pouch structure. Our body also needs lots of fibre, which is exclusively found in plant-based foods. Although it is not digested, fibre is essential to the human body as it pulls water into the intestines to keep everything moving.
And what about that age-old saying ‘Real men eat meat’? Google Rip Esselstyn – does he look manly enough to you? Rip is a committed plant-based vegetarian. After a successful career as a world-class athlete, he changed careers and trained as a firefighter in Austin, Texas. After learning that one of his colleagues had a dangerously high cholesterol level of 344, Rip encouraged all the firefighters at his station to switch to a plant-based diet. They all lost weight, lowered their cholesterol and improved their overall health. Still not convinced? Then head over to veganbodybuilding.com and check out lots of ‘real men’ who don’t eat meat, including some of the 3000 vegan body builders here in the UK.