Jan 1 12

Forks Over Knives

by Emily Benjamin

Recently I watched Forks Over Knives (2011), a documentary that ‘examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by rejecting our present menu of animal-based and processed foods.’ (IMDB) Despite having heard of numerous pro-whole-foods-plant-based-themed documentaries, this was the first that I watched in it’s entirety. And it was good. But, for a number of reasons, I am still not convinced it’s the healthy lifestyle choice for me.

I can begin my argument with a rebuttal. A huge rebuttal, in fact, that on paper, trounces my argument easily. The rebuttal is that I believe the information given in the documentary is 100% true. I have always believed, known even, that many of the degenerative diseases we humans are ‘prone’ to can be prevented, and sometimes reversed, by healthy lifestyle. To me, healthy lifestyle is defined as eating well, exercising well, and managing your life to avoid unhealthy stressors. So based on this, my pre-existing belief, I can easily take the next step to see that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is an example of ‘better lifestyle’. That is my rebuttal.

But the sum of my argument is not logical. I will lay it out now, with full ownership on my part, and full warning to you, that many of the following points could be considered invalid, straight away, for being stubborn, emotional, or plain illogical. Here is why I am not convinced that a whole-foods, plant-based diet is the right choice for me.

1) I love meat. I truly do. Many different types of meat. Chicken is perhaps my go-to, my versatile favorite, but anyone that knows me knows that I absolutely love my steaks, too. And I have always loved meat. My family still share stories of my carnivorous ways as a youth; when I was really young, maybe only 5 or 6, I asked a waitress for a T-Bone the size of my plate, with no room for any sides. I still love steaks, but now try to eat much smaller serves, usually only 3-4 oz. But I genuinely love every bite.

2) Certain meats make me feel stronger. In particular, from time to time I feel weak, lethargic and tired, and almost always I realize that  I’m also craving red meat. I feel like it is an in-built iron detector, and without fail, a night or two of red meat makes me feel better again.
3) I know meat. As in, I know how to cook it, many different ways, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. That doesn’t mean I have meat at every meal… but I know how to prepare it for any occasion, and how to prepare it well. So the idea of giving up meat gives me a culinary headache, because I wouldn’t know where to start.
4) I know the documentary isn’t just about meat – it’s about abstaining from animal based products in general. So let’s see – cheese, milk, yoghurt, cream and eggs, to begin with. I love all of these. I don’t love them as much as I love meat, but they are still a part of my day to day diet. An egg on whole grain toast with spinach makes me feel alert and energized for the day. A yoghurt-based fruit smoothie gives me a good lift after a gym workout. And cheese… well… what’s a grilled cheese sandwich without the cheese?
Enough about the food aspect… let’s consider the physiological argument.

5) The documentary argues that many degenerative conditions can be prevented or reversed with the removal of animal products from the diet. As an anatomy and biology nerd, and an ex-member of the health and medical industry, this argument has many different facets. Yes, many degenerative diseases can be reversed – this is true. However, many people find they can reverse conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol while still eating some animal-based products. I have seen this myself, heard about it continuously, and had it advised to me personally by countless medical professionals. But that’s the reversal – I prefer the idea of prevention. Take osteoporosis, for example. Defined by a weakened density of bone mass, which increases the potential of fracture, osteoporosis can be prevented or slowed quite easily. But unfortunately, you need to plan some 20-30 years in advance. The peak time to build bone mass is 25-35 in women, and a slightly older bracket in men. And diet is only a third of the argument; weight bearing exercise and genetics make up the whole picture. So while the calcium from milk and cheese might be better found from plant-based foods, a diet change of that style won’t be enough to reverse bone damage that began 30 years ago. I could go on further, but what I mean to say is that there is some doubt in my mind that a change in diet to reflect the whole-foods, plant-based idea is not the sole solution to degenerative disease.

I have already admitted that much of my argument might be flawed due to lack of logic, or emotion. I can recognize that in many ways I am being stubborn; I see it, and admit it. But my love for meat, my experience in the health and medical industries, and the advice I have always been given, lead to remain unconvinced. But the documentary penetrated even my strong carnivorous defences – it makes me consider a change in diet. My sister would support it – she is already vegetarian, for primarily ethical reasons. My devouring of meat during family celebrations gives her both concern and comic relief. I know the little lambs, baby chickens and calves that I love so much would thank me for it. Stubbornly, I still have an illogical divider in my brain that disconnects the anatomical logic of the ‘leg of lamb’ cooking in an oven and a baby sheep running around a paddock. Like I said – illogical. But despite my stubborn, illogical and emotional argument, the DVD nonetheless has given me food for thought. Maybe, just maybe, I will reduce the intake of animal-based foods in my diet, and the world will not end.

Source: Forks Over Knives (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1567233/

Filed Under → Words
Jan 1 12

Cesar Chavez

by Emily Benjamin

I knew nothing about who Cesar Chavez was, or what he was about, until today. With each of these reflections, I’ve known at least something about the subject before I researched them. But with Chavez, I knew only that there was a street named after him in San Francisco, that my bus goes past every day as I make my way to college.

The source text I chose is the United Farm Worker’s website, which is the group Chavez founded in 1962. The site provides a background on Chavez, from where he was born and brought up, to where how he was educated, to how he spent his later years. Chavez was born in Arizona and from very early on, he understood injustice. His family had their home taken from them, when deeds were broken by dishonest white land owners. The Chavez’s had no options, but to take a loan that inevitably they were unable to pay interest on, and the house was lost. This began the cycle of debt for Chavez and his family.

Recognizing this cycle, Chavez worked towards getting himself and his family out of it. Education, he thought, would be the key. But being in school during the 1930’s and 40’s meant racism was rife – you either suffered through it in the integrated schools, or chose a segregated school. Chavez and his brother ended up at thirty-seven different schools before Cesar left school in eighth grade, in 1942. Despite this early graduation, Chavez pursued his belief in and love of education, collecting and reading an amazing array of book throughout his life.

In 1948, Cesar Chavez married Helen Fabela and together they moved to Delano to start a family. The time that Chavez spent with ministers, priests and in missions led him to pursue a life seeking justice for his family, friends and co-workers, through nonviolent measures. In 1962, the United Farm Worker’s group was formed to protect the rights of farm worker’s in California. Through Chavez’s leadership, the group helped lift the lives of thousands of worker’s across the state, ensuring better pay, better work conditions, and protection from racial and economic injustice.

What really stands out to me about Chavez was the success he had with non-violent measures. He pursued his beliefs and the UFW’s interests without aggression, choosing picketing, protests and strikes over more forceful options. Chavez also went on a lot of fasts, often as a protest to the unsafe use of pesticides on farms, which put the health of worker’s and their families at risk. While I have always agreed with the non-violent approach, in any situation, the idea of fasting has me confused. In Chavez’s case, and in many other cases, I understand it is about awareness. And if it wasn’t for the attention given to Chavez’s public fast in 1988, where actors, entertainers, politicians and celebrities fasted with Chavez, perhaps the issues for farm worker’s wouldn’t have been addressed.

But it has always seemed too passive to me. I think about the 40 Hour Famine that my primary school used to run once a year, for those that wished to take part, to raise money and awareness for World Vision. In this instance, the money gave this initiative a tangible result – at the time, just $1 a day raised or donated could feed an entire family in Africa, World Vision said. The program, from my understanding, has now switched from abstinence from food to abstinence from something – because fasting may not be so ideal in children and teenagers. It also makes me think about the breast cancer awareness campaigns that filter through Facebook each year. The first one I remember was with people updating their status to share what color underwear they wore. When people started asking why so many people were on Facebook declaring ‘Red!’, ‘White!’ or ‘Black!’, it was revealed as a campaign to increase awareness of breast cancer. How, exactly? No one could answer it. Their latest campaign involved changing your profile photo to a pink one, again for breast cancer awareness. True, the symbol of breast cancer awareness is a pink ribbon, and thus seeing this color pink might remind people of the ribbon they’ve seen elsewhere – but what does changing a profile photo actually do for the number of regular check ups, and the push for early detection? I don’t think it does very much at all.

Irrespective of my thoughts on fasting as a form of activism or protest, Chavez’s fasting produced results. Through his non-violent actions, perseverance and willingness to stand up for himself and others, he was and still is the face of civil rights activism for many Mexican Americans.

References: [URL] United Farm Workers Website http://www.ufw.org/_page.php?inc=history/07.html&menu=research

Photo from [URL] http://www.chavezfoundation.org/uploads/001006000000000/FL12057613330.jpg

Filed Under → Words
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