Vegan Compassion for Human Health

It’s very hard to witness animal suffering. But it’s also painful to witness other humans suffering daily from misinformation about their health.

The other day I was standing in line at the checkout with my husband. We noticed the woman in front of us looked in very poor health. She was in her 60s or 70s, heavy, and looked very tired. Her cart was filled with diet products: diet soda, sugar-free diabetic energy bars and a host of other diet “foods.” I believe these “foods” are much more accurately described by Michael Pollan as “food-like substances”).

The only fresh items she had in the cart were meat, dairy and eggs. I didn’t see a single vegetable or fruit.

The saddest part is that sick people are often following their Doctor’s advice

What really saddened me was that this woman was probably following the advice of her doctor or other health authorities. She wasn’t buying sugar, and her cart was very “low carb” – there was no bread to be seen.

The problem, of course, is that in addition to being devoid of real nutrition, the foods she was buying were also full of saturated fat and cholesterol. Part of me wanted to try to point her in a better direction. It took all my self-control not to tell her that the store was having a sale on apples! I felt helpless. But mostly I was a little frustrated that sick people can’t trust their doctors and other medical providers to give them informed nutritional advice.

Confusing health messages

The funny thing is, even though industry supported health-related groups like the USDA recommend meat and dairy, the World Health Organization does not. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown the dangers of consuming high amounts of animal foods. And we know for a fact that a plant-based diet can both prevent and reverse heart disease! But somehow that information never makes it to the consumer.
Instead, we have the impression (much like with climate change) that this is still a subject up for debate. Maybe saturated fat is good for you! Maybe sugar is actually the problem! May be cholesterol is meaningless and we can eat a dozen eggs a day, no problem!

The challenge is that these “merchants of doubt” who want us to question that humans contribute to climate change, or that cigarettes cause lung cancer – or the  and the myriad of health problems caused by processed meats (including cancer) are never held responsible for their false claims. Of course, this is because they happen to support industries that would rather we question the World Health Organization than the dairy council.

Cashing in on poor health

It’s not just the medical community or industry nutrition panels that are to blame. Sometimes it’s a combination, and sometimes it’s pure pseudoscientific nonsense packaged as (profitable) health information.

I took my daughter to the doctor for a cold on Saturday. As we sat in the waiting room, I was disappointed to see high protein diets promoted everywhere. The protein company had paid for their material to cover the walls of this walk-in clinic.

The posters stated their high protein meals could “prevent metabolic syndrome.” Inside their brochure their were pictures of chocolate bars and chips (made of whey protein).

My younger daughter asked me (she’s 5) what the brochure was for. I tried explaining that they were trying to help people be healthy.

“But they’re wrong!” She exclaimed. “Chocolate and chips aren’t healthy!”

Wise words.

I suppose the doctors at the clinic receive a commission for selling packaged high-protein foods. But you have to wonder how ethical it is to allow physicians to promote diets at all. Especially to sick patients who just want a quick solution to their problems and trust their doctors to put their patients health before profits.

What we can do

This holiday season, I hope we can all at least encourage our close friends and family not to fear plant foods! Bring your favorite plant-based foods to holiday gatherings. And prepare to answer inevitable questions about your diet with kindness, knowledge and compassion.

I recommend Dr. Caldwell Esseslstyn’s Book, How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. It’s a fantastic resource if anyone in your family suffers from heart disease and is not already eating a plant-based diet.

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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