This week’s reading selection is “Full Moon Feast” by Jessica Prentice. As an argumentative sort, I’ve coupled it with online research into “The China Study,” although I can’t say I read that book. Being involved with yoga, however, I’ve run into its claims quite a bit.
Why argumentative? “The China Study” is written by vegans who advocate the elimination of all animal proteins from the diet. “Full Moon Feast” is written by a member of the Weston Price Foundation, a group established in the name of the original “holistic dentist,” who did his research back in the 1920s. WPF advocates local foods, especially raw milk, meat and animal fats. They’re opposed to veganism and soy products.
In other words, I enjoy having a maelstrom of clashing opinions settling their differences with fisticuffs in my brain.
The two philosophies have some aspects in common: An opposition to processed foods (good); a call to support local farmers with sustainable practices (good). And, perhaps most importantly: A yen for cherry-picking or manipulating statistics to prove dubious health claims (not so good). That last factor seems to undergird most extreme eating philosophies. They also have a tendency to misrepresent themselves — not outright pointing out their connections to the WPF or to vegan organizations, for example. (These groups often hide behind innocuous-sounding names to conceal the underlying philosophy and give them “neutral cred,” so to speak. Why? Because otherwise the reader would know what s/he is getting into, rather than assume it’s information based on objective research.)
My contradictory reading has inspired this morning’s philosophical discussion with my husband.
I can completely understand either philosophy on strictly moral grounds; you can argue that veganism, for example, is spiritually less harmful than meat-eating, a claim common in the yoga community. You can argue that supporting your local farmer is correct on the human level (keeping dollars in the community), environmentally (smaller footprint from transporting and processing goods) and in regard to animal rights (happy cows versus factory-farmed cows). And really, the moral impetus is what it’s all about in the end.
Health claims are where it gets sticky. Frankly, people are living longer today than ever before. We need never experience famine, for example. We regularly live into our 70s and beyond. Most of our children make it to preschool alive and well.
There’s a sense in these philosophies that the “ancients” had it right, and we need only return to their ways to lead perfectly healthy lives. A society without refined sugar may indeed have better teeth, as Weston Price claimed — but still have high infant mortality rates, diseases and a relatively short life span, which is something he didn’t stick around to explore. If you look at the facts throughout human history, life was pretty darn short. Women usually died in childbirth and most children died before the age of five. People wasted away from unknown cancers, caught diseases, pricked themselves on rose thorns and got tetanus. Old folks — those who were lucky enough to survive or avoid accidents or disease — often had few teeth.
The “good old days” weren’t all that good, health-wise. Food stability was limited as well. If the crops failed, you starved.
The “good old days” syndrome is coupled with the old New Age saw about creating our own realities. If we make all the right food choices, we’ll live damn near forever and never get sick, the thinking goes. “We can change our DNA!” I’ve literally heard a few New Agers shout.
Except … we can’t, at least not in a positive way. Genes and the environment play a role in ailments, as does the simple fact of time’s decay. Nature has no vested interest in keeping us alive forever. Nature does have a vested interest in having animals live long enough to raise their young, thus ensuring the survival of the species. Nature doesn’t care whether you’re a Mongolian herder who drops dead of a heart attack at the age of 52 or a Western mother who dies of cancer at the age of 47; she’s given you ample time to make your genetic contribution to the species by that point. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t try to keep living despite of that; we (and our families) certainly have a vested interest in maximizing the quality of our lives for as long as possible! My point is that it’s not important on the macro scale.
Here are the basic facts: We will die sooner or later. For many of us, it will be an illness — and not of our choosing. Cancer, heart disease — symptoms of an aging system breaking down.
Take care of your body while you’re inhabiting it. Eat what makes you feel physically healthy and, if you have the means, spiritually nourished. Make your decisions — whether it’s to eschew animal products or buy beef from a local farmer — based on joy, health, spirit, community. Don’t buy into the bullshit that says you need to feel like guilty scum if you don’t adhere to set principles of moralistic purity determined by some group or another. You’re not going to hell for eating a Snickers bar once in a while.
Be mindful and grateful for what you have, even if it’s processed foods from the local soup kitchen.
End of rant du jour!