It is no secret there is a giant diet trend on becoming Vegan. The movement has been gaining force for a few years now, strengthening in the last couple years with the IPO of Beyond Meat and introduction of plant-based burgers to fast food restaurants. The big reasons supporters claim for the movement are #1 it is better for your health, #2 it is better for the environment, and #3 to protect animals, or animal welfare.
As a nutritionist and health coach, and of course a beef farmer, I get the question a lot, and I figured I would answer to the best of my knowledge and based on my experience.
I confess I have been trying to write this post for months, getting overwhelmed, and realizing that regardless of how “simplistic” a headline or article might make it seem, the topic is extremely complex. For that reason, I am dividing this topic into 3 posts. Today I’ll start with my personal background and story, in a few weeks I will write about “the science and nutritional research”, and in April, just in time for Earth Day, I will write about “a vegan diet for the environment”.
Please NOTE: I am by NO means against a vegan diet for whatever reason you would do it. There is enough divisiveness in our world today and I see one developing in the plant based vs. omnivore discussions, but I truly believe there shouldn’t be! We can all listen and learn from each other. We all have reasons why we make our choices, and this is why I start this topic explaining my personal background and experience.
So let’s dive in…
My Personal Story
Yoga and “ahimsa”
After a few years of working in the corporate world as a CPA in accounting and finance in my 20’s, I became interested in yoga and trained for a number of years. I eventually left the corporate world and became a teacher and manager at a yoga studio in downtown Chicago. During that time, all my yogi friends were vegetarian. I also learned one of the important principles of yoga- ahimsa- “respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward any sentient being”. So of course I quickly dropped meat and joined the club! A month+ into it, I did not feel good. There were no amount of beans, eggs, cheese, avocados, and nuts that would fulfill me. I was low energy, always hungry, weak, jittery, cold, etc.. but I was determined. Desperate for answers on what to do, I talked to my beloved yoga teacher- a 70+ year old vegetarian and Hindu man from southern India, and explained my dilemma of wanting to be vegetarian but not being able to feel good. We had a long conversation, but his message was: “So you are harming yourself so you don’t harm the animals? Eat the meat!” Oh my God! I got the blessing, but I admit it didn’t come without shame that I couldn’t make it work.
Around that time Paul and I were ready to have kids! But fertility was not on my side. I couldn’t get pregnant and when I did, I miscarried. I wasn’t ready to get into IVF, needles and doctors visits, so I decided to pursue some natural ways. I went to a wonderful holistic center for fertility where I received nutrition consults, acupuncture and Chinese herbs. This was my first experience with a nutritionist. After looking at what I was eating (and even though I was back on meat, I always tried limiting it) she recommended two things: full fat dairy and more meat. WHAT? This went against everything I thought I knew about nutrition! After all, don’t the headlines say fat and meat are bad? Well, "it is not that simple", she explained. Long story short… it helped. I became pregnant and had a healthy pregnancy and birth. And today I know for certain that she was right, it is not that simple.
My Nutrition Studies
This experience sparked my curiosity and fascination on how food can have such a profound effect on our health and how little we actually know about it. Pregnant with Cecilia I went on to study nutrition at the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, CO. I learned a lot about biology, biochemistry, the function of the different nutrients in our bodies, etc. but I still felt like I didn’t know how to actually work with clients, which is when I later pursued my Health Coaching certification through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. The principle of their program is “There is no ONE diet for everyone- each body is different and we should eat differently". Wow! What a revelation that was! Drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables is good for everyone, right? But even that is simplistic. Some of us should eat a little less fruit, others cannot tolerate beans, and some vegetables are actually not good for some. They taught us to work with our clients to figure out what is the best diet for them, by helping them use their own experience, observation, and of course, looking at their genetics and health conditions.
During my work as a health coach, it was fascinating to see how some of my clients actually would thrive with less meat, and others, like me, needed it. Some didn’t tolerate dairy so well, and for others, it is beneficial. Meat, gluten, starches, sugar, fat, the timing of food, fasting, frequent eating- these ALL depend on YOUR biology. It was a great experience to work with clients "one on one" and discover together what worked for them- regardless of what they thought was "good or bad for you".
Through selling our organic, grass fed beef, we have been lucky to meet customers from all walks of life and that purchase our beef for different reasons- some for environmental concerns, others for better animal welfare, and many and most for health reasons. Most people have heard that grass fed beef is better for you than grain fed beef, but we’ve also had customers with Lyme disease and autoimmune diseases whose digestive systems are so fragile they may not tolerate legumes or other plant sources of protein or whose doctors have recommended grass fed and pastured meats for its valuable nutrients. We have some anemic customers whose doctors were informed enough about nutrition (and most aren't!) to encourage them to eat beef liver and more grass fed and pastured meats. We even have a former vegan who couldn’t do it anymore for health reasons but always wants to make sure her meat is of good quality and that the animals are living a good life while at the farm. It has been incredibly humbling and rewarding for us to be able to nourish, and even heal, so many people in our community with food we produce.
While I don’t work as a health coach anymore because we decided to focus as a family on our farm business, I still love nutrition and continue to read, listen, discuss and learn about food as medicine and the powerful ways you can prevent (and even heal) disease naturally. In the next post I will dive into what I have learned about the science of plant based diet and omnivore diet, and the nutritional studies around it.
I hope you stayed tuned, and thanks for reading along!
Marisa usually writes about nutrition, grass fed beef, organic agriculture, as well as sharing delicious recipes; Paul writes about farm work- sharing his stories and experiences, and most times... we both collaborate on the stories!