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What's the most extreme diet on earth?
The standard Western diet. Meat and potatoes. Fish and white rice. Barbecued ribs. Chicken noodle soup with crackers. Biscuits and gravy, eggs, and sausage. Buttered pancakes.
I can just picture the faces you're making right now. Half of you are nodding and smiling, the other half are sighing and shaking your heads. How can it be the most extreme diet if that's what most people eat? And, who cares anyway? It's delicious- just reading that list of foods makes my mouth water.
The Standard American Diet (SAD for short) is heavy on meat, dairy, protein, and salt and light on vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And SADly, it isn't just an American problem, but more one that has passed through Westernized countries, even making its way into places where their traditional culture dictated a really healthy diet. Countries that used to have very low incidences of heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and other western illnesses have now adopted the SAD extreme diet and its people have rapidly started getting sick.
Should We Do It Just Because We "Always" Have?
*Note: We Actually Haven't Eaten This Way For Long*
Remember the phrase, "just because everyone's doing it doesn't make it right"?
I recently had the chance to watch a group of people launch into heated opinion-giving when they were surrounded by a few people doing things differently. In their minds, if someone diverts off the common path, they are taking a huge risk.
But what never fails to confuse me is, have those people ever stopped to consider that the common path might actually be dangerous?
The Hypothetical Path Less Travelled
If a whole crowd of people walks one way down a road and nothing obvious happens to them, does it mean it's safe? Does that mean you should walk it too? What if years down the road we find out that the one path had a noxious chemical that those walkers breathed in and then led to cancer? Hindsight is always 20-20, right, so how could they have known?
Would it be different if a few warned those walkers not to go down the path because they knew about the chemical and what would happen, and if they tried to lead them down another path? Suppose that second path was walked by fewer, and along the way a few bystanders stood and laughed at you, or teased you, or asked you why you thought you knew better than all those who took the main path?
What if doctors, nurses, and nutritionists told you to avoid the main path because of the health hazards… would you take the less traveled one under those circumstances?
The Hypothetical Becomes Real
What has happened to our food system is that not long ago, there was a normal, accepted way of doing things that had been done for thousands of years. Over time, people found a way to do those things faster and cheaper, and they invested lots of money into making the walkers come down their path. Though this path took a lot of shortcuts and made extreme changes to what people considered normal, but it was faster and cheaper, so people liked it. A few questioned it and wondered if it was right, but they were largely ignored because so many others walked the main path.
The younger ones on the main path were led there by their parents, teachers, doctors, and other people they trusted, so they didn't stop to wonder if it was right or wrong. Eventually they grew up and believed that what they had followed was the right path, so they taught their children the same path.
Over time, that once-extreme path became the norm, and anyone who hesitated or decided to turn off that path onto a more gentle and normal path became the extremists.
You know how I know this? Because once I thought that veganism was the extreme diet. I didn't understand it and I didn't see the benefit to cutting out all animal products. But, did I know anything about it? Nope. Did I really believe in the old diet I was eating? No. I never stopped to think about it, actually. I ate what I liked and never considered another way.
Examples of the Extreme Diet's Repercussions
I know I can't reach everyone by talking about the environment because some people don't realize that the environment is theirs as well. I think if they did, and they realized how much damaging the environment damages them, they might care.
And I know I can't reach a lot of people by talking about how our food system hurts animals, though I firmly believe that if people truly knew what was going on to get them their steak, they would think twice. People should be forced to watch a clip on the fur industry before they can ring up the purchase of their fur coats.
But perhaps I can reach more people by talking about other humans.
The rate at which we are eating animal products is literally tearing the planet apart. We're maxing out our use of land and cutting new land out of rainforest in order for animals to graze. Amazing amounts of damage are done to the ecosystems across the world to make space for those animals.
We devote an insane amount of space on fertile land to grow grains to feed to those animals. That space could be used to grow grains for humans. People are starving and underfed not just in Africa and in far off lands we have a hard time picturing, but right here, in your home town. The price you pay at the grocery store for bread, cookies, crackers, and flour is inflated by the fact that we grow so much of that grain for animals.
We our exhausting our natural water supplies on watering those extensive grain fields. The average distance a human being has to walk to get to a clean water source is 2 miles. While we have water squirting out our taps, our rainwater shower heads, our hoses and sprinklers, and all over our crops to feed our animals, the average a human has to walk to reach clean water is 2 miles. Imagine how far most have to walk.
The gases from those animals causes more dangerous greenhouse emissions than the transportation industry combined (cars, trains, trucks, buses, planes, etc.)
Not to mention the amazing number of diseases that are linked to animal consumption. Name a degenerative disease and I guarantee there's a study that shows a link between eating meat, fish, and milk and development of the disease.
Try this game… name a vegetable and I guarantee there's a study that shows that eating that vegetable helps to curb or prevent the development of that same degenerative disease.
It gets overwhelming thinking about all the damage this extreme diet plan does to our bodies and the planet (which damages our body). And, we do it all because that's what's been done for ages and because we like the taste of it.
Who's the extremist now? Who's eating the more extreme diet after all?
Even if you break away from this most extreme diet once in awhile, you help your body. If you eat less meat and dairy once a week, you're on a good path. If you're vegetarian, you are doing loads for the environment, the animals, and your body. And, if you are close to completely stopping the extreme diet, I can't encourage you enough. If you're already there, thank you. Please share compassion for the old, less extreme diet, with anyone you can.
Here are some excellent resources with abundant research on the impact of food on our bodies and worlds: