Food Wars. ~ Alexandra Strickland

Via elephant journal
on May 10, 2012
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I have recently noticed a growing animosity between two food and eating philosophies, both of which I respect.

The online arguments found in blogs, on Facebook and on YouTube, between vegans and those who eat according to what has been called Traditional, Ancestral or Wisdom diets has gotten downright rancorous.

Each calls the others’ research “pseudo-science,” and claims that their way is the way to health and the other way will kill you. In listening to these arguments, I am reminded of fights between Democrats and Republicans, or Christians and atheists.

Though I’m not generally the moderate sort, I find myself agreeing with both camps on quite a few issues. So, I decided to explore the issues further. Understand that I am talking about two groups that have done extensive research and carefully choose what they eat. I am not addressing the Standard American Diet (SAD) of easy, instant, fast-food, take-out, packaged grocery-store fare. That is a whole different deal.

First, a little background for those who may not be familiar with the subject matter.

Vegans eschew all animal products. They consume no meat, dairy or eggs. Some great resources on vegan, or plant-based diets are: The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, the book The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and any material put out by Dr. Joel Furman, Dr. Caldwell Esstelsyn or Dr. John McDougall (the Veggie Doctors, as some call them).

The Traditionalists (for lack of a better term) advocate eating a whole foods diet that includes pasture-raised meat and eggs, wild game and seafood and raw dairy products. This philosophy is based on the research by Dr. Weston A. Price, who studied the eating habits of many indigenous people around the world and found them to be much healthier than those living in industrialized nations. His research was extensive, and way beyond the scope of this article; for more info, look into the Weston A. Price Foundation. The book considered to be the seminal text on this style of eating is Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon.

The big difference between these arguments and those that are political or religious is these two groups actually agree on more points than they disagree. Both advocate:

>Eating whole foods.

>Eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruit.

>Limiting all sugars.

>Avoiding high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.

>Avoiding processed, packaged foods. Not just the obvious junk, like toaster pastries and soda, but also processed food that claims to be healthy, like certain frozen dinners and diet shakes.

The obvious point of divergence between the two is the use of animal products. I am going to address this from three angles: individual health, environmental consequences and animal welfare.


Individual Health

I strongly believe that no single diet is right for all people. This is evidenced by all the different diets out there–low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, vegan, low grain, high grain, some meat, no meat, eat three times a day, eat six times a day, etc. They all seem to work for some people; that’s how all the diet books get sold. People who have had success on certain diets write glowing recommendations. But, people are different. One diet does not fit all.

That said, I think that both these groups agree that eating tons of fresh vegetables and a good amount of fresh fruit is one of the best thing anyone can do to improve or maintain good health.

On the discussion of dairy, I urge everyone to do their own research. Google “Raw Milk” and you will find research showing that it is one of the healthiest foods on earth. You will also find that it is illegal in most states. While my personal jury is still out on the subject of dairy, I will say this–grocery store milk products are crap. If you are going to consume milk, yogurt, cottage cheese etc., at least look into the possibility of getting it raw. Do some serious research and decide for yourself.

Another point for contemplation is the discussion of processed vegan foods and meat analogues. While the Veggie Doctors mentioned above advocate a whole-food, plant-based diet, some allow for tofu, veggie sausages and other meat substitutes as an occasional treat or a transition food for those new to a plant-based lifestyle.

The Traditionalists call these fake foods and suggest avoiding them completely. Their argument is: What is better, a piece of wild game (one ingredient) or a veggie sausage (at least 20 ingredients and highly processed)? I am not here to tell you which side is right, just to inspire you to think about it and make your own informed choice.

The science of Ayurveda, of which I am a student, separates people into three basic body types, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. While everyone has a bit of all three, most people have one type that is dominant. While I am not going to go into a discussion of Ayurveda and its doshas (body types), I mention them here to illustrate a relevant point. Kapha people are characterized mostly by the earth element. They tend to be a larger body-type and store fat easily. Kapha people do great on vegan diets. Pitta people are mostly characterized by the fire element. They have a medium build and firey, driven personalities. They can do well on vegan diets and also on vegetarian diets with a little bit of dairy. Their systems can tolerate some meat, because they have a strong digestive fire, but it can also get them too fired up. Vata people, on the other hand, are characterized by the air element and tend to be of slight build, have a hard time putting/keeping on weight and are often cold. They would be the least tolerant of a vegan diet and tend to do well with a bit of meat and dairy.

So, if you buy into the principles of Ayurveda, about two-thirds of the population could thrive on a vegan diet.


Environmental Consequences

There is little doubt that our current system of food production is wreaking havoc with the environment. Both camps agree on this point. Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Forests and wild areas have been cleared for cattle grazing, destroying the natural habitats of many species. Mono-cropping degrades soil quality. Antibiotics fed to cows only serve to create super, antibiotic resistant bugs. Pesticides and herbicides get into our food and our bodies.

OK, both sides agree on this. Why am I bringing it up? I’ll get back to it shortly.

Animal Welfare

As previously stated, both sides agree that factory farming, well, sucks. The treatment of animals is abhorrent. You don’t need to be an animal lover to get on board with this. All you have to be is against torture. Every time you choose to buy or not buy meat, eggs or dairy in the grocery store, you are voting with your dollar. Are you pro-torture or anti-torture?  You will find an excellent discussion on this topic in the book, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Saffran Foer.

So, what about free-range, pasture raised animal products? Or wild game? Again, I advise you not to trust your grocery store. There is little or no regulation on packaging terms such as free-range, grass-fed, vegetarian-fed, cruelty-free, etc. If you have a farm nearby that truly pasture-raises their animals, produces small quantities and kills their animals humanely (I know, that’s a sketchy phrase), then go check out the farm. Meet the farmer; meet the animals. If you are OK with what is happening there, you may decide to buy their eggs, meat or milk. I do, occasionally.

How about hunting? My vegan friends will not like this, but in my opinion, hunting is the most humane and healthy way of procuring meat. These animals, until the moment of death, generally live a pretty good life. They are truly free-range, they eat what nature intended for them to eat and they generally live a life free of pain and disease. One of my pet peeves is when someone says, “I could never hunt,” yet they buy factory-farmed meat in the grocery store regularly and thereby, consciously or not, advocate the torture of millions of animals.

So, who is right?

That is for each individual to decide. Both sides have good science to back up their claims. I’ve done a fair amount of research and I tend to fall into the continuum slightly to the side of the Veggie Doctors. I’ll tell you why.

>Though I am not against eating animal products, I think the traditionalists eat way too much. In my opinion, they are much too heavy on the butter, lard, cream and saturated fats in general. I think a diet of 75 – 90% plants, with a little bit of animal products thrown in on occasion is the best diet for most.

>While I’m OK with eating humanely raised animal products, I wonder if we can really know how our meat was treated before we got it. Everyone doesn’t have access to a local farm or dairy, where they can go and check out the animal husbandry. It may just be easier to eat vegetables.

>To return back to the environmental issue… If individual health is your main concern, eating in the Traditionalists’ way may be just fine for you and your family. But, if you are interested in the evolution of humankind, stopping environmental degradation, protecting endangered species and feeding the world’s starving population, you will run into problems. The Traditionalist’s way of eating is not sustainable. The societies they model their eating after, lived, hunted and raised their animals at a time when there were a couple million people on earth. Now there are seven billion. There just is not enough land on this planet to pasture-raise enough animal products to feed seven billion people. That’s how factory farming got started in the first place.

If I haven’t convinced you one way or the other, that’s fine. It was not my intention. My advice to all is to be informed.

Do your own research, make your own decisions and don’t get all flummoxed over conflicting science.


Alexandra Strickland lives in Alma, Colorado. She has a full-time career in the wine industry, and another full-time job as a mom and wife. She teaches yoga part time and is studying Ayurvedic medicine. With all the free time that leaves her, she pursues her passions of writing and promoting health for the world.

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Editor: Cassandra Smith



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19 Responses to “Food Wars. ~ Alexandra Strickland”

  1. Kelly says:

    Awesome article Alex!!! Thanks for all your research into such an important subject.

  2. Annie says:

    Terrific encapsulation of indulgent topics of controversy and consideration. Thanks for some fresh and concise information for thought!

  3. Jessica says:

    I loved this post. I agree with the author that both "camps" make valid points. The more thoughtfulness that goes into what we eat, the better off our world will be.

  4. alison says:

    A wonderful and thought provoking article. The author has obviously taken a great deal of time to study the topic and presents a very balanced image of both schools of thought. Each of us can take a lot from this writing, and make our own informed choices as to what we put in our bodies. Thanks Alexandra for your clear and thoughful input.

  5. jonathan says:

    I live in an area of brazil that is hot 12 months a year. The fruit is abundant and I eat a great deal of it. Since I moved here I have tended to eat more fruit and vegetables and less meat. This is because the fruit and vegetables are good and inexpensive. The meat on the other hand is not as good as in the U.S.

    The only time that I ever stopped eating meat was after a school trip to a Kosher slaughter house. The thought of meat made me ill for a few weeks but this quickly passed a few months later when the smell of a beautiful steak on a charcoal grill wafted my way. Today I eat what I want. If I had to choose one or the other I would choose the vegan way.

    Alexandra, your words were thought provoking and insightful. I will think about when I hit the super mercado today.

  6. Alexandra says:

    You are so right!

  7. Richard says:

    Food should be a topic of joyful discussion – not conflict. The author shows us how to do this in a thoughtful and informative way!

  8. Brian says:

    Great article, I try to eat less meat and more vegtables,Thanks to my loving wife.

  9. Stef says:

    Great article Alex! It's a topic that the hubby has started to take interest in, so I can't wait to have him read this!

  10. Anonymous says:

    Who benefits from the justification of the senseless slaughter of animals? Certainly not the animals. They can't speak out for themselves (besides the death cries of their slaughter). The only reason people think they are getting vitamins and minerals from eating dead animal flesh is because it's being filtered through the vegan diet of the slaughtered animals they are ingesting (and only some animals are grass feed. They usually are fed other animals). Animal flesh is mostly protein and fat, that's why people are so fat! When meat enters your stomach it's no longer "steak, or "fillet mignon" or "big mac", it turns into Bacteria (rotted flesh). The human digestive system looks Nothing like a true carnivores. A true carnivore's digestive tract is far shorter than a humans so it can rid of the bacteria. A Humans tract is more akin to many herbivorous animals. They are longer to breakdown all the plant matter and absorb all the nutrients. Justification for the senseless slaughter of animals is because they "taste good". A plate of veggies "taste good" also, and they are hormone, antibiotic, and e. coli free. Animals slaughter justifiers are the contributors to a large majority of health epidemic crises because of the inhumane treatment and environments that animals for slaughter live in that they refuse to acknowledge for whatever reason. If you feel you need to keep slaughtering animals, whether they be grass feed and live on an open range in ideal conditions, someone's life is being cut short because of the human prerogative to kill animals to food and pleasure. We aren't cave people anymore. Agricultural technology can feed more people per acre of a plant base diet than animal product, and it's cheaper. And in today's economy it would help! But a blind eye remains turned to this non-dualistic perspective about our environmental conditions. Justifiers of atrocious acts against other humans are immediately reckoned with, but our animal brothers and sisters remain the odd species out.

  11. Mark Ledbetteer says:

    Great article. And the title says it all: Food Wars.

    Even nominal pacifists fight their wars, and this must one of the more common wars for American pacifists. Learning to forgive "killers" is tough, but forgiving the unforgiveable (whoever that may be by your thinking) is the only real road to enlightenment. And peace. IMO.

  12. jackiecleary says:

    So, so frustrating to see people's minds so locked and inflexible about food and agriculture.
    And everything else…. how many divisive issues can we handle at one time?

    Yes, it is true that our current system of meat production is extremely unsustainable, however animals are an important part of sustainable agriculture. Without animals, we are reliant on synthetic fertilizers (petroleum based). To further complicate the issues, there are a variety of agricultural approaches that make some practices, like raising livestock, not only sustainable, but a key component to maintaining soil health. Each farming circumstance is highly specific and there are no academic one size fits all approaches – which is exactly why we need to allow for some doubt and tolerance in our beliefs.

    We get into trouble when we try to devise solutions that emulate the diet we are accustomed to rather than change our habits completely. I don't understand why people fight so hard to defend their practices…

  13. Alexandra says:

    Thank you for your passionate response!

  14. Alexandra says:

    Wow. Powerful sentence. Thank you.

  15. Alexandra says:

    I'm with you Jackie!

  16. Dede says:

    Well written and thoughtful article. It is refreshing to read an essay on this controversial subject that is both informative and unbiased. Excellent "food for thought".

  17. Malcolm says:

    Dear Alexandra:

    Good article, for the most part. But I must object this gross over-simiplication:

    "So, if you buy into the principles of Ayurveda, about two-thirds of the population could thrive on a vegan diet."

    As a practicing doctor of Tibetan Medicine, the sister of Ayurveda, and someone who has trained Ayurvedic Bodywork, you are missing a key point in your presentation: the ultimate goal of eating food is of the production of ojas after the sukra (reproductive fuid percursor) is divided into its pure and impure part. When people eschew essence foods such as sugar, honey and dairy, it is much harder for them to get adequate amounts of ojas from their diet. This leads to weakened immunity and so on. This is first and foremost the main aim of dietetics in Ayurveda and Tibetan Medicine (A/TM). The Vegan point of view will not permit anyone to follow a Vedic diet because of their point of view about honey and milk. In my opinion, the healthiest and most balanced vegetarian diet would be one based on South Indian cuisine because it contains milk, honey, coconut milk, and so on — in addition to be being based on a rice and lentil base. A Vegan diet is inherently imbalanced because it is not based on a wisdom tradition like the Vedas, Ayurveda, or the four Tantras of Tibetan Medicine.

    Further, In the various tomes of classical Ayurveda,such as the Caraka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and the Aṣṭangahridayā Samhita, many different kinds of meat are described for their medicinal and dietary value for all prakritis (doshic phenotypes). When the Agnivesha tantra, the core text of the Caraka was transmitted by the Rishi Atreya to his disciple Agnivesha, vegetarianism was as prevalent in India — basically no one was vegtarian. Vegetarianism in India mainly arose due to the influence of the Jain religion. Vedic culture was in no way a Vegetarian culture and ancient Ayurveda does not recommend an Ayurvedic lifestyle. It is true that an ascetic following a sattvic diet would eschew meat, but not sugar, honey nor milk as these products are vital for developing ojas.

    Moreover, depending on which of the seven prakritis one may have (vatta, pitta, kapha, vatta-pitta, vatta-kapha, pitta-kapha or vatta-pitta-kapha) one can adjust one's diet accordingly. Therefore, to state that one can divide humanity into three prakritis and therefore 2/3rds of humanity can survive on a vegan diet is ludicrous from an A/TM POV. This does not well represent the wisdom of the ancient Rishis of A/TM.

    You also need to take into account what a persons virkriti (vitiated doshic condition) before recommending an appropriate diet. For example, fresh beef, goat and duck are not good for a kapha person or a person with vitiated kapha because beef is neutral and building, goat is cold, duck is oily and heavy. But sheep and fish are excellent for kapha, sheep is warming and helps build digestive fire, and fish is the best, because it is warming and light.

    There is more I could say, but I am sure you catch my drift. Ayurveda is very popular right now among yoga people, but it is not well understood. Dosha means "harmer". When vatta, pitta and kapha are in balance, they too are called dhātus. When vatta, pitta and kapha are not in a state of balance, when they are in a state of vikriti, they are called "doshas". Please keep this in mind and communicate this. I hear a lot of silly talk about "My dosha is…" without people realizing they are describing their state of imbalance. Another problem for example with online dosha qjuizzes is that peple often confuse their vikriti thinking they have discovered their prakriti. So since we are talking about people's health it is super important that we be very precise and clear. As health pracitioners we have a grave responsibility to make sure that we are correctly communicating the essence of these wonderful teachings of the Rishis in a responsible and clear way.



  18. Alexandra says:

    Hi Malcolm,

    Thanks for your comment. I thought I had made it clear in my article that I was making a generalization. I did mention that a discussion of Ayurvedic doshas was beyond the scope of my story. I beleive you are correct in all that you say, however, it was not the intent of my story to give a full explanation of doshas. I am not a doctor, but I have put two full years into the formal study of Ayurveda; I am not just a 'yoga person" who throws out "silly talk" of doshas. As I am sure you are aware, Ayurveda, along with other wisdom traditions, continues to evolve. Many modern teachers of Ayurveda agree that vegan diets work well for a percentage of the population.
    I thank you for your thoughts; you are obviously well-versed in this beautiful science.

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