Planting the Message

Last week, a study was published that found eating meat and dairy may be as detrimental to your health as smoking cigarettes. What was really exciting, though, was how much media attention the story received. The study’s findings were published on a number of major news sources such as CBS and Fox News, as well as many other media outlets.

 

For those of us who are already familiar with the science backing a whole food, plant-based diet, this is old news. For far too much of the population, however, this was completely new information. And not only that, but also information that contradicts many of the nutrition teachings they have been exposed to over the years. I mean, sure, a bacon cheeseburger is unhealthy, but lean meats and low-fat dairy products are good for us, right? Don’t we need fish for omega-3s? And without dairy, how will we get our calcium? …No, no, and hakuna matata, you’ll get plenty.

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Here’s the thing: the science is there. And it’s growing. More and more, we are seeing studies like this published, and the evidence just keeps mounting. At this point, the science supporting that eating animals and their by-products promotes disease, whereas eating a plant-based diet promotes health, is basically indisputable. The studies and experience of far too many doctors, patients, and populations have proven this to be true.

 

More and more progress towards making this knowledge widespread, and making a plant-based lifestyle more mainstream, is happening all the time. It seems that so wonderfully often I’m learning about new doctors who are incorporating dietary interventions into their practice or new people who have adopted a plant-based diet. But despite this, the fact that a whole food, plant-based diet is not only healthy, but also optimal, continues to go unknown or disputed.

 

The problem is not that the information isn’t available. It is. The problem is that somehow people just aren’t receiving the message. I think there are two main reasons for this. The first is that it’s not given the attention that it should. Medical institutions, cancer and disease organizations, and nutrition societies still (for the most part) promote the standard American diet with an emphasis on “moderation.” Often, they do not even acknowledge the powerful influence that diet can have on one’s health—sometimes due to their own unawareness, and other times perhaps due to a conflict of interest, but either way denying the reach and access of this important information. When they do acknowledge diet, it is typically not given the emphasis that it deserves (and, as I mentioned earlier, the dietary recommendations often aren’t up to par with what the science proves to be optimal).

 

The second reason is that there is so much conflicting information. With books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, or diet crazes such as Paleo or Low-Carb, getting just as much (and usually more) media attention than plant-based nutrition, it can be difficult for people to know what to believe. Plus, the meat and dairy industries are full of money and connections that enable them to promote their products and fool us into thinking that they are healthy (for a little more info on this, see our post on the dairy industry), and that doesn’t help either.

 

A lot of this is stuff that we have no control over. What I want to focus on is what we CAN do. How can we get the word out? How can we help others to find this information and become educated, enabling them to take control of their health? I have a few ideas, but I also want to know what you think. For starters, though, here are my thoughts.

 

First of all, being a living example is the easiest, best thing you can do. Without even doing anything other than your typical routine, just living life plant-strong exposes those around you to the ease and awesomeness of eating this way. Some people have pre-conceived, negative notions of vegans and a plant-based diet, and we can help them to gain a more positive view of this lifestyle. Eating delicious meals, exuding health, and enjoying this way of life shows others the positivity involved with being plant-strong. (And sharing a yummy meal or two never hurts either).

 

Another way to spread the word is to actively share and promote it. When you see an article (such as the one mentioned at the beginning of this post) or a blog post that you think is important for people to know about, share it on facebook or email it to friends. If you’re on twitter, retweet things from resources like Engine 2, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Barnard, Rich Roll, Jeff Novick, Dr. Esselstyn, etc. Give books, documentaries, and retreat/study weekend sign-ups (both Engine 2 and Dr. McDougall have fantastic ones) to family and friends as presents. Sign up with a friend for a 21-day Vegan Kickstart or do a 28-Day Engine 2 Challenge (providing support is so important!). Organize events in your community such as documentary viewings or bringing in plant-based nutrition speakers. You can also volunteer with local organizations or write to public officials. I’m sure that there are lots of other things that you can do to share this information and help the plant-based movement gain momentum, but this is just a list to get you started and give you some ideas :)

 

They say that someone needs to see something about seven times before it sinks in and sticks with them. So the more we can get the word out and expose people to this information, the better a chance we have of making a lasting influence. This is a message worth sharing, so let’s get to it! :)

 

Now’s the part where I’d like to hear your feedback. I know that everyone is motivated or affected by different things, but what worked for you? What brought you to a plant-based diet? What caught your attention or motivated you? Have you done anything to spread the word or advocate for a plant-based diet that you’ve found to be especially effective?

 

The evidence is there, and it continues to grow. Now is the perfect time for us to do our part in spreading the message. Let’s rally together and help society move toward a plant-based future. We can do it!

 

Plants for the win!

Tara

Change: Working through the transition period and emerging into an exciting future!

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Right now, I am in a period of transition in my life. So many things are changing all at once, and it has been overwhelming at times. I moved to a new city, and got a new apartment, a new housemate, and a new job. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s all very exciting! I love my new job, and my new housemate, and where I am living. These are all good things!! But still, it is a lot of change and a lot of newness being thrown into my life all at the same time, and there is a lot to process and grow accustomed to.

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Washington, DC! My new home base :) 

One thing that isn’t changing, though, is my plant-strong lifestyle. I still eat, breathe, and live plant-strong—that is an irrevocable constant in my life. However, this transitional time made me think of how what I am going through is very similar to what many people experience when they first begin to change their diet.

At my new job, there are standards of procedure that I am unfamiliar with, tasks I’m not used to doing, and skills I need to develop. I’m doing my best to do everything as efficiently, and as high-quality, as possible, but I have not yet settled in to the point of full familiarity and comfort. As with many things, there is a learning curve, and I am very much looking forward to being past it. In the meantime, however, I am fortunate to have very kind, supportive co-workers who are willing to help facilitate my learning process and offer guidance when I need it. With time, I will learn the ins and outs of my job, and juggling all of the tasks will become second-nature. I am determined to serve the position well, and I am looking forward to reaching a point where I feel settled and confident.

In the same way, many people transitioning to a plant-based diet find themselves in foreign territory where they aren’t completely sure how to navigate. Many of the necessary tasks (such as grocery shopping or cooking) are ones that they are already familiar with, but not in the new context. People may feel overwhelmed as they walk through the grocery store aisles checking label after label and wondering which ingredients to avoid, or as they dice up onions and wonder how they are possibly going to sauté them without oil. Thankfully, just as I have coworkers to look to for guidance, Engine 2 offers lots of resources and help to those who ask. The website is full of helpful information, and the Engine 2 Extra online community offers personal coaching as well as connections to others who have been, or are still, in the same situation. And beyond Engine 2, there are also lots of great resources from organizations like Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, and countless books and documentaries. In time, eating a plant-strong diet will become integrated into your life, and you don’t have to think twice about what to buy at the grocery store or order at a restaurant. Recipes with cheese will no longer tempt you, olive oil will seem unnecessary, and you may even mentor others as they are inspired by your lifestyle changes and want to join the plant-strong parade as well.  

Everyone has to go through a period of transition when they are experiencing change, and this is especially true when it comes to things like diet and lifestyle. But though it can be overwhelming at times, it is leading to a better, brighter, healthier, and happier future. Making the switch to a plant-strong diet is worth the effort. Just as I am excited about my new job, so should E2 newbies be excited about their new lifestyle. Plant-strong living brings a wealth of benefits to improve your life. It is worth it, and YOU are worth it.

So, if you’re in the transition period, don’t give up!! You can do it :) Don’t be afraid of mistakes, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn and grow—you’ll be so happy that you did.

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2014 bring you lots of adventure, love, sunshine, positive change, and, of course, plants! :)

 

Hugs, Happies, Healthies,

  Tara 

Embracing an Active Lifestyle that Serves You

morning yoga on the dock at Deep Creek Lake with family

morning yoga on the dock at Deep Creek Lake with family

I recently read an article (stop right now and read it!) in regards to the attitudes and culture that surround working out.  The message the author conveyed captured a really important philosophy of exercise that deeply resonated with me, and that I wanted to share.  Especially in light of the upcoming New Year’s resolution fitness craze, her message of fitness as a healthy and joyous lifestyle opportunity instead of a burden, punishment, atonement, or merely a means to get thin is an important one to keep in mind.

I believe the viewpoint of embedding activity into your whole life — instead of forcing some sort of workout just to “fit into a dress” or get a beach body for a certain occasion — is the most healthy, rewarding, and fulfilling approach to exercise.  The human body is truly amazing.  Be thankful for what you have and honor your body by using it every day.  No matter what you choose, find something that you love and enjoy.  Embrace an active lifestyle, have a positive body image, be adventurous, and always have fun.

Living actively can open so many doors.  Moving your body, no matter how you choose to do so, is a great way to experience the beauty and wonder of nature and the world around you (whether that is your backyard or exploring someplace new).  It can also be a time to yourself for thought and reflection or a social time to meet new people or catch up with old friends.

Jenna and her brother, Nicholas, cycling to the top of Bear Mountain

Jenna and her brother, Nicholas, cycling to the top of Bear Mountain

If you’re stuck in a rut, try something new and different!  This winter I’m looking forward to cross country skiing for the first time (weather depending.. we’ve had a warm spell here in western PA lately), maybe ice skating for the first time since I was a little girl, and even trying some rock climbing with friends.  Or simply incorporate more movement into your life — depending where you live, try walking or bicycling to work/the store/running errands/etc; take the stairs; park in the back of the parking lot.  If you’re feeling tired, in a rut, or experiencing a bad mood, try a short, brisk walk, jumping jacks, a mini dance party, or anything to get your blood flowing.  Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons and do something adventurous, fun, or just plain silly.

Tara and Craig, along with their dads, Ed and Roy, after the finish of the 2013 Savageman Triathlon

Tara and Craig, along with their dads, Ed and Roy, after the finish of the 2013 Savageman Triathlon

It is not about perfection or rigid exercise demands, rather it is about getting out there and enjoying yourself and the world around you.  I do activities that I love every day and feel countless positive side effects.  Running is a mental release.  Yoga is rejuvenating and energizing.  Going for a walk is peaceful.  Bicycling is one of the best ways to explore the streets around you and feel the wind in your hair.  Dancing around my house lets me be silly.  I could go on and on…  Living actively gives me confidence, strength, peace, adventure, competition, endorphins, and sanity in the midst of a crazy, beautiful, busy, and sometimes stressful world.

Tara's mom, Alice, casually doing yoga on a paddle board in the middle of the lake

Tara’s mom, Alice, casually doing yoga on a paddle board in the middle of the lake

Even though I am a competitive athlete and run cross country and track for my college team, I do it because I fundamentally love to run.  It is my favorite way to move my body and running is just a part of who I am (it doesn’t define my worth but it’s a part of what makes me, me — although I can’t say this has always been true about my relationship with exercise).  And I hope to exemplify this healthier and happier relationship with running.  Even though I’ve certainly had many ups and downs, I will never give it up because I enjoy it too much.  It is my release, it gives me so much joy, it helps me think more clearly, it lets me explore and experience new places/scenery/wildlife, and it has allowed me to meet and connect with others and share in some awesome company.

Jenna and her teammate, Meg, bundled up and ready for a freezing cold and very fun run

Jenna and her teammate, Meg, bundled up and ready for a freezing cold and very fun run

This doesn’t mean that I don’t still set goals for myself, am dedicated to running, and like working hard, because I do.  But I don’t have such a perfectionistic viewpoint about working out.  The day isn’t ruined if things don’t go as planned, because there is always tomorrow to get back out there.  So despite all the negative and degrading imagery and motivation tactics that sometimes surround our work out culture, remember to stay positive and do what you love.  Instead of using exercise just as a means to a beach body or fitting into a dress, keep the focus on doing the things that you enjoy and incorporate activity into your everyday lifestyle, along with having a positive body image and healthy attitude too.  Embrace a happy and healthy active lifestyle and you will be sure to reap countless benefits.

Here’s to 2014 being a year full of doing what you love every day!

Jenna =)

Tara and Craig running their first marathon together

Tara and Craig running their first marathon together

Fall Transitions: A Season of Change

(featuring: Craig Tuller -- photo credit: Tara Kemp)

(featuring: Craig Tuller — photo credit: Tara Kemp)

As I start to type this it is not even 5pm and starting to get dark outside already.  Fall is my favorite season of the year (the beauty of the changing leaves and pumpkin-everything being only two of the many reasons why), except for how early it gets dark outside.  This year, however, as I think about the recent daylight savings time change and the transition to fall and eventually winter, I have not only taken stock of the beautiful changing world around me, but have also started thinking more about my personal life as well.  The major uncontrollable seasonal change happening around us can also be representative of changes in our own lives.

Winter (especially in the northeast) is bitterly cold and barren.  It is a time where things externally die off, the trees become bare, and animals go into hibernation.  However, rather than internalizing this death and negativity, this external process can be a powerful symbol for our own lives.  It presents a time to constructively sever things off that are not serving us and that are preventing us from being whole and well (physically, mentally, and spiritually).  We can take this season to evaluate unhealthy relationships (with food or people), harmful habits, destructive thoughts, etc. that are negatively impacting our lives.  Much like I love to sit in front of a crackling fire in these cold months, now is a time to kindle the real, true you and let your bare limbs and raw core shine through.

(Catskills, NY -- photo credit: Nicholas Gigliotti)

(Catskills, NY — photo credit: Nicholas Gigliotti)

It is important to realize that this change is happening, so as to not fight against it.  Rather, feed off of the changing world around you and work with it to become a better version of yourself.  Take this season of change internally with intention.  By no means am I saying this is easy — it is not.  But it is important to honor yourself and nurture the core of who you are.  Self-reflection is a challenging, yet fulfilling action for each of us to do.

It is easy to feel like we are victims of change or as if we are the only ones going through certain changes, but this change (both happening around us and within us) is a shared and collective experience.  You are not alone out there.  Just as we are all experiencing the change to fall and winter, so too can we all experience a deeply meditative, internal change for the better.

While this post has mainly been about food for your soul, I don’t know about you but all I want lately is a steaming hot bowl of food on these dark, cold, reflective nights.  Oatmeal, soups, stews, and hot green tea are staples for me these days.  So in addition to the soulful and reflective message, I wanted to end with a bonus soup recipe I recently created.  Stay warm and be well my friends!

Health & Happiness,

Jenna

(ps. I apologize for not writing in such a long time!  I have gotten caught up in the crazy busyness of life.  I hope to be able to start posting more often though!)

(Woodstock, VT -- photo credit: Nicholas Gigliotti)

(Woodstock, VT — photo credit: Nicholas Gigliotti)

Red Curry Soup

1 onion, chopped

1 eggplant, chopped

1 zucchini, chopped (I’ve also made this with a head of chopped cauliflower instead of zucchini)

1 small container mushrooms, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 red pepper, chopped

1 small bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped

1 can each chickpeas & kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can pumpkin puree

3-4 cups water or vegetable broth, depending how thick you like your soup (check out this easy recipe on how to make your own vegetable broth!)

2-3 tbsp red curry paste (make sure to use a vegan version with no fish! I use the Thai Kitchen brand)

2 tsp turmeric

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 avocado, diced

In a large stock pot, sauté all the vegetables in a little bit of water or vegetable broth.  Once softened, add the kale, beans, pumpkin, and water/broth and mix well.  Add the spices to taste and bring to a boil, then simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend and the kale to wilt.  Stir in the avocado and let heat through for another 2-3 minutes.  Serve over quinoa.

Keeping the Focus on Friends and Family

Over the summer, I had the privilege of hearing the amazing Doug Lisle speak at the Engine 2 “Plant-stock” Retreat in upstate New York.  His talk, “Getting Along Without Going Along,” covered the topic of navigating social situations.  Towards the end of his talk, he shared a personal story about his brother-in-law, “Big D,” who always ridiculed him for his diet and lifestyle.  It was something that often caused tension at family gatherings, but Doug never fought back or pressed the issue.  Doug is an advocate of downplaying things in order to keep the peace.  He advises us not to defend our case or fight back in any way, but rather to shrug things off and in many cases just let others feel that they are right.  Odd as it may seem, people can get very upset about what we choose to eat.  But in the end, debating the issue is often not worth it.  And personally, I feel that this is especially true when it comes to family and friends.  Anyways, eventually, after many years, Big D ended up going to see the doctors that Doug works with and making the change to a plant-based diet.  But it is important to note that this didn’t come from any pestering or pressure from Doug.  Doug laid low and let Big D come around to it on his own.

 

Doug’s non-confrontational approach to social situations is something to keep in mind as Thanksgiving and the holiday season approach.  During the holidays, we often find ourselves at a lot of social gatherings and spending a lot of time with our extended families.  While these events are filled with fun and festivities, they can sometimes bring uncomfortable encounters where food is involved.  However, such conflicts can for the most part be avoided.  Although a lot of holiday traditions involve food, what is most important are the friends and family with whom you celebrate, not what you choose to eat.  Do your best to focus on the people you love and the true meaning of the holiday season.  Try not to let food get in the way of this, and hopefully your friends and family will follow suit.

 

I remember my first Thanksgiving eating a plant-based diet.  I was so nervous about how things at the dinner table would go and how people would react.  And to be honest, although many people were accepting, some weren’t.  But as hard as that can sometimes be, I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be such a big deal if we don’t allow it to be.  The important thing is to preserve the relationships and not let dietary preferences—or any other small nuances, for that matter—get in the way of things.  These days, I don’t worry much about social situations like that anymore.  Looking forward to Thanksgiving this year, of course I am excited to cook up delicious holiday dishes, but I am even more so looking forward to being home with my family, and seeing my cousins and extended family that I don’t get to see much, and that is what really matters.  Food will be present, but it doesn’t need to be the center of attention.

 

Going back to something I mentioned above, some people have been more receptive to my dietary/lifestyle choices than others.  In most cases, Doug’s advice is right on target—it’s best to lay low and not make a big deal of things.  Just focus on all of the other aspects of your relationship and don’t let food get in the way.  Sometimes it can be hard not to take things personally or let it upset you, especially if being plant-strong is something that you feel has become a fundamental part of your identity (and I can totally relate to this).  But concentrate on embracing the good in what you do share with that person.  Even if you disagree on this one aspect, there are many other things to fall back on and there is no need for a relationship to fall out or suffer.  I have a number of close friends or family members who do not partake in this lifestyle or have any desire to, but this is just a small detail and we are still as close as ever.  Furthermore, eventually, with time, many people will come to at least accept your dietary choices, and often respect them as well.   People are learning that this is part of who I am, and it is becoming more and more normalized as time goes on.  Some of my friends and family have even ended up reaching out to me for advice or out of curiosity, wanting to learn more about it.  When this happens, it feels really good and makes me happy, but it’s not something that I’m holding out for.  Much like in Doug’s story, I feel that it is best not to push people or wait around for them to change their opinions.  They will come around to things when they are ready, and it is much better if they come around on their own time and their own terms.  But even if they never do, this does not mean that any relationships will be ruined.

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What we choose to eat can be a topic as heated as politics or religion.  But just as democrats are friends with republicans and Christians are friends with atheists, so too can the plant-strong population maintain their relationships with omnivores.  As the holiday season approaches, remember that there is much more to the celebration than food.  Keep the focus on friends and family, and enjoy sharing the holidays with the people you love.

 

Giving thanks for all of the amazing people in my life <3

Tara :)

Quick and Easy Meals and Snacks

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Recently, a few of my friends have asked me for suggestions for quick meals and snacks that can be made in the confines of a dorm room.  The list that I came up with (featured below) shows how much you can do, even without a kitchen stove or oven!  These meals are not just handy for college students, however, they are great ideas for anyone who is short on time, who is traveling, or maybe just dislikes cooking!  So in case you’re ever in need of a simple, speedy meal, here’s a list of things to eat!

And if you have any ideas that I missed, leave us a comment and share your favorite minimal/no prep snacks! :)

Happy Monday!

-Tara :)

 

Quick and Easy Meals/Snacks:

  • Oatmeal
    • Mix things up. Go ahead and make it with banana and cinnamon, but don’t be afraid to also throw in some raisins, blueberries, kiwi, mango, grapes, walnuts, cashews, almonds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, nut butter, jelly, applesauce, pumpkin puree, etc.
    • Rethink oatmeal.  Oats are simply another grain.  So get crazy and make them with veggies and/or beans mixed in.  Top it off with some salsa, mustard, balsamic vinegar, barbeque sauce, hot sauce… whatever makes your taste buds happy! (as weird as it may sound, these combinations can make a delicious meal, and it’s super quick too!)
  • Cereal
    • Make a mix of multiple cereals, and throw in some fruit, raisins, ground flax or chia seeds, or nuts for good measure!
    • Add some cocoa powder for “dessert cereal”!  YUM.
  • Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
    • Poke them a few times and stick them in the microwave until they’re soft and ready!
    • Topping suggestions:
      • cinnamon
      • veggies, beans, and salsa
      • avocado and salsa
      • veggies and mustard
      • beans and hot sauce
      • just a “sauce”: salsa, ketchup, mustard, nut butter, etc.
      • or eat them plain!
  • Frozen veggies
    • Heated up in the microwave
  • Frozen fruit
    • Eaten frozen or thawed
  • Corn on the cob
    • Heat up in the microwave, either in the husk or in a covered microwave-safe container
  • Sandwiches
    • hummus and veggies
    • hummus and apple
    • hummus, apple, avocado
    • avocado, raisin, mustard
    • PB&J
    • nut butter and banana
    • nut butter and apple
    • mustard and veggies
  • Wraps
    • same as sandwiches
    • applesauce and banana
    • nut-butter and granola
    • rice and beans (from can or microwaveable package)
    • beans/chickpeas and salsa
    • variation: use romaine lettuce or collard greens as your wrap!
  • Corn, black beans, salsa
    • mix together and enjoy!
  • Microwaveable packets of brown rice (or any other whole grain you may be able to find)
  • Soup!  It’s hard to find ones that aren’t high in sodium, but the brand “Amy’s” has lots of vegan options.  Dr. McDougall also has a line of microwaveable soups.
  • Hummus
    • with pita
    • with crackers
    • with carrot sticks/celery/peppers/broccoli
    • with apple
  • Nut butter and banana/apple
  • Ezekiel English muffins (cinnamon raisin is our favorite!)
    • with some sort of sandwich fixings inside, or just plain as it is!
  • Salad!  (endless possibilities here)
  • Bean Salads (my new fetish)
    • pour a can of beans (or two) into a bowl
    • chop up some veggies—whatever you like best!!
    • maybe some chopped fresh herbs if you want
    • you can even add fruit if you so desire
    • add a dressing of some sort
      • balsamic vinegars
      • lemon/lime juice
    • for example:
      • one can chickpeas
      • one can black beans
      • diced orange bell pepper
      • diced tomato
      • one bag frozen corn
      • chopped onion
      • chopped cilantro
      • lime juice and balsamic vinegar
      • YUMMMMM :)
    • I like to chop things small for these salads, but do whatever works best for you!
  • And, of course, the classic healthy “fast food,” fruits and veggies!
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Engine 2 sprouted grain tortilla with kale, cucumber, black beans, corn, peppers, avocado, and mustard.

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Bean salad!

That Darn Dairy Industry that Fooled Us All.

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When I make the drive from home (Pittsburgh, PA) to Bucknell (Lewisburg, PA), I pass numerous billboards sponsored by Allied Milk Producers’ Cooperative, Incorporated.  According to their website, the organization is “a non-profit group formed to promote the use of dairy products.” The advertisements say things like “Milk: It keeps your body in tune!” and “Cheese: A slice of good life.”  One that particularly bothers me pictures a child eating an ice-cream cone and features a caption saying, “For the health of it.”  My point here is not to put down the dairy farmers, because until proven otherwise, I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and think that maybe they truly believe in the integrity of product.  Rather, my point is to illuminate yet another way that false notions of dairy products are perpetuated.

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The dairy industry spends over $160 million in advertising costs each year.  The industry’s primary vehicle for transmitting its messages is the public school system. In a 2003 Unified Marketing Plan designed to help increase dairy demand, the industry listed initiatives and strategies “to guide school-age children to become life-long consumers of dairy products.”  These strategies included conducting and publicizing research favorable to their own products.  It’s really quite brilliant, actually.  We don’t think twice about the fact that milk is required in school lunches, or question who is running the “Got Milk?” campaign.  It’s not scientists or nutritionists who are running the campaign and promoting dairy products, it’s the dairy industry itself!  When explaining these programs to the public, the industry refers to it as nutrition education, but in their industry press-releases or official reports to Congress, they rightly describe all school-related activities as marketing activities.  But the dairy industry doesn’t target only children—it also spends $4-5 million a year to fund research projects aiming to find something healthy to talk about regarding its products.  This “science” is what they target towards adults; this is where the information in commercials or advertisements touting the health benefits of dairy come from.

To put things simply, the dairy industry is rich and clever.  They have lots of money and lots of power, and they have done a great job of misleading society to think that dairy is not only healthy, but worthy of being its own food group.  To anyone who was unaware of this fallacy, don’t feel bad about yourself.  It’s really not your fault.  For the majority of my life, I was under the impression that things like skim milk and greek yogurt were health foods, and consumed copious amounts of both.  When we grow up in a society filled with messages convincing us that dairy products are beneficial to our health, we assume that this is fact and give no critical thought toward questioning its validity.

I mean, if we don’t consume dairy products, where will we get our calcium?  How will be build strong bones?  We’re doomed, right?!  Wrong.  Clinical research in numerous studies has actually found that milk consumption does not bring bone protection benefits.  In fact, some studies have found that dairy actually has negative effects on bone health!  Furthermore, the highest rates of osteoporosis are found in the countries with the highest rates of dairy consumption.  While research is not 100% conclusive on why this is the case, it is most often attributed to the acidic nature of the protein in animal products.  When consumed, animal products create an acidic environment in the bloodstream.  In response, the body leaches calcium from the bones in order to neutralize the acid.  Consumption of dairy products, especially those which are low- or non-fat (meaning they have a higher percentage of protein), can actually lead to lower levels of calcium in the body.  Calcium can be found in a variety of other, healthier food choices such as broccoli, kale, collard greens, other leafy green vegetables, and beans; and these plant-based sources don’t come with the negative effects that dairy products bring.

Dairy products have also been linked to increased susceptibility to Type-1 diabetes, cancer (especially prostate cancer and breast cancer), acne, migraines, arthritis, and more.  Adding to their danger, dairy products can be very addicting!  Casein, the protein in dairy products, is most concentrated in cheese (it takes ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese).  When we consume cheese, the casein is broken down during digestion and forms casomorphins—yes, “morphins” like morphine—which have an opiate-like effect within the body.  This is why so many people feel addicted to cheese—they probably are.  Though it can be hard to give up at first, you can find solace in the fact that your tastebuds adjust after about three weeks.  So if you can get over the initial hump, you’ll be good to go!

Plus, dairy products can have a frighteningly high fat content.  Have you ever thought about the fact that milk helps calves to grow from their 60-80 pound birth weight to a 1,000 pound cow in a year?  For the calves, it’s healthy.  For humans… not so much.  Of course, there are low-fat dairy products out there, but these products still have a long list of negative effects (such as what is mentioned in the previous two paragraphs).

Unfortunately, however, the people and organizations who know the truth about dairy have nowhere near the money or leverage that the dairy industry has.  Therefore, the message that gets publicized is that which the dairy industry itself pushes and promotes.  (Side note: Right now, I am in the process of writing my thesis on including nutrition education in the school curriculum.  I was reading a study the other day that documented a nutrition education program used within a particular school, and one of the listed curriculum materials that the study used was written by the dairy industry!  Oy vey.  See my point here?)

However, there is hope.  There are a number of ways that the information is making its way into the mainstream.  For example, through documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Got the Facts on Milk?; books such as The China Study, Engine 2 Diet, My Beef With Meat, Breaking The Food Seduction, and many more plant-based nutrition books; and the work of people/organizations such as Jeff Novick, Dr. McDougall, Dr. Barnard, Dr. Esselstyn, Engine 2 Diet, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, TrueNorth Health Center, Sprout’d, and many others.  Slowly but surely, the truth is being spread.

Plus, there is a growing abundance of non-dairy alternatives to help people make the move away from dairy products.  Most grocery stores carry at least soymilk and almond milk these days, and many have rice milk, oat milk, hemp milk, flax milk, and more!  In addition, we have a ton of wonderful plant-based recipe bloggers sharing amazingly delicious plant-based recipes that offer tasty alternatives, such as Engine 2’s Macaroni Not Cheese, Happy Herbivore’s Low-fat Vegan Nacho Cheese, Dreena Burton’s parmesan cheese substitutes, Susan Voisin’s Cheesy Cauliflower Sauce, or Cathy Fisher’s pesto.  Things like french toast, mashed potatoes, cookies, and carrot cake can be made without any dairy products too.  Basically, I’ve found that anything that can be made with dairy can be made just as well—or even better!—without it.

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The dairy industry is a big villain to take on, but I believe in us.  If we band together, I believe that we can make an impact.  We CAN make a difference.  So ditch the dairy!  This alone will have positive effects, for that is one more person voting (via grocery bills) against the dairy industry.  And you never know, maybe you will even influence others to ask questions or think twice about their own consumption habits.

A new favorite—and very fitting—quote of mine (which I first saw on this Herbivore Clothing Company sticker) is “The world will change if we do.”  So, come on, everyone!  Let’s change the world :)

Almond milk mustaches all-around!

Tara :)

[Note: There are a number of other issues with the dairy industry’s practices (i.e. the environment of factory farms, the use of chemicals and hormones, the artificial insemination procedures, etc.) but these are not something that I went into in this particular post.]

Sources:

Barnard, Neal D., and Joanne Stepaniak. Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons behind Food Cravings– and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003

Dahl-Jorgensen K, Joner G, Hanssen KF. “Relationship between cow’s milk consumption and incidence of IDDM in childhood”. Diabetes Care 14 (1991): 1081-1085

Dairy Management Inc. Press Release. “Dairy checkoff 2003 unified marketing plan budget geared to help increase demand in domestic and international markets.” Rosemont, IL: January 24, 2003.

Goldhamer, Alan, DC. “No Body Needs Milk.” T. Colin Campbell Foundation. N.p., 2008. Web.

“Health Concerns About Dairy Products.” PCRM. Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine, 2012. Web.

McDougall, John, MD. “Dairy Products and 10 False Promises.” The McDougall Newsletter 2 (Apr. 2003)

McDougall, John, MD. “When Friends Ask: Why Don’t You Drink Milk?” The McDougall Newsletter 6 (Mar. 2007)

Sonneville KR, Gordon CM, Kocher MS, Pierce LM, Ramappa A, Field AE. “Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents”. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published ahead of print March 5, 2012.

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