Our Food Future: A Plant-Based Diet

Posted on February 5, 2021


“Jane Goodall, the renowned conservationist, said the intensive farming of billions of animals seriously damaged the environment and inhumane crowded conditions risked new pandemic diseases crossing into people: ‘It should be phased out as soon as possible.’”

…Philip Lymbery, at Compassion in World Farming, said: “The future of farming must be nature-friendly and regenerative, and our diets must become more plant-based, healthy and sustainable. Without ending factory farming, we are in danger of having no future at all.” (Plant-based diets crucial to saving global wildlife, says report by Damian Carrington)

In the tri-county area where I live (Jackson, Lenawee, Hillsdale, MI), megafarms, where cows, pigs, and chickens are raised for food, have damaged the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil that sustains our lives. We can drive 10-15 minutes in any direction and find a megafarm, or two, or several. We don’t have to drive anywhere to be forced inside by the stench of animal waste that lingers in the air; it happens several days per year where I live. For those who live in close proximity to the mega-farms, the sickening smells cause a variety of health problems: headaches, nausea, and other symptoms.

The damage to the local environment is well-documented and tirelessly reported to authorities by Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, but what would really help restore the local landscape is if we made these mega-farms unnecessary, because we stop eating massive quantities of factory-farmed meat.

I haven’t been a meat-eater since 1988. Because I was suffering from an ulcer and IBS, I was forced to revise my diet from the ground up, eating bland foods, adding new foods, and identifying problem foods. Through this process, I discovered that meat was a MAJOR PROBLEM for my gut. It was always an issue: ever since I was a young child, I had difficulty chewing and swallowing meat, and my parents were taking me to the UMich hospital for digestive tract problems that lasted until I stopped eating meat. While I was made to drink prune juice each morning and was given meds that made me gag, I continued to suffer, and doctors in the early 70s did not suggest eliminating meat from my diet.

My dad called all the shots, and he demanded meat at every meal. He made all the rules, and he didn’t want to hear anything out of us five kids. He said we had to eat whatever was on our plate, and if we didn’t eat it, he would set a timer for fifteen minutes, and it it wasn’t eaten by then, he’d make us eat it cold, for breakfast. The threat of being hit always hung in the air.

Normally, supper was a slab of beef, potatoes, vegetable, salad, and bread. I remember the special agony of cube steak, which seemed impossible to chew well enough to swallow. I loved potatoes, and I still do, but I did not learn to love cooked vegetables. My mom had a great pile of boxes of frozen vegetables, and she boiled them to mush. Forced to eat them every night at six o’clock supper, I was disgusted by their smells and textures; I popped them in my mouth and swallowed them whole, like pills, when I could muster the courage. Sometimes, the vile pile would disgust me so much, I would be left sitting alone at the table with the timer ticking, after everyone else was done eating. Sometimes, some lovely lucky times, my older sister, Sheree, would rescue me by sneaking my veg into the garbage when she, Loretta, and Karen cleared the table. Most times, I’d be trying to get that shit down with large quantities of milk, which was never limited, thank goodness, and fighting the constant urge to gag.

Having had such a terrible time with veg, it wasn’t easy to become a vegetarian. Even now, in my late fifties, I still have quite a limited palate, BUT I do find new ways to prepare and enjoy more vegetables each year. In the beginning, I ate entirely too much starch, but also, I don’t have trouble digesting starchy foods, so it was still better for me than my parents’ meat-based diet. Fortunately, I already loved beans, so bean-based soups and beans & rice became the go-to foods, and, three decades later, they still are.

When I attended EMU, I met my first vegan friend, and he was an ethical vegan, not because he had digestive issues, but because he was an animal rights activist. He lived on a farm, grew his own food, and did not own a car. He rode his bike 20-40 miles per day, going to classes or work. We lost touch after uni, but at some point, I heard he had worked at a nearby organic farm, and later, that he was involved in helping the wolf population recover in areas where their numbers had fallen dangerously low. He was the first person to teach me about the ways our food systems harm wildlife, and he had a great influence on my thinking about food. I am grateful to John P. for teaching me about the relationship between food and wildlife.

I am not vegan. I still eat eggs and dairy. I buy my eggs from a small, local farmer, but I’ve not had good luck finding a consistent local source for milk, butter, and cheese. When I have, I am happy to purchase them. When I can’t, I buy products that come from mega farms, in small amounts. Since I’ve learned to cook veg that tastes good to me, I no longer have to drink a quart of milk at every meal. I can do better. I keep trying to align my food purchases with my ethics.

I am in the process of phasing out coffee, which will not only eliminate coffee, but the half-and-half I put in it. After one parent and two siblings have died of digestive tract cancer, I am once again evaluating my diet for anything that might not promote gut health. Coffee is the only issue; it causes heartburn if I do activities like gardening, that require bending forward. I have already decreased my consumption from an 8-cup pot, to 6, then to 4. I plan to phase it out completely when I use up the beans in the house.

I care about land health, as explained by Aldo Leopold in his essay, “The Land Ethic,” in A Sand County Almanac:

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for). The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.

This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, – management, and use of these `resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community- to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

By eating a plant-based diet, we can decrease the demand for the mega-farms, slow environmental destruction, and begin to heal and restore the ravaged land.

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lisa eddy is a writer and editor for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy
On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com