Vegetarianism Explained: Making an Informed Decision
By Natasha Campbell-McBride
Recently my social media was overrun with questions about the documentary, What the Health. Honestly, after years of such pseudo-documentaries gaining national attention with their misinformation, I wasn’t surprised to see a new one making the rounds. What is saddening is the fact that so many people swallow the swill these films contain, hook, line and sinker.
This is why books like Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Vegetarianism Explained matter. This book isn’t a technical rebuttal of the kinds of claims you see in a lot of pro-vegetarian and pro-vegan propaganda. Instead it serves a more direct purpose, using a conversational tone to share observations from the perspective of someone who regularly sees the end results of various dietary choices in her patients and practice. Dr. Campbell-McBride intends the book for average readers trying to wrap their head around the complex issues that go into what our food choices mean for us and the world.
The main pages of the book fly along as Campbell-McBride covers a wide range of topics, supported by thorough footnotes. It all starts with the sun, which is what causes things to grow on our planet. The question becomes, should we eat the stuff that grows, or eat the things that eat the stuff that grows? Campbell-McBride points out that our planet is full of creatures well adapted for the former, which our bodies are not. Although we can extract some nutrients from plant foods, our ancestors had to go to great lengths to prepare them properly. In Campbell-McBride’s view, plants play a crucial role in keeping our bodies clean and well-functioning, but they do a poor job of building and maintaining the body. This is why people often feel so well—at first—on plant-based diets, but why over time everything begins to go awry.
What about the impact of our food choices on the planet? The second chapter gets into issues and misinformation surrounding food and farming. Campbell-McBride points out that industrial, mono-culture, machine-intensive farming is far easier than other models of agriculture, which is one reason why its proponents spend so much money and generate so much misinformation to defend it. However, the industrial system is hopelessly soil- and ecosystem-destroying. Soil is the backbone of our planet, offering a solution to so many of our modern problems if we can restore a right relationship with it. Yet in the name of “feeding the planet,” government and agribusiness instead are killing it through tainted water supplies, declining nutritional quality of food, lost habitats for all sorts of species and so much else.
Unfortunately some people’s response, when they discover how industrial agriculture treats and feeds animals, is to reject animal foods by becoming vegan or vegetarian. Campbell-McBride points out that this “solution” only makes the problem worse—both for these people and the planet. In Chapter Three (“Food, Glorious Food!”), she uses a patient’s story to highlight why ending up vegetarian doesn’t work out well. Although the average person who, at baseline, has been eating a diet full of refined grains, rancid fats and added sugars will see initial improvement after switching to a more real-food-based diet, including vegetarianism, that doesn’t mean that the new diet will be good for the long term.
While Campbell-McBride doesn’t see a vegetarian diet as being optimal for people or the planet, in the context of a balanced diet that includes animal fats and foods, she isn’t anti-vegetable. She states, “There is a mountain of information available on the benefits of eating vegetables, as they contain a plethora of wonderful nutrients. They should be eaten every day, both cooked and raw.” But just as with our meat and dairy, we need to be sure our fruits and vegetables are as fresh and clean as possible, raised and prepared properly. For Wise Traditions readers, little in Chapter Three will come as a surprise, but for people who need to hear a doctor advocating a traditional, whole foods diet that includes saturated fat and cholesterol, this is a great resource and chapter.
The book takes an interesting turn in a chapter called “Fasting.” Here Campbell-McBride presents the idea that what many people try to make their formal diets are little more than temporary fasts, including vegetarianism and veganism. Fasting has significant health benefits, especially given the toxic world we find ourselves now living in, but it is meant to be a temporary state.
The final chapter calls for people to realize that at the end of the day, we are the ones best positioned to make proper food choices for our health! Campbell-McBride asks, “So what do we do? How do we feed ourselves properly? By getting back in touch with [our] body’s inner intelligence.” For far too long, people have been disconnected from their food and how it makes them feel, not listening to the feedback their bodies give them. Without that feedback, people can only fall back on arbitrary rules that may not be what is best for their body at that time. Learning to understand cravings and the importance of taste, sense and smell are part of restoring a right relationship with food and finding health. This healthy relationship with food is something that parents should start on as soon as kids are ready and should be more concerned with than a child’s table manners.
Vegetarianism Explained was a bit different than what I was expecting but nonetheless enjoyable. Campbell-McBride reminds readers that although the human body can survive on almost anything, what we want is for it (and us!) to thrive. Vegan and vegetarian diets don’t enable people or the planet to thrive. Two thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2017.