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.🖨️ Print post
A plant based diet is not good for the long term, it is true. Neither is a flesh-based diet. But meat eaters suffer from as many deficiencies as long time vegetarians/vegans and get the same diseases.
I would very much like to hear the Doctor’s views on people who have a strong identification with animals, often from a young age, and who therefore don’t want to see them killed and eat their bodies. Is she going to say they have mental issues and do some sort of silly “tapping” to remove these feelings, like Dr. Mercola does? LOL. If this is what she thinks, someone needs to sit her down and tell her that it’s equally mentally ill to be repelled when they see animals killed and cut apart, yet go on to eat them anyway. Some people are trying to find a middle way, but eating organically produced, pastured animals where someone else has done the Sh*twork of slaughtering them and making their parts nice ‘n’ neat for your plate is not it.
As I see it, such persons can be healthy vegetetarians if they take supplements. You may say that supplements are not “natural”. That is true, most of them are not.
The infrastructure required to produce supplements and get them to the store shelves is no greater or more onerous than the infrastructure required to put flesh foods on everyone’s plate, everywhere, either.
From a purely ecological standpoint, I see the major problem as being overpopulation. You can’t have 7 billion + people eating a healthy diet of ANYTHING every day. The earth can’t take it. And no the causes are not purely political or situational. There’s too many of us.
It can be claimed that a mixed farming system that integrates small-scale animal operations with plant agriculture could support billions. Consider India, a poor country no doubt, but it supports highest density of domesticated animals, principally milch cows and buffaloes with huge number of very small farms.
There is a lot of waste in industrial farming and animal operations that could be rectified in human-scaled mixed animal and plant farming.
But why is a huge population inherently more desirable than the population numbers of, say, earlier times – when the percentage of small farms was probably even greater than in India today? At what point will you say, “Yes, we have enough humans on the earth”? Why the great need for more and more and more people – just because they are all living on small, human-scaled mixed animal and plant farms?
As I see it, the greater the total number of humans – even with their small, ecologically correct, farms – the less space there is for wild animals and their habitats. What will become of our primeval forests and other natural spaces, which we depend on whether we see it or not?
@Isabel. I don’t remember calling you any names. Be that as it may, I should like to reply to some things you said.
I haven’t led a pampered life, having been raised on a small family farm (mixed grain and animal farming). Not “poor” by today’s phony standards, but genuine poverty, struggle and serious discomfort. I could go on and on but I’m not trying to impress anyone with how horrible rural poverty really was prior to the upgrading of various standards of rural living (in the 1970s in our area).
I had plenty of exposure to a wide variety of animals and and spent my young life feeding and dealing with them; I saw much slaughter. I know the blood, the smells and the sounds of the panicked animals, and plucked a chicken occasionally. It sickened me right from a young age though my brothers and sisters and parents were not bothered. (Okay with me; we are all different.) I kept eating meat, though, till I left home to live in the big city.
By my reckoning, 40 years later, it was the hand of God at work. He had a plan for me and I am still going with it until he tells me otherwise. And while I’m here, I don’t consume vegan protein shakes, lattes, etc. Nor do I have access to a Whole Food Store. I live in the country (where I work hard) and the nearest Whole Foods is approximately 1,000 miles away.
Never said anything about killing off people. I merely mentioned that by any standard there are too many people. I don’t know what the solution to human overpopulation is, I really don’t, but I rather doubt that it’s a good idea to pretend we can just flip back to a late 19th-century style rural economy worldwide. I was trying to say that we act as individuals and those of us who have deep seated desires to avoid eating animals can still do it without keeling over. The rest of you can eat as you wish. I’m not here to change the world.
By the way, supplements were developed, and popular, long before vegetarianism or veganism came along in any noticeable numbers. I can assure you it wasn’t vegetarians that Adelle David was talking about in her early 1960s books.
Benjamin David Steele says
“But meat eaters suffer from as many deficiencies as long time vegetarians/vegans and get the same diseases.”
No, they don’t, as many studies show. I guess it depends on what you mean by meat eaters. If you’re talking about the standard American diet, that is indeed unhealthy, even if it doesn’t show the same level of severe malnutrition as veganism.
But is that because of the steak and hamburgers? Or is it because of their getting too many carbs, sugar, seed oils, food additives, farm chemicals, etc while at the same time not getting enough quality pasture-raised animal foods: raw dairy, eggs, organ meats, bone broth, and on and on?
The reality is that people who consume plenty of red meat and other animal products, including healthy fats, regularly (every day) come to have cravings for unhealthy things to relax them. Protein, fat and carbohydrate have to be in some sort of balance. Eat enough meat protein and you are, down the line, going to have cravings for chocolate and or sugar you will kill for, ie, a desire to counteract the contracted, tight feelings you have. Indeed, I think that is why the paleo and Weston Price followers make excuses for chocolate: “Oh, it has all those antioxidants, and all those other wonderful substances.” Same with wine and other “healthy” substances.
Cravings for carbs or chocolate or wine or any other booze is not a crime. But you should try to figure out what the reason for these cravings is. These things are not good for us if taken regularly, either and they really are not true foods in any case.
About deficiencies. It is correct that vegans & vegetarians, many of them, or maybe just some of them, I don’t know, are deficient in various nutrients. However, those persons eating healthy meats and fats also have deficiencies – but other ones. Not the same. But a deficiency is still a deficiency.
It’s not all about food, people. There really is a bigger picture (an awful cliche, I know).
Why not eat oysters, milk, eggs, shrimps, insects if you don’t feel confortable eating big animals?
Industrial practices turn the slaughter very gruesome, but about fishing or hunting small animals in the wild?
People that feel bad about animal death for food can be helped by knowing nature more, in first hand. This super-rejection to any death and nature cycles usually comes from a sheltered life within the civilization or in a farm with bad raise practices.
Farmings that protect nature and clean nature are possible, and in fact is the better for the planet than use imported fruits, seeds and supplements daily since international shipping is the most pollutent industry there is and hurts the whole cycle of life.
Maureen Diaz says
Indeed Andrea, many cultures around the world did, and do, just as you suggest! We do not necessarily need the input of beef, etc. in our diets to be healthy and complete. However, it is certainly what is easily available and something we are commonly accustomed to. But of course eggs, shellfish, insects (if you can tolerate these) and small game are very nutrient-dense as well, including plenty of high quality fats and protein!
It’s not an issue of size of animal for most of us vegetarians, but I understand what you are trying to say. You make some good points and your recommendations are, I believe, good hearted and well meaning.
I would like to add that people living their lives on Weston Price type approved farms are , nevertheless, still dependent, one way and another, on international shipping, the world economy, and globalism, generally. It is a sorry state of affairs for all of us.
I don’t reject death and nature. I am from a farm and still live in the country. I still trip over half dead deer once in a while, the result of attempted killing by a Noble Hunter. I have contact with all kinds of animals, dead and alive, and I don’t mean “pets”.