Why I Don't Eat Fake Animal Products --- It's About Health, Ethics and Compassion!

Two of my most popular blog postings, and also among the most controversial were We Are Not Vegans! and We Are Not Vegans, Part II. I believe that both postings make an important point. While we in the whole food, plant-based movement share with vegans the fact that we don't eat animal products, that commonality does not in and of itself make us vegan. Nor does it make vegans to be whole food, plant-based. That distinction becomes important when we eat because there are a lot of vegan-manufactured foods that are not whole food, plant-based. There are fake meats, fake cheeses, fake mayos, fake buttery spreads, fake yogurts, fake ice creams and on and on. They are all processed foods, containing too much salt, oil and sugar as well as chemicals for which we have no idea what they are. While theoretically plant-based (I personally think of them more as chemically-based myself), none of them are whole foods and none of them have a place in a WFPB diet.

Some will argue that these processed foods have a place in transitioning to a WFPB diet or to a vegan diet. I would disagree. If you had an alcoholic family member who drank beer to a stage of being drunk every night, you wouldn't propose that family member give up beer by drinking wine instead. You wouldn't classify wine as a transition food. Both are prohibited foods for an alcoholic. But yet, we in the whole food, plant-based movement, remove one prohibited food (animal-based products) and replace that with another prohibited food (highly processed foods) and we then call it a transition food. What sense does that make?

In his book How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger on page 259 gives the yellow light to unprocessed animal foods. But he gives the red light to ultra-processed plant foods. In other words, from a health standpoint, it may be healthier to eat the real meat from an animal than it is to eat these highly processed foods. When given the choice between a grilled chicken breast (an unprocessed animal food) or an oil-based fake mayo (an ultra-processed plant food), it appears that Dr. Greger is saying the healthier choice is the chicken breast.

I'm not saying this to say that we should start eating chicken. We should not. I'm saying this to point out how significantly unhealthy processed foods are. And when we refer to them as transition foods, we're saying we want to replace one thing that is unhealthy with something that may be even more unhealthy. That doesn't make sense to me.

So, instead of thinking of ourselves as vegan, which we may well be (although there's more to being vegan than how a person eats), we really need to think of ourselves as being whole food, plant-based. And I would argue that vegans should think that way too (see more on that below). Not eating animal products is only one aspect of being WFPB. Other aspects include avoiding highly-processed foods, which as Dr. Greger points out are among the unhealthiest foods on the planet.

Just remember the old adage --- If it comes from a plant, eat it; if it is made in a plant, don't eat it.

But there's more than health reasons for avoiding fake animal products as well. And some of this may be the Buddhist Christian in me coming out. But it's hard for me to understand wanting to eat some being that I profess to love. Our thoughts are what lead us to the kind of world we want to live in. And what we enjoy eating is part of our thoughts. Our cravings and our desires for certain foods originate in our brains. So, as long as I salivate over the taste of some animal, whether I eat that animal or not, I believe that I am perpetuating to some degree the continuation of violence in the world.

That's because the world will not change until our thoughts change. As Henry David Thoreau said, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." That statement has application to so many places in our society today, but let me suggest how it applies with respect to compassion and ethical veganism. Giving up on eating animals is worthy, but I believe it is hacking at the branches of evil. It's pruning the bush, but because it's not getting to the root of the bush, the bush keeps growing (and we need to keep hacking). The root of the evil, in our society, is our way of thinking. We live in a world where we think of animals as subservient to us. We live in a world where we think we are a superior species. We live in a world where we think it's okay to treat animals cruelly.

And when we choose to eat foods that imitate what animals taste like, then we are continuing to live in a world that thinks it's okay to eat animals. And the argument that we still might crave the taste of animal foods really holds no water in an ethical world. It's like saying we're married but we still enjoy having romantic relationships with other people. Wouldn't that say there was something wrong with the marriage? A newlywed wouldn't tell their spouse to transition into the marriage by only having romantic relations with old girlfriends or boyfriends. Just don't create any new ones. That would certainly be atypical. What we need to do is learn to restrain our previous ways and to instead seek out the new and better flavors of the plant kingdom. There are lots of wonderful foods to enjoy and try without going for the manufactured fake foods that perpetuate our desire to eat animals.

In closing, I'll quote from The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle. In that book, he says, "As long as we remain imprisoned in the maze of self-oriented thinking, we can easily.....continue on, rationalizing our actions and blocking awareness of the reality of our feelings and of our fundamental oneness with other beings." For health reasons and for reasons of compassion and ethics, let's learn to think of our diet as being whole food, plant-based and for reasons of ethics and compassion, let's learn to think of ourselves as being vegan in the rest of the way we live. There's still a whole lot more to being vegan than in how we eat.

Using Sleep to Change Our Tastes

One of the most difficult parts of going whole food, plant-based is that most of us come to it after a lifetime of eating animal-based foods; lots of fat, sugar and salt; and plenty of processed foods. We have built up a taste for these foods over the course of a lifetime, and it can seem extremely difficult if not downright impossible to give up those tastes. I know when I started, I had regular cravings for premium ice creams; nice thick, juicy steaks; beer-can chicken cooked on my Big Green Egg; 18-hour slow-roasted pork butt; and of course everyone's favorite, bacon.

I didn't think I could give those things up, and the only things that saved me were the book VB6 by Mark Bittman and a couple of decisions I made to challenge myself. The book by Mark Bittman suggested being vegan all day except for one meal, and then at that one meal, I could eat whatever I wanted to eat. That sounded doable to me. I could eat like a vegan during the day because I knew later on for dinner I was going to eat the foods I really enjoyed.

And fortunately back then, we didn't have all the processed vegan foods that we do today. By that I mean the ones today that do such a great job of replicating the taste of meat and cheese and ice cream. If we had, I never would have lost my taste for those animal foods. Sure there were vegan foods back then, but they were bland to awful tasting and it took some real dedication to liking them. As a consequence, I was forced to really eat plant-based when I wasn't having my one animal-based meal during the day. I ate lots of beans and greens, and over time, that caused me to develop a taste for beans and greens.

In fact, it was in developing that taste for beans and greens that I began to not want animal-based foods or processed foods anymore. I actually started to prefer real plant-based foods that came from a plant as opposed to being made in a plant. And so some of those meals where I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, I found myself wanting the beans and greens more often until finally I stopped eating animal-based foods altogether.

The other thing I did is I challenged myself. The first time I went out to dinner was with family to a steakhouse. And I've told this story before. I wanted to see if I could actually go into a steakhouse and not order a steak without it seeming weird. I did that successfully and that taught me I could really do this. The next challenge was Thanksgiving. We had Thanksgiving for the family at my house and I cooked a turkey on the Egg for my family, but for me, I made a stuffed squash. That worked out too. So, by then I knew I could really do this.

I think we all need to challenge ourselves to overcome a lifetime of bad habits. Continuing the status quo doesn't work. And that's one reason, I've never bought into the idea of transition foods. Transition foods cause us to continue having our taste for animals and for processed foods. And today's products coming on the market, where manufacturers have discovered unhealthy saturated fat in coconut oil and started using that to give fake meats and cheeses the same texture and taste as animal-based products, are very good. But the problem is, they continue to perpetuate our desire for animal products.

For those of us who are whole food, plant-based, we want to get away from unhealthy options and eat healthy foods, which are the beans and greens, veggies, fruits, whole gains and nuts and seeds as they grow in nature. But even as one who loves animals and supports the vegan movement, I can't eat foods that taste like the animals I love and want to protect. To me, that would just be weird.

So, for me, I need to be fully weaned off of the desire to eat animal-based products, and transition foods don't do it. But in a new book, titled Why We Sleep, I discovered that we might be able to program ourselves during sleep to forget the taste of animals. Researchers it turns out have found out that we can train the brain to forget things as well as to learn things. A recent study took a group of participants and gave them a number of words, telling them to remember certain words but also consciously telling their brain to forget the other words. Then half the subjects were given a nap and the other half were required to stay awake. At the end of the project, they tested the subjects and found that those who stayed awake remembered both the words to remember and the ones to forget. But the group that slept after telling their brain to forget certain words, was found to remember the words they were told to remember but they had forgotten the words they told their brain to forget.

The book points out that this has real-time implications for people wanting to get rid of bad addictive behaviors. We can consciously tell our brain to forget the behavior and then sleep on it. Of course, I'm not so naive as to think a lifetime of eating rich foods will be forgotten over one night's worth of sleep. But I am intrigued by the idea that we can possibly over time lose our desires for certain foods by telling our brain to forget what they taste like.

One reason I believe this can work, besides the fact of the published study, is that as a child my dad told me if I want to avoid a nightmare over a scary or disturbing event that I witnessed during the day, all I had to do was to tell my brain not to dream about it. I've been doing that for nearly 70 years now and not once have I had a dream or nightmare about something I told my brain I didn't want to dream about.

So, give it a try if you're struggling with cravings for the SAD diet. It might just work. But what I do know is that the quicker we give up foods that taste like animals and other processed foods, the quicker we will develop a taste for whole plant-based foods.

J Lanning Smith
October 3, 2018


This blog is intended to divulge my experiences and what I have learned in following a mostly plant-based nutrient-rich diet. What has worked for me may not work for others. And what I have learned may or may not be correct. Statements expressed on this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical or nutritional advice. While I have read a lot about nutrition, I am not a trained or degreed nutritionist. Readers should seek their own professional counsel for any medical condition or before starting or altering any exercise or dietary plan.

The Three Reasons I Overeat

I've heard it said that you can't overeat on a whole food, plant-based diet.  And yet, I know that I oftentimes will eat when I'm not hungry. And while I've kept my weight within a five pound range for the last three and a half years since losing 150 pounds, I still feel that there's another ten pounds or so that I would like to lose. And it seems like eating when I'm not hungry might be the culprit that is keeping me from losing that last ten pounds.

Now, the good news is that I've had both Dr. Frank Sabatino and Dr. Alan Goldhamer stay at my house in the last year, and both of them have told me that I'm fine and I shouldn't stress about losing that last ten pounds. But I still want to, and so because of that, I think that conquering my overeating habit is important.

I've figured out that there are three reasons I overeat. And some of these may be things you do too. So, I thought it important to publish this. The first step in conquering any problem is to recognize that we have a problem and then identify the reasons (what we would have called the root causes back during my professional years) for the problem.

So, along those lines, here are my three reasons:

I overeat out of habit

This may be the biggest issue that I face. Over time, there are certain habits that I've formed. For example, I've enjoyed a big bowl of air-popped popcorn spiced with nutritional yeast while watching TV on many nights. This is probably a habit that I started even before going whole food, plant-based, except at that time I would eat a bag of microwave popcorn from the store (being oblivious to all the trans and saturated fats and salt I was consuming with that popcorn).

Or sometimes I'll get into the habit of having a bowl of nice cream for dessert after dinner. It's healthy, right? It's nothing but frozen fruit and bananas or frozen peanut butter and bananas. And it tastes like the old ice cream I used to enjoy. But the problem is, I first of all take big scoops of it and secondly, I eat it even though I'm entirely full from dinner.

And that's the real issue. We can't overeat on a whole food, plant-based diet if we stop when we're full (or as some people do, stop when they're 80% full). But I don't do that. Out of habit, I will eat foods even when I'm full.

Out of habit, I eat three bananas a day (full or not full). And that might be in addition to the nice cream.

So, the first order of business I've decided is to not eat when I'm not hungry. That's a conscious decision that I've made, and it's one that we have to make. Eat only when hungry.

The other conscious decision that I've made is to not eat after dinner at night (or after 7 pm if I've eaten an early dinner). That is the hardest resolution (so to speak) to keep, but I think it's an important one. I have all my life habitually eaten at night. In fact, I would bet that there are many times when I've consumed more calories after dinner than I did the whole rest of the day. So, I think that's important.

In making these decisions, it's good to change the events too that trigger them. For example, if watching television triggers a person to eat, then doing something else might make it easier to not eat. I find reading a book can work in that regard because it's more difficult to hold the book and turn the pages while also holding food and eating it (although it's not impossible; I have done it).

I overeat in anticipation of hunger

This problem is usually most prevalent to me at the beginning of the day; whereas, the habitual eating is a problem at the end of the day.

I generally make it a point to not eat until 11 am in the morning. I do that in order to intermittently fast. I want to get in a good 12 hour fast each day before I start to eat. And now that I've decided not to eat after 7 pm on most days, that fast extends to 16 hours.

What that means is I generally eat only two meals a day instead of three. But if I have an event in the morning that isn't going to allow me to eat at 11 am, then I will eat before the event. That's because I'm anticipating being hungry but not being able to eat at 11 am. That ends up doing two things usually. First, it causes me to break my fast earlier than I wanted to and usually when I'm not hungry. Plus it throws my schedule off and I will eat a second meal after the event and still then eat dinner that night. So, a scheduled event can easily add another meal into my day.

I think perhaps the answer to that might be to take something light, like a small bag of nuts or raisins to the event and feed my hunger when it arrives. But again, be conscious of when I'm hungry and don't feed myself when I'm not hungry.

I overeat in order to avoid wasting food

One of the problems with being whole food, plant-based is food really does expire. You can buy processed foods, that may have expiration dates stamped on them, but the truth is, the food (or should I say the chemicals they call food) will be around forever.  But one trait of a whole, plant-based food is that it does go bad. And oftentimes, that happens before we can eat it.

I never like to waste or throw out food, although I have heard it said that it gets wasted either way. It either is waste or it goes to your waist where it's also not needed.

And the answer is another conscious decision. I used to do all my shopping for a week at a time. And I tended to buy more than I needed because I could play all these "what if" scenarios in my head. What if the store is out of this item next time I go to buy it? What if I can't get to the store for whatever reason? What if there's an emergency?

So, I buy the food and then I feel compelled to eat it. And sometimes that means eating more food than I should. But that's the wrong answer.

I've now put all that to rest. I now only buy certain foods that spoil easily for a few days at a time. And if I'm faced with food expiring before I eat it, I give the excess away. I no longer feel compelled to eat it just to make good use of it.

So, those are my three reasons for why I overeat. I'm sure we each have our own reasons for it. Or maybe I'm unique and nobody else overeats. But in the interest of helping those who do, I think those might be three reasons that some others can identify with too.

And the one takeaway for me is to make sure I only eat when I really am hungry and not to eat when I'm not hungry, regardless of the reason I might have for doing so.


I have a confession to make. I actually read Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman over ten years ago. And I actually tried to follow it for a couple of hours. But I quickly determined that it was impossible to follow. For the couple of hours that I tried it, I didn't feel satisfied, and I questioned whether or not I was really getting all the nutrition that I needed.

It wasn't until I moved to where I live now and discovered the Eat Smart Live Longer Club that I began to take eating whole plant-based foods seriously. I was writing for SunSations, a local community magazine, at the time and I learned about the club from a fellow writer on the magazine, Ellie Dixon who had begun following the whole food, plant-based way of eating.

I attended my first meeting of the club and there were several hundred people at the meeting. It seemed like even more than that because that meeting was held in a smaller space than where the meetings are currently held. I had to search to find a seat in the room. But it seemed like I was on to something. Or I should say, the club was on to something.

I was reminded of that this afternoon while listening to Freakanomics on NPR. They talked about an experiment that was done in one town trying to figure out what message would get people to reduce their energy consumption the most. The scientists conducting the experiment had the local utility put out four different notices to homes in the area. One notice appealed to people's altruistic nature and just asked them to "please" reduce their energy consumption in order to save the environment. The second notice asked people to reduce their energy consumption in order to reduce their monthly billing. The third noticed asked people to reduce their energy consumption in order to conserve energy so that it would be available in the future for their children and grandchildren. And the fourth notice announced that their neighbors were all trying to conserve energy by reducing their energy consumption.

Then they watched what happened with energy consumption from each household. What happened was that only one of those four groupings actually reduced energy consumption after receiving the notice. And the group that did that was the fourth group that was told their neighbors were all reducing their energy consumption.

In other words, as much as we like to believe we are independent and act on our own logic, the fact is, we tend to follow the herd. We do what those around us do. And that has major implications for both whether or not we will follow a whole food, plant-based way of eating and also whether or not we can convince others to follow this way of eating. For example, what if instead of focusing energy on "converting" a friend or family member, we focused on a group of people such as a church congregation or a softball team?

Think Rip Esselstyn and what he did with the Engine 2 firehouse for example. One firefighter might not have done it on her own. But a whole firehouse of firefighters might once the idea has been presented to them. And in fact, a whole firehouse did.

When I think about it, I realize that I needed the Eat Smart Live Longer Club in order to do this. I would not have done it on my own. I'm thankful every day for the fact that we made the decision to move here back in 2011. Had we not moved here, then I would not have found this club (or they would not have found me), and I would still be overweight with lots of problems (assuming I'd still be alive).

Now, I'm sure there are some who will read this and declare, "I'm doing it by myself." But are you really? Would you or could you do it without Facebook and the communities that it builds for example? Could you or would you do it without blogs like this and webinars and conferences and so on?

We are both social animals and animals who follow the herd. It's in our biological nature. And that's why eating whole plant-based foods can become a movement. As more and more people do it, more and more people will join in. For those who do not live in a community where there are others eating this way, it can be of value to search out those who are and to form a club or a group to do this. It will be rewarding not just to you but to those who join and those who are exposed to those who join.

J Lanning Smith
August 25, 2018

Government and the Promotion of Industry Over Health

Scott Gottlieb, who chairs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the intent of the agency to allow only the use of the word "milk" for those products meeting its definition. And what is the FDA's definition of the term milk? According to Title 21 Part 131 of the Code of Federal Regulations, milk is defined as "the lacteal secretion from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows."

So, out with nursing mothers. You'll have to find another name for your breast milk. Out with milk of magnesia. Out with goat's milk. Out with soy milk and out with oat milk and out with rice milk. And of course, out with nut-based milks. No matter that we can trace the making of almond milk back to 1597 when the Herball or Generale Historie of Plantes referenced almond milk as being the liquid pressed from almonds. That precedes the dairy industry as we know it today.

I suppose the one species among us that will be happy is the cat. As cat lovers know, cats love milk from cows, but not so much nut-based milks. They'll tolerate nut-based milks, but as a species, they seem to really go for the lactating secretions of the bovine. LOL!

At any rate, this is exactly why I recently opposed a bill in Congress that would have required food stamps, or should I say SNAP benefits, to be used for only healthy foods. Because as soon as you require that, then you have to define what is and what isn't a healthy food. And who would do that? The answer is, it would be defined by government bureaucrats working for political appointees who bend to the wishes of politicians who do what lobbyists with the biggest checkbooks want done.

And the biggest checkbooks when it comes to food are held by the dairy industry, the meat industry and the processed food industry. These groups hold sway over the government when it comes to defining what is healthy. And, like the tobacco industry, they can create enough confusion through their funded scientific projects, to make the average government employee not really know for sure what is healthy and what is not healthy.

That's how we ended up with a food pyramid for so many years that had people eating 11 servings of white bread, white pasta and rolls and croissants and other so-called grains. And because of the government's war on fat, we all thought as long as we bought fat-free doughnuts and sweets, we were eating healthily. And Americans continued to get fatter and fatter. And sicker and sicker.

So, no I don't want the government telling us how to eat. And that's why I will fight against attempts by the government to do so. Telling SNAP recipients that they can only buy certain foods with their food stamps is a move in the wrong direction by allowing government more say over what we eat. You know that if this FDA regulation goes through, that cow's milk would be on the healthy okay to buy side and nut milks would be off the list. The government would give in to the dairy industry and SNAP recipients would not be allowed to buy nut milks with their benefits.

The fight needs to be through informing people at a more individual level. Change needs to happen person by person. It needs to happen because the person wants to change, not because government is forcing change. If the dairy industry becomes successful in forcing through this change, then the meat industry will be next in demanding that only animal muscle be identified meat. Which I would be less adverse to because I don't believe there is anything particularly healthy about the fake meats that are out there. And I think true vegans should not be trying to imitate the taste of animals in their food choices.

But regardless of what I think on that, I don't think government should be dictating our food choices. We need to leave it up to each individual to learn to eat right. It's easy to pass laws and to sign executive orders. The hard work comes at the grassroots level of getting in there and teaching people why they should eat whole food, plant-based, helping them to learn how to do it and working to eliminate the food deserts that so many of them live in. That's the work that counts. That's what will bring meaningful change.