The Right to Choose

If you're reading my blog then you likely have chosen to eat whole plant-based foods for at least a significant part of your diet. Or you are considering it or you may be the recipient of a forwarded copy by one of my readers. And if you are such a recipient, that's likely because that reader of mine probably thinks that you have the ability to choose the foods you eat.

Is that important? I believe that it is on so many levels. First, on a basic human level, we all have certain inalienable rights to be ourselves. And to choose for ourselves. Not everybody will make wise choices, but perhaps through education and example, more people will. Everybody should have that choice though. But on a higher level, what we eat is probably one of the most significant choices we make in life.

You might say "Really?!?" Up there with choosing a life's partner or mate? And I would say "Yes, really!" Unless we get hit by a bus or die in some other kind of accidental situation, what we choose to eat will most likely determine when and how we die. That's not to say that eating right will never result in sickness or will always cause us to live a long life, but it will likely make us less sick and give us some longer life than if we didn't. What we choose to eat will affect the world we leave for our children and grandchildren. What we choose to eat has been stated to be the biggest determinant of climate change for example, far moreso than our petroleum-based culture. And the effects go on and on. What we choose to eat affects almost everything about our personal health, the health of the earth itself, our wealth or lack thereof, and possibly even the lifespan of the homo sapien species (not to be dramatic but there are scenarios where our eating habits can wipe us out).

And yet, most humans don't have that basic right to choose what they eat. Most humans can't eat healthy because they don't have that choice. We don't see that because we think we live around people who do have that choice. I'll show in a minute how even that is not true though.

Perhaps the only people we know who don't have a choice are children. In the end, children are beholden to their parents for what their parents feed them. And therein lies one of the biggest problems in creating a world in which people eat more whole plant-based foods. If the parents aren't eating well, and aren't teaching their children to eat well, then the children don't eat well and they don't grow up learning to eat well.

And that perpetuates the culture that we live in where many see it as freaky to be vegan for example. We can't blame people for thinking that because that's what we've all learned practically from birth. I thought that myself. That's how I was taught, not just by my parents, but also by the schools I attended, my teachers, my peer group, etc. It's hard to break out of that culture.

In addition to children, there are the poor and others who live in so-called "food deserts." Reasonably priced fruits and vegetables are not readily available to these people. Sometimes to find good fruits and vegetables, the poor need to travel and that too incurs costs. Because of the high costs and the lack of food nearby, the poor really lack the ability to choose healthy foods.

And to me, at least in this country, that's a crime because our government subsidizes the meat and dairy industries but not the fruit and vegetable industries or the organic foods industries. As a result, it appears to be expensive to buy fruits and vegetables, when in actuality, if the consumer paid the full costs for items at the grocery store, fruits and vegetables would not seem to be expensive.

So the poor are another group who lack the ability to choose.

And a third group lacking the ability to choose are the under-educated when it comes to food. And I don't mean educated in terms of just knowing that plant-based foods are better for us than animal-based foods. Most people are actually aware of that. But what people don't know is maybe the extent to which the health benefits are so much better. What people also don't know is how much the food they choose to eat affects the environment, the national debt, the level of violence in our society, the pain and suffering that animals go through and so on. I do believe that if more people really knew these things and knew the facts, they would not continue to eat the way they do. I do think people would make better choices.

And when I say under-educated, I'm not talking about the less schooled. There are many very highly educated folks, PhDs and Harvard graduates if you will, who also know a lot about nutrition but still are under-educated in terms of eating well. A good example of that is the people who eat grass-fed livestock. Yes, grass-fed is better from a health standpoint than is corn-fed factory-bred livestock. You don't necessarily get the hormones and the antibiotics that you get from eating other animals. And that's a good thing.

But that's no answer to the bigger problems associated with eating animal products. From a health standpoint, while some issues have been addressed, there's still the issues of it being animal protein and of it having saturated fats. And there's still the issue that whatever calories are consumed from eating animal protein are calories that are not being eaten containing all the wonderful nutrients and phytochemicals available in plant-based foods. But beyond personal health, there's also the environmental and sustainability issues of grass-fed animal products.

For example, the biggest problem causing climate change is not carbon dioxide. It's methane. And 40% of global methane emissions are the result of animal agriculture.  And grass-fed bovines emit 50 to 60% more methane than do grain-fed bovines according to Dr. Oppenlander. So, switching to grass-fed animal foods only hastens the effects of climate change. And the other issue with grass-fed animal foods is sustainability. As it is, animal agriculture already requires more land than any other single human enterprise on earth. And grass-fed animal agriculture requires even more land. There isn't enough land on this earth for everybody to eat grass-fed meat.

So, even those of us in the middle class and those in the upper classes of society also lack the ability to choose because we have not been properly educated in the overall impacts to ourselves and the world around us by how we choose to eat. And so, our only consciousness around eating is our taste buds. And maybe some knowledge that we should eat less and include some salad or veggies with our meals. But what would be our choices if we really knew the big picture?

If our choices would be different after knowing the big picture, then we haven't really been freely choosing our meals in the past. We were coerced through parental training, peer pressure, food company advertisements, friends and family and our own taste buds to eat in a way that would be contrary to a more knowledge-based way of eating.

From that perspective, almost everybody lacks the freedom to choose. But we can make that leap. We can choose to eat differently as a result of what we learn. I know. I know because I've done it.

J Lanning Smith
April 15, 2016