Staying Healthy

Our friends at V-lish have an important section, Ask the Dietician, where Ginny Messina, the world’s leading V-licious Registered Dietician, answers readers’ questions. Her recent post is about meeting nutritional needs while following a compassionate diet:

If you’re leaning toward a more plant-based diet, you might feel a little uncertain about meeting your nutrient needs. Don’t worry – you can get everything you need from a V-licious diet. But if it’s new territory for you, these seven guidelines can help.

1. Eat at least three servings per day of legumes. This is a big food group that includes not just beans, but also peanuts and peanut butter, tofu, soymilk, and all types of veggie meats (including burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and chick’n nuggets). These foods will ensure that you get plenty of protein without any extra effort.

2. Eat at least eight servings per day of fruits and vegetables. Include dark green leafy vegetables and bright orange vegetables for vitamin A and plenty of vitamin C-rich choices such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. When you’re in a hurry, use frozen or canned vegetables — they’re just as good for you.

3. Emphasize whole grains over refined ones, and if you like them, include some whole-grain bread and sprouted grains in meals. They are especially good sources of the minerals iron and zinc.

4. Include healthy fats in your diet. Nuts and seeds can help you meet needs for zinc while also lowering your risk for heart disease. Make sure you’re getting enough of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) by eating a small serving of ground flaxseeds, walnuts, or canola oil every day.

5. Meet calcium needs by choosing calcium-rich veggies (kale, collards, turnip greens, bok choy), calcium-set tofu, soy nuts, tempeh, fortified plant milks or yogurt, fortified juice, dried figs, almonds, or tahini.

6. Take appropriate supplements. As you move toward a mostly or completely V-licious diet, you’ll need 25 to 100 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day (choose the cyanocobalamin form of this vitamin). If you don’t get plenty of sun exposure (without sunscreen), take a vitamin D supplement. And if you don’t use a few shakes of iodized salt on your food every day, a supplement of iodine can be a good idea.

7. Keep the focus on whole plant foods, but leave room for convenience and treats. Some gently processed foods can help you meet nutrient needs and make your healthy, compassionate diet easier to stick with for the long term.

For more on meeting nutrient needs with ease, see my Plant Plate food guide.

Faith in Change

-Gene Baur

Throughout recorded history, religious institutions have grappled with major ethical matters while addressing fundamental questions about our place in the universe. Religious and spiritual leaders are seen as moral authorities and have been an influential force, sometimes defending the status quo and sometimes ushering in new understandings and change.

Members of the religious community are often at the center of highly charged debates when existing world views are challenged. Different religious leaders, each citing the divine, have taken opposing positions on contentious topics. Incendiary rhetoric can ensue, as was the case when slavery was debated in the U.S. Congress in the mid-1800s. In his book, Arguing About Slavery, William Lee Miller outlines how anti-slavery activists were demonized: “Who were these foul murderers, bloodhounds, incendiaries, agitators, instigators of midnight murder? These disturbers of our peace and enemies of our lives and liberties? These cold-hearted, base, malignant libelers and calumniators? These knowing accessories to murder, robbery, rape, and infanticide? In short, who were these fiends of hell? Churchwomen, mostly. Churchwomen and preachers, and Quakers, and a few teachers and lawyers and journalists – a powerless and marginal handful of practitioners of a new sort of reform.” (p. 65) These churchwomen and their cohorts took the side of the exploited against the powerful, and ultimately succeeded in changing people’s hearts and minds.

The positions and teachings of religious and faith-based organizations evolve over time and they reflect changes in our society which occur when injustice and cruelty are called out and challenged. For years, the factory farming industry has perpetrated various misdeeds, hidden from public view. It treats animals like inanimate commodities to be exploited, and most citizens have unwittingly supported this systemic abuse by purchasing meat, milk, and eggs. But with increasing awareness about factory farming, we are now in the midst of a burgeoning food movement. People oppose animal cruelty and they are seeking to make choices that are better aligned with their values.

As citizens wrestle with moral questions surrounding our food choices, the religious community will be engaged. If you are involved with a faith-based group, please consider raising these concerns for deeper discussion. Our relationship with other animals is an important moral issue, and it is time for the abomination of factory farming to become a thing of the past.

The Essence of Earth Day: Equitable Ethics vs. Easy Environmentalism

It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves.

It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.
—Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

Many people express concern for the environment, and believe Earth Day is a good opportunity to draw attention to various issues. Sadly, yet not surprisingly, Earth Day has become largely a meaningless event, with just about everyone from the strictest vegan to the largest multinational corporation claiming to support “the Earth.”

But of course, the planet itself – the mass that circles the Sun – is in no danger. There is no way we can destroy a hunk of rock that weighs 13,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds. (That’s 13 septillion pounds.)

Let me emphasize this point again, as it has generated about as much angry feedback as anything I’ve ever written: “How can you say the Earth is in no danger?? What about fisheries’ collapse/ atmospheric pollution/ rainforest destruction/ topsoil erosion???”

But none of these are “the Earth.”

The oceans could empty and the atmosphere blow away, and the planet would still exist.

Only the razor-thin biosphere matters, because it is where we and our fellow feeling beings reside.

This indicates what really matters. The bottom line is the lives of sentient beings.

This is not something most people want to face, though. To avoid considering all our fellow creatures – and the implications that would have for our personal lives – many simply proceed as if any and every environmental problem were equally pressing, and anything “green” equally commendable.

When you look at what has become of “environmentalism” in the U.S., the emphasis tends to be either on the feel-good-about-ourselves (“I recycled!” “I bought a hybrid!”), or on condemning the “other” (“British Petroleum is evil!” “The government must do something about global warming!”). The avoidance of an honest, meaningful analysis of the fundamental bottom line isn’t surprising. It is much simpler to parrot slogans, follow painless norms such as recycling, vilify faceless corporations, and demand that the government take action.

All of this makes it easy to continue the status quo and still feel smugly green and good.

Personal “environmentalism” is often nothing more than an expression of self-interest, just another laundry list of “we want.” We want to feel good about ourselves for doing relatively painless things. We want charismatic megafauna to entertain us. We want wild spaces for our use. We want clean air and water for our children.

But ethics aren’t a question of what “we want.” We can be truly thoughtful individuals and go beyond personal preferences, feel-good campaigns, and the vilification of faceless others. We can each recognize that sayings and slogans are superficial, intentions and ideology irrelevant.

What matters isn’t this rock we call Earth. What matters are the sentient beings who call this rock home. We can’t care about “the environment” as though it is somehow an ethically relevant entity in and of itself. Rather, what matters are the impacts our choices have for our fellow feeling beings.

In the end, all that matters are the consequences our actions have for all animals.

All creatures – not just wild or endangered animals – desire to live free from suffering and exploitation.

Cruelty is wrong, whether the victim is an eagle or a chicken, a wolf or a pig. The rest is just noise and obfuscation.

We simply can’t consider ourselves ethical if we make choices that lead to more suffering for these creatures. And the greatest amount of suffering on Earth is caused when we choose to eat animals instead of a cruelty-free alternative.

A compassionate diet is a statement against “we want.” It is the embodiment of a consistent, universal ethic. Choosing to live with compassion is a real choice with real consequences – a way to oppose and actively reduce violence, to make the world a truly better place for all. When we choose to live consistently and ethically, we can look in the mirror, knowing we are good people making choices that won’t lead to more suffering for our fellow feeling beings.

But we know that our food choices are only the beginning. There are many further opportunities to make the world a better place. Even if our food choices aren’t directly causing animals to be slaughtered, our other choices – optimizing our example, time, and resources to have the greatest impact – have consequences even more important than what we eat.

This is why we are so honored to work with all of you, who recognize that every day is a day to make a real difference.

-Matt Ball
Director of Engagement and Outreach