“Is it just a coincidence that as the portion of our income spent on food has declined, spending on health care has soared? In 1960 Americans spent 17.5 percent of their income on food and 5.2 percent of national income on health care. Since then, those numbers have flipped: Spending on food has fallen to 9.9 percent, while spending on heath care has climbed to 16 percent of national income. I have to think that by spending a little more on healthier food we could reduce the amount we have to spend on heath care.”
Michael Polan, In Defense of Food
I recently spoke to a woman in France who just had a holiday in the US. She told me that she was much surprised to arrive in the US and find that there were a lot of fruits and vegetables available to her in the hotel and in restaurants. I nearly bit my tongue in half as I politely asked her why she was surprised. She explained that Europeans have the perception that Americans only eat hamburgers and fries. I was irritated but did my best to be diplomatic as I reminded her that the US has a huge agricultural sector. Perhaps my irritation and defensive stance came from the fact that I have heard this repeatedly from European friends. It also came from the acknowledgement that on some level, they are correct. It is even more so in the Midwest.
The Journal of American Medicine notes that 78.6 Million Americans are obese. Those numbers have more than doubled since 1960. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention refers to the situation as, “Common, serious and costly”. It also states that in 2008 the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion.
After a particularly difficult season with asthma, I visited an allergist. His advice to me was not to take more medication but to reduce stress and exercise more. Then he asked me what my ancestors ate. I said, “Fish, rice, fruits and vegetables.” He responded by saying, “That’s what you should be eating. Eliminate processed foods and stop eating meat”. I haven’t had an asthmatic episode that required medical attention since.
I no longer eat “land animals” and I am beginning to question my consumption of fish. I don’t impose my eating habits on my husband and children. They continue to eat meat but they eat a lot less. I wouldn’t dream of telling others that they too should be meatless. However, there is every reason to believe that reducing meat consumption could benefit the nation as a whole.
Reducing meat consumption in the US would help accomplish the following:
Reduce Green House Gases – Beef in particular produces 30 kg of greenhouses gas per kg of food
Minimize Water Usage – Livestock require significantly more water than vegetables and grains
Reduce Fuel Usage – About 25 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy is used to produce 1 kilocalorie of all meat based protein
Curb obesity – a reduction in meat consumption can result in lower weight and body mass
The Fight Against Type II Diabetes – researchers believe that lower meat consumption can reduce the odds of developing type II diabetes
Reduce Cancer Risk – Numerous studies indicate that diets high in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cancer
Lower Odds for Heart Disease– Replacing foods high in saturated fats with foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fats can reduce the odds of heart disease by 19%.
Reduce World Hunger – In an article recently published in the New York Times, Dr. Dean Ornish wrote, “It takes as much as 10 times more grain to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, eating a plant-based diet could free up resources for the hungry”.
Having given up meat, I often feel challenged to enjoy the variety of foods that I once did. In addition, some of the cultural events of my upbringing was very food centered and the sense of community involved in cooking and entertaining felt lacking. I recently found a product that I could use to substitute meat that I have found to be very useful. It is also made in Kansas City. This of course, is a major win-win in my book.
Mean Vegan Products
Last week I met with Stephanie Shelton and Shawn Mock of Mean Vegan Products. In 2010 Stephanie and Shawn began eating a plant based diet. They began experimenting with recipes and found that Jackfruit could serve as a great meat substitute in tamales. They tried their hand at selling them at First Fridays or Art Festivals where they were selling their art they found that it was successful and customers were returning for more. Today Mean Vegan Products can be found in over 30 supermarkets in Kansas City and Lawrence. Mean Vegan is growing, in demand and will soon outgrow their production space!
Jackfruit is a fruit that grows on trees that are native to southeast Asia. Though it can be ripened and eaten as a fruit, in southeast Asian countries it is used in curries, soups and as pastry fillings. Though it is sometimes confused with Durian due to the resemblance, smelly durian is not even related. A less ripe jackfruit has a savory flavor and a texture that is similar to chicken. It is high in fiber and low in calories.
Shawn and Stephanie spoke a lot about the ideology that is often associated with vegan and vegetarianism. Shawn said that he felt that vegans and vegetarians sometimes attach a attitude of purism that doesn’t really bode well with other eating styles. “In some cases people have created a air of arrogance related to eating, that is really unnecessary” he said, “The important thing is that people learn to eat more consciously. I don’t want to tell people that they shouldn’t eat meat. I’d just like for them to consider eating less meat”.
Mean Vegan has a range of products which include their Saucy Jack Tamales, Kansas City Jack Barbeque, Funguy Jerky and Smokey Herbed Chick-un all are delicious and hold countless possibilities.
One of my favorite sandwiches has always been tuna salad. During our visit Stephanie made me a Toona Salad sandwich using the Smokey Herbed Chick-un.
This is Stephanie’s recipe –
Combine one package of thawed Chick-Un with 1/4 Cup of Mayonnaise, 2 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish, I Tablespoon Dijon musturd and 1/4 cup soaked, chopped Wakame seaweed.
Serve with fresh vegetables of your choice as a sandwich or as a wrap.
I can’t speak enough about the value of supporting our local economy and that goes hand in hand with knowing the origin of the meat that we eat and the health benefits of doing so. Prior to World War II, we had a much closer relationship to the foods that we ate. We began feeding livestock corn to fatten animals earlier which helped to meet the demands of a booming population. We began adding anti-biotics and growth hormones to feeds as a cheap way to increase the growth rate. Reducing meat consumption can help protect the environment and our personal health. The benefit of eating a mostly plant based diet offers endless benefits to ourselves, our nation and to the rest of the world. The further we have traveled from the origin of our food, the fatter we have become as a nation. It is not a coincidence.