Are you an urban, sophisticated, socially conscious, plant-based, quinoa-loving bleeding heart? Or are you a red-state, outdoorsy, rebellious carnivore, prioritizing red meat over fruits and vegetables and drinking a gallon of milk daily? What used to be simply a question of health has increasingly brought with it political baggage. What you put into your body—the most important decision you can make regularly in your life—has become a way of expressing political allegiance at the expense of health. Companies once in the business of simply selling food now sell moral superiority and social standing—hot commodities in a country divided into two clean, outraged halves.
NEO-VEGETARIANS: THE MULCHMUNCHERS
As younger generations become more aware of the immediate dangers to our world and bodies, what we consume has become a major concern. Many companies are pushing for “plant-based” diets, featuring marketing that encourages anyone who fancies themselves an empath or environmentalist to forgo meat in favor of new meat-like substitutes. The form of these replacements varies. From mycoprotein (protein from mushrooms) to legumes, to every restaurant’s favorite: high protein legumes pulverized into goo and emulsified with the ever-mysterious “vegetable oil”, the one thing all these replacements have in common is that they are definitely not meat. This type of diet has found its home in urban areas, especially on the coasts.
Instead of doing the thinking required to glean proper nutrition from a plant-based diet, people simply buy mass-marketed, cheaply made substitutes for the meat and dairy products they are used to. In fact, plant-based meat, dairy, and egg substitutes have seen sales increase 27% in the last year, growing at twice the rate of food products overall. Companies like Oatly and Beyond Beef push these products as “the moral choice” while ignoring the immorality of selling incomplete nutrition to the public.
These substitutes are not supplying our new vegetarians and “plant-based” eaters with the nutrients they used to diligently monitor to achieve proper nutrition. Adherents of these very modern diets consistently miss out on necessary proteins, B-vitamins, iron, selenium, iodine, taurine, and more; causing widespread lethargy, anxiety, and digestive issues. At the same time, many of the popular vegan and vegetarian meat and dairy replacements aren’t made of whole foods that our bodies have spent centuries learning to digest, but instead, of seed oils and unsaturated fats that make a home in our intestinal tract and turn into a sticky waste product that stays in our bodies.
This has created a divide between what I will refer to as “mulchmunchers” and classical vegetarians. Knowing this, what is a health-conscious, planet-loving young person to do? How could these large companies and restaurants poison and knowingly malnourish us in this way?
REBELS WITHOUT A CAUSE
Enter the equal-and-opposite reaction: “Plants are poison and I’ll eat a cow whole. Why aren’t you drinking a gallon of milk a day?” You increasingly see this attitude in the spaces between our cities and coasts, accompanied by billboards stating “Nut Milk is Not Milk” and sardonic laughs at bacon cheeseburger barbecues. Going into a grocery store, reminders play over the loudspeakers, “Remember! Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins and nutrients that one cannot derive from animal products alone,” and the shoppers grumble. While an animal-based diet is feasible with a serving of raw liver every week, most advocates of the carnivore diet are not managing this important aspect of health, preferring instead to simply move along and preach the gospel, crushing bags of beef jerky and grilling every weekend.
Food companies are not missing out on this market: between 2019 and 2020, advertising expenditures for prepared meat products nearly tripled. Eating animal products, and only animal products, began as a rebellion against these mulchmunchers, but has evolved, like any movement, into just another tidy demographic to market to: not healthy carnivores, but meatheads. Influencers like CarnivoreMD and Shawn Baker profit greatly from this demographic through the sale of merchandise. Fast food companies promise meat on top of meat accompanied by a faux working-class man’s voiceover. The carnivore movement, as it's known among adherents, now accepts advertising from companies they believe are “on their side” while its adherents miss out on fiber and vitamins A and C, overeating fats and cholesterol that would have been healthy in moderation with significant physical activity. This leaves our meathead rebels suffering from chronic obesity and heart problems so prevalent that it's deserving of the label epidemic. And as the twin to the mulchmunchers diet, you can bet the malnourishment is leaving some serious junk meathead intestines, draining vitality over time.
A vegetarian or carnivore can be very healthy with whole foods, careful research, and planning meals. However, as these diets have become more politicized and therefore marketed, nutrition (objectively the key aspect of diet) has fallen to the wayside in favor of mean tweets, rhetoric, and “yass”ing corporations. They’ll thank you for the free advertising later.
HOW TO EAT IN THE CURRENT YEAR: THE THIRD PATH
Though it takes some work, avoiding poison and getting what you need from food is actually very simple. With firm social encampments on either side and fad diets galore, it’s hard to find honest information about what to eat. Luckily, there is plenty of history and previous research to draw from when it comes to nutrition.
Let’s first address the most prevalent scourge in our grocery stores: seed oils. The main issue with these is the very high omega-6 fatty acid content. Humans need both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but in a particular ratio. Historically, we have taken these fatty acids at a ratio of 1:1. In today’s diet, that ratio is closer to 20:1, leading to chronic inflammation and obesity — both common factors in prevalent illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. High omega-6 seed oils are nearly omnipresent in processed and prepared foods, due to their low price point in comparison to healthier oils like coconut, olive, or butter. They are soybean oil, corn oil, palm oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, and rice bran oil. I encourage readers to check out the ingredient lists on their foods and see how much of these they are consuming. You’ll soon find out why some are “shopping the perimeter of the grocery store.”
Beyond this one simple trick, the only other factor to consider in your diet is the actual nutrition you are taking in. This varies based on one’s activity level, activity type, and metabolic type. For example, someone who is lifting heavy objects regularly needs more protein than someone who works at a computer all day. Listen to your body! Sometimes, I find I am tired and apathetic despite getting enough sleep, exercise, and many nutrients. A quick scan of what I have eaten in the last 24 hours will reveal I haven’t had an ounce of vitamin C. For this reason, I keep some citrus in the house.
Many health-conscious readers will be aware of the “raw” trend. It is important to note that while some foods, like beef and dairy, provide far more nutrition raw as opposed to cooked, some vegetables will offer you far more with a light steaming or sauteing. A bit of heat will break down the cell walls of fruits and veggies like tomatoes, carrots, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, celery, green beans, and more—releasing some bonus nutrients anybody can make use of. Just don’t overdo it! If your vegetables are all looking brown and mushy, chances are you broke straight through those cell walls and moved on to scorching out your vitamins. That said, a bit of heat will provide a tradeoff—lessening some nutrients while releasing others—so consider what you require, and do a quick read-up on your crisper drawer.
Pasteurization is one such method of cooking that removes absolutely any vitamins, nutrients, and digestive enzymes one might like to have to make use of your food, in favor of a longer shelf-life. Many fruit juices today are no better than a Coke, providing high caloric intake and lots of processed sugars with no benefit. Milk and dairy products have calcium and vitamin D added in processing to avoid the difficult reality: raw milk is good for you. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get a hold of in some parts of the country. I will say, as someone who believed they were lactose intolerant until trying milk raw: start digging around, do some research, and try some. It is worth it. Here in Tennessee, “cow-share” agreements are a viable legal option. Also, in a funny double standard against the “human-grade food for pets” movement, one can generally find raw milk “for pets only” in most places. Let the natural pet store cashier know how much your dog loves it.
While multivitamins are the speedy answer for many, it is important to note that whole foods all contain the enzymes which your body needs to properly take in those vitamins, and packaged vitamins capsules or powders do not. Making yourself a cocktail of supplements every morning will not give you everything you need; probably just a lot of trips to the bathroom. This, combined with the fact that many vitamins on shelves today are already stale, means most are near useless. Not only that, but studies have been taking notice that an uptick in multivitamin consumption is also associated with a higher risk of cancer. So much for the easy way out, huh?
A LOT OF EFFORT
Reviewing everything stated here, there is a lot to keep track of when shopping for food, cooking food, and eating food. Here’s the break: you can do whatever you want, so don’t develop a complex. You can research your metabolic type, listen to your body’s needs, read ingredient lists, and look into what vitamins you need in what amounts. You can also vaguely follow a pretty good diet and enjoy the occasional Reese’s cup, adjusting for something specific when you feel you need it. Diet is a choice! It’s fantastic to be educated and do your best; more than can be said for many. So follow what feels good, read up when you want to, and make yourself a nice meal (or a pretty good meal) when you have the time. Your body is your temple, so don’t enlist it in someone else’s cult. And don’t try to drag mine into yours.