Yam or ham?

by Terry Oliver on September 1, 2012

The politics of food is getting increasing  publicity this  last year, what with droughts, crop failures and food shortages and it finally hit home with me while on holiday and visiting friends in the Gulf  Islands.  One of them showed us a documentary film entitled, appropriately enough,  EATING.

It brought together for me, a potent cocktail of reasons to change my eating habits and as a result to change my way of life. The main point it was making was that eating a plant-based diet and not eating animals or animal products like eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, etc had all sorts of ramifications, political, environmental, social and health ones.

There is nothing new about vegetarianism, of course and most of us have heard of vegans – just different levels of cranks and flakes, right? But when you add in the manipulation of giant agribusiness, political corruption by chemical and pharmaceutical corporations, social epidemics like obesity and diabetes, environmental devastation of rainforests for beef and oceans polluted with plastic and plundered of remaining fish and finally of deteriorating levels of health in western developed countries from heart disease, strokes and cancer; –  can they really all be traced back to our western animal-based as opposed to plant-based eating habits?

The film documentary EATING says yes and makes a powerful case for switching to a plant-based diet for all of the above reasons. It systematically demolishes all the arguments and PR propaganda put forward by all the vested interests from agribusiness to Monsanto and big pharma. The dairy, poultry and beef industries with their powerful lobby interests are now mostly controlled by a handful of huge corporations that the average person is not even aware of, as they hide their monopoly control from the public behind an array of different brand names to conceal their identity.

The film makers back up their claims for switching to a plant-based diet by citing impeccable authorities and experts and statistics, which are hard to dismiss.  For me and the people I’ve spoken to so far, who have seen EATING, the arguments are powerful and convincing.  Convincing enough to change my diet and try to avoid eating animals and fish and switch to plants instead. I’m reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s comment, as a life-long vegetarian, to the famed actress Ellen Terry, that she would be an even greater actor if only she would give up eating dead cows.

Everybody has their own reasons for eating what they do.  My reasons are a mix of a lot of the above arguments combined with my own awareness of my deteriorating mental and physical health. Part of this can be written off as simply the aging process – but not all of it. Both my partner and I feel that we are going downhill faster than we care to and want to do something to, if not arrest, to at least slow down the process.

Accordingly we have agreed to try an experiment in plant-based eating. We have cleaned out our fridges of any traces of animal products so we won’t be tempted to backslide and replaced them with only fresh, organic vegetables and veggie-based substitutes. Fortunately at this time of the annual harvest, it is no hardship to eat fresh, crisp salads,  succulent sweet corn and juicy plump fruit from local farms and farmers’ markets.

And we can make the  transition easier by using substitutes like veggie burgers, soya or rice milk, soya ice cream and even ‘fakey bacon’ as my daughter called it when she became vegetarian years ago.  And a daughter-in-law has given us the newest vegetarian/vegan cookery book ‘pour encourager les autres‘, as the French say.

And speaking of the French, we are developing a strategy for eating out – in restaurants and at, or with friends. In restaurants we will veer towards Asian and away from Western or European ones, boycott all fast food outlets, bar none and learn to drink our tea and coffee black. With friends, we will follow our parents’ admonition and eat what is put in front of us without comment to avoid becoming irritating, holier-than-thou guests, preaching to the unconverted. Instead we’ll pretend we’re indulging in sinful delights.

But in the privacy of our own homes we will practice our new eating habits and become closet vegetarians, cooking exotic Indian and Asian curries, Moroccan and African spicy veggie stews and Mexican chilis and bean tacos.

And we will watch each other out of the corners of our eyes, to see if we notice any change for the better, both mentally and physically. We will also watch the film documentary EATING from time to time, just to remind ourselves why we are making this experiment.

But it is Saturday morning and now I must go to the local Farmers’ Market before all the best sweet corn is gone. They’re getting awfully crowded these days. I wonder why?

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