Becoming more plant-based happened gradually and intuitively as I worked on becoming a more conscious human being, and became more concerned about maintaining good health entering my 40’s.
I saw too many older loved ones taking a myriad of pills for various chronic health issues like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Many died from stroke, cancer, and heart attack.
I decided to be preventative versus reactive with my health.
Going vegan was too much of a drastic change for me, so I went Flexitarian aiming for an 80/20 split of animals/plants in my diet which works out to 4 meals with meat out of your 21 meals for the week. That was a doable goal.
After 5 years, I got to eating meat about as much as I ate cheesecake, rarely. In September 2016, I started a 100 day meat-free challenge that I ended up doing for 365 days straight. This was my first year meat-free, and I decided to keep going into year 2 mainly because I feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually eating plant-based.
I’m all about progress versus perfection. Start where you can. Do your best. Be patient with yourself.
The Filipino in me isn’t quite ready to give up my mom’s home cooking. Although she no longer uses meat in some of my favorite dishes like Mungo beans and Pinakbet, she still uses patis, fish sauce.
I am enjoying discovering new foods, and new ways of cooking favorite foods 100% plant-based. In the photo at the top of this post is a vegan Filipino meal I cooked using jackfruit to make a shredded pork-like adobo with pancit Bihon, veggie lumpia, and garlic rice. Masarap!
Admittedly, I was a consumer who consciously didn’t want to know any details of my meat’s life or death.
I was comfortable in the illusion I held of happy cows, pigs, and chickens grazing in open green fields on old McDonald’s farm like these piglets here. I had no idea how factory farms worked and how they impacted people, animal, and planet.
I decided it was time to take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Stepping into the realities of factory farms was honestly like watching a real life horror film.
I was most shocked to learn that 99% of farm animals raised in the U.S. are raised in factory farms. I had no idea it was that high.
You don’t have to be vegan to get how messed up and appalling the factory farm system is. Factory farms are a result of Americans meat gluttony, and the meat industry’s drive to continuously grow economically.
Per capita per year, Americans eat the most meat in the world.
In 2016, Americans ate on average 214 lbs of meat per capita which breaks down into Chicken at 106 lbs, Beef/Veal at 55 lbs, Pork at 51 lbs, and Sheep at 2 lbs. ~ 2016 edition of OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook For perspective, in India, the average meat consumption per person is 10 lbs for the whole year.
It was excruciating watching videos inside factory farms, and astounding to learn that what I was seeing was actually legal like this list of, “10 Things That Happen to Farmed Animals Every Day That You Won’t Believe are Legal.” On the positive, the National Dairy FARM Animal Care Program of which 98% of the U.S. milk supply is enrolled, implemented the stopping of routine tail docking of dairy animals as of January 1, 2017.
I said I wanted the truth. I took as much as I could, and then, I had enough.
Enough to convince me that the true price I was paying to eat meat was not worth it. More so, I was horrified to learn the truth of what my meat purchases were contributing to.
But it didn’t stop there.
I also felt compelled to do something to help shine light on factory farming, this massive global systematic problem that is negatively impacting people, animal, and planet. The Flexi 21 was born.
People stop eating meat for various reasons. Here are the top 5 things that motivated me to stop eating meat.
Industrial animal agriculture is the single most destructive industry on the planet
Read this eye opening piece from the Georgetown University Environmental Law Review, “A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on,” because it will give you a good 1,000 foot view and it’s truly harrowing.
Climate change. Ocean dead zones. Fisheries depletion. Species extinction. Deforestation. World hunger. Food safety. Heart disease. Obesity. Diabetes. The list goes on.
I want off this trainwreck.
This is a hog factory farm in North Carolina flooded by hurricane Floyd. And yes, that is hog crap literally floating to surrounding communities where people live. The manure lagoons sometimes the size of football fields are filled with animal waste, chemical pollutants, bacteria, and parasites.
Imagine the smell. Yikes!
image from Union of Concerned Scientists, “Impacts After the Flood: As Midwest Waters Recede, Health Threats Remain.“
Here are more aerial shots of factory farms so you can see a bigger picture of how manure is collected in these lagoons. It’s astonishing. According to Food and Water Watch’s, “Factory Farm Nation – 2015 Edition,” report:
“Factory-farmed livestock produced 369 million tons of manure in 2012, about 13 times as much as the sewage produced by the entire U.S. population. This 13.8 billion cubic feet of manure is enough to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium 133 times. Unlike sewage produced in cities, manure on factory farms does not undergo any wastewater treatment.”
This is straight up disgusting and has gotten health hazard written all over it. I enjoy bacon but it’s not worth that.
Can you be a meat eating progressive?
In a Rich Roll podcast, musician and vegan activist Moby brought up this question and it got me thinking.
It would make sense to be vegan if you are a progressive because progressives are against oppression, exploitation, and corporate greed which are all represented in the factory farm system.
Historically, progressives are the ones who are the first to enlighten society about the wrongness of what is happening socially like the abolitionists, suffragists, feminists, and civil rights activists who were seen as extreme at the time but whose efforts led to the end of slavery, the end of women not being able to vote, and the end of interracial and same-sex couples not being able to marry.
Animal activists may very well lead us to see the end of slaughtering animals for food.
Other social issues tied to factory farms include environmental racism and injustice, and worker labor abuse. I never even thought about the people who worked in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants and how doing that job impacts them emotionally, psychologically and physically. Abroad in Asia where we import plenty of seafood there is widespread slavery, forced labor of migrant workers, child labor, trafficking and violence on fishing boats and in onshore food processing units.
In the movie, “What the Health,” the most heartbreaking part of the movie was the interviews of people living near a hog factory farm in North Carolina. A young black grandmother spoke of the heartbreaking loss of loved ones who got cancer and died too soon.
Here is a really good interview that TYT did with Moby, Nathan Runkle, the Founder of Mercy for Animals, and NBA championship player John Salley about vegan activism which includes quite a bit discussion about climate change and the environment. Moby expands more about progressive values and animal rights and justice.
When I started to see the disconnects between my politics and food choices, what became glaring was that my meat purchases were economically supporting systems ruled by corporatist greed and monopolistic behavior that I am opposed to – factory farms, Big GMO, and Big Pharma. Now add meatpacking to my list. Did you know that only four corporations control the meatpacking industry? They are Tyson, Cargill, JBS (a Brazil based conglomerate), and Smithfield Foods.
When the progressive in me thinks about any of my money going to help raise the stock prices of these greedy industries who think nothing of making profits at the expense of people, animal, and planet, I quickly stop me in my tracks. NO more.
Big GMO profits substantially from our meat and dairy purchases
Every consumer has a corporation they despise. For me, it’s Monsanto. In fact, my loathing of Monsanto is how I got involved in food activism in the first place. I helped campaign for GMO Labeling laws and marched against Monsanto.
I never made the connection before that my meat purchases were contributing to Big GMO’s billions in profits because of factory farms. In this episode of VICE on HBO, “Meathooked & End of Water” skip to minute 11:54 and you will see an aerial view from a small airplane of large corn crop circles adjacent to one of the largest cattle factory farms in Colorado. It’s eerie to see from the air.
On a side note related to my previous discussion above on North Carolina hog factory farms, go to minute 8:00 of Meathooked and you will see video both on land and in the air of the hog factory farms and their manure lagoons. This too is eerie.
Corn and soy are the two largest crops produced in the U.S. 92% of all corn, and 94% of all soy grown in the U.S. is GMO. Monsanto controls 80% of the GM corn market, and 93% of the GM soy market. In 2016, Monsanto had net sales of $13.5 billion.
In 2011, the USDA approved under controversy GMO alfalfa which is used primarily as food for dairy cows, and is the 4th largest crop grown in the U.S. Monsanto is the industry leader in GMO alfalfa. In 2016, USDA research found that because of cross contamination 25% of wild alfalfa is now GMO.
If I can help it, not one penny of mine is going to Big GMO.
The white cow
Let me introduce you to Ella, my white cow friend who I find enchanting among a herd of brown cows that roam our suburban hills for 2 months every year. I would see Ella every week during my runs and soon became emotionally attached.
I came upon this YouTube video called, “The White Cow” about a medical doctor who visited a local slaughterhouse. The doctor captured what a humane slaughter looks like.
The white cow clip is only 4 minutes long and mostly depicts the brief ill-fated relationship between the doctor and the sweet white cow she befriends. The last 45 seconds is a quick edit of the slaughter process, and it’s straight forward.
I saw my sweet, playful Ella in that slaughterhouse. You see the last look in this sweet cow’s face before they bring her onto the kill stage, and I imagined Ella and I lost it. Crying hard.
I thought to myself, “If you cannot bear to watch the humane slaughter of a cow, why are you eating their meat?”
I finally understood my vegan friends who would say that there is no such thing as a “humane slaughter.” I totally get it now.
The word humane means “showing compassion or benevolence, an act of kindness.” The actual kind thing to do is spare the life of a perfectly healthy cow who doesn’t want to die in the first place.
The term ‘humane meat’ is similar to saying clean coal or responsible fracking. It’s a marketing term to make us feel better about the real truth. Yes, the animal did live a better life than their factory farm counterparts but in the end, they still die an unwilling death.
These animals trusted us to take care of them, and in the end we betray that trust. I realized that uncomfortableness I was feeling was my soul and head in disagreement with each other, which was easily fixed by stopping my participation in the death cycle of all the other Ellas and her kin.
The plant-based foods are definitely delicious and feel better in my body
I’m a visual person so I like bright colors and fun textures in my food. To transition to eating more plant-based, I focused on eating the colors of the rainbow in the form of vegetables, fruits, and grains. Many nutritionists recommend eating the rainbow as a way to get in your daily needs of nutrients and fiber.
When I was younger, I ate mostly rice, meats, breads, cheese, potatoes, and pasta. I ate vegetables only as condiments like lettuce and tomato on a turkey sandwich. If I did a collage of the foods I ate back then, the colors would be mostly brown, beige, and white with orange for cheese and red for tomato pasta sauce.
Today, I eat like this.
The more I ate colorful foods like this, the more my palate changed on its own and started craving this food. Here is a sample of what I eat currently.
- Bok choy with bulgur, shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes cooked in vegan chicken broth
- Roasted acorn squash with Harissa sauce, red quinoa salad, marinated mushrooms and green salad
- Forager Project cherry yogurt blended with organic banana topped with figs, granola and cherries
- Red Domingo heirloom beans with ginger, turmeric brown Jasmine rice, grilled Jimmy Nardello sweet peppers and chopped Early Girl tomatoes.
- Butternut squash risotto with English peas and cremini mushrooms
Looks delicious right?! I do not miss meat at all.
Seeing this photo of a cow and her horse bestie at a sanctuary farm knowing they will live long lives lovingly cared for brings me joy.
There was a time when eating turkey on Thanksgiving, lechon at the family gathering, and noshing on the famous Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich brought me joy. Now, no more.
I came to realize that eating animals is no longer in energetic alignment with who I am. I no longer feel good physically, emotionally, and mentally eating animals. I feel better and stronger eating plant-based.
This synopsis about Jonathan Foer’s book, “Eating Animals” sums it up for me.
“When one supports factory farming, one is relinquishing the importance of certain moral behavior to animals, and in turn, to humans as well. For example, if one denies the importance of the suffering of an animal, one denies the importance of the ability to suffer in and of itself, so it follows that one denies the importance of suffering for humans. In a similar chain of logic, Foer connects our treatment of animals to our treatment of humans―we dichotomize between those who matter and those who do not. Consequently, each food choice an individual makes is an ethical one that profoundly impacts both human and non-human animals.”