I love shopping at Asian markets because you can find so many cool different kinds of vegetables, starches, and fruits. But even for me being Filipino, I can find Asian markets intimidating or confusing because there is SO much selection there. I find it mind boggling how many varieties of bok choy there are which is awesome because bok choy is one of my favorite greens.
As another example, have you heard of Banana blossom? There is something inside the plant that is like hunting for Saffron. The leaves are also wonderful for use in salads.
This is a really good video with Chef Mike of Green Vegetarian Cuisine taking us on a tour of an Asian market where the owner of the market describes many of the fresh foods you’ll see and what kind of dishes each is traditionally used in or can be used in. For example, she’s made empanadas using Ube, a purple yam used in traditional Filipino dishes. Now I want to make Ube dessert empanadas.
One of my favorite points that Vanessa, the co-owner, makes is that Asian cuisine is loaded with greens for health because taking pills for health issues is not a big thing in Asia. So true! Better to eat from the Farmacy to prevent the need for visits to the Pharmacy for food related health issues.
So, load up on the greens because it’s better for your health and the planet!
If you haven’t heard of Project Drawdown, you must go check it out because it is the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. A diverse group of researchers from around the world came together to identify, research, and model the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.
Paul Hawken was the leader of Project Drawdown and he was a guest speaker at the March 7 session of the Edible Education 101 class at UC Berkeley to talk about Food and Climate. Jump in at the 12:45 minute mark for Paul’s intro.
Of particular interest here at The Flexi 21 is that in the Project Drawdown list the #4 out of 100 most impactful things we all can do to help stop climate change is to eat a plant-rich diet. From their summary:
“If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs.”
It’s pretty amazing to see just how much the Western meat-centric diet impacts climate change. Also of interest included in the Drawdown plant-rich diet summary:
$1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.
Ending price-distorting government subsidies benefiting the U.S. livestock industry would more accurately reflect the true cost and prices of animal protein.
The biggest thing I agreed with Paul in his talk was that the reason he thinks there isn’t more traction and momentum around climate change from consumers is that the overall messages used in the climate change narrative utilizes negative language, and imagery that most people cannot comprehend.
Exactly. The climate change story is centered around too much geekery. The talk is mostly about the gases Carbon, Methane, and Nitrogen Oxide which you cannot see and starts sounding more like we’re back in science class.
Also using the 2 degrees Celsius danger marker works mostly on people who fear future existential threats. Realistically, most people behave according to the now, their immediate needs, and are less concerned about the future or next generations. Sadly IMHO.
The climate change story should focus more on addressing current human needs, and the narrative needs to be more about things that humans can actually relate to like drought, hurricanes, pollution, and resource depletion. Things that can be seen, touched, and felt.
I also agree that we have to change the climate change narrative to one that is more empowering and based on love than fear. What that story is, I have no idea, but I’m happy to help join in the discussion. Project Drawdown is great because it’s a simple list of easily understood action items.
Normally, even for a plant-based eater, I cringe when I see PETA commercials because they usually go too far with the condemnation and gore. It doesn’t help the image of the vegan movement.
However, PETA is learning, and they created this commercial called, “Redemption” featuring Oscar nominated and Emmy winning actor James Cromwell as a priest giving confession to a meat industry marketing executive.
This one is worth watching because there are many truths about the marketing of meat, and the casting of Cromwell as the priest is brilliant! I would view this commercial as one of those “If priests said what they really want to,” or “if the meat industry really was honest.”
Most know James as an animal rights activist, and as an actor from the movie Babe where he played farmer Arthur Hoggett and was nominated for an Oscar. Doing Babe motivated James to go vegan. He won the Emmy for his role as Dr. Arthur Arden in American Horror Story. James has even played the Pope twice in the movies, “Pope Pius XII” and “Pope John Paul II.”
PETA wanted to buy air time for this commercial for the 2018 Super Bowl but were told they had to pay $10+ million up front before it was even considered. The going rate for Super Bowl ad spots is $5 million. You do the math here.
I think it’s also good to have some data to backup this Redemption commercial so consumers can have a better understanding with really how much they are being spun about the meat they buy.
Here are some of the facts:
The phrase “Humanely raised” is a marketing term. It’s subjective. There is no legal or federal definition of “humanely raised.” If you go to the USDA site’s section on food definitions, you will not find “humanely raised.” There are third party labels like “Certified Humane” but the standards for third party labeling are not federally determined or regulated.
There is not ONE federal law that protects farm animals during their life. Some states have their own laws. In fact, there are only four Animal Welfare laws at the federal level. Two of those four laws protect farm animals at the end of their life: the first one is called the 28-Hour Law which covers the animals during transport from farm to slaughter, and the second is the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act which surprisingly only covers cows, pigs, veal, and lamb but does not cover chickens, turkeys, ducks, or any other birds.
Broiler chickens raised in factory farms, the “healthy meat,” on average only live 6 weeks and are fed primarily a GMO corn and soy diet because it’s the cheapest protein along with synthetic amino acids that can help them grow the fastest in a short period of time. In human terms, that rotisserie chicken from the grocery store you are eating is a newborn. A regular chicken can live 20 years.
99% of farm animals in the US are raised in factory farms. In 2017, over 9 BILLION animals were slaughtered for food. That image of happy cows, chickens and pigs roaming in lush green open fields represents only 1% of meat which primarily comes from small family owned farms which are sadly struggling, going under or being bought out by the large meatpacking corporations.
Just FOUR corporations control the bulk of the US meatpacking industry: Tyson, JBS USA, Cargill, and Smithfield. Tyson on average slaughters 125,000 cows per week. This is the human population equivalent of the city of Berkeley, CA. Tyson has the capacity to slaughter 175,000 cows per week.
Our government is funding most commercials and marketing campaigns you see that feature beef, pork, dairy, and eggs through Commodity Check-off programs. There is not one Check-off program for vegetables, whole grains, or legumes (other than soy mostly for livestock feed). There is a check-off program for Christmas trees.
And lastly, when you hear someone go on about the “vegan agenda” remember there is no Big Kale, United Council of Veggie Burger Manufacturers, or the Concerned Scientists for Beans where meat, dairy, and eggs special interest groups spend millions of dollars on lobbying and contribute millions to political campaigns.
It’s not often I get excited about TV commercials, but I think this new advertising campaign from Silk featuring Olympic Gold mega-medalist Michael Phelps is awesome and a BIG deal.
Michael is not vegan or plant-based, but images of the person who has won the most Gold medals in the entire history of the Olympics is a strong and powerful message that plant-based milk does a body better.
This new Phelps campaign is also a big deal because it features two men. Silk is helping to change the perception that real men don’t drink plants. There is in fact a surge in pro athletes going vegan. Now, the main man in the commercial is not macho. In fact, he is the dad bod personified, but he wants to be healthier, be better. More people can relate to this guy’s story.
Meat and cows are often perceived as masculine, and plants are seen as more feminine. Marketing research has found that in the mainstream vegetarian men are no longer perceived as being less masculine than meat-eaters. However, vegan men are still seen as effeminate. Take a look at these vegan bodybuilders who drink plant-based milks. I think most will argee that these guys look like really, strong men.
This campaign from Silk is coming out as the Winter Olympics in South Korea are about to begin. During recent ice skating trials, I noticed a big push for a “Milk Life” campaign with commercials showing winter Olympic athletes powered by cow milk. Looks like Got Milk has evolved to Milk Life where drinking cow milk is a lifestyle not just a beverage.
This Milk Life campaign is funded by America’s Milk Companies and MilkPEP, The Milk Processor Education Program in Washington, D.C. “funded by the nation’s milk companies, and dedicated to educating consumers and increasing consumption of fluid milk. MilkPEP activities are led by a 20-member board and monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service.”
Milk Life even takes a swing at soy milk pointing out that not drinking cow milk could negatively impact your diet and health. Really? There is more than enough data that the opposite is true. Or could it be that since cow milk sales have been plummeting and plant-based milk sales have been skyrocketing, desperate measures are still in play.
From current marketing research, half of Americans consume plant-based milk which includes 68% of parents and 54% of children under age 18. There is also better profits in plant-based milk. Silk had a profit margin in 2014 of 4.08% versus a 1.94% profit margin on whole milk (Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board‘s January 2014 figures). Does Milk Life mention dairy cows raised on factory farms and their impact on climate change? Yeah, of course not.
It’s awesome that Silk landed Phelps and launched this campaign to push plant-based milk to raise the image and make it look cool to drink milk not from a cow.
Here are a couple of the other spots in the Silk campaign. They are funny!
There is often an assumption that vegan and plant-based mean the same thing. The terms are related but there is a difference and it is important to understand what that difference is.
VEGAN is a lifestyle and moral view that animals are fellow sentient beings not to be eaten, worn, tested on, or exploited in any way for human use which extends beyond food and includes the likes of fashion, makeup, cars, pharmaceuticals, lab testing, investments, and entertainment like vegans are against zoos or circuses that use animals.
Vegan food is any food that does not contain any animal-based ingredients nor has ingredients that were tested on animals.
PLANT-BASED is a diet, a style of eating foods from plants primarily in their whole form and avoiding animal-based foods. Whole, plant-based foods are vegan, but vegan food does not have to be whole foods.
The key phrase is whole foods meaning foods in their most original form, and even better if it’s organic because you avoid the toxic synthetic pesticides. In a whole foods, plant-based diet, the bulk of your food comes straight from the ground or tree, is loaded with fibrous vegetables and fruit and is minimally processed like pasta, 4-ingredient bread, oatmeal, a jar of organic tomato sauce, or pre-made soup. Most of us do not have the time nor patience to make things like bread, pizza dough, soup or pasta from scratch and that is okay.
Eating vegan also does not automatically mean healthy either. You can eat vegan for the day and not eat one vegetable, fruit, legume, or whole grain. MSG, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and even Crisco is vegan. Whereas, eating whole food, plant-based is ideal for creating healthiness and can help reverse lifestyle-created chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Let’s look at some examples.
In this first example, here is a whole day of eating vegan which you will notice is almost void of any whole foods except lettuce and tomato in a burger, and a small amount of chili on fries. There is a donut and latte for breakfast. A vegan margarita pizza for lunch. A veggie burger with chili fries for dinner, and a brownie and chocolate ice cream for dessert.
You can completely avoid eating any animal-based foods and still gain weight, get heart disease, become diabetic, be constipated, and have high cholesterol among many other chronic health issues. One of the reasons people who go vegan and experience health issues is because they are eating more like this which is indeed free of animals but is loaded with processed sugar, fat, and sodium and lacking in key nutrients.
Now, here is an example of a day eating whole foods, plant-based. This example is loaded with vegetables, fruit, starch and whole grains. There is overnight oats made with maple pecan milk, figs, pecans and granola for breakfast. Thai red curry with spiralized sweet potato noodles, carrots, broccoli, tofu, and cilantro for lunch. A one pot bulgur with bok choy, cherry tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms for dinner, and fresh strawberries for dessert.
See the difference now? You want to eat more like the latter than the former. The ideal approach for health is eating a whole foods, plant-based diet, but also don’t feel like you have to completely deprive yourself either because food should be a pleasure which includes indulgence from time to time.
Being a reformed yo-yo dieter, I find that forbidding foods puts you emotionally into that diet mentality of deprivation and just makes you want it more versus getting your body naturally used to a new eating style so you just no longer have any taste or desire for those decadent or highly processed foods. Your palate adapts to what you feed it the most.
If you can eat foods that support your health goals 80-90% of the time, and leave the rest for indulgence, that’s great. That’s the formula I follow because it’s flexible which is another reason the Flexitarian style of eating resonates with me. I dropped 40 lbs, and have kept it off for 10 years now without having to diet any more.
Here’s an example of one of my 80/20 days. Breakfast is a big green, carrot and cherry tomato salad with figs, nuts and sprouted beans. Lunch is Amy’s organic vegan fast food of burger, chili fries and mac n cheez (I split this with a friend.) Dinner is a black bean tamale with beans, rice, avocado and fresh tomato salsa, and dessert is some plums. I drink organic soda like 1-3 times a year because sometimes I like a soda with burgers or I want a rum and cola or Seagram’s 7 and lime soda.
You’ll see the word “plant-based” being used more in marketing because for consumers who are still meat eaters, the word “vegan” can be a turn-off whereas “plant-based” is more about an ingredient view versus a moral view.
Depending on how they are made because there are so many methods now, the meat, dairy and egg alternatives are vegan, low carbon, and/or plant-based but are also not automatically considered health foods just because they do not contain animals, cholesterol, trans fats or GMOs. Some of these alternatives can contain significant amounts of sodium, sugar, fat, gums and preservatives.
The Whole Foods Market list of Unacceptable Ingredients For Food is a great reference to use for cutting way down on the artificial and overly processed ingredients.
I like to do combos of things when I do eat the meat alternatives. In my meal above, is sweet and sour pork using Gardein’s Porkless Bites served with organic brown Jasmine fried rice, and sauteed sugar snap peas with shiitake mushrooms and onions.
Look for plant-based milks that are low in sugar. The vegan meats and cheeses should be treated more like transitional foods to help you wean from the animal-based meats and cheeses, or eaten on occasion versus everyday at every meal.
My blog includes the meat, dairy, and egg alternatives because although I promote a more whole foods, plant-based diet, I also know how challenging it is to transition. I’m more about progress versus perfection even if it takes you a longer amount of time to make the shift. The important thing is that you are taking action which is better than doing zero!
Straight up, this is a painful video to watch, and it made me cry in a heartbreaking way. I am posting this video and story because we need to get as many people as we can to see this footage. This is the canary in the coal mine for climate change.
I cannot imagine what wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen was feeling watching this polar bear suffer and die in real time. He explains in this National Geographic article, “Heart-Wrenching Video Shows Starving Polar Bear on Iceless Land,” why he didn’t attempt to feed or put the polar bear out of its misery and you’ll get it. Please read the whole piece because it has a good deal of useful information and insight.
Although devastating, I am glad Paul shot this video. This polar bear did not die in vain, and his death can serve as a powerful message for humanity. He says:
“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death,” said Nicklen. “This is what a starving bear looks like.”
This is the reality of how climate change is currently impacting the planet, and how it will eventually impact the daily lives of us human beings when it gets to the point where we can no longer grow food or get fresh water because of climate change compiled with a global population that is expected to hit 10 billion people basically adding another China and India amount of humans by 2050 which is only 32 years away.
It is not being overly dramatic saying that we are running out of time because it is the truth. We must take action now to stop our devastating contributions to climate change despite having an irresponsible POTUS that pulled our country out of the Paris Agreement.
This polar bear is our warning sign from Mother Nature.
There is so much information about industrial animal agriculture’s impact on climate change that it’s honestly overwhelming.
Where to begin?
I’ve spent almost a whole year poring over all kinds of data, articles, books, lectures, and videos to learn as much as I could. The reason there’s so much information is that the factory farm system involves a myriad of intersecting industries, social issues, political issues, global issues, and big money.
This post is by no means a summary of everything out there but it will help make it a bit easier for you to start digesting and get the bigger picture.
We’ll begin with a comprehensive Facts page, 10 staggering facts that will give you a broad yet detailed picture of just how massive the problems factory farming is causing, and then finish with three compelling videos so you can see actual footage and more detailed information.
Climate change is real and we cannot combat its devastating effects without taking action on industrial animal agriculture’s impact on global warming and the environment.
Comprehensive Facts Page
The Cowspiracy documentary Facts page is the best resource online with an extensive collection of data with links to information on industrial animal agriculture’s impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Water, Land, Waste, Oceans, Rainforest, Wildlife, and Humanity which includes human health. It’s compelling!
10 Staggering Facts
1. 99% of farm animals in the U.S are raised in factory farms. ~ASPCA
If you find that number unbelievable, for some perspective, despite significant consumer demand for organic food, only 1% of total farms in the U.S. are organic farms. ~USDA (it’s actually only .80 but let’s be generous and round up.)
2. Just how many farm animals are there in our country? Literally, billions.
In 2015, 9.2 billion animals were slaughtered for food in the U.S. This figure does not include seafood. 8,822,695,000 of the 9.2.B is chickens. Yes, we as a nation ate almost 9 billion chickens in one year. ~Humane Society
3. Corporate domination anyone? Just four corporations control the meatpacking industry. They are in order by 2016 net sales:
Tyson Foods dominates the four. From 2013 to 2016, just 3 years, Tyson doubled their Gross Profits from $2.3B to $4.7B. To give you an idea of their scale, Tyson slaughters an average of 125,000 head of cattle per week which is a little over the human population of Berkeley, CA.They have the capacity to slaughter up to 175,000 animals per week.
Based on this data, Americans eat about 2 lbs of chicken per week which is the average weight for a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store. If you are an average chicken eater, you eat 52 birds a year.
5. To produce one pound of beef requires a whopping:
1,799 gallons of water which is the equivalent of 90 8-minute showers
And produces 15 lbs of CO2 which is the equivalent of driving 20.59 miles
The feed conversion ratio (FCR) of a cow, the animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass for meat (it’s input compared to it’s output) is the highest of all livestock at 7:1. Pork is 5:1 and chickens are 2-1/2:1. ~Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University
Let’s compare the water footprint per gram of protein between beef and beans. Litres of water per gram of protein needed for beef is 112 (30 gallons) and pulses are 19 (5 gallons). Beef requires 6 times the amount of water than beans! ~Water Footprint Network
6. Where are the factory farms? Everywhere.
The terms the USDA uses for factory farming are Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO.) The difference is the number of animals and how significant by EPA standards the operation can contribute to surface water pollution via its waste management system.
There are approximately 450,000 AFOs in the United States!
Food and Water Watch created this insightful “Factory Farm Map.” The dark red areas represent the biggest of the factory farms which can have tens of thousands to millions of animals on hand.
The dark red areas on the Factory Farm map marked EXTREME mean “More than 13,200 total livestock animal units” which is more than 17,400 beef cattle on feed, more than 4,200 dairy cows, more than 48,500 hogs, more than 2.75 million broiler chickens, and more than 1.25 million egg laying hens.
To understand the map, here is the key and the methodology FWW used. The map also shows the county location of the slaughter facilities and poultry processing plants for the top four beef, pork and poultry processing companies in the United States.
7. Methane is worse than you think.
In a 2017 published study funded by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System program, global methane emissions from cows is 11% higher than previous stats suggested.
The global accepted policy norm in climate change data is to use the GWP100 numbers. In this Scientific American article, “How bad of a gas is methane?” some in the scientific community are calling to end the use of GWP100 methane numbers and use GWP20 and GWP100 as a slashed pair. The difference in the methane GWP numbers from 20 to 100 years is 2.5 times, which is significant.
Methane from the agricultural sector is largely unregulated in the U.S. despite the fact that combined CH4 and N2O emissions from livestock manure management systems grew 64% between 1990 and 2013. In 2012, factory farm raised livestock produced 369 million tons of manure, which is 13 times as much as the sewage produced by the entire U.S. population
Here is a FAQ from the EPA from 2010 on the Guide for the Agriculture and Livestock Sectors on Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases. Not only are dairy or beef producers not required to report on annual enteric fermentation emissions of methane but the EPA did not implement reporting requirements for manure management systems from funds using its FY2010 appropriations due to a Congressional restriction prohibiting the expenditure of funds for this purpose.
FAQs on Mandatory Reporting was taken down when the Trump administration scrubbed the EPA web properties at the beginning of 2017. The EPA agriculture emission numbers are estimated to be 4% below actual numbers.
9. Your meat, dairy, and egg purchases are supporting Big Pharma.
70% of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for use in animals, not people. In 2015, 97% of all medically important antibiotic sales for livestock or poultry were over-the-counter, meaning they were sold without a prescription and typically without any oversight by a veterinarian. This happens because of lax government regulation. ~NRDC
10. Your meat, dairy, and egg purchases are supporting Big GMO.
Your meat, dairy, and egg purchases is supporting the stock prices of GMO behemoths like Monsanto/Bayer (a mega merger pending government approval,) and the new Dow DuPont $62 billion behemoth.
Factory farm animals are fed a diet primarily of GMO soy and corn. 92% of all corn, and 94% of all soy grown in the U.S. is GMO. An astounding, 98% of U.S. soy goes to feed livestock. 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. $5.83 billion of those sales was corn alone.
Factory farm raised dairy cows eat plenty of GMO alfalfa. Alfalfa is the 4th largest crop grown in the U.S, and Monsanto is the industry leader in GMO alfalfa.
I could double this list with more staggering facts. I haven’t even gotten talking about crap yet, like literal manure, and the manure lagoons. But for now, I’ll leave you with this list to process because it’s A LOT.
One of the easiest and most impactful things you can do now to take action is to simply start reducing your meat, dairy, and egg consumption which is why I’ve created the Flexi 21 challenge that can help you get started in that process in a fun, delicious way.
Cowspiracy, The Sustainability Secret available on Netflix is a documentary that talks about the cow in the room avoided in most discussions about climate change.
This documentary will give you an eye opening glimpse into why the world’s leading environmental organizations like Greenpeace and 350.org barely address factory farms despite the fact that according to the U.N, industrial animal agriculture impacts climate change more than the entire transportation sector which includes cars, trains, boats, and airplanes.
I honestly didn’t believe what I was seeing in Cowspiracy so I did my own research and sure enough it was true. It’s jaw dropping. Here is the Cowspiracy trailer.
This video is a talk David gave based on his book Meatonomics about the business and political workings of the meat, dairy, and egg industries. It’s riveting information most consumers have no idea about like Ag gag laws, Cheeseburger laws, and government Check-off programs. There’s a reason you see so many bacon and cheese burger commercials on TV.
When you learn more about the economics of the meat, dairy, and egg industries you will see why factory farms exist in the first place, the levels of greed and corporate control involved, and how much we consumers are being manipulated. It’s eye opening!
From VICE on HBO, “Meathooked & End of Water.” This is one of the best videos I’ve seen that shows a quick but bigger picture view of what factory farms look like from the ground and air.
You will see jaw dropping air footage of manure lagoons some the size of multiple football fields. Manure lagoons are one of the largest contributors of Nitrous Oxide, which has 296 times the GWP100 (Global Warming Power over 100 years) of C02. You will also see what massive GMO corn crops surrounding a large cattle factory farm in Colorado looks like. It’s eerie.
I’m one of those “half-full” people that believes everything happens for us versus to us. As an example, my friend Darya at Summer Tomato wrote this great post about transformative gifts:
A transformative gift is any circumstance or event that feels negative in the present moment, but ultimately reveals itself as a gift that benefits your life tremendously.
These gifts help us become a better human being. Often, we don’t recognize these gifts at first because they can come in the form of tragedy, loss, or disappointment. When we begin to see the why of something, the a-Ha happens. This scene in Evan Almighty, one of my favorites, best expresses what’s happening.
My biggest transformative gift came in August 2001 in the form of a nervous breakdown in the HR lady’s office at my fancy Silicon Valley job.
I’m not kidding when I say that I lost my shit and had an epic meltdown at work.
I was put on medication and forced to go on medical leave for three months.
Back then, I self-identified being the strong, perfect, super woman who would never dare show signs of weakness or vulnerability. I was competing in male-dominated Silicon Valley so I was the gladiator.
I pushed myself to unrelenting expectations…just so I could get ahead.
Sound familiar? Can you relate?
With a mentality like that, you don’t willingly go take care of yourself because that would appear weak. You have to be taken out at the knees so you’re “forced” to go. So, that’s what my body did. She took me down! She got drastic for my own good.
I was given many signs and opportunities to change, but did not.
I was arrogant and ignorant.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I was able to see my transformative gift, that this breakdown was really a breakthrough. This gift of going on medical leave not only helped me learn about healing, and surrender, but it helped me find my life purpose.
Before medical leave, often, I would stare out the airplane window on my latest work road trip and look at the clouds and the earth below and get existential. I would ask God why I was here.
I believed I could get a better answer because I was in the sky closer to God.
I wanted to know what was the point of my existence. On the surface, I had a life many people were envious of, but deep down, I hated the person I had become.
I love reading the HONY (Humans of New York) stories so here’s the backstory HONY-style on what happened during medical leave that helped changed my life for good.
When did life as you know it change?
It was a week after 9/11. I was on medical leave from my high-paying Silicon Valley job. I came home from a doctor’s appointment and collapsed on the couch drugged out from new meds.
I dropped my bag on the floor and everything fell out. My eyes focused on the letters W,T,F on my pill organizer.
I didn’t see Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I saw What The Fuck.
Looking up, hypnotized by the spinning ceiling fan in my drug-induced state, I thought, “What if I died suddenly like all those people in 9/11?”
Clarity struck. I decided, fuck this. My legacy will not be a depressed, pill popping, corporate servant.
I want to feel alive.
First step. No more pills!
I was determined to get off the meds. I hated the side effects. I didn’t feel better. I felt worse. I went to see a naturopathic doctor for the first time in my life to see if alternative medicine could get me off the pills. This was a big deal because I grew up believing that Western medicine was the only way to heal.
It’s the first time I saw empathy in a doctor’s eyes. My ND figured out the true source of what was making me sick, and she got me off all the pills.
That’s when I learned the difference between creating health and disease management. That’s when I learned that food could be a source of disease as well as a source of healing. That’s when I was grateful that I trusted what my body told me.
I am well. I have been pill-free since 2002. I want to be pill-free when I’m 75.
That clarity was righteous indignation. I just absolutely refused to accept that pill popping was my future. That way of life was unacceptable. I didn’t care what those doctors in my fancy hospital told me.
When I was a kid, I dreamed about becoming a pilot or an architect. It never occurred to me that one of my life goals would be being pill-free. Why would it?
Look at what our culture has become today. We’re Generation Rx where pill organizers are becoming as common as having a water bottle.
Here’s a simple question. How many people do you know who are pill-free? How many people over the age of 60 do you know who are pill-free?
Let me start with my physical health issues, and then I’ll share the emotional/mental health issues.
I had Adrenal fatigue, Irritable bowel, Leaky gut, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. I suffered from hives and big patches of eczema that would appear on my body and never go away. I always felt tired even though I’d sleep 8-10 hours.
Turns out the source of my physical health issues was food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and metal toxicity. The pills my Western doctors were prescribing me were actually useless at healing me.
I started to see the light. We don’t have a healthcare system. We have a disease management system.
Although, I had a bad experience with meds, I am not anti-pills. Many meds help people and save lives. Pills are not the problem. It’s the business model behind them. What disturbs me is the profit made off keeping humans in a perpetual state of unwellness.
There is no profit in wellness in a disease management system.
The Naturopathic doctor was the first doctor to ever test me for food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and metal toxicity. I had some of the best medical insurance and was going to one of the best hospitals in the Bay Area, and not one of my doctors tested me for any of these things. It turns out I was allergic to over a dozen foods. Dairy and eggs were the worst.
Egg-white only omelettes and organic cottage cheese, foods my trainer and nutritionist told me would do my body good, turned out to do my body bad.
I was highly deficient in tryptophan which is a key building block of serotonin which monitors our moods. Getting my tryptophan level back up to speed so my body could produce the proper levels of serotonin was key in helping me get off the SSRI I was taking for depression.
I was toxic in mercury, lead and tungsten. The high levels of mercury were because of all the farm-raised seafood I was eating like salmon, tuna and tilapia. Through doing elimination diets, I also discovered that my body reacted negatively to artificial and highly processed ingredients like food dyes, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food thickeners.
Like many, I bought into the low-calorie, low-fat story. I focused on calories of food versus the quality of the food.
The industrialization of our food system has turned food into a significant source of disease where it should be a source of vitality. I want to live in a world where no one suffers from disease or sickness like I did because of the food they eat. Getting sick from food was insight into my life purpose work.
It’s time to end Generation Rx and create generations of Wellenials.
Now, onto what was happening on the emotional/mental level.
Here I am on a yacht I rented for my birthday party, four months before I went on medical leave.
I had the glamorous life I worked so hard to get. I had a high-profile marketing job at a successful tech startup that went IPO and made all of us rich. I lived in a swank apartment. Bought my Mercedes with cash. I traveled all over the world, ate at the finest restaurants and partied at the coolest clubs. I could shop and buy what I wanted and never look at the sale rack.
I had it all.
That’s what I told myself. Inside was a whole other story.
Here’s the beautiful smile masking the pain.
Oh, and there was A LOT of pain.
I suffered from things that have shame and stigma attached to them. Coupled with the physical issues, this is why I ended up on medical leave:
Panic and anxiety attacks. I worked in an environment that was highly toxic and combative. I was constantly living in fear and anxiety about when I’d get attacked or thrown under the bus. Working in a predominantly male industry, I also had to deal constantly with men making sexual advances and inappropriate behavior.
Eating disorder – bulimia
A boyfriend sexually assaulted me several years prior to me going on medical leave. I told no one and tried to rationalize it in my head that it never happened, and buried myself in my career thinking I could work it away, but yeah, no dice.
PTSD from the sexual assault
Alcohol abuse – I was self-medicating to numb my pain and it got to the point of me blanking out and not remembering what I had done or said that night.
Agoraphobia – Had a mild form of this for about 3 years after medical leave. I would go out but only to my regular places where I felt safe like my gym, the grocery store, gas station, Target or to the homes of friends and family.
So yeah, long story short, I was effed up. Not even going to sugarcoat it. Straight up, it was like VH1 Behind The Music BAD.
Along with my naturopathic doctor, to help with my emotional and mental health issues, I also saw a great therapist, and tried a whole bunch of alternative healing treatments like reiki, breathe work, past life therapy, chakra therapy, hand analysis which taught me plenty about why I was depressed in my career, crystal energy work, and a whole bunch of other things.
I kind of went on a metaphysical safari trying out all these new agey treatments mainly because I was just so fascinated with it all. Much of it was kinda hocus pocus, but there were a few that wow healed me faster than anything I experienced in any western hospital. I’ll save all that for another post.
I started blogging in 2005 and shared my experiences because I wanted to help bring some light to health issues that have shame and stigma attached because there is no need to hide, to deny, or to feel embarrassed or ashamed.
The more we talk about this stuff, the better it gets.
I want you to know that if you are early on or in the middle of your healing process, that you can and will come out the other end better. You can thrive.
For me, the work of healing looked daunting and overwhelming in the beginning, so believe me if you feel like it’s too much, I totally get it.
There will be some really shitty, ugly cry, painful-ass days where you will feel like you got the beat down of your life from Apollo Creed like Rocky in the ring, not going to lie. But, you can get through this and come out victorious.
I love the final fight scene in Rocky because it perfectly embodies metaphorically my experience, and was an inspiration while I was in the healing process. Medical leave was the fight of my life for my health and future. It was time for me to reach into that warrior spirit of mine, get back on my feet and not give up.
Kris Carr refers to cancer as teacher. I relate to that. Since I am a Sci-Fi lover, I refer to my health issues as Jedi mentor, the Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.
When I returned to work from medical leave, I resigned after 5 days. I chose my health, my life. Many thought I was crazy for giving up security; a paycheck, pre-IPO stock options, and medical benefits especially since 9/11 happened.
I reasoned, I can always make money. I cannot get time or my health back.
So, I quit. I was done pretending to be happy.
Leaving my job made all the sense in the world. And 9/11 was a slap of reality for me that life was too short. I wasn’t going to waste any more of my precious life for a job that literally made me sick and was killing my soul.
What I didn’t know at the time, my resignation was the end of my corporate career. I was beginning my life as an entrepreneur, and a changemaker.
I have been pill-free since 2002. I dropped 40 lbs and have kept that weight off since 2008. I no longer diet. I just eat. I learned what my body needs to be well.
Going on medical leave, my transformative gift, I came to see that you are not given the life you want, but are given the life you need. Things don’t happen to you. They happen for you.
I am grateful for the blessing of my gift.
For more details, I wrote a book about my medical leave experience called, “Death of a Road Warrior,” available on Kindle for $2.99 or free if you’re a Prime member.