Journey to Greener Eating

Some of my friends and acquaintances have begun to express an interest in switching to a vegetarian diet. Of course I am thrilled ‘ save the animals, save the planet, heck save yourselves’ my inner voice sings. Another part of me feels this is such an important change,not only for the individual but a change with such global impact beyond the individual that it is important to be honest and balanced in providing information to those who are considering this transformation.

From a health perspective the truth is that, within a balanced diet, there is room for meat.  In fact meat probably sparked our ‘rapid’ evolution.  Higher calorie values at a lower investment of energy meant we could benefit both from the nutrition growing bigger and better brains but also as less of our time was spent gathering and so more could be spent developing tools, communities and communication.   However we have come from benefiting from the meat in our diet to dying from it. When we were hunter gatherers we ate far less meat than we do today.  The hunters would spend hours if not days tracking their prey then catching and killing it, expending loads of energy while doing so.  Then they would then bring that back to be consumed by the whole community.  So, more important to me than having the whole world become vegan is that as a whole we begin to understand the impact of our meat dependent diets both on our health and on our planet.  Rather than have everyone vegan I’d love to see the whole world drastically reduce its meat consumption whether that be through being a weekday vegetarian, fully vegan, or a flexitarian.  I’d also for the welfare of all living creatures including humans, see an elimination of mass agriculture and animal raising for food.

Becoming vegetarian now is much easier than more than 3 decades ago when I first declared “I won’t eat my friends!” but it still requires some adjustment.  For one thing we live, globally, but specifically in SA in a very meat centric environment.  Meat is associated with masculinity – the ultimate irony given that, a diet high in red meat intake is highly correlated with erectile dysfunction and prostate cancer to name but two. And, similar to when someone declines an  alcoholic drink, there is a strong reaction from those who are indulging – perhaps defensive in case you suggest they too “put down the boerie and back away” or in an effort to defend their own mindset…either way expect some pressure.  So here are some tips from my own experience to help you on this journey…

Easy does it!
One way to ease into it is to consider being a weekday vegetarian / vegan.  One can also begin to restrict your meat intake to one meal a day keeping it as an accompaniment rather than the main dish.  Think biltong or chicken salad for instance. This allows you to indulge at a weekend braai taking some of the social pressure off.  My bet is that soon you begin to notice how much better you are feeling in the week than post your weekend braai which will further help cement your decision.

Think “more” not “less”
Rather than thinking of all the bacon and steak you’re giving up focus on how you might expand your diet.  Think colour, the more colourful fresh vegetables are on your plate the wider the variety of nutrients you’re getting.  Now is the time to explore all those fruits and veggies you’ve never even heard of before.  Pick a favourite meaty meal, maybe a burger or cottage pie and experiment with vegan or vegetarian versions…you may have to try one or two different types of recipes but I guarantee you will find one (or more) out there that will totally seduce your tastebuds.  Those who are practicing a LCHF diet are both at once better and worse prepared..better because thank the lord they’re not going to shy away from some healthy fats.  Oh the times I’ve been told to watch how many nuts I eat or how many avo’s I consume…trust me, when it comes to weight management, it’s not the avo’s or the nuts that are piling on the pounds, I promise!  Think more!  More veg, nuts and fruit and also more variety. Unfortunately the downside of LCHF diets is that they tend to restrict a lot of grains and legumes – the latter being one of a vegetarian’s best sources of iron and protein.  Now there are genuinely people out there who would do well to avoid many grains (for example those suffering celiac disease) and even legumes, although the latter are less problematic.  If you are one of the unfortunate who cannot digest these then you may need to do a little more work – consult a nutritionist; take various supplements or use commercial vegetarian replacements that don’t have these products in.  Oh and to answer that age old question of “but ..where do you get your protein…?”  The answer is ..same place as the cows and sheep we eat get theirs…from our greens!  Green vegetables and nuts are critical in a healthy vegetarian diet.  Nuts are awesome, they go in everything over porridge, salads, sprinkled on grilled food, in banana breads and smoothies….basically go nuts for nuts (the only one you can overdo is Brazilian nuts – high in selenium which in excess is bad for us)

Learn to cook
It’s fun learning to make old favorites in a vegan friendly way and no one is going to complain too much if you take over making dinner a couple of nights a week.

Just add this…
The only nutrient hard to find in a vegetarian (and nigh impossible in a vegan) diet is vitamin B12.  Made by bacteria it used to be found in water, soil and the intestines and guts of animals as they digested their food – however clean chlorinated water meant goodbye dysentery but also goodbye vitamin b12, ditto with the way we farm the soil these days so find a good supplement of B12 preferably slow release and, assuming you’re taking the advice above, you will never be the stereotype of the listless, pale vegetarian so often evoked when people hear you’re going to try a more vegetarian diet and finally…

Know your reasons!
There are a lot of reasons people become vegetarian or vegan – explore them.  This will help you keep focused and stay on track (or get back on if you slip).

Health reasons: we’ve already explored this and it’s a popular reason for giving up meat these days.  Again, to be healthy you need not be totally vegetarian but, most reputable studies indicate, ideally a person should reduce meat intake to no more than 5% of your diet and avoid processed meat such as ham and bacon to gain the benefits of a plant based diet and avoid the risks in eating meat. In fact for many reasons, including the knee jerk reaction to hearing “vegetarian” I’ve started referring to my diet as “largely if not completely” plant based. – Of course, I am working towards totally plant based because of the next reason…

I became a vegetarian when I was 6 or 7 and visited an abattoir.  I think if slaughterhouses were housed amongst us and had glass walls we’d nearly all be vegetarian.  If you can’t face going to an abattoir, visit the Holocaust museum or a Genocide memorial – it’s the same.  Sure, one is human the other animal but even if you value human life as more valuable, today it is widely and scientifically understood that all living creatures experience pain, fear, anxiety and loss. If you want to explore this you could also watch Forks over Knives.  Personally I cannot. I know terrible atrocities are committed against living creatures, I cannot expose myself to the trauma of watching it but…some people think it’s “not so bad” and can’t believe it’s that traumatic, perhaps for them some of these documentaries including undercover videos taken by activists may open their eyes and hearts.

Environmental issues
Another big driver in people’s decision to try a more vegetarian diet. Monocrops and mass agriculture may have seemed like a brilliant development 50 odd years ago, however it has not been an unmitigated success other than for those who profit from it.  In fact and counter-intuitively it has probably resulted in a higher percentage of people starving.  There are a whole lot of reasons for this, firstly land that perhaps once supported an entire community would now be owned by a specific  farmer or industry.  It would be used to produce food to maximum efficiency – this means using soil over and over, using pesticides and mono crops – all of which are problematic.  I’m not going to go into these too deeply but will leave some links at the bottom. Sitting here in the Cape, with water shortages a very real problem, the biggest issue for me is the one of how much water it takes to farm the way we do today.  You will find a wide range of figures regarding how much water it takes to “produce” (see how we deliberately desensitise ourselves to the animal’s life as it becomes ‘produce”?) a kg of beef.  It depends on a variety of things, free range or not, grass or corn fed (or skittle fed?) etc but estimates range from 5000 to 20 000 liters per kg.  Bottom line even most conservative estimates range out at A LOT!  It’s not just beef but also many starch crops (rice for instance) and particularly many of the crops we feed to the cattle are also water intensive.

Most Hindu people won’t eat beef since cows have a spiritual connection to Lord Krishna but beyond that many Hindu’s try to follow a path of nonviolence and thus avoid eating meat at all (if you think there is no violence in the burger patty on your plate are sorely mistaken, even deliberately misled). One of the bigger studies done on vegetarianism used the Seventh Day Adventists as many follow a vegetarian diet.  Seventh Day Adventists have restrictions on what meat they may eat and in fact many are vegetarian because they take their dietary guidelines from the bible Genesis 1 verse 29.  Which says : 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

In fact, while, according to the bible we were decreed by god to rule over / be guardians of/ lord over animals (depending on which interpretation you read) in the bible it is only post man’s sin that there comes mention of animal sacrifices.  These are not the only belief systems which lean towards vegetarianism as part of their spirituality – see here

So as you take this journey into healthier and kinder eating here are some useful links and, remember, easy does it, know your reasons and think MORE not LESS.

Colin Campbell Interview “The China Study” at Hippocrates Health Institute.
Forks over Knives


Serendipity and Heaven

We woke early on the morning of the chimp trek because ideally one wants to be on the trail early, around 6am. Unlike Gorilla’s, whose sheer size and weight makes spending the night in a tree unlikely if not fatal (we heard of one Silverback who’d died falling out of a tree) the chimps build themselves nests high up in the branches and spend the afternoons in the tree tops sunning themselves, so the best time to see them closer to the ground is in the mornings when they come down to forage. We’d just got on the road when our guides Sam and Moses got a call to say the Chimp guide, a gent by the lofty name of Everest, was stuck. He’d been going to ride with another two tourists but he’d just discovered that their car had broken down the night before. We turned around immediately and about half a mile down the road we picked up Everest, Cyril and Yang.  Everest was born and raised in Rwanda, Cyril was from the States now working for a few months in Rwanda and Yang is Chinese but studying and working in the States for the last couple of years.

So we set out, 3 couples in the group, following Everest who was talking to trackers ahead. We’d come to find chimp’s in the trees but, what we didn’t expect was the sheer colour and variety of the flora and fauna that nestled beneath the tree canopy.  Brilliantly coloured fungi clung to rocks, beautiful orchids peeped between branches or nestled in valleys, butterflies flitted past while we stepped carefully around dark streams of giant ants…I felt like Alice through the looking glass, peering at one rather bold caterpillar I found myself looking for his pipe.  Everest had to plead with us “come, we need to find the chimps. Pictures later.”


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Rwanda: Gorilla trekking

We set out bright and early for our Gorilla trek, first congregating at the lodge for some coffee and our briefing. We were treated to a traditional dance while we downed coffee and then broke into groups. For the sake of the Gorillas parties cannot exceed 8 tourists. In our group it was ourselves, a Swedish couple,  a single American lass down in Rwanda for a wedding and just taking the gap to see the Gorilla’s and finally a beautiful Nigerian couple who sounded totally American. The conservation is very cleverly managed and contributes greatly to the welfare of the people as well as that of the Gorillas. The whopping $750 cost for the trek covers training and salaries for the trackers, rangers and porters, maintenance of the park and conservation education. They also pay a good part of it over to the government who in turn use it to build schools in the region and pay the soldiers who patrol the nature reserve.

We set out our party of 8 tourists, Bernice our guide, 3 porters and and a chap with a rifle…just in case we unintentionally frightened a buffalo. Apparently coming across a bunch of them would be fine since they would feel safe but one lone one might not and attack us. We started just outside the park in a very little village who seem to survive by selling a few curios and growing crops of wheat, fruit, vegetables and fields and fields of snowy white Pyrethrum flowers which they pick and dry to be used as insect repellant. We walked up the hill towards the stone fence marking the boundary of the park. It’s fairly steep but we have all been given a walking stick and Pierre and I soon find ourselves at the entrance.

Many fields of Pyrethrum before entering the park.

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Rwanda : no easy answers

Before this trip all I knew about Rwanda was that there had been a horrendous genocide years ago and, they had silver back gorillas. I vividly recall watching with horror the “ethnic civil war” that erupted in this beautiful country. The simplified media view at the time was ethnic tensions that had exploded….I thought to myself , how can a country or its people ever recover from this ??? Impossible!

The scale of the genocide, the way in which ordinary people,  neighbours, co workers and even friends slaughtered one another was (and remains largely) inconceivable to me. So when our guide collected us from Kigali airport around 1pm and suggested we first stop at The Memorial Remembrance and Learning Centre in Kigali I jumped at the opportunity to try to better understand what happened in 1994.

It’s a beautiful memorial reminiscent of the Holocaust Museum in Nuremberg in that it serves not only to show respect for those murdered but also implores us not to forget, to learn from our past atrocities. Entrance is free and they offer audio tours, books etc, the cost of which goes towards maintaining the centre and of course they welcome donations.  Interned here are the bodies of 250 000 victims of the genocide, allowing them a final resting place and those who mourn them a place to find what solace they can.  The children’s room tries to pay its respects by giving a personal face to some of the children slaughtered placing their photos above information such as name, age, favourite foods and playthings. The Memorial rightly places this atrocity in the greater context of world events and shares other acts of genocide and politicides that have occurred in history. Continue reading “Rwanda : no easy answers”

Berlin: Sony Centre, The Berlin Wall and The Tiergarten

3 days is definitely not long enough to really experience a city with as much history and as complex and cosmopolitan as Berlin but it was enough time to make me keen to go back for more. Our accommodation was perfect. We were staying in Potsdamer Platz on the 12th floor (an elevator, no stairs thank goodness!) in one of seven blocks making up the Sony Centre with its beautifully designed buildings, a mix of residential apartments and offices tower above with The Sony store; Starbucks etc below along with a plethora of pubs and restaurants their table and chairs spilling out to encircle a little fountain.   This is all enclosed with a domed roof of steel and glass, open above the buildings and on the sides but covering the centre courtyard itself. Continue reading “Berlin: Sony Centre, The Berlin Wall and The Tiergarten”

Cologne: Cathedrals and Chocolate

A 5 hour trip by train transports us from Munich to Cologne. This time our apartment was far more what I am familiar with when staying in Europe. An old building with a narrow winding staircase. Puff puff, pant pant, we lugged our luggage up, assisted by some kindly German chap who noticed us struggling to get into, as it turns out, the wrong apartment. Continue reading “Cologne: Cathedrals and Chocolate”

The English Gardens and Mullings on Munich

Saturday in Munich dawned bright and beautiful, perfect for a run through The English Gardens. Created in 1789 and with an area of 3.7 km2 it is larger than Central Park ! Continue reading “The English Gardens and Mullings on Munich”

Salzburg is so pretty, oh so pretty ….

Some of us have to work even while travelling. Lucky for us not Ann nor I. So we left Pierre to his business meeting and set out to find the Radius Tour office at the station. Our group was large so we were divided between 2 tour guides; an Aussie, with a loud voice and a dog called Bernie and a lovely Spanish lass called Lucia. I was hoping we would be in Bernies group. Ann, having just realised that Salzburg was in another country  (Austria,…but you knew that of course), was hoping that the fact she had left her passport back at the apartment wasn’t going to be a problem. It wasn’t. And, while we ended up in Lucia’s group, she turned out to be warm, funny and very well informed. Bernie travelled on the same train so I  got to scratch him behind his silky little ears anyway.

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Nuremberg: Terror and Redemption

We set off fairly early to meet the tour to Nuremberg at the station all bundled in our beanies and gloves. Nuremberg has a long and complex history; the site of both the former Nazi rally ground and the Nuremberg trials where some of the worst perpetrators in the Nazi regime were held accountable for their crimes against humanity. The bus journey took us out onto the highway and through Bavaria with its fields and fields of asparagus and hops. As you might have guessed Bavaria is an agricultural district and the largest hop growing region in the world – and when it comes to hops the Bavarians know what they’re doing, they should, they’ve been doing this since the 8th century. ¾ of the crops are exported, the remainder is used to supply the 1300 breweries in Germany, half of which are located in the Bavarian districts.

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Munich – Bavarian Beer

Our welcome to Munich began even before we disembarked the plane. “Ladies and gentlemen” said the voice over the intercom as people shuffled restlessly in the aisles, “I don’t know if you have heard but we are experiencing a strike at the moment that affects security, baggage handling and the fire personnel. As a result many flights have been cancelled and you may experience some delays….”

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