Is The Game Changers really a game changer?
“Ok, we need to talk!” said Belle.
She patted the spot-on the sofa next to her and indicated (with a tilt of her head) that I should sit down.
I looked into her extremely solemn eyes and tried to remember everything they say in parenting books about watching for a change in tone when your kids talk to you. She seemed serious so I cleared my brain, took a deep breath and held her little hand: “What's up, babe?”
We then had a big conversation about what makes you, you. She really wanted to know. Was it your heart? Your brain? Your soul?
“What is a soul, mom?”
We'd touched on this in the car on the way to school a few months ago, but apparently at 7.45am I didn't give a sufficiently good answer.
We decided, after much deliberation, that it was probably — mostly — your brain because you can have a heart transplant and still be the same person after all.
But we also decided it was also a little bit of soul. Not that we could really put our finger on what that is, other than a feeling. When she was done, I walked away thinking how incredible it was for a nine-year-old mind to ponder all this adult stuff. I then heard her laughing hysterically at her sister's farts and realised she was still definitely, definitely a kid.
Anyway, why is this relevant? Because I feel like we, you and me, might need to sit down on the sofa and have a chat. Everyone's going a little vegan crazy after watching the documentary The Game Changers and so I thought we should go through one or two things.
I mentioned it in last week's column but since then I've received more and more e-mails about veganism, so let's talk it through. It's a big topic, but kinda straight forward at the same time, I think.
First off, that people are thinking so much about what they're eating and why, is a brilliant, brilliant thing. Too often we get stuck in cognitive dissonance when it comes to our food. Deep down we know — we do really, really know — that what we're eating can't be good for us (or the planet) but we just keep doing it anyway because it's easy, it tastes good and everyone else is doing it too.
However, in much the same way that Food, Inc made people think about the junk aspect of their diets, so Game Changers (which essentially puts forward a manifesto for a vegan diet) makes people think about the protein they eat.
But firstly, the most important thing to acknowledge is that it is a manifesto. It isn't an objective review of the recent research with a wide representation of panellists, it's a very one-sided opinion piece, produced by James Cameron who just so happens to be involved with a $140 million vegan protein investment (yep, you read that right).
And when that's the case, it's hard to establish whether there is credibility to the information represented or whether, essentially, the documentary is an infomercial. It's absolutely vital to consider the source, the funding and any possible agenda behind the information that we receive.
That being said, I'm not anti a vegan diet. In fact, I am incredibly pro a plant-based diet. But by plant-based, I don't mean only plants, I just mean that eating mostly plants is probably a very, very good idea. Given that plants are high in antioxidants, rich in gentle forms of fibre, are naturally free from bad fats and refined sugar, there's a lot to love.
In fact, at work — and here's an open confession to my bias! — we've just launched a plant-based specials menu at Harry's to celebrate exactly that (although there are plenty of options for carnivores too, don't you worry).
The point I am reaching for is that I don't think you have to be vegan to be healthy. I don't think it's the “only” way.
For me, choosing a food philosophy should be a little bit like religion. You do what works for you, but know that what works for you might not work for everyone else in the same way.
And that's fine!
But, conversely, you might not want to label your food belief in a dogmatic and permanent way (as it relates to who you are, at least). When we choose a way of eating, we tend to say “I'm vegetarian” or “I'm vegan” as if that defines us.
Although it might be incredibly important to you, I would encourage you not to put yourself in a box. Because, if we do venture out of that box (because we craved something different or we weren't feeling good) we somehow feel like we have failed, and that shouldn't be the case.
Is it possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet? Absolutely, you bet it is. You just really do need to understand how to combine vegan proteins properly to maximise amino acid uptake (see a professional)!
And is it possible to get the right vitamins? Also absolutely, but you'll need supplements. And on that note, just because you need supplements it doesn't mean it's not natural or that it's a way you shouldn't be eating.
When people use that as a criticism of veganism or an argument to be pro-carnivore, they are often missing a very valid point — that many people are choosing a vegan or plant-based diet due to ethical or environmental reasons.
There's no escaping that factory farming is horrifying both in terms of treatment of animals and in terms of environmental impact too.
Re the former: I'll not put you off your breakfast here, but if you want a reality check, just consult Google images for factory farms; re the latter: proponents of Meatless Mondays will give you these stats:
1. The UN estimates that the meat industry generates approximately one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate climate change
2. Up to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef production
3. In the US, about 40 calories of fossil fuel energy go into every calorie of feedlot beef compared to 2.2 calories of fossil fuels for plant-based proteins. Factory farming is also pretty disastrous for human health. In my opinion, it doesn't make sense to eat a sick animal and expect to be well yourself.
Taking the time to think about what you're eating is fantastic. It's important to recognise the impact your diet has on your health and on your environment too.
In that sense, Game Changers really is a game changer; it certainly got everyone talking! But ultimately, whether a vegan diet is right for you will depend on a number of factors.
Your personal ethics and concern about the environment may play into it. You might have a family history of bowel and colon cancers and risk does significantly decrease with a reduction in meat and, imperatively, an increase in vegetables.
Your genetics will also play a role in determining how well your weight responds to animal vs plant-based proteins (which are usually more carb heavy). Some people genetically can handle those carbs, but some struggle. Also, some people are simply more active (or are willing to be more active) to offset that.
And then it also comes down to the essential yardstick — how do you feel when you follow a vegan diet? If you feel better, then go for it (making sure you have covered your bases).
If you feel worse, you might need to change your diet in other ways instead. Just remember, that when judging how much better you feel, be cognisant of what else you might have changed: is it solely the switch to veganism or is it part of a wider overhaul? Are you eating more veg, drinking more water, exercising more? (The converse might also be relevant if you have a negative reaction.)
I really hope that helps. After all that, if you need me for personalised advice, you know where I am. Have a great weekend one and all!
•Catherine Burns is a qualified nutritional therapist. For more details: natural.bm, 505-4725, Natural Nutrition Bermuda on Facebook and @naturalbda on Instagram