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How NOT being vegetarian saved my life

Recently, I’ve been noticing a resurgence in interest in vegetarianism. I’m guessing that a major driver of the interest has been that new vegetarian-promoting documentaries have been popping up on Netflix and other streaming video sites. I’ve been noticing more and more of my social media contacts posting things about how “What the Health” and “Forks over Knives” have caused them to go vegetarian. While I applaud the newly-enlightened people for taking notice of the atrocities inherent to the industrial food production system, I fear most of the new vegetarians will be trading one type of crappy industrial food for another.

As a former vegetarian and animal rights activist of 17 years, I feel compelled to say something about the new vegetarian trend. I went vegetarian as soon as I could – when I turned 18 and went off to college. I grew up in a farming and ranching community and, from a very young age, felt an intense connection with animals. I witnessed how the animals were treated on the farms and ranches and was beyond appalled and saddened. These were not industrial ranches, but were family operations – they should have been “the good guys.” The worst time of the year was branding season – time to get drunk and torture calves with neck-twisting wrestling, horn removal, anesthetic-free castration, and of course the branding itself.

In college, I read everything I could get my hands on that supported my vegetarian viewpoint and went to the next level – vegan. Ethically, I knew I was doing the right thing. I was standing up for beings who couldn’t stand up for themselves. However, while I was trying to help the animals, I was causing my own health to disintegrate. I had been plagued with health problems from a very young age – digestive problems, joint problems, back problems, and nearly constant illness – colds, flu, and bacterial and viral infections. Once or twice a year, starting at age 17, I would be paralyzed and in excruciating pain from the waist down for up to a couple weeks. Around the age of 30 I finally got a diagnosis after a series of tests that included genetic testing. I had a classic combination of autoimmune conditions – Crohn’s disease combined with a wacky form of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis. It was time to dive into research on autoimmunity.

My research on autoimmunity in general and my diseases in particular led me to make a significant lifestyle change. It turns out that a diet heavy in carbohydrate, especially grains, exacerbates autoimmune conditions. I decided to go paleo. I ate my first bit of meat on my birthday; December 21st 2010.

Within a few months I was able to go off my Crohn’s and arthritis medications. The doctors’ response was “keep doing what you’re doing.” I’ve now been in remission for over six years.

I went paleo because of the emphasis on sustainable and humanely raised animals. Vegetarian/vegan isn’t the only way to eat ethically.

I’m planning on doing a review here of “What the Health.” I wanted to write something first about my own history with vegetarianism so I don’t just sound like an uninformed fool. Look for the “What the Health” post sometime in the next week or so.

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