As many of you probably know by now, our family has officially grown from two to three with the birth of Baby Sweet Potato. I am taking some time off from blogging to settle into my new role as a mother so for the next month I have authors from around the web stopping by to tell their stories and share their favorite recipes. I hope you enjoy all they have to say, I look forward to being back with new posts and recipes of my own soon!
Today’s post is by Mitch Hankins of Instinctual Wellbeing.
I’ll never forget sitting across from my doctor back in early 2013, when he delivered my lab results showing that I was deficient in just about every amino acid, vitamin, mineral, digestive enzyme and healthy blood cell you could think of. He looked me squarely in the eye and said “You have to start eating meat.”
Boom. There it was. It felt like the news he delivered was so much grimmer than just a mere diet recommendation. After all, I had been vegan for three years prior to that moment, and vegetarian for even longer than that.
While I knew in my heart (and in my malnourished body) that he was right and I would need to make the change, I was completely bamboozled. What went so wrong to have caused this? I wasn’t one of those vegans who just ate a bunch of vegan cheese and vegan food substitutes. I ate about 100 types of fresh, organic fruits and veggies per day, I juiced, I sprouted my legumes and pre-soaked my grains, and I even incorporated some “raw” principles into my life by being careful not to overcook my food. I even made pizza crust out of adzuki beans for God’s sake. I mean – if my body was “failing” at being vegan, then I didn’t know what would work.
The worst part for me though, was that I didn’t choose to be vegetarian and vegan because I thought the food was particularly yummy, or because I wanted to lose weight or something like that. My choice was based almost (I say “almost” because I could see some potential health benefits from following a more plant-based diet) entirely due to my own personal values and morals.
So, when I heard that I needed to make some diet adjustments, it wasn’t just me thinking, “um…well what am I supposed to eat then?” Instead, it was throwing into question my whole being, my personal value system, and who I thought I was as a person. Additionally, I was also beginning to study Buddhism pretty deliberately back then, and this idea of eating meat also challenged my newfound spiritual belief of non-violence, which was typically translated as not eating animals, amongst other things.
I realize that may sound melodramatic to some, but chances are if you’re reading this article to begin with, you’ve probably had a similar experience with something in your life, whether it be diet-related or not.
Luckily, my doctor knew me well enough to understand how I was feeling. He asked if I was alright, and I explained to him that this wasn’t just about a diet to me – it was about challenging what I believed in and how I interacted with the world. He kindly suggested that I look into the paleo diet specifically, because that movement wasn’t just about factory farming and eating meat in an unconscious way. Instead, it focused on sustainable (and ideally local) farming, and only eating animals that were raised in their most natural environments without restrictions or tons of stress. I told him I had a lot to think about, but that I’d do my research as I always did.
Fast-forward nearly four years, and I’m still following a paleo (well, AIP, if we’re being specific) diet and lifestyle. I’ve seen huge success with my health and autoimmune conditions, and I found that the paleo philosophy really helped me bridge the gap between vegan and paleo. I’d be lying though if I said there weren’t still times when I catch myself wondering if I’m doing the right thing for my body, the animals and the world’s ecosystem. If the fact that my health did a complete 180 isn’t proof enough that this is the right path for me at this point in time though, I also like to remind myself of two valuable points that I’ve come to understand (or at least believe) over the years:
Eating grass-fed or free-range/pastured meats is NOT the same thing as eating and supporting factory farmed animals and organizations.
- If you’ve ever been out to a farm – a real farm – you’ll know how peaceful and beautiful it can be. You’ll be able to bear witness to the fact that, when treated right, these animals are able to live full, happy lives, grazing on grass, playing in mud, and happily pecking at each other until it’s their time to complete the “circle of life” and give back to the world in their own way. This is so different than the tragedies that exist at the factory farming levels, which I believe we still very much need to push back against and educate about. But just because factory farming exists doesn’t mean that every time we eat an animal, that they are subjected to the same harshness and abuse. We have to separate that out in our minds, and know that each animal or person gives back in its own way. This leads me into the second thing that I’ve come to believe, which is…
- Each living creature – human, plant or animal – on this planet, has some sort of mission or “dharma” (purpose). Now, I want to make the point that sometimes this purpose may be to just simply exist and touch the lives of those in our immediate family or circle of friends; it doesn’t always have to mean our purpose is to ride camels through the Sahara until we reach Enlightenment and then return to the cities to preach of it. 🙂 But I do believe that in one way or another, we’re all here for a reason, and chances are – we decided what that reason would be before we even decided to come into being.I know this may be pushing you wayyy outside your comfort zone to think this way and hey – that’s totally understandable and OK. But if you can just humor me for a moment, I’d ask that you consider the possibility that animals know what their purpose is, too. And that sometimes – for certain animals – that purpose may be to come here for a specified amount of time until they can provide healthy nourishment to people when they’re called to do so.
So, those points are what I remind myself of whenever I start questioning my paleo/AIP diet or getting a little down about the fact that I now eat a lot of animal products. I just try remember that sometimes our bodies just need a little extra nutritional support from animal proteins, and also that we’re lucky to live in period where movements like paleo and AIP have helped demand farming reform (and so many other great organizations, individuals, authors and farmer’s markets have facilitated this, too!) so that animals and humans can co-exist and co-nourish each other to support each other’s wellbeing.
I hope that if you’re ever struggling with the transition from vegan to paleo, that my experience and thought processes can help you as well. Much love!
Mitch is the man behind the Instagram accounts @mightymorphinmitch and @thatautoimmunelife, as well as the blog, Instinctual Wellbeing. He believes that along with following a whole foods diet, humor, self-awareness and self-love are keys to healing autoimmune disease and chronic illness. Originally from Florida, he now lives in Kansas City with his fiancé and two cats.