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Many thanks to Mrs. Chili for inspiring me to post this simple piece I wrote a year and a half ago when my grandmother died.

 

In memory of my grandmother..

 

As a young girl, it was always such a special time to come to New England. There is something almost magical here, tucked away from the rest of the world, where pink and orange sunsets swirl above the still blue expanse of the bay.  It’s the kind of place you can go to talk to God, a place where a silent snowfall fills your heart with soft melodies, a place where you can make friends with a downy woodpecker and your grandmother at the same time. 

 

Each time I arrived at my grandparents’ home nestled between ancient farmhouses and rolling fields, I knew an adventure was about to present itself.  There were imaginary pirates to capture from a weathered rowboat in her pond, expeditions to search for beavers beyond the lazy cattails and, when the courage was mustered, a hunting safari with my younger brother to slay imagined beasts that ruled the 37 wooded acres along the back of my grandparents’ property.  But the most precious memories were with my grandmother, studying horseshoe crab babies in plastic tubs, introducing myself to the birds outside her picture window, and proudly accompanying her on the golf course to pretend I was more interested in her swing than the squirrels that made their homes in the trees along the green.  I looked forward to the times when she would invite me to the barn to feed her racing pigeons.  The cloud of weightless, white feathers and stench of mothballs would engulf us as we stepped into the haze of yellow sunbeams that filled the musty, wooden stalls.  The birds seemed to greet us with an excited chorus of pecking and cooing.  Sometimes my grandmother would take me along in the cab of the old pick-up truck to release the pigeons for practice flights.  I remember asking her, “Gram, how do they know where home is?”  She chuckled as she opened the latch on the next wired cage, “How do you know where home is?”

 

I never answered her question aloud, partly because I was still a little puzzled, but mostly because the answer seemed irrelevant in that silent moment there alone with my Gram on a dewy New England morning.  But since my grandmother passed away this December, I’ve revisited that conversation in my mind many times, searching for truth in the memory of her smile.  And while I’m uncertain what the answer is, as I sit here on the steps of her splintered porch, I cannot help but feel I’m home.  

 

The other day, after the December snow had freshly covered my grandmother’s well-manicured lawn, I walked alone in her old barn thinking of her and her feathered friends.  The stalls are empty now.  The only evidence of pigeons that remains is the never-ending rows of faded blue and white championship racing certificates that line the splintered walls.  I can almost hear the pigeons coo, though, in the silent, stale air.  And I can feel her there, all around me, still teaching me with her questions. 

 

The days I spent with my grandmother before her passing were a precious gift.  Even surrounded with all the busy nurses and plastic tubes, the peace and strength reflected in her eyes took me back to that foggy morning when her smile was the only answer I needed.  Even when speech failed her in the final hours, those fierce blue pools never wavered.  As I sat by her bedside, cradling her soft, small hand in mine, I watched her leave this life overflowing with love, fearless, and without regret. 

 

I knew then that she was going home. 

 

When it comes to priorities, health is one of the most important, if not THE most important, factors that impacts our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Notably, we cannot care for others or see to greater challenges, until we first tend to the basic health and sustenance of our own physical existence.  How can we expect each other to show concern for the natural environment, the ethical treatment of animals, or even the political tragedies and social injustices of our national and global communities when we do not even love and respect ourselves enough to live with the intention that our physical health requires? 

 

Because we are a high-income country and we spend the MOST money per capita on healthcare, one would expect us to have some the healthiest and happiest people on the planet. Yet, as a country our self-reported happiness has been in decline since the 1950s, 1 in 10 American women are taking anti-depressants, we are presently ranked 42nd in the world for life expectancy, 60% of US adults are overweight, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are diagnosed with cancer, 7% of our population has diabetes, and 1 in every 3 Americans dies from heart disease.  These are not reflections of a healthy people.  These results do not represent a group of citizens who are truly concerned about or committed to health in any form. 

 

Oh sure, we’re still slightly ahead of much of the developing world, as our wealth somewhat insulates us from diseases like malaria, typhoid, complications from starvation and malnutrition, provides readily available vaccines and medications to treat most common bacteria-induced infections, and offers accessible and affordable birth control to prevent an AIDS epidemic like the one that exists in Africa.  But the two leading causes of death in America, heart disease and cancer, are unique to developed countries (like ours) where a diet rich in animal products and a chemically synthesized environment go hand in hand with affluence.  But really, let’s just look at heart disease right now because that’s the NUMBER ONE KILLER in America.  While genetics is often recognized as a contributing factor, what are the medically KNOWN causes of heart disease?  Well, heart disease (or more specifically, heart attacks) are caused by blocked arteries that limit blood/oxygen flow to our four-chambered pumping vessel.  Arteries are blocked by cholesterol build-up that accumulates over many years.  The really interesting fact about cholesterol is that it ONLY exists in meat and animal products.  While some vegetables contain levels of saturated fats that our liver can convert to cholesterol, the likelihood of developing heart disease from a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is exponetially lower than traditional carnivores.  In fact, anyone who has a genetic risk for heart disease or acquires that risk from a diet that includes large amounts of cholesterol and saturated fat, will be instructed by a physician to REDUCE their intake of meat and animal products.

 

Of course, there is such a thing as “healthy” cholesterol (aka HDLs) that are necessary for maintaining balance in the body, but people don’t NEED to consume cholesterol in their diet because the body makes enough on its own.  If people absolutely cannot live without meat in their diet, they should at least severely reduce the amount of beef and substitute with seafood or soy for their source of protein.  What most people do not realize is that meat should not be the central focus of our diet.  Yet, most Americans plan their meals around their meats and organize their grocery shopping to incorporate meat into every day, if not every meal.  Humans only need 50 grams of protein per day (two cups of soy), but the average American consumes 200% of the recommended portion. 

 

Becoming a vegetarian is one of the best life changes I have ever made. I understand that it is not an easy decision for most Americans.  It took me 31 years to finally become a vegetarian: 25 years of ignorance and 6 years of denial. 

Despite popular myths about blood type diets, I am an O positive vegetarian who has experienced nothing but improvement in my health and well-being since I eliminated meat from my plate.  I now have more energy, sharper intellect, and incredibly regular/healthy bowels due to my lack of meat intake. I used to get sick often as a meat-eater, and I have not experienced any illness since I became a vegetarian, despite working 12 to 15 hours a day under stressful conditions.  My boyfriend also became a vegetarian at the same time and has had the same experience.  Despite his family and life history of high cholesterol and heart disease (his father died of a heart attack at age 52), his medical check-up last month was the best in his life including a completely healthy line of blood tests.  He is the perfect example of how a balanced vegetarian diet can still maintain a strong, muscular build that so many people wrongly assume requires meat to sustain.  Of course, we are just two people and our experience is hardly enough reason for anyone to consider something as dramatic as a diet shift.  Therefore I have done substantial research to pass on to others.

In fact, all the research I have done reveals NO scientific evidence that any blood type requires meat.  I have also discovered that it is completely possible to receive all the nutrients and minerals we need with a well-balanced vegetarian diet, including adequate levels of protein, iron, Omega-3s and healthy cholesterol.  To the contrary, my research has uncovered vast information about the negative impact of a meat diet on our physical body, our animal friends and the planet.  I’ll include numerous links below to videos and websites.

Although my initial inspiration for becoming a vegetarian was the realization of our inhumane food production practices in this country, my reasons have grown 10-fold.   Eating meat for food is THE MOST inefficient and wasteful process that results in tremendous destruction of our natural resources, including the bi-product of 1.4 billion tons of animal waste (130 times the volume of human waste) that is released into our soil and ground water.  The methane gas produced by our meat industry is one of the largest contributors to global warming. 

Since health and well-being is undeniably impacted by our mentality, it is important to consider the positive impact of a conscious vegetarian diet.  Medical research has consistently confirmed the powerful connection between mind and physical health.   This is evidenced by the placebo effect.   But beyond the science of quantum physics, for many there is an understanding of  our spiritual ability to create our own reality (and specifically our own health) with our thoughts.   Like any conscious creation, our diet is shaped by our feelings about what we eat.  In fact our diet is one of the most direct and influential aspects of our health because it essentially is the fuel for everything that manifests in our physical body.  “You are what you eat” is no different from “you are what you think.”  Why would you choose to eat vitamin supplements and avoid certain processed foods, but then eat meat injected with anti-biotics and growth hormones that was produced in an environment of violence and greed?  When we eat consciously and choose to eliminate foods that result in inhumane treatment of animals and exploitation of our natural world, the result is immediate and enormous in our physicality.  This of course extends to eating organic and nutritious foods, as well. 

There is a wealth of information available to suit whatever interest you may have about this topic.  A quick and easy place to start is: www.meatrix.comThis is a great site to introduce the concepts of animal cruelty without being over-whelmed with gruesome truth.  The videos are 5-minute animated parodies of the Matrix films.  It is also an excellent site for children. 

The next step up is an excellent (one-hour) film called Diet for a New America that explores the negative impacts of an animal-product diet on our bodies and the environment.  http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=diet+for+a+new+america&hl=en&sitesearch=#

Depending on how much truth you can handle… you’ll want to watch another 90-minute film called Earthlings that explores the systemic exploitation of animals by humans in very real detail.  This film was ultimately what gave me the strength to change my diet. Prior to watching this video, my mind was still able to rationalize eating meat as a moral life choice.  After watching the film, my conscience was shaken into awareness and forced to eat with intention or sacrifice my spiritual/moral paradigm and return to a life of hypocrisy. It is disturbing and indescribably sad, but a really well-made and beautiful film that recognizes the spiritual connection between humans and animals and our responsibility to treat them as sacred members of the Earthling family.  http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=diet+for+a+new+america&hl=en&sitesearch=#q=earthlings&hl=en&sitesearch=

Another excellent documentary is the Future of Food.  Although this 90-minute film mainly focuses on genetically-modified food, it shares the message about the implications of an unconscious diet. http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=diet+for+a+new+america&hl=en&sitesearch=#q=future%20of%20food&hl=en&sitesearch=

King Corn is a relatively short documentary that makes a clear connection between food production practices in the US and our failing American health.  It explores the consequences of genetically-modified corn used as the main food source for livestock, including connections to the American obesity and diabetes epidemics and our surprisingly low life expectancy despite our wealth.  http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1781387370821800410&q=king+corn&ei=KFJJSIqHOpGIrQLOt_2LDA&hl=en

There is so much more information, including scientific research like the China Study, if you want to learn more.  I do not offer this with any judgment, as I am well-aware of the emotional and cultural baggage that surrounds diet.  I do not mean to make light of the decision at all, because I truly believe it is one of the most important issues we must address as individuals and as a people.  We cannot live without food, but if we do not begin to eat consciously our food can also be responsible for our early death, the termination of humanity’s spirit, and eventually the final expiration of our species.