I have been eating humble pie a lot lately, along with a lot of salad. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m the guy who religiously decontaminates his cheese burger of any semblance of plant matter by exorcising the lettuce, tomato, gherkins, or onions (see a previous post where I mock vegetarians).
But then I tried an experiment.
For health reasons (I had nine symptoms a friend facetiously described as the nine marks of an unhealthy Clint) I decided, under the guidance of my doctor, to cut out all sugar, gluten, processed foods, and all animal products—meat, fish, dairy, eggs— from my diet for three weeks. All I ate was plants, all I drank was plants (i.e. smoothies, not beer!).
I subscribed to Dr Michael Pollan’s maxim: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” I.e. consume whole foods as close their original and unprocessed state as possible, only in moderate portions, and wherever possible eschew meat, eggs, and dairy.
I was expecting the pain of purgatory for three weeks, but the endeavor was much easier and sustainable than I had expected. I had forgotten that this was the menu in Eden.
Unexpected lifesavers were: almond milk in my cappuccinos, bags of nuts for essential fats, and daily smoothies as a means to take in daily greens and nutrient-dense superfoods, including infinite combos of kale and spinach, blended with banana, frozen berries, chia seeds, spirulina, ground flax seeds, pea protein, and raw cacao powder.
After three weeks my energy levels were revitalized, my mental focus was sharper, my sleep seemed more reinvigorating, my waistline was gratifyingly diminished, and the nine marks of an unhealthy Clint were noticeably dissipating. So, I extended the experiment to 100 days.
Here are four thoughts I’d like to share after my first 100 days of plant-based eating…
First, I am more convinced than ever that a variegated menu is God’s gift to mankind and can be enjoyed in different ways to God’s glory. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all food choice for Christians.
People are unique; we have disparate tolerances for ingredients, we possess different palates, our bodies have divergent reactions, and any food preference can be enjoyed to God’s glory.
Also, food preference is an extremely emotionally charged issue.
And the more I read and researched about various dietary approaches, the more I encountered the mentality that a particular way is morally superior to any other way. Vegetarians look down on pescatarians, who show disdain for omnivores, while vegans exhibit contempt for ovo-lacto-vegetarians who still consume eggs and dairy, and then raw food proponents roll their eyes at vegans who cook away they nutrient potential of their vegetables. Almost everyone has a strong opinion that what makes it onto their plate represents a better choice than others.
But as believers we know this isn’t the case.
Said bluntly, there is nothing inherently Christian or godly about cutting food out of your diet for moral reasons. And expecting others to do so is actually sinful…
1 Tim 4: 1-5 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Rom 14:3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.
So, eat and let eat.
Second, God’s clear permission to eat meat does not give Christians license to be willfully ignorant about the abuse of animals in much of the global food industry, nor does God’s blessing on our enjoyment of meat exempt us from the compassion he requires we have toward animals.
Proverbs 12:10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
Balaam, in Numbers 22, was dramatically granted some insight into how animals feel about being treated unreasonably. Interestingly, the angel of the Lord agreed with the donkey that it was unreasonable for Balaam to strike it.
Our husbandry of animals should reflect our God-ordained responsibility to be faithful stewards of our planet and the creatures God entrusted to our oversight.
Bear in mind that what we call the Noahic Covenant was actually God’s covenant to Noah’s descendants (that’s us), and every living creature (that’s the animals), see Genesis 9:10.
Turning a willfully ignorant blind eye to how our food choices contribute to the degradation of the environment and the unconscionable mistreatment of animals is not a mature Christian response in the information age.
Any decision we make about food should be done to the glory of God with an informed conscience (1 Cor 10:31).
Third, it is never too late in life to explore, to grow, and to discover new delights of God’s gifts.
Since I was concerned about how I would get sufficient protein, omega 3 fats, and other nutrients, which I assumed omnivores need to get from beef and fish, I embarked on a learning curve that has opened up new pantry doors of understanding and enjoyment.
As it turns out, protein deficiency (kwashiorkor) is never a result of getting calories from a whole food plant-based diet. Just ask a gorilla where he gets his protein from. Or even better, read/listen to vegan Ultraman champion Rich Roll’s inspiring and elucidating memoir, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Life, Becoming on of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself.
Plants, when we are intentional about consuming a variety of them, have everything we need except vitamin B12, which comes from microbes in the soil on the plants that animals eat without washing. Since we rightly wash our vegetables, we need a B12 supplement.
I have learned about chia seeds, goji berries, kale, spirulina algae, quinoa, and a cornucopia of other nutrient-dense, delightfully exotic foods I had never tasted before. My meals are more varied and exciting than they’ve ever been. And the benefits of eating healthily has changed me. You are, after all, what you eat.
Fourth, health and wellness, including longevity, are more dramatically affected by diet and lifestyle than I had realized. I read (actually I listened to the well-executed, read-by-the-author audio version) Dr Michael Greger’s brilliantly researched and very convincing book, How Not to Die. In this tome Greger shows how the top fifteen causes of death in USA (heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, etc.) can be prevented, halted, or even reversed by food choices.
I guess I always knew food affects mood, health, and longevity, but I had no idea how clear and causal the links were, nor how scientifically proven they were.
Also worth checking out is Dr Colin Campbell’s groundbreaking research in The China Study, whose discoveries spawned many documentaries. (This was the book President Clinton carried with him at his daughter’s wedding and credits with his dramatic heart health improvement).
I can honestly say I don’t feel deprived in the least. I don’t crave anything I used to eat, and I don’t foresee reverting to old habits any time soon. My three week experiment turned into a 100 day experiment, and has slotted into my lifestyle more comfortably than I could ever have predicted.
I’ve learned a lot, lost only unwanted symptoms (and weight), and gained a new perspective. I feel like I’ve done as much for my health as some would like to do for their country in their first 100 days of a new presidency!
This article originally appeared on TheCripplegate.com. Used with permission.
Clint Archer has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids. Read more of his work at thecripplegate.com.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/DanielKaesler
Publication date: May 2, 2017