Unless you live under a rock, you have heard all the scary statistics that Americans face when it comes to their health. Stroke, heart disease, diabetes and obesity are considered epidemics, with cancer right on their heels. We have all heard that we must eat more whole, unprocessed foods, whole grains, vegetables and fruit to live healthy lives. We have all heard that we should give up junk food for healthier fare.
But we may not have heard that eating a plant-based diet can make us more compassionate, calm and loving.
I believe that it can.
I will say, with the deepest respect for all people and beings, that my views are based on my own life and my own dietary experiments, as well as my observations of people around me. This is not a judgment on those of us who choose to eat animal food.
Compassionate eating, as I see it gives us the opportunity to actualize a humane and peaceful lifestyle that honors all sentient beings that share life on this planet. When I decided to stop eating meat, I was 14 years old and was driven by my love of animals, not a concern for health and wellness. What is that expression? Youth is wasted on the young? I eschewed meat, but ate a diet of processed foods and junk, all vegetarian, all unhealthy.
At the young age of 26, I faced a health crisis that forced me to discover the true power of a plant-based diet, when created with nutritional balance as its foundation. I discovered boundless energy and regained my health. I discovered my passion and mission, as a result: that the food we eat has a dramatic impact on who we are.
As a result, I have worked in the field of holistic health and nutrition for more than 20 years and have witnessed a lot of supposedly healthy fad diets come and go. I have also seen countless people discover their health and true compassion by choosing to eat a balanced plant-based diet. I have watched people's hearts, lives and potential open as their bodies healed.
Interestingly, what we eat is of such importance to human health and progress, as well as ecological balance that it has become as highly charged a topic as politics or religion. It could give you indigestion! With finger-pointing on both sides of the topic of what should be on our plates, it's important to discuss the issues without hurting others or demeaning their choices. Compassion is for all living beings, not just animals. And while there are some militant vegetarians who lecture, preach and show contempt for their omnivorous brothers and sisters, I believe the majority of us simply hope to create an open and welcoming atmosphere for people to discover this wonderful way of living and eating.
So many people change their diet to be plant-based for their health. More and more of us are discovering a truly healthy life when we stop eating meat, dairy and poultry products and fill our tummies with whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruit.
Others of us become vegetarian or vegan to create a lighter footprint on the planet. Again, there is not much dispute about the facts: animal food production contributes to the destruction of rain forests; the loss of topsoil; the contamination of waterways and air pollution. A plant-based diet creates a lighter footprint on our fragile planet.
Finally, whether or not you support the work or style of organizations like PETA, there is little argument in favor of factory farming. Most of us are horrified by the filth and cruelty that goes into farming animals commercially for human consumption.
Okay, but can eating a plant-based diet result in a more compassionate people? In my view, yes. But it's not just me. So many ancient traditions of spiritual practice eschew animal flesh, from Buddhism to Catholics not eating meat on Fridays to Taoist teachings. See, sparing life -- in any form -- by and for individual people, as well as for the animal is an act of compassion, whether conscious of it or not. It can be seen as the soul's ultimate merge with divine grace or karma or whatever you choose to call it.
In the end, whether you turn to a balanced, plant-based diet for health or for ethics, you receive the gift of "insurance" that you have reduced your risk of becoming a disease statistic as well as reducing the stress on our over-burdened healthcare system. You also remove your support from industries that are socially and environmentally reprehensible and are destroying our collective health.
To live a bit more lightly and sustainably on the planet is to do something tangible and constructive for both our present health and for future generations. And while it's true that becoming a vegetarian may not lead one to spiritual enlightenment just by what we choose to eat, we live in a time when there is a growing awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. Choosing compassion -- in any form -- can help to strengthen our connection with the spirit of life around us.
Follow Christina Pirello on Twitter: www.twitter.com/christinacooks