You might think you've reached the pinnacle of healthy, sustainable eating when you have your own small herd of goats. For 26 years, I'd paid close attention to what I was feeding myself and my family, on a mission to ensure that the people I loved the most had the best nutrition and healthiest food possible. We purchased grass-fed meat and free-range eggs, enjoyed plenty of fruits and vegetables from our organic garden, and even had fresh goat yogurt from our well-loved goats. We are incredibly fortunate to have the life we have, and I feel grateful every single day -- yet I also wanted to make sure we were living a life of vibrant health.
The Turning Point
Then, about three years ago, a friend told me about the documentary Forks Over Knives. I watched it alone one afternoon, and for 96 minutes every truth I thought I knew about food and health unraveled. It gutted me on a physical and emotional level. One idea in particular shocked me: the revelation that we don't actually need animal protein to be healthy. I was floored. I could hear the voice of my mother from childhood, "Drink your milk for strong bones, girls!" as we finished off a meal of meat and potatoes. For a girl raised in a big Oklahoma family, the idea that we didn't need meat and dairy was a radical wake-up call and turned everything I thought I knew about healthy eating upside down.
And yet it was just the beginning. I learned that not only was it unnecessary for some people, but a diet based on animal products was linking to h higher rates of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
I felt betrayed by the misinformation I'd been fed -- literally -- for my entire life. I thought about how I'd been unknowingly urging these unhealthy foods upon my family for years, and I couldn't wait for my husband, Jim, to see the film. Both of us have heart disease and cancer in our families, and I felt an urgency to share what I'd learned with him. My pulse was racing as we watched it together, Jim in complete silence the whole time. The stakes were so high, I felt, because it had literally changed the bedrock of my personal values, and I hoped that the information would hit him just as strongly.
Forging a New, Plant-Based Path
After the film ended, we walked to our kitchen and without missing a beat, Jim said, "We have to get rid of animals products in our home." I was thrilled. Within 48 hours, we'd banished meat, dairy, eggs and fish from our kitchen, and completely overhauled our family's diet. I realize this was an extreme and sweeping response, and that's kind of how we roll--maybe a bit unrealistic for most!--yet there was still a big learning curve ahead.
I went on a fact-finding frenzy. I watched everything I could get my hands on. I spoke to nutritionists, doctors, and scientists. I read stacks upon stacks of books and articles (I am bit of a learning junky!). And through this discovery process, I had another shock: Animal agriculture is devastating to our environment, and a major factor in climate change, water and air pollution, biodiversity loss and deforestation. In the last year, the United Nations has called for a move away from the consumption of animal products to reduce these impacts. And for the first time in history, the USDA is considering making the link in their nutritional guidelines between health, diet and the environment.
As a strong environmentalist, this knowledge made me more passionate than ever about doing my part by committing to a plant-based diet and actively sharing what I had learned with others.
Fast forward three years from the moment that Jim and I got up from that couch and committed ourselves to a new life without animal products, and I can't believe the difference in our family. Our energy and health are off the charts. My husband and I are as fit as we've ever been. My younger children are close to the land through gardening and witnessing the miracle of a healthy ecosystem. My oldest son has changed his life path and moved into sustainable farming. And Jim and I have started a new organization, Food Choice Taskforce, to show the impact of animal agriculture on climate change and the environment.
All of us feel more empowered knowing that our food choices are making a difference in the world. Every single meal is an opportunity to eat for a healthier planet. And what is really cool is the discovery that what is good for the planet is good for you and good for animals. So it doesn't matter why you decide to go plant-based, it's a win-win-win all the way around.
And what about our wonderful goats? They eventually joined another herd and went to work helping with weed abatement in Santa Barbara, a career change that seems to suit them just fine.
3 High-Impact Actions that Can Cut Your "Foodprint" in Half
1. Choose plant-based foods often for a healthy planet, healthy body.
2. Buy delicious plant-based foods at farmers' markets, community farms, and plant-based restaurants.
3. Raise your voice with MyPlate MyPlanet to link a healthy diet with a healthy planet with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.