Dr. Baruch on Vegan Health & Wellness

The motivation behind me becoming more conscious about my health, which happens to include veganism, started with my second grade teacher Ms. Williams, who I was quite enamored with. One day at lunch, Ms. Williams noticed that I was eating an unhealthy sandwich and encouraged me to consider talking to my parents about the dangers associated with eating certain animal flesh. Little did Ms. Williams know that all she had to do was look wrong at what I was eating and I would have stopped. In any event, I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my parents the new information that I had learned that was going to make us all healthier. This began my pursuit of being more health conscious along with working to elevate my self-worth.

When I was thirteen, I was exposed to an article that revealed how difficult it is for meat to be digested. In this article, two individuals were given a meal to determine how long different foods stay in the body. One of them ate a steak dinner, the other ate a vegetarian meal that they could track in their physical elimination. The one that ate the vegetarian meal had no negligible evidence of what he had consumed after 17 hours. Meanwhile, the person that ate the steak dinner still had evidence of the steak in his physical elimination 20 days later. The information taught me a lot about biology and digestion and how the body works. It was clear that one diet was better for you than the other and if that was the case, then that was the one for me. It became even more obvious to me that I needed to make a change as I began taking note of the declining health of my fellow students, friends and family. So I stopped eating meat at that point. I didn’t quite go "cold turkey" but I was pretty aggressive with it and the premise was if it wasn’t healthy, I wasn’t going to consume it. My journey started off as a vegetarian and evolved into being more “health conscious” after concluding that there were a lot of vegetarian folks that were not healthy and that wasn’t what I wanted for myself.

I grew up in Southeast Washington DC and my community at the time was being targeted for bad health and pharmaceutical drug dependency. The weapon of choice was food. I saw it as nutritional terrorism; the nutritional and food industrial complex had made shelf life, flavor, color and presentation more important than nutrition. The only thing in our body that enjoys the poor choices we make with regard to nutrition is the tongue. So that two inch by three inch muscle if you will, is now being pleased, at the expense of the health of the rest of the body. Once the food you eat hits your throat, the joy ride is over. Why do we do this to ourselves? We get that immediate emotional and the taste refreshment but after that our body suffers. We should be eating to nourish and refuel the body and not eating to have fun. If I want to have fun I go to an amusement park.

In 1995 I decided it was insulting to have to leave my community to feed myself and my family that which I considered wholesome and nutritious. There needed to be healthy food alternatives in my community and I was determined to make that happen. So I decided to open up my own food cooperative and did so out of my own garage. It didn’t take long until the space required to operate this business forced me to expand beyond my garage. In fact, I expanded several times within the first three years of being in business. Now I no longer needed to go outside of my community to get the nutritious food that I desired to feed my family.

I’ve been a vegan/vegetarian now for over thirty years. I’ve made a significant and concerted effort to eat healthy within the vegan and vegetarian space and at times stepping it up to 80% raw and 20% cooked. Years ago I even started eating every other day. I have done juice fasts regularly to help reduce the excess in my body and at the same time increase my nutritional absorption. There were several different phases that I went through with regards to eating healthy, all with the motivation being to improve the quality of my life and increase my life expectancy. I try to keep that central to whatever I do; who I hang out with, who I talk to, what I talk about, what I listen to and look at on TV all has to be of benefit to me and my life. I qualify all aspects of my consumption to make sure that they fit into a wellness reality space. If we’re not careful we can get caught in a self destructive mindset that will open up the door for toxic invasion of all sorts, on all levels - music, food and people to name a few.

We need to understand how food impacts us emotionally and behaviorally. Sometimes we don’t understand why our children are acting out of control and are unmanageable. We need not go further than what they are eating. They may suffer from depression, or some other food born psychological impairment. So let’s not forget what grandma used to tell us and that is “you are what you eat”, not just physically, but mentally as well. Every thought, action and experience that you encounter is received, processed and recorded by your brain, which is created, fueled and thus has a relative capacity to function that directly correlates with how it is nourished. So it is important for us to make this connection, especially if our children are challenged academically. Quite possibly and in fact most likely, it is as a result of diet. We can make a big difference in their academic performance, emotional balance and behavior by improving what goes into them.

We have to educate to empower. I don’t 100% agree with the saying “when you know better, you do better”, I think there is another necessary component and that is if we feel better about ourselves, we make better decisions on our behalf. With this in mind, if we empower more people, then we can cause more people to get better results and if they develop an appetite for these better results; feeling better, looking better and experiencing overall well being, then being healthy may become second nature again. Right now being healthy has become so unnatural and uncommon it’s like we, the people who are doing the work to be healthy and are getting the results, are strange. How could it be that we have fallen to such a state where healthy is strange and unhealthy is the norm? I’m not sure. You think it’s weird being a vegan today, try doing it 30 years ago when I started eating and living this way. Everyone thought I was undernourished and unhappy since I wasn’t eating what they were eating. Of course now I know that they found it offensive for me to choose to do what I was doing to my body and they were really trying to get me to rejoin them on the road to biological disaster, fostered by the Standard American Diet or even worse, the Standard Black American Diet. I’ll admit it was kind of weird back then as I was eating food not because of taste, how it looked, price or convenience but rather what I thought was the most beneficial. My motivation is to get people to this point where they too can come to the conclusion that truly “you are what you eat.”

I can’t say it across the board but increasingly I don’t hear of people being concerned with what so called “food” goes into their body. It is ironic because we are very particular about where we put our body on a sexual level and even then we’re not as careful and conscious as we used to be, or as we should be. One of my less classy poetic expressions is “eating the Standard American Diet is like having unprotected sex with a dirty prostitute.” At record levels we are spreading and suffering from herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV, AIDS, and other STDs resulting in hundreds of thousands of people being infected and some subsequently dying from these illnesses. However, when you compare the outcomes in that list to the millions of people that are losing their lives to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, it doesn’t even compare. You would think that if we are concerned about the body in any way, we would be concerned about it in EVERY way. So we wear a condom to protect our bodies from diseases that may result from sexual contact and yet we will turn around and put anything in our mouths without any concern for the impact on our health. We go to Crack Donalds and get a Crappy Meal and eat it without an oral prophylactic somewhere to protect us from the impending doom tied to this sin against the flesh. Crack Donalds, Murder King, Bo Strangles, Taco Hell, WinDisease, Chokers and IHOP: the International House of Pulmonary Heart Disease have populated our communities like flies on crap. Why you ask? The answer is simple because we want them there. We support them with our dollars. Then we wonder why we are the sickest and have the most dialysis clinics, houses with post construction wheel chair ramps installed and are taking the most drugs. Did I mention that we die the earliest too?

It’s psychotic thinking when we don’t make the connection between healthy eating and health and well being. We’re not making that solid connection even though it’s so obvious to so many others. Pleasure seemingly now overrides doing good for our bodies. In fact, if it is pleasurable many of us define it as being good simply on the merits of how it makes us feel. Food is becoming like a sexual experience; it’s so gratifying and that is why we do it. I hear it all the time: “You got to die from something so you might as well enjoy yourself.” When I talk to people they’re adamant: “You’re not gonna take my macaroni and cheese from me. You’re not gonna take my fried chicken away from me, there’s nothing that you’re gonna say to me that’s gonna make me not want them.” It is an oral fixation with good tasting, yet life threatening “comfort” foods. So now we’ve emotionally attached ourselves to this behavior: “I can’t wait to get home tonight so I can eat my fried chicken”, much like how we can’t wait to get home to be with the man or woman that we love. A love affair with foods that are killing us is no different than being in a relationship with someone that abuses us. We have an obsession with being comforted by what we eat and the “bad for you” food industry stands at the ready in our community to meet our insatiable demand. It is sad... But true.

I would say the thing that we need to do in this next phase of promoting healthy eating is that we have got to make it sexy. Meet the people where they are. Give them what they want. Just make it better. Make it healthier. At this point in time, healthy eating doesn’t have the same appeal that the traditional way of eating in America has. We need to keep working on making health and wellness sexier and as we do that there’s going to be more of us that gravitate towards it. By sexy, I mean not only in what the food looks like and how the food tastes, but also in who is representing the food. More attractive people need to speak out in support of eating healthy. We need to show the results on a beautiful person’s body. The language needs to change from sounding so extreme. It doesn’t need to sound so obvious and offensive to those disconnected from the healthier lifestyle like: “I’m going on a 40 day raw food fast.” Otherwise we will never get them to consider making the life sustaining change.

What I’m doing now is working on getting municipalities to subsidize healthier food options because if the cost of these healthier food options lowers then we’ve worked out one of the most significant barriers to healthy eating. I talk to people all the time and they say “eating healthy is too expensive” and I ask them well how much did the shoes you’re wearing cost and they look down in shame and say: “two hundred dollars, Giorgio Armani”. So I say, “what happens when you’re not healthy enough to walk because you kept making bad choices as it relates to your health, but good choices for your shoes, cell phone plan and how frequently you get your hair did and so on and so forth,” and when I say it this way it makes them see how ridiculous the choice to eat unhealthy food is. Not that they get it, but they don’t want to hear anymore. I work to diffuse the ammunition they use to justify doing what they know is wrong and help them overcome the barriers to positive change so they can make better choices and get better outcomes. So my efforts go beyond the bounds of just me saying I want to eat healthy so I can look healthy, feel healthy and live a long time. It goes beyond that. I truly want the world to be a better place and I believe the best place to start creating that reality is with what you eat.

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