Be Kind to Animals Week 2020 – Plant Food for Thought?

Many people are surprised to learn that Be Kind to Animals Week has been around for over a century. It is not some trending new concept being driven by celebrity Instagram posts nor a response to recent events. It all started back in 1915 when Dr. William O. Stillman, the leader of the American Humane Association, established a campaign to recognize the value of other species beyond our own. Today, Be Kind to Animals Week is observed by thousands of animal shelters and humane societies across the world. These organizations host special events and promote education on the humane treatment of both wild and domestic animals. We encourage everyone to demonstrate their kindness through the work of these organizations. You can volunteer at local animal shelters and perhaps consider adopting a rescue animal.

On the other hand, this post will explore other ways to Be Kind to Animals. We dare say perhaps a healthier or even environmentally sustainable ways to be kind to animals? We reached out to our pool of contacts namely Veronica Kacinik, RD, MSc, PHEC, CDE and Board Member of the Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation and Rachel Parent, founder of and Regeneration International Youth Speaker & Activist. While Veronica provides patient-centered care that is mindful of a person’s autonomy, Rachel on the other hand tells her personal story and motivation as to why she decided to become a vegan.

Through both their dedication to educating households on other ways of eating healthy foods, you may find inspiration to try the same in honor of Be Kind to Animals Week. Who knows, after seven days you may find that the lifestyle suits you just fine. Or realize that your everyday meal choices impact the environment, our planet. At the very least, you might discover how much better you feel when you add more nutritious plant-based meals to your daily dietary regime. 

Two Inspiring Voices from the Movement Towards Plant-Based Whole Foods

Interview with Veronica Kacinik, RD, MSc, PHEC, CDE and Board Member of the Plant a Seed & See What Grows Foundation 

Note: some responses have been truncated to reduce editorial length

Veronica works with patients who follow different eating patterns which includes eating meat for some. She definitely encourages more plant-based protein but not as the only source of protein.

Q: Why should people consider eating plant-based diets? What are the health benefits?

A: People often consider incorporating more plant-based meals into their diet for many different reasons. It may be out of concern for cruelty to animals or they do not like the taste of meat. It may also be because of climate change and global environmental sustainability. For others, it may be part of their cultural or for religious reasons. In addition, there are true health advantages to eating more plant-based, which may also drive some. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that people eating appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are at a reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity. Often, these diets are often have a low intake of saturated fat and have a high intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, soy, nuts, and seeds which are all rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. These foods contributes to proper nutrition and reductions in chronic disease.

Q: Because “plant-based” has become such a buzzword lately, what’s an easy way for the public to assess if it is nutritious? 

A: Adding the ‘whole food’ part to the plant-based. There are a lot of plant-based products or meat alternatives which could help people ease / transition people to a more plant-based way of eating, however many of these products are highly processed, contain artificial ingredients or food additives, and are often high in sodium. You should not have to sacrifice your health to save the planet. If you want to eat nutritiously and improve your health while helping the environment, you should avoid or minimize eating ultra-processed plant-based or meat alternative foods like meatless patties and chicken fingers, and focus on minimally processed foods like tofu, canned beans or frozen vegetables or whole foods like soy beans, cooked beans and fresh vegetables.

Students from Clark Rutherford school, NS enjoy their very own classroom-grown bush beans as provided by the Foundation’s Seeds of Inspiration educational resources.

Q: What are some ways to transition to plant-based diets for an individual and for the whole family? 

A: First of all, a plant-based eating pattern does not just mean eating vegetables. You want to make sure it is nutritious, balanced, and leaves you feeling full and satisfied. This is done by eating plant-based protein rich foods such as tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and nuts, and healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. Plus, dietary fibre from legumes, whole grains, seeds, vegetables and fruit, also help you feel full and your bowels will be happy, too.

A good way to start is by incorporating more plant-based protein foods into your diet and reducing animal-based protein such as substituting mushrooms and lentils for 1/3 to ½ ground beef in your meatballs or hamburger patties, make your stir-fry with tofu and cashews instead of chicken or shrimp, or making lentil tacos with lentils instead of ground chicken or beef. Another way to transition is by becoming plant-based part-time or plant-forward, starting small by choosing one day a week or one meal a day to eat meatless meals and snacks.

Remember, adapting and working towards a plant-based diet eating pattern takes time, planning and some effort. Make sure you break it down into small manageable steps instead of going all in, and you’ll be more likely to succeed. Life never goes smoothly so you’ll probably hit some bumps along the way with recipes not working out or food combinations and tastes you don’t enjoy. You may even put it on hold and decide to try again. If you do go ‘all in’, you may want to consult a registered dietitian to make sure you are getting all your nutrient needs through food or what nutrients you may need to supplement. This should be a journey of discovery, something you enjoy and genuinely want to endeavor on. In the end you’ll feel good because you figured out how eating more plant-based fits into your life, and you’ll be doing the planet good!

Interview with Rachel Parent, founder of and Regeneration International Youth Speaker & Activist

Q: Why did you or your family choose to become a vegan?

A: I chose to become vegan for multiple reasons. Being raised vegetarian, I’ve always had an incredible passion for animals and their well-being. I felt that I was doing enough with my lifestyle and diet to protect animals. That was until I began to learn about the dairy and egg production industry employing extremely cruel practices, many of which the general public is oblivious to. We are so often misled by packaging that illustrates a picture of cows and chickens that live happily on farms. Unfortunately, the reality is grim. The cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are kept in small, cramped enclosures, often indoors. Aside from being pumped with antibiotics to stave off poor conditions and disease, they are fed completely unnatural diets made of primarily genetically modified corn and soy which coincidentally are also destroying the environment. Everything about the system in which these animals are raised is wrong, and goes against the autonomy and freedom each being should have. As I dug deeper into learning about our food system, my research further led me to finding out about the effects of industrial animal agriculture on the environment and climate. One of the most common environmental issues associated with large scale animal farming is the release of green house gas emissions. Following fossil fuels, it is the second greatest emitter of GHG (greenhouse gases), and is one of the main causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water and air pollution. These large farms are destroying ecosystems near and far. Learning about these various animal cruelty and environmental issues made me understand that I needed to ensure my values were represented in my actions. That’s when I became vegan. 

Q: Please elaborate or describe your journey to becoming vegan, as a teenager and now into a young adult.

A: I have found the transition from a teen to young adult while being vegan has been an amazing one. I feel a sense of peace within myself that I had never known before. I’m trying my best to reduce harm for animals and the environment. I finally feel as though my values are in line with my lifestyle, and that is truly a wonderful feeling. In addition to all of the animal rights and environmental aspects of veganism, many also experience positive health effects. I happened to be one of those people. Since  becoming vegan I have had increased energy, and a significant decrease in congestion. Both issues I had struggled with for years. I’ve also had a greater diversity of foods. When you omit certain things out of your diet you become more creative, and I tend to make things with whole real foods, meaning my nutrition intake has increased because I am not depending on only a couple of food products. I found it interesting to start to calculate what each food was beneficial for, and I’ve begun to look at food, and eat for the nutrient value rather than something just to fill me up. Overall, I think it helps us to better understand our bodies and the world around us. I’ve certainly put more thought into the lives of animals and the intricate connection that every web of life has. Regardless of our species, we all experience pain, happiness, grief, etc. I truly believe that moving towards a plant-based diet is one of most compassionate forms of action that we can take; helping those who are voiceless, and further understanding our footprint on this earth. 

Q: Would you recommend to people to consider being vegan?

A: I definitely encourage people to consider veganism. It seems radical to many, to completely cut out foods they have depended on or grew up with. But I believe we need a radical change in the way we look at food. It’s a big leap for many, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take the time to properly transition, and slowly cut out the various food groups. Even this makes a big difference. 

The one thing I will caution is that not all [vegan diets] are created equally. Many who switch to plant-based diets rely on soy and tofu meat replacements. Soy which is largely genetically modified-approximately 90% to be precise-is having harmful effects on the environment and our health. This is due to the high inputs of chemicals in this type of industrial agriculture. One of the greatest effects these crops are having is soil damage. When our soil is damaged from pesticides and herbicides, it releases carbon into our atmosphere contributing further to the climate crisis. While we are already in the midst of climate change, and the catastrophic effects that it could entail, the agriculture sector is contributing approximately 44-57% of all green house gas emissions. While much of our soy comes from the United States, it is also coming from places such as Brazil where the Amazon is widely cut down or “slash and burned” in order to make space for soy plantations. The amazon, considered the lungs of the earth, is under threat due to agricultural practices as sensitive ecosystems are contaminated with chemicals while orangutans and other endangered species are losing habitat, and indigenous peoples are displaced. When it comes to issues like these, our food is no longer just about what’s on our plate, it has become a matter of the ecocide, and human rights violations that are taking place. Other genetically modified foods such as corn, canola, and sugar from sugar beet are having similar effects environmentally. These are ingredients that people often consume in products unknowingly, products like vegetable oil which generally contains at least one of the above mentioned foods. These GMO crops in addition to about 70 other non-GMO varieties including lentils, chickpeas, and wheat are heavily sprayed with Roundup and glyphosate. This herbicide is used as a desiccant (the process of drying a crop quickly by spraying with weed killer in order to harvest faster), and also happens to be a registered antibiotic. So, in addition to high chemical residue levels we are ingesting, we are also consuming unsafe and un-prescribed antibiotics, potentially with every meal, depending on your diet. In addition, the health risks this poses, such as antibiotic resistance, pollinators like bees and butterflies, as well as wildlife are drastically affected by these high inputs of herbicides.  This is why it is incredibly important to understand where our food is coming from, its footprint, and how we can do better. I encourage those who use soy, corn, or canola based products to ensure that they are purchasing non-GMO or organic. I also encourage everyone to look into the crops that are desiccated heavily and try to buy organic when possible. A vegan diet can be incredibly healthy as long as we watch what we consume.

Often times when I encourage people to become vegan or plant-based, I’m told that it is too expensive. I think this is one of the greatest misconceptions. Foods like rice and beans have been the staple of people’s diets for centuries. Whole foods and grains are often the primary foods we depend on to eat less expensively. A great example of this is when lockdowns due to COVID-19 were announced around the world. The first foods to disappear off the shelves were rice, beans, and potatoes. That is because these are inexpensive options that go a long way. Where veganism can get expensive is when people purchase packaged foods, bars, cereals , etc. By making our own foods, not only can we save money but we are able to live compassionate lifestyles. 

Amidst the current world crisis that we face with COVID-19 it is also important to re-examine the way in which we farm animals. While it is speculated that the pandemic might have come from a wet market in Wuhan, this is not the first case of animal foods causing health issues. Of the many diseases that have spread since the ’60s scientists estimate that over half were caused by animal transmission to humans. Some examples of these are SARS, MERS, and Mad Cow diseases. Many think that the treatment, and the conditions to which the animals are kept in abroad are uniquely bad, and perhaps this is why we are facing the current situation. What many fail to acknowledge is the reality that we have the same problem here in North America, except we call them factory farms. Animals are kept in the same filthy, and cramped spaces. One of the major difference is that the animals in North America are repeatedly given high doses of antibiotics and medicine. Even so, unless we fix this problem of animal agriculture, we are just as vulnerable to another pandemic.

We’ve reached a critical time in the health of our planet where our actions have the ability to heal and regenerate, or continue to damage the planet. Industrial animal agriculture is one of the most destructive industries and it’s time, in this day and age, to move towards a compassion-based diet that puts sustainability and welfare above all. 

Join us in celebrating Be Kind to Animals Week by adding more plant-based whole foods to your meals and experience the difference it makes on your health and well-being!

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