One FirstBank employee gets honest about what her and her husband experienced after cutting out meat and animal byproducts from their diet.

 

Okay, before you start to envision a couple wearing hemp shoes and tie-dye shirts that say animals are friends not food, yelling “meat is murder!” outside some burger joint, stop, because that’s not us. Not by a long shot.

I was your typical meat and potatoes mid-western gal with the cowboy boots to prove it, and my husband was a mince-pie and burger-loving New Zealander. Meat, dairy and eggs were something we were raised on and admittedly, loved (and I mean LOVED).

We’d even snicker and roll our eyes whenever we’d see someone at our favorite local restaurant ask, “can you make that with tofu?” Yep, we were those people. But in the words of Ygritte from Game of Thrones, “you know nothing, Jon Snow.” Literally, we knew nothing about the animal livestock and meat production industry.

So how did we end up here – no meat or animal byproducts or (gasp! dare we say it…) vegan? Well, an adamant brother-in-law, for one thing. Several videos and articles that shed light on the heart-wrenching yet common practices at factory farms, where most of the U.S. meat, egg and dairy supply comes from, for another. But then we became steadfast researchers, reading through countless studies and books on health, nutrition, environmental sustainability and animal welfare.

Once all the information we collected told one cohesive narrative: that eating too much meat and animal byproducts can cause health problems, that it contributes to our declining environment and factory farms are unbelievably cruel to animals, we made up our minds. We were done.

We’re not saying all meat and animal byproducts are equal. There are several ranchers and farmers, who raise their animals naturally, treat them with respect and try to minimize their carbon footprint. Nor are we saying everyone should be vegan or vegetarian. But we would implore you to research where your food comes from and how it’s made. It may surprise you to learn what chemicals can exist in everyday items you eat. If anything, it’ll empower you to make better choices and help you in the long run. It certainly did for us, and here’s just a few benefits we’ve personally experienced:

We started saving a lot of money.

There’s usually a big misconception that eating a vegan or vegetarian diet is expensive. That could not be further from the truth. Meat (not talking processed meat) is usually more costly at restaurants and in stores, because meat requires way more land, energy, food and water than plants. That shows in its price, too. In fact, the U.S. meat industry nets about $860 BILLION in sales annually. That’s a lot of money we spend and they make.

So when we swapped poultry, fish, and steak – for fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, grain and other vegan/vegetarian menu items – we were recouping nearly $200 a month. And it turns out, we’re not the only ones. A study published by the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that most vegetarians save at least $750 compared to meat eaters per year. Resources like Plant Based on a Budget even provide grocery lists and healthy recipe suggestions that cost $20-$30 a week to feed an entire family.

Bank account savings: +$2,000 annually

Blemishes and allergies dissipated.

I hate to admit it, but I would deal with breakouts all the time. My general physician would prescribe topical cream to keep it at bay, but it didn’t always work. Funny thing, though: weeks after I cut out dairy and meat — and started eating more fruits and vegetables – my blemishes went away. The little red bumps around my eyes went away. My husband’s hay fever went away. I’m not saying this diet is a silver bullet to all allergies or skin problems. But it does beg the question: what’s in these foods that helps perpetuate these symptoms?

Dairy products and meat, again depending on what you buy, can come packed with a lot of natural and unnatural things (artificial hormones, antibiotics, for one thing, to traces of fecal bacteria, ammonia, arsenic and chlorine). And all dairy – organic or otherwise – also contains the IGF-1 growth hormone, a natural hormone that helps baby calves grow big and strong. Unfortunately, that hormone is not beneficial for humans. It’s not only tied to causing cancer, but excess oil and acne. That’s why many adults who cut dairy and start ingesting more fruits/veggies usually experience healthier and clearer skin.

Bank account savings: +$300 annually (typically purchased on topical prescription creams, skincare products and antihistamines)

We were gaining muscle definition.

Ever heard the expression “abs are made in the kitchen”? We work out several times a week, but it wasn’t until I cut out high-fat foods like meats and cheeses that I actually started to see more muscle tone. But wait… where are we getting our protein from? I thought you’d never ask. Believe it or not, vegetables are an AMAZING source of protein. It may also surprise you to learn that most Americans eat way too much protein, and getting it from sources that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol (e.g. dairy, meat, eggs) isn’t necessarily healthy for you. Quinoa, nuts, spinach, chickpeas, peanut butter (sans palm oil), beans, lentils, to name a few, are a great source of protein and more importantly, they come with amazing health benefits. Fact is there are a lot of athletes (like tennis pro Venus Williams), and award-winning bodybuilders who don’t touch animal protein, and let’s just say, they could take any one of us out.

We started having way more energy.

Our diet consists of whole nutrient-laden foods like veggies, fruits, grains and whole wheat pasta. That’s important to note. Sounds boring, I know, but it’s not. It’s opened up our culinary world in ways you can’t imagine, and it’s made an amazing impact on our health and energy level. We no longer felt like we needed a nap after lunch. I would go to my mid-day Circuit Training class and have enough energy afterward to run intervals. How could this be? Well, turns out it takes a lot of energy to digest and process high-fat, high-cholesterol animal products like meat, chicken, dairy and eggs. This is often why we might feel “heavy” or lethargic afterwards.

But our bodies can breakdown fruits, legumes and vegetables much quicker and turn it into all day sustainable fuel, while also aiding in quicker recoveries. Ever heard of Scott Jurek? Catra Corbett? Laura Kline? Rich Roll? What about David Clark? They’re not only among the fittest people in the world, they’re award-winning ultra-runners, meaning they run up to 100 miles on any given day. And guess what? They’re vegan, and largely attribute their endurance to their food choices. Now, that’s pretty impressive.

Bank account savings: –$500 on new clothes [insert smiley face]. +increased confidence.

It only took a few weeks to make it a habit.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy going “cold turkey,” but it was a lot easier than I thought. The vegan and vegetarian food industry have made some impressive strides in producing meat and dairy substitutes that taste a whole lot like the real thing. For instance, Beyond Meat patties taste surprisingly like ground beef, but they’re made from peas and beets. And The Honest Stand cheesy dip also tastes like, well, cheese dip, yet it’s made from organic potatoes and cashews. Ripple Dairy-Free Milk—a non-GMO, gluten-free and nut-free milk – was a creamy-dairy-milk-like addition to my morning lattes.

Plus, once we started cooking and eating more flavorful fruits and vegetables, our cravings shifted to wanting more fruits and vegetables. We no longer wanted BBQ or fried chicken. We wanted fresh, wholesome ingredients and felt so much better for it.

Bank account savings: creating a healthy lifestyle that doesn’t negatively impact the environment, our health and animals — priceless.

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