Just in time for your Fourth of July barbeque comes my review of Rip Esselstyn’s new book, My Beef with Meat: The Healthiest Argument for Eating a Plant-Strong Diet.
I know. Aren’t I just a kick in the pants? You’re probably thinking something along the lines of who the hell invited this killjoy (that would be me) to dinner? After all, it’s the Fourth of July; it’s practically un-American not to fire up some burgers, hot dogs, and chicken on the grill, right?
Well, as Americans, that’s sort of our problem.
Eating animal products (including dairy) is, according to Esselstyn, one of the causes of the dramatic increase in diseases and conditions such as heart attack, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, cancer, and others. We’ve gotten so used to thinking of these illnesses as an inevitable part of our lives and of the aging process that it becomes difficult to consider that there might be a different path. And indeed, there is.
In My Beef with Meat, Esselstyn, a former firefighter in Austin, TX, takes aim at all the myths and questions surrounding eating a plant-strong diet. For example, the issue of protein – and where in the world one can possibly get protein if one doesn’t eat meat. Although I knew that certain vegetables contained protein, I didn’t realize how plentiful it was in some fruits. In his book, Esselstyn breaks it down for his reader with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Database. A cup of strawberries, for instance, has 8.3% of protein. One orange? 7.4%. There’s a whopping 9.3% in one peach. And again, that’s just fruits!
As a vegetarian myself for 17 years – and someone who tries to eat as plant-strong as possible – the protein issue is the number one question I get from people about my way of eating. Now, thanks to Rip Esselstyn, I have some good responses.
Esselstyn explains that the World Health Organization recommends that protein make up only about 10% of total calories in the human diet. (Others suggest up to 20% of our calories should come from protein sources.)
Given the fact that the average American consumes 200 pounds of meat each year, it’s probably a safe bet to say that most of us are consuming way more than the recommended 10-20% of protein.
Yeah. Read that again. That’s not a typo.
The average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.
Think about that as you fire up your grill this week.
Another myth that Esselstyn shatters is that it’s expensive to eat a diet of primarily fruits vegetables, grains, legumes, and nuts. When compared to the cost of doctors’ visits, prescriptions, and lost time from work, a plant-based diet seems downright cheap. Beans, oats, bananas, potatoes, and brown rice are all very affordable.
Speaking of costs, Esselstyn gets into that with the sustainability issue as it affects the planet. It takes seven pounds of grain and 2,400 gallons of water to produce just one pound of “factory-farmed beef.” That’s a lot of water to make those 200 pounds of meat that a person eats each year.
And don’t get me started on the chemicals and contaminants. Esselstyn states that the FDA estimates that meat contains 500 and 600 different kinds of unnatural chemicals – but that our government only tests for 60 of them. Sixty! And again, we wonder why we’re seeing increased numbers of people with cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Do I sound like I’m lecturing or as if I’m a vegetarian proselytizer? Then that’s just me. Really. Because in My Beef with Meat, Esselstyn doesn’t come across that way at all. With a very approachable, simple, and down-to-earth manner, Rip gives his reader a big bowl of statistics flavored with some humor. (Chapters have titles like “Oil is the New Snake Oil,” “Barbeque + Meat = Danger,” and even “Poops from Heaven.”) He doesn’t make you feel guilty; he doesn’t give you a hard sell.
What Rip Esselstyn does do is present a reasonable, common-sense approach to eating more plant-based foods – along with 140 recipes to help you get started (or, if you’re pretty much a convert to the plant-strong way of eating like me, to inspire you with new ideas). All of the recipes in the book are plant-strong (meaning, no animal products or by-products), contain no added oils, use little or no salt, use minimally-processed sweeteners such as maple syrup or dates, and are very easy to make.
I confess I didn’t have a chance to try and review any of the recipes in My Beef with Meat before writing up this review. I do, however, make a very close version of the Tomato Sandwich. Nonetheless, I’m hoping to get to these new Engine 2 recipes soon:
- Anne’s Pumpkin Muffins
- Cranberry-Polenta French Toast
- No-Moo-Here Mashed Potatoes
- Fire Brigade Stuffing
- Mad Greek Gyro
- Bad 2 the Bone Chili
- Black Bean and Sweet Potato Quesadillas
- Handstand Burgers
- Spicy Spinach and Black Bean Burgers (a Happy Herbivore recipe!)
- Crispy Polenta Strips
- Fast and Fresh Marinara Sauce
- Tortilla Soup with Crispy Sticks
- and almost all of the dressings, hummus varieties, guacamoles, and spreads.
In the meantime, I have some Fourth of July grillin’ to do. Pass the corn on the cob, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, portabella mushrooms, and pineapple!