Fellow toastmasters and honored guests, this week we celebrate the birth of our nation, one of the richest, most beloved countries in the world. If you were to ask a random sampling of Americans, you’d hear lots if platitudes about how great the U.S. is. Here, we have our freedoms, democracy, capitalism and a national landscape which offers something for everyone. Living here is so desirable that people are willing to uproot their families to come here and make a better lives for themselves and their loved ones.
However, we as a nation are in crisis. We have an issue that is almost unheard of in the rest of the world, even among other industrialized nations, although parts of the rest of the world are beginning to catch up to us.
A few years ago, I read a shocking statistic. Nearly 30% of Americans are clinically obese, having a body mass index of 30 or over. Not only that, but obesity related health care costs for conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer top $150 BILLION dollars.
Deaths related to these conditions are through the roof. About a month and a half ago we lost my father in law, who was diabetic. A couple of weeks ago, I heard through a friend about someone close to my age who had suffered a heart attack – we’re in our 30s and what was more shocking to me than this news was the fact that it was the second time in two years. This is not right, and the situation is far rarer outside the U.S. Yes, obesity and the health risks involved with it are more American than apple pie.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is grim news for our country. The cause of much of the disease can be pinpointed to two things: diet and exercise.
Exercise I won’t get into. Most of us know we should get up and move. But the standard American diet bears a second look.
When you think of American food, what immediately comes to mind? Anyone? [get suggestions]
I know that, when I look back on the food I grew up with, I remember that I primarily ate from the four food groups: meat, milk, starch and sugar. Vegetables were kind of a condiment, and various forms of fat, like butter and gravy were used as seasonings. Part of this has to do with my parents – my dad is one of those guys who always has candy bars around – and part of it has to do with the kind of food that everyone just ate. A lot of what we consumed as a family was processed – Kraft singles, Twinkies, SPAM… you get the idea. Heck, apple pie contains two of the four main food groups.
I know my experience isn’t unique. I also know something else about American cuisine – it’s growing, literally. Have you ever had the experience where you started to eat a package of something and thought “Oh, cool. It’s only 200 calories!” only to realize there were 3 servings in the package? How many people know how much protein you should consume at a meal? About two to three ounces, which is roughly the size of a deck of cards. Yet, most of us eat much more than that, as well as far larger portions that needed of other foods.
The standard American diet makes it more and more difficult as portion sizes grow, and food is made more and more cheaply with lower quality ingredients.
So what’s the answer here? I think there are a number of steps we as Americans can take in order to improve our health and well-being. One such tactic, which I’ve spoken about in the past, also has a side benefit of reducing stress on the planet and can help reduce the stress on your wallet.
The particular tactic I want to propose to you all tonight is the adoption of a plant-based diet, rich in complete amino acid protein, iron, vitamins, minerals and with the amazing ability to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce cancer risk.
Notice I didn’t say vegetarian. I said plant-based. Reduce your intake of eggs and dairy as well as meat, and it will have a profound effect not only on your health but the health of the planet.
The Environmental Working Group claims that if every American ate one less burger per week, it would be the environmental equivalent of taking your car off the road for 320 miles. Researchers at top American universities also state that the adoption of a plant-based diet releases significantly fewer greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than an omnivorous diet, a poultry-based diet, or even a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, on which one consumes dairy and eggs.
Now, I have no illusions that people will jump to adopt veganism overnight. But if you could make even a small change – say, eating a plant-based meal once a week or replacing one soda a day with water, I believe you will see and feel immense changes begin to take place.
Where to start? By educating yourself… four fairly recent movies that you can watch to gain a greater understanding are Supersize Me, Forks Over Knives, May I be Frank and PlanEAT. Also, google something called the Engine 2 diet, promoted by an Austin, TX firefighter who happens to be the son of the physician profiled in the movie Forks Over Knives. Also, here in Santa Rosa is Dr. John McDougall, a long-time proponent of a plant-based diet who has seen extraordinary changes occur in the lives of others.
Ladies and Gentlemen, change won’t happen overnight. I know I’ve been adjusting my diet for the last 22 years and I’m still working at it. But I have fait that, with small steps, maybe some day the phrase “going to Mickey D’s” will mean visiting Dr McDougall. And that will someday become more American than apple pie.