How do we return to the notion that meat, fish, poultry, cheese, and dairy should be designated as occasional treats, not staples?
A routine physical turns into a wake-up call for lots of people. Six years ago it was my turn. The numbers were in, and they were bad. Weight, cholesterol, and glucose were all up, and there were other symptoms—apnea, bad knees, and a couple of things I won’t talk about—that were equally discouraging. But my doctor opted for something more radical than pills: he told me to become a vegan.
No way, I thought. My job, which I happen to love, takes me to home kitchens and great restaurants all over the world. What? I’m supposed to say goodbye to carnitas, cheddar cheese, and chicken biryani? More like say goodbye to my career. Instead, I struck a deal, with him and with myself. I’d be vegan until dinnertime. After that, all bets were off.
That’s how VB6—or Vegan Before 6:00, the title of my upcoming book—began. When I first started with this admittedly self-serving compromise, I had already been exploring the food we eat and how it’s produced. There is no denying it: the standard American diet (SAD), with its dependence on artery-clogging fat, hyperprocessed sugar, and resource-sucking animal protein, is literally killing us and taking the planet down with it.
But the solution is more complicated. How do you get people to turn the way they eat upside down, so that the majority of daily calories come from fruits and vegetables? How do we return to the notion that meat, fish, poultry, cheese, and dairy should be designated as occasional treats, not staples?
Because that’s how you should think of them, and there are two imposing reasons for that. One is your health: while very small amounts of meat on occasion may be good for us, large amounts are implicated in heart disease, cancer, and other chronic ailments. The second, of course, is the welfare not only of the animals themselves (who are treated, essentially, like factory widgets) but of the planet: industrially produced livestock is a leading generator of greenhouse gases and a disproportionately large consumer of resources—energy, land, and water—that are critically needed to raise food more efficiently for the world’s population. If we all sign up to eat less meat and animal products, our health, and that of our planet, will improve.
Besides which, I’ve chosen an approach that is easy to adopt. For one thing, the philosophy isn’t dogma. If you want to have milk in your coffee or the occasional morning egg, that’s fine. But I’ve found that structuring a new way of eating around time increased my awareness of the choices I’m making and helped me balance those choices. And at some point my preferences changed, and I really understood—on a gut level—that animal products should be occasional.
I hesitate to call VB6 a diet, but that’s exactly what it is: a regimen that fosters good eating habits that will help you lose or maintain your weight and give you more energy. I had been in a running slump for nearly a dozen years before I started eating this way, but I’ve returned to my routine with gusto—and finished three marathons in the past five years. Instead of a quick fix, VB6 is utterly sustainable. Really, you give up nothing; you just eat and feel better.
Still not sold? Try one day—I’ve mapped out a complete day of meals on the following pages—and see what you think. Then try another.