They took years to come out, but thanks to a series of scandals and horrendous diseases related to intensive farming, they are beginning to emerge. It’s a classic: vegetarianism (no to meat) and veganism (no to any animal derivative), have just defeated the oldest cliche (“they are bad for children health”) and are almost recognized as better diets, that TV and media in general are starting to unleash the baddest “carnivores” (usually men) against the most docile and defenseless herbivores (usually women). As if the clash between these, if then a clash must exist, were placed on the level of “sensitivity” and “being strong”, and so on with other cliches…
This “reality”, artfully presented, always the same and repeated, completely distracts from the heart of the matter (if we want to put it all from the human point of view, and we always do it): eat or not eat meat (or at least eat not too much of it) – because reality is often made of nuances and not of extremes – is a very objective discussion that concerns health, beyond any “religion” or belief you embrace.
In short, made a fool out and/or disparaged, “the vegan” (let’s take one for all the various existing “tribes” of raw foodists, paleo, fruitarians and even respirians!) is quite hated by everyone (perhaps also because of some unbearable character that you would never follow, like anyone who takes advantage of guilt). Often even more hated than the vegetarian “because he/she is too extremist“. However, always those who ruin your Sunday lunches because “you have to make the little salad”. But wanting to see the point, they are people who are first of all taking care of themselves (and if in addition, or as a first reason, they do it in order not to kill and/or exploit animals, because they consider them beings worthy of respect, is not the center of the question, or rather, it distracts from the question that could more easily affect everyone.
Nobody here wants to offend food traditions or even betray the nature of “the man” – these are usually the pretexts of carnivores. But it’s a fake: we have never been carnivores to the levels we think. Indeed, in Italy for example “it has been in the last 70 years, since the post-war period, that consumption has literally exploded, in the quantity and variety of food, helping to create certain die-hard beliefs”, which we could safely call “cliches“: “for example the one that links physical prowess with meat consumption. Between 1948 and 1988 the weight of the meat has increased tenfold: we have gone from 6 kg per year of consumption per capita, in practice a country of semi-vegetarians!, to 65 kg per year. Meanwhile, the stature of the Italian man, in the same period, grows by a good 7 centimeters. The association was spontaneous (‘meat makes you big and strong’) but is it really so?”
In the midst of this whirlwind of cliches, Sarah Varetto, director of SkyTg24 Italy, wondered about that, setting up an investigation, A dish of health, to try to do some clarity, at least on TV.
The scientific community today answers “no”, confirmed in fact by many sportsmen, such as Filippo Magnini, vegan, at the age of 34 the best Italian freestyle swimmer ever, revealing that there is a physiological limit that it does not allow our bodies to take in many proteins: getting a binge of meat therefore translates into a big knot in the stomach.
And then there is so much more.
Oncologist Umberto Veronesi, he was one of the great supporters of the vegetarian diet, underlined in a interview that “the last two decades have seen a significant decrease in cancer mortality“. This is good news. And the answer is even better: prevention is the best weapon we have against cancer, “and prevention is mainly linked to nutrition“. And today in Italy there are 6 million vegetarians (out of 54 million omnivores) which is one of the highest numbers among western countries. Meanwhile, “less radical” forms are also growing: “between weekend vegetarians and part-time vegans“, those who have eliminated only red meats, and in general the “dimetarians“, recently called “reducetarians” or “flexitarians” (those who eat them little and they are more and more). The usual human need to label every action, in any case “choices that sound less and less strange, achieving the endorsement of the most authoritative institutions that deal with nutrition and health. In short, if even a generation ago a vegetarian was seen as a bizarre person, things are changing rapidly”, underlines Varetto.
Nothing new actually: already in the fifth century before Christ Hippocrates said: “let food be your medicine“. And there is evidence, as Veronesi said: “The largest study, on a couple of million people examined over the decades, has been done on the Seventh Day Adventists, a large American community that, for religious reasons, does not eat meat”. In short, it has been understood that they live on average 7.2 years more than any human being who is constantly consuming meat.
Longevity, in fact, is often linked, not so much to what you eat, but what you don’t eat: there are so-called “blue zones” in the world where you can live well for a 100 years, from the Californian Adventists to the island of Okinawa in Japan, from Costa Rica to Crete. In common these populations have a lot of work, little food, little meat and an intense community life. Our longest-lived Italians all come from Sardinia: “the Ogliastra area, together with Barbagia, records the highest longevity index in the world”. And it’s not because they eat “porceddu” (a famous traditional sardinian second dish, a full suckling pig on a skewer), but precisely because for a very long time theirs was a practically vegetarian diet: they ate cheese, ricotta, pistoccu bread, minestrone, potatoes, fava beans, beans and other legumes, milk (especially goat) and pork yes, “but when it happened” says a centenary man. Thing that happened once a week, sometimes even less. Then another important thing, “what we worked we ate“, on probably clean and uncontaminated land.
Today every choice (including food) is made more complicated: for some time now globalized life has made us give up our direct control over things. Paying attention to how and from where food arrives at the table is one of these problems: “and no one is saved in this“, “carnivores” and “herbivores” must be subject to the industrial food supply chain, which even when it is “organic”, it is not said that it has problems sometimes worse than antibiotics in animals.
In 2014 the seizures for agri-food crimes amounted to 3.6 billion euros. So it can happen that, as you can find meat from clandestine farms or not controlled from the antibiotic point of view in supermarkets, even at the market you can buy fish (per year we consume about 20 kg each) treated with illegal bleaches or dyes, to make it appear fresh for several days. Like Whitech, composed of hydrogen peroxide, phosphoric acid and citric acid, components that are inherently legal, but which are usually used to wash and certainly not to be ingested. For tuna, which is red, they can instead use carbon monoxide, or a harmless beet!, which have the ability to hide histamine, for example, an inflammation of the fish, which is certainly another factor of risk. Not even experts are able to recognize the treatment to the naked eye. The reporter’s experiment – a slice of tuna treated or not treated, red or black after a week in the fridge – is reminiscent of Supersize Me documentary about McDonald’s and the chips that do not go moldy for 8 weeks!
In the same way you can have on the table vegetables grown in “bio” fields a few meters from others that have just been confiscated due to the excessive presence of metals. We are in Graffignano, Viterbo area: images dating back to 2006 show the illegal spillage of toxic waste (hydrocarbons) then covered in soil. But just the field alongside is still cultivated: cadmium, chromium, cobalt, tin, antimony… all present at levels above the norm.
In a world that now has 640 million obese people, it is not crazy to cure yourself through food. In rich countries we have become accustomed to taking it as an instrument of pleasure to the extreme, rather than sustenance. Instead, it is in the right doses of the right food that lies the cure for most chronic diseases that carry on a series of chemical medicines. The journalist Pio D’Emilia for years neglected a series of diseases. Work, habit, pleasure and many other aspects in which many will be able to recognize themselves, have not led him to truly take care of himself. So with the excuse of the investigation, he underwent a diet prepared for him by the Veronesi Foundation for three months and well, from ten medicines a day he went to take three, which in short is already a good step forward, and all this only by assuming something else, namely the different properties that the “fruits of the Earth” naturally have. It was surprising that at the beginning there was also a risk of diabetes (in addition to heart attack and other pressure problems), instead a vegetarian diet was enough to stop being obese, and return to having a blood sugar level that is absolutely normal.
“So, does it make sense to talk about foods that help not to get sick?“, Varetto asks.
“Yes, because the vegetable world (fruit and vegetables) is naturally made of easy-to-assume protective molecules. Anthocyanins for example, useful for cellular metabolism, are in all red/dark red/purple/black fruits such as blueberries. Other protective molecules are in chocolate, still others in tomatoes… In addition, the environment is certainly damaged by meaty nutrition: out of 7.4 billion of the world’s population, we have 5 billion animals to feed. Einstein already said it: Nothing will benefit health or increase chances of survival on earth as the evolution to a vegetarian diet“.
But every day it is said that something is bad for your health!
It’s true, but what needs to be understood is that “the scientific sources are reliable, but perhaps those of the Internet are not”. Science needs time to understand (and evolve) and the world even more to accept change: “20 years ago I said that meat is unhealthy, when I realized, traveling around the world, that bowel cancers do not exist, of just few, where meat is not eaten“. And this then could also applied to other forms of cancer.
10 years ago Veronesi also cleared another practice: fasting. “I wrote a book The Fasting Diet, because I understood that it was able to purify the body and free the mind. Thinking is better and easier, it gives more conception and creativity. Since then I recommend a fast once a week or for those who can’t, to make at least a diet that mimics the fast (a plate of lettuce and an apple makes you arrive the next day, giving the same effect). It is a very ancient practice that is good for your health”. Veronesi even used to fast every day until evening.
In short, the “problem” of food seems to be the fact that it has been transformed over time into an unassailable tradition which, however, may not be reconciled with the evolution of knowledge about food: “so it happens that yesterday’s good food becomes tomorrow’s bad”. It is just a fact always happened, during a humanity that discover new things:
- In 1884 there was a boom in gluten (Buitoni’s glutina pasta was born which became a success abroad too). Glutamic acid is thought to be a powerful intelligence activator. Today in Italy the turnover of gluten-free foods is close to 250 million euros.
- In the 1930s, radiation was served at the table: foods that enhance the properties of radioactivity for health are spreading. Chocolate, butter, radioactive aperitifs (“for tired and absent brains”), Lurisia offered “the most radioactive water in the world!” These products will also disappear with the discovery of the very negative effects of radiation.
- In 1965, long live margarine! The American Cardiology Association encourages its consumption. In 1997, Harvard Medical School turned around. Today the Americans are back to consuming more butter.
- Red meat, included in all food guides since the early 1900s, in 2015 WHO places it among the “probably carcinogenic” foods.
- The vegan diet: in 2005 the alarm of the US Department of Agriculture, “has negative effects on children”, in 2015 the UK health system even approves vegan weaning.
As in the past we are faced with another “food turning point”, perhaps the largest, the one that asks for a return to naturalness, a turning point that requires us to look at the reality of the facts, as long as we care about our health, and without unnecessarily blaming those who in the end have only been more astute or just instinctive, putting themselves on the right side.