Time spent at an Alabama commune called The Farm in the 1970s, and a South Korean Zen monastery a decade later, gave Will Tuttle the underpinnings of a vegan lifestyle.
“I didn’t want to contribute to the abuse of animals, and secondarily because of the environmental devastation and the violence against people who go hungry even though we have plenty of food to feed everyone,” he said during a recent phone interview.
Tuttle, 63, of Healdsburg, Calif., is author of “World Peace Diet: Eating for Spiritual Health and Social Harmony.” He will speak in Rochester twice in the coming days, as well as 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Black Willow Winery in Burt, and 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Burchfield Penney Art Center at SUNY Buffalo State. The Tuesday event in Niagara County, a fundraiser the Asha Sanctuary animal rescue farm, costs $50. A limited number of tickets are available at ashasanctuary.com or by calling 480-2571. A $5 donation is requested for the Buffalo talk; learn more at the Animal Advocates of Western New York website, animalswny.org.
Q. You write in your latest blog post, “Hamburgers, hot dogs, fish sticks, cheese, eggs, ham, tuna, chicken, yogurt, and ice cream are falsely portrayed as benevolent and required foods for us, when in fact they are completely malevolent and unnecessary.” Why?
They cause devastation on every level and it’s invisible to us. It’s not really reported in the media or in general conversation but my research into this over the last 35 years since I’ve been exploring it. Saturated fat, cholesterol, animal protein is much more acidifying and inflammatory than plant-based protein. These foods are directly causing diabetes and many forms of cancer. They’re linked with osteoporosis, arthritis, liver disease, kidney disease, auto-immune diseases of various kinds. Obesity. Our hospitals are really pharmaceutical-medical complexes that are getting enriched by unhealthy people. I myself have not been to a doctor in over 40 years. My mother (Beverlie) is still thriving. She’s a vegan at the age of 87 and is the only one in her retirement community in Florida who’s not on some kind of pharmaceutical medication. ... Fifteen to 18 vegans also can eat using the same amount of land it takes one person to eat the standard American diet.
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Q. What will you talk about on your upstate visits, particularly in Niagara County and Buffalo?
I will emphasize the wonderful benefits of moving to a plant-based diet, that we can be part of a positive social transformation. I think we know in our bones that the old stories about who we are and how we should live are not working. We find problems increasing in our world. What I’m proposing is a fundamental questioning of our reltionship with nature, animals and each other, to embrace loving kindness and compassion and caring for all beings and ecosystems. The vegan ethic is love for all, equally, and not just theoretically. It’s never blaming anyone or criticizing anyone. It’s understanding that we can all question the cultural narrative that continues to propel us along an avenue that’s not in our best interests. We can change that in ourselves. We can have a future that beckons us if we’re willing to let go the indoctrination that we’ve endured.
Q. What are the three most important things Americans and Western New Yorkers need to know about the traditional First World diet?
How it affects our physical health. How these foods affect our shared environment. We’ve cut down forests and engaged in agriculture that is wasteful. We feed most of the grain to animals instead of eating it ourselves and we have to apply chemicals. It’s utlimately unsustainable. The third would be to think about how it affects our shared world of humans. We have people starving to death while others bid up the price of grain to feed to our cows and pigs.
What I’m saying in the “World Peace Diet” is that for us to have peace with each other, it’s totally possible. There’s nothing stopping us, except one thing: our massive, ongoing and denied violence toward animals which propells us to violence toward each other because of the underlying mentality.
Q. What are the most important moral and nutritional grounds upon which the “World Peace Diet” is based?
The moral ground is respect for the feminine principles, respect for females. Animal agriculture is about exploiting females, stealing their babies and killing the babies. Honoring the sacred act of birth and motherly act of nursing. There’s a sense of justice, also, in not harming innocent beings because I want to. If you say, “I’m going to eat animals because they taste good,” that’s like stealing someone’s watch and saying I did so because it looks good. It’s utterly unnecessary. The nutritional dimension is simply the fact that any nutrient that’s in animals got there from plants, so we can eat the plants directly. Plants create all of the amino acids, all of the proteins, all of the building blocks we need. ... There’s only two vitamins that do not come from plants: vitamin D, which comes from the sun; and vitamin B12, which comes from bacteria. Normally we could get if from water or through eating foods that have soil or dirt on them, but industrially washing everything and chlorinating and killing everything in our environment pretty much makes it a good idea for vegans to have a B12 supplement. It’s the only supplement I take.
Nutritionally, plant-based foods are much more elegant. You get clean burning fuel for your body. The food gets much more delicious and the variety gets much greater. I eat a far bigger variety of foods now than when I was eating animal foods. ... We can drastically reduce the amount of pollution and water and petroleum that we’re using. If we really want to reduce our environmental footprint, there’s no better way of doing it than going vegan. Going organic vegan is a very good idea, too.
Q. Can you speak to the belief that eating an organic vegan diet is more costly in financial terms?
It’s less costly. There’s a book out called, “Vegan on $4 a Day.” There’s another book that just came out called “Vegan on $5 a Day.” It’s not difficult to eat very well on a plant-based diet for a fraction of the cost. The problem is that the meat, dairy and egg industries are subsidized by billions of taxpayer dollars every year, where fruits, vegetables and grains get a far lower percentage of those subsidies. Animal foods should be more like tobacco. They should be taxed. These foods are devestating to the environment and to our health. It’s much more simple getting proteins from legumes or vegetables or grains. It’s much less labor intensive.
Q. Let’s talk about your diet. What are its staples and how do you ensure you get adequate vitamins, minerals and nutrients, including protein?
My wife, Madelaine, and I eat a regular diet. With breakfast, we typically have a green smoothie with fruits, greens, maybe some flaxseed or almonds. If I have that around 9:30, I’m typically set till lunch. At lunch, I have a wrap or two – greens, sprouts, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers or whatever we get from our garden or the store – and we usually put in tempeh or tofu because it tastes good and gives a kick of protein. Then we wrap it up in a whole wheat tortilla. For supper, we have a meal that’s cooked, often startch-based: potatoes or sweet potatoes or rice, pasta or quinoa or millet or pollenta with steamed vegetables. There’s so much you can do mixing things around. My wife loves to cook and we eat like kings and queens.
We get plenty of protein. The percentage of calories in vegetables tend to be between 20 and 50 percent protein. According to the World Health Organization, the most we need in terms of protein and percentage of calories is around 8 to 10 percent. Americans get way too much, about 20 to 30 percent of their calories in protein. That’s very unhealthy. Excess protein acidifies the tissues and is a driving force behind cancer and inflammation.
There’s virtually no one in the hospital that’s not getting enough protein but the hospitals are filled with people because they’ve had protein excess.
Q. What are the challenges to eliminating animal products from a diet and the best ways to overcome them?
The most important thing is to make an effort to understand the consequences of eating animal foods so that the mind and the heart realize the devestating effects of animal agriculture. Then there’s a nice strong motivation. With motivation, you can do anything. Once I understood that, I was going to find a way. In addition, I think it’s also really helpful to do some research on plant-based nutrition and realize that even the most conservative organizations, like the Academy of Dietitics and Nutrition – and they’ve done very in-depth research for decades – hold the position that well-planned vegetarian and vegan meals are adequate for all human beings in all stages of life. The other thing, we are creatures of convenience and creatures of habit. We’re creatures of social situations. That’s where it gets hard if we’re not motivated. ... Food situations, meals, are a primary way of social bonding in any society so going vegan, you dont’ want to lose friends, your husband, your wife.
Convenience is changing some habits. We can make subsitutions. Our tastebuds will change every 14 to 21 days, so if we can just stick with it for 21 days, we’re over the hump and it tastes delicious.
The good news is there’s more and more understanding that it’s healthy, that it’s better for the earth and the animals. There are more vegan restaurants or restaurants that have vegan options. You can go to the grocery store now and find a whole bunch of plant-based alternatives: cheeses, ice cream, hamburger, milk, hot dogs, hamburgers. They’re not subsidized but prices will continue to come down. Organic is very important. I would not eat anything made with soy or corn or canola or cottonseed oil because it could be GMO. It’s good to just eat clean food that supports the earth.
We can thrive on a plant-based diet and be a good example for other people.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon