I’ve been on a serious health kick now (2016) for nearly thirty five years. It has been a mostly private exploration and experiment of one. I don’t proselytise or evangelize about health. But I’m often asked about my health regime by those seeking a better lifestyle, or the curious. It all boils down to a few simple ideas about diet and nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Mostly they ask about what I don’t eat. Mostly I tell them about what I do eat.
I’ve been vegetarian for 30+ years, eating no meat or fish. I considered myself vegan for about the last 15 or so years, eating no animal products at all. A Maori, war veteran vegan who grew up on farms. Strange you might think. Well, I might be a bit strange but being vegan wasn’t the reason.
I wasn’t a political vegan, an activist vegan, an animal rights vegan or an environmentalist vegan. I was just a health nut vegan. And I don’t really care whether you eat meat or not. I don’t. After all, I grew up hunting and fishing, and killing and butchering for the table.
The Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand defines vegans as people who, “do not eat meat (fish, shellfish, livestock or poultry) eggs, dairy products, honey, gelatine or use leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics or soaps derived from animal products”.
So by their definition I wasn’t just a dietary vegan, not the whole hog politically correct vegan. Maybe not even a vegan. Because I wear leather shoes and a leather jacket, I’ve got a couple of silk scarves, and my preferred winter fibre is most definitely wool. I’m a fan of fine merino wool garments, including my suits. Nothing like two or three layers of wool to keep the winter chill from getting into the core of this aging body. I don’t use cosmetics by the way. I’d be interested to know what sort of vegan the Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy is.
But many vegans also eat refined sugars and flours, and processed foods, and perhaps too much plant oil. You can be a vegan and still eat unhealthily.
I was always an omnivore up to the age of about 40 (33 years ago), through a 20 year career in the NZ Army. But I was becoming increasingly choosy about the flesh I did eat.
Growing up, we killed some of our own meat. My mother would let me know when she wanted chicken for the table and it was my job to kill and dress the chook. We raised orphan lambs for the table. My job again to slaughter and butcher. That’s why we never named the “pet” lambs . They weren’t pets. They were food.
Out at the shearing shed it was my job to butcher the sheep the farmers would leave in the slaughter house for us.
We hardly ever bought fish because we could catch it ourselves, or the fishermen in the whanau would share with us. In fact the only fish we ever bought was battered and wrapped in newspaper with chips. That was a special treat about once a month if we were lucky.
A big pot of pork bones and puha was the extra special treat, about once a fortnight.
While I was still in the Army I attended a New Zealand Day function at the residence of the NZ Ambassador to Indonesia. The main course was BBQ fillet steak. He had flown in a whole NZ fillet from Singapore, and it was the most tender and fresh fillet you could imagine. Export quality. The sort of meat you can rarely find in the butcher shops in New Zealand. Unless the butcher raises and kills his own meat, like the butcher in Waipawa did. It reminded me of when I worked in the Tomoana Freezing Works in the boning room. The best meat was always packed for the export market. The Gold Cut was boned and packed for export to the USA. They probably turned our best cuts into hamburger.
By comparison the stuff in the butchers’ shops was low quality.
I never bought fish except for the occasional fish and chips. Or sometimes at a restaurant. For I could catch it myself wherever we were posted. And I was very careful about where I went fishing, knowing full well that a lot of fish in the marketplace are a bit dodgy. Sometimes contaminated by toxic minerals or chemicals.
After leaving the Army I took up cross country, road and track running just to keep fit. Fit and healthy runners were good company too.
It was the running that caused me to stop eating meat and fish. During the Winter cross country season, in the Harrier Club we would train hard all week and race hard at club or inter-club meets on Saturday. During the week I would schedule one long hard training run of about 30km, usually on the Wednesday.
As we Masters runners got older we had to be careful about the amount of stress we put on the body, and about what we ate. Some of us found that the meat we were eating caused unusual stress. We would have to stop during a run for a bowel break. Meat takes about three to four days to digest and pass through the body. A hard race or a long training run can speed up the passage. It could be embarrassing.
So that meant that if I stopped eating meat three days before a race or a hard training run I could eat meat one day a week. So I decided to give it away for the season.
And I immediately noticed the difference. I felt better. People asked me why I was looking so good. Those close to me remarked that I had become a calmer person. I gave up eating flesh for good.
And for the last 30 years or so I have never had a problem with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract; the digesive system. No indigestion, no heartburn, no stomach aches, no constipation, no diarrhea, no nausea or vomiting. None, except for two short bouts of diarrhea caused by contaminated food.
I also gave up alcohol and tobacco at about the same time as I became vegetarian. That had a big effect of course.
About 16 years ago I was doing some work for Te Kohanga Reo National Trust. One of the main projects at the time was grommet operations for the mokopuna. There was so much ear infection in the Kohanga movement that we had a number of ear, nose and throat specialists on contract to fit grommets. They did literally thousands of operations on the mokopuna.
It was well known that Maori kids were prone to ear infections, and growing up it always seemed that Maori kids were the ones with the snotty noses. I’d noticed that most of the kaikorero on the paepae were forever clearing their throats of phlegm. I wondered why and went looking for answers.
It was the milk. Human milk is designed by nature to grow babies into toddlers, then they are weaned, sometime before the age of 4, then we feed them cow’s milk for the rest of their lives. Cow’s milk is designed by nature to turn calves into cows, and they are weaned off it when it is no longer the right food for them. So I sort of reasoned that cow’s milk was not designed by nature to feed Maori babies, let alone the toddlers, or the adults, who from time immemorial had been weaned off milk at an early age. And I came across some research that indicated that it could cause ear infections, snotty noses and excess phlegm in adults.
No one was interested of course. New Zealand is the Saudi Arabia of milk, and it is touted as one of the healthiest foods we should all be consuming. It’s not for Polynesians though.
Since the mapping of the human genome scientists have identified the milk gene. It was first discovered in Denmark. It has now been established that when the child is weaned off human milk the milk gene is switched off, and the body is no longer able to properly digest milk.
Except in those populations that have been consuming animal milks for thousands of years, for instance in Northern Europe and in Africa. In those populations the milk gene stays switched on and they have no problems digesting cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream and the rest. The rest of us are prone to have problems digesting dairy products. The undigested or partially disgested stuff gathers in the ears, nose and throat and causes the problems.
No one is interested of course.
Anyway, before I came across the genetic science I decided, as I often do, to experiment on myself and to stop consuming dairy products. The effect was almost instantaneous. No more snot and phlegm. And it’s been that way for the past 15 years because I haven’t touched the stuff since. No more snot and phlegm, except when I catch a cold, usually on an aircraft, about once every two or three years.
So there I was, 15 years ago, a vegetarian for 15 years and now off dairy as well. So I went the whole hog and cut all animal products from my diet. In the last few years I realised I was eating too much bread and pasta. I’ve eliminated most refined and processed food as well, hence the Whole Food Plant Based diet (see here also).
And I’ve never looked back. I’m certain that my nutrition and regular exercise are keeping me healthy. I feel good always, and I have not had any illness for the last 30 years (and for many years before that too). Touch wood.
When I was five years old my grandmother taught me that good health was the key to a good life. 68 years later I can vouch that she was right.