As a sheltered, suburban child, I remember many public "awareness" campaigns that were designed to scare me straight. Many of these campaigns had the intended effect. I never abused drugs, smoking cigarettes never stuck, and sex was a highly-plasticized, "safe" experience.
Paranoia can be a good thing. I'm glad I was warned about the awful things that can happen to those who aren't careful, even if the result was an inhibited, easily terrified young person who seldom went out at night and who could count the times she was genuinely drunk on one hand. Because of paranoia (and sometimes it was outright unfounded paranoia, such as in the case of marijuana smoking) I ended up disease-free, addiction-free, and without any unwanted pregnancies.
Now I am getting to the age where my contemporaries are beginning to suffer aches, pains, excess weight, fatigue, constipation, and mental fogginess. One of my ex-boyfriends died of a particularly violent cancer at the age of thirty-seven. Another ex died of a mysterious aneurysm at age forty. The rest who survived the twenty year high school reunion have become portly or flabby and consistently haggard. When I enter a room full of people "my age", I feel like the female Dorian Gray. This is true every time I am among people of my age group except when I gather with my vegan contemporaries. My vegan pals are my fellows in youth and vibrance. Their eyes are bright, their minds are sharp, and they almost always look younger than their years. They are living proof a plant based diet is not a panacea for every ailment, however, it can be extremely helpful in the avoidance of heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Why? A plant-based diet lowers inflammation. Inflammation, as far as I understand it, tends to be the root of almost all human diseases.
I was born in 1973; you do the math. I went vegetarian at age seventeen and vegan at age thirty-seven. I have never felt better in my life, including my teens. I know from my experiences with birth control and addiction avoidance that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure. Yet the very people who taught me everything I know are now losing the battle against their own addictions.
My parents have made major strides in their diet of late, but they have a long way to go. They are Baby Boomers who were indoctrinated to believe the pinnacle of a healthy dinner features a chunk of grayish-red cadaver surrounded by a starch, usually white, and a cooked vegetable. Said plate is accompanied by a large glass of cow's milk and followed by a creamy dessert where fruit is used mainly as a flavoring to give the sugar dose more dimensionality.
My parents came of age in the nineteen sixties. The sixties are an era marked by colossal ignorance of food's impact upon human health. If you want to view the apex of disgusting, dismal, health destroying foodlike-substances, simply open any cookbook from the sixties. The funniest thing about my parent's generation is their superstitious reverence of protein, a myth so well-perpetuated it persists today. Never mind that excessive protein consumption is a smoking gun on-switch for cancer. Similar beliefs proliferate around the calcium in bovine milk (hint, there isn't any, it's fortified artificially), olive oil, and almost every other not-so-superfood out there. People believe what they want to hear. No generation is more guilty of this than the Boomers, who paved the way for the success of "Eat All The Garbage You Want And Wait for Someone To Invent A Magic Pill" mentality.
Everybody wants something for nothing. The idea we can eat pounds of animal fat and be perfectly fine illustrates a mendacious thought process most of us have fallen for at some point in our lives. Health problems are always blamed on someone or something else: environmental triggers, allergies, genetics. If only "they" would come up with a Cure!
Buying a pink ribbon bumper magnet or the suffering the momentary pain of dumping ice water over one's head is far easier than taking the time to restructure one's diet. It feels good to think nothing can be done about a problem, because that means you don't have to do anything. Diet fads would have no market if it weren't for the mentally lazy. Permanently changing one's diet for the better involves research, planning, and scrutiny. It involves overcoming addictive foods like sugar, meat, dairy, eggs, and salt. It may mean learning to cook or to use new ingredients. We're talking actual work! Most people would rather buy a book that tells them to avoid eating bread and rice so they can go into ketosis and drop serious pounds for a few weeks. When the weight crawls back, worse than ever, oh well. It was a quick fix. When disease comes, it's only because the magic pill has not arrived on schedule, despite countless millions of dollars donated to fundraising efforts for supposed research.
My parent's generation is dropping like proverbial flies, and they are not dying peacefully. Every week brings news from a random colleague or relative who is suffering what I call the Death of A Thousand Cuts. The Death of A Thousand Cuts was originally a torture invented by the Chinese. Body parts were hacked off, little by little over the period of several days, until the poor victim expired of blood loss and trauma.
The modern Death of A Thousand Cuts, inflicted by doctors and high-tech hospitals, is just a little worse than its old Chinese torture counterpart. Modernity insists in trying to keep the sufferer alive as long as possible through the very expensive dying process.
1. The Death begins with the odd trip to a clueless doctor who has received a sum total of two hours of nutritional training in medical school and who is paid by drug representatives to push various medications regardless of the interest of the patient. The doctor finds an aberration. Sometimes it's an ulcer or a hernia. Sometimes it's a small tumor. Who knows. The one thing we're sure of is it requires a pricey surgery and plentiful drugs!
2. The next phase of the Death is a recuperation period where the patient is fed a joke-diet of chicken broth, cheese, and Jello (the melted down hooves, connective tissue, and bones of slaughtered animals with corn syrup and artificial cherry flavoring) and expected to get "better" LOL. Because the human body is very resilient, the patient lives to see another day, though there is almost invariably at least two pills he or she must begin a regimen of. Those pills will have lots of fun side effects, for which other pills will be prescribed.
3. Since absolutely nothing has been done to address the patient's baseline health, the client will find himself in the hospital again. What's this? Oh, the tumor is back. Or the patient now has diabetes. Or there's an infection in the lungs that lingers for weeks and never gets better.
4. More surgery is scheduled. This time, the stakes are higher. A body part gets cut off this time. Dialysis becomes necessary. A lung collapses. The patient suffers a staph infection.
5. Lather, rinse, repeat until the patient is in a nursing home, strapped to a MRSA clogged IV, sitting in his own filthy diaper waiting for an overworked nurse assistant while watching endless reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond. His pain is so bad, even constipation-causing opiates do nothing to alleviate it. He wishes for death, because anything would be better than languishing in a destroyed, maimed shell of a body, humiliated when people do visit his freak show of agony and depressed when they do not.
I'd gladly put a gun in my mouth first, however, it's not like the Death of A Thousand Cuts is a surprise. They know it is coming. They watch all their friends die of it. They fool themselves into a magic pill/there's nothing I can do paradigm. This is my parent's generation and it SUCKS.
Remember those commercials, so often lampooned, that asked parents if they had talked to their children about... fill in the blank: smoking, drugs, stranger danger?
I imagine a public service announcement in the vegan future that goes like this:
Have you talked to your aging parents about the Death of A Thousand Cuts?
I had this conversation with my parents a couple of times.
Mom, dad, do you realize you don't have to repeat your friend's mistakes?
Do you realize you can change your tune before the symphony is over?
Do you understand that meat, dairy, and eggs are addictive and that your doctor-dealer is suffering from the same addiction and papering over the effects in order to sell you drugs?
Do you realize you are being manipulated into buying addictive foods so you can be siphoned into expensive medical "care" which only ends in one result?
My parents hated that I smoked for a few years because they watched my grandparents die painful deaths of smoking-related diseases. There was also the fact I used to come home reeking like an ashtray after a weekend with grandma. Because I am a little shitski, I have deliberately confronted them with the irony of their addiction to eating animals versus the addiction of their own parents to smoking cigarettes. I'm repeating history. I'm nagging them because I love them and because I care.
I like to think if I nag hard enough, one day they'll listen.