Today, a guest post from Dr. George Wang about the plant-based diet. George recently authored an excellent op-ed on CNN.com entitled Go Vegan, Save the Planet. So, I reached out to him, and he wrote me the following email:
I think physicians have significant responsibilities, as figures of public trust, to counsel health care consumers and the public on the benefits of following plant-based diets–for both human health and the health of the planet, which have become intertwined. Public health institutions and scientists also have the opportunities to make their voices loud and clear. While policy changes can certainly play a big role, grassroots efforts can make an impact.
It was only several decades ago when cigarettes were still not thought to cause lung cancer, and physicians smoked. So the more physicians can understand the benefits of plant-based diets and serve as role models for patients, the more we can achieve public awareness.
Force of habit (which includes taste preferences) and the social challenges of eating a vegan diet (when most of your family or friends are not vegans) are probably the biggest barriers for most people. At the public health level, the preconceptions and misconceptions that most people grow up with about meat eating and vegan diets is a strong force of inertia. These misconceptions have run deep in our cultures and our psyche. And the path to policy changes are often full of hurdles. Communicating evidence to the public will begin to correct misconceptions. When I talk to my patients, they often enlighten me on how ideas they are brought up on regarding food have influenced their behaviors for most of their lives.
Gene Baur said it beautifully in his book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life, “We don’t aim to hurt anyone or to destroy anyone’s livelihood. We simply encourage people to consider new possibilities. And we always try to identify opportunities that align with people’s interests as well as the interests of other animals and the planet. For example, if we’re meeting with people in the dairy industry, we talk to them about the benefits of producing nondairy milks in place of cow’s milk. A vast array of plant-based milks is now available, and the market for them is growing. Some people have listened and made that switch–quite profitably.” I think this is a very important point to be mindful of–such thoughtful and respectful conversations allow us to consider the interests of all fellow humans on the planet. And such dialogues will more likely lead to progress.
I was born in Taiwan but grew up in New York City. I decided to become a doctor when I was 11, so I can keep my mom healthy. Later on, I wanted to be able to help as many people stay healthy as I can. Being a researcher gives me another opportunity to do so. Being vegan allows me to live and act according to the values I cherish most in life–compassion, mindful living, ethical living. It allows me to do my part, on a daily basis, of contributing to the wellbeing of humans and creatures on Earth, and the health of the planet, for many generations to come.