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Apr 11, 2016

Keeping Up With The Kalish's: The New Vegetarianism

by Dr. Dan Kalish

When I was 18 years old people used to joke about me that if you put Dan in a closet with some water for a few days I'd probably sprout! I was living on sprouts, wheat grass juice and brown rice. I was the head of my food co-op in college, organizing fellow vegetarian and organic farmers market folks, and this was in 1982. In fact I was so into it that I went to Japan in early 1983 to live in a zen temple and work on their organic farm growing rice and vegetables, and studying zen archery and zen meditation. My contemporaries were drinking alcohol and going to college parties while I was spending time in nature, farming and meditating. On the farm in Japan my teacher was Otsuka-San who was a follower not only of zen buddhism but also of Fukuoka, who was a leader in the back to the land movement in Japan at the time. Otsuka-San and his colleagues had all left the high tech sector, moved onto farms and were creating what was then called "The One Straw Revolution", working to change our world by adhering to traditional Japanese farming practices that had been lost in the shuffle of modernization and dependence on chemicals and pesticides to grow our food. Farming is hard work! And I loved the manual labor. I also thrived on the diet of home grown rice, vegetables and other Japanese foods. If you want to classify this "diet" those of us here in the United States would call it "macrobiotic" but in Japan it was "eat what we grow" combined with "eat what other food we can trade the food that we grow for". So we ate a lot of rice and a lot of vegetables and some eggs, fish, chicken and meat when available. I felt the strongest and healthiest ever in my life with the combination of hard labor on the farm and the clean fresh food. The key to healthy living at the temple in Japan was that there were no stores anywhere around us, we were in an isolated farming community on the Izu peninsula, a very long bike ride or walk from any market or restaurant and I didn't have access to a car, so there wasn't anything to think about in terms of options. If I look at where I live now and apply the principle of "eat what's around me" concept, it would be in my neighborhood roughly, Korean food, pizza, Mexican food, fast food and a few fancy restaurants and if you have the time and energy to cook there are large grocery stores, small organic markets and if you have your schedule together enough, the farmers markets on the weekends. A food craving in Japan was met by a vegetable from out front in the fields, a food craving in my current life could be met by a candy bar, ice cream, donuts or a bag of potato chips. In the time since I left Japan after several years of vegetarianism I "found" functional medicine and learned about the value of protein, which in my mind translated into animal protein. I started to question my past vegetarian reliance on soy and dairy and realized that gluten actually had the potential to make many of my patients sick. Blood sugar stability and food allergy testing all of a sudden became the currency of determining what foods to eat and what to avoid. I went through a "raw butter" phase and a pretty serious "bacon is good" stage too. Then about fifteen years into my animal products fest the Paleo diet came alive and meat became a celebrity item not a scourge of the earth item. Seriously, if you had cooked a steak in the kitchen of my college food co-op a very angry vegetarian would have chucked a paring knife at you. We were against meat because of health concerns and more importantly because of what raising so many animals was doing in terms of environmental impact. And my college, Antioch College, was a hotbed of environmentalism. My good friend Kevin was an early member of Earth First and these guys were out there protesting and sabotaging (we'd probably now say vandalizing) whatever they could to stop the inhumane treatment of animals and to push other pro-environmental causes. So my meat phase went on for about 20 years I guess. Now having become more involved in my meditation practice and considering different issues, I'm looking at elimination of animal products once again, my "new vegetarianism" or a "plant based, whole food diet" as it's called now. The truly hilarious part of this is on Sunday while shopping at the farmer's market and health food store I realized, this isn't a new phase this is a repeat. Like if you're old enough to have ever started watching a mediocre movie only to realize you've seen it a long time ago and kind of forgot about it. So I'm now once again, repeating as before, eating as I did in Japan and as we did in the food co-op in college and I've come full circle. What I've learned from this 34 year exploration of food is that it all depends. What you eat depends on what's around you, what your politics and sense of environmental justice is, are you ok with killing animals, ok we could take it one step further and ask are you ok with the indiscriminate killing of plants? Are you sick because you ate the wrong things for a long time and making up for lost time? Are you lifting heavy weights every day or riding a bicycle for 3 or 4 hours a day. Protein, fat and carb ratios vary widely in light of each one of these questions. Even a dozen healthy people with the same fitness program will vary somewhat simply based on genetics. Right now I'd consider myself a part-time vegan who eats meat, fish and eggs occasionally. And right now I feel more than ever the concerns over the quality of our food, how we grow it, the quality of our soil and how we are going to be able to feed so many people on this planet with such limited resources. Clearly there is not enough land and space to feed the entire planet a high protein, high animal product diet and maybe that wouldn't be the healthiest thing even if we could pull off the logistics. Similarly, many people I've worked with have made themselves sick with a low fat, vegetarian food plan executed poorly. What I now see is that each of us needs to address the issues of our personal health, social and political and environmental beliefs, exercise patterns and even our level of spiritual growth in determining what are the best foods to eat. And the occasional functional medicine based food allergy test is a good idea too.
Dr. Dan Kalish

Dr. Dan Kalish

Founder of the Kalish Institute
Dan Kalish, DC, IFMCP, is founder of the Kalish Institute, an online practice implementation training program dedicated to building Integrative and Functional Medicine practices through clinical and business courses.