September 25, 2023

The headline reads “New York City school lunch menu going vegan on Fridays.” Why healthy eating should make the headlines is a head scratcher to those of us who know that the standard American diet (SAD) has been killing us for decades.

The standard American diet, also known as the Western diet, is made up of large amounts of processed foods (fast-food, boxed, canned and some frozen food also), refined carbohydrates (many breads, pastas, and cereals), and added sugars and salt along with high amounts of dairy fat and red meat.

Just look at the statistics: 69 percent of Americans are overweight or obese; almost 11 percent of Americans have diabetes, most of them type 2 diabetes, which is associated with diet. In West Virginia the numbers are worse: 72 percent of the population is overweight or obese and 16 percent has diabetes.

We are what we eat and if we’re eating SAD, then we certainly will continue down the path to poor health and early death. But it’s not just our health that is at risk when we eat meat, fish, fowl, eggs, and dairy; it’s the health of this planet. We cannot sustain life on Mother Earth if we are destroying her soil to grow crops to feed animals who eventually wind up on our plate. The destruction caused by factory farms is wreaking havoc with our communities. Poor air and water quality abound near communities that are adjacent to factory farms. So along with the obvious health issues eating SAD raises, the environmental cost of SAD is creating an uninhabitable landscape. We must change our diets to be both healthful for us and for the planet.

Many of our institutions, such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and others where meals are prepared in large quantities, are feeding their constituents foods that cause death and disease. That must change. No institution should support SAD. Those institutions are made up of us and we should be encouraging healthy eating as is being done in the New York City schools.

We owe it to ourselves and to our children to be the healthiest we can be. With so many of us suffering from ill health caused by our grocery store choices, it’s time we took control of our health and our lives by learning about plant-based eating. Three of the four factors that have been identified as primary causes of early death in the United States are related to what we eat: poor diet, high blood pressure, and obesity. The fourth factor is tobacco use (according to the study led by Christopher Murray, of the University of Washington). We know that tobacco kills; we now know that SAD kills as well. Isn’t it time for you to start a tradition of vegan Fridays—and maybe a couple other days of the week as well? Let’s turn SAD into health and wellbeing for all.