Ten years ago in 2006, I was sitting on an airplane speaking with a man who was running one of the biggest organic farms in America. As I sat next to him I was finishing a book that shook me to my core, brought me to tears and inspired the biggest fire inside of me. That book was The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
I didn’t know what to do with all of these raw emotions and new ideas. This inspiring stranger, turned friend was someone I could talk with, ask questions of and learn from in our short flight together. This conversation changed the course of my entire life.
I won’t go into our entire conversation today. He was a conventional farmer, as were his parents and grandparents. And he turned their family farm organic against his father’s wishes. He did this after becoming extremely ill and almost dying from the pesticide and chemical use.
I had lived with constant allergies, hormonal problems, digestive issues and migraine headaches until a year prior when I started my own organic garden and learned how to cook. So I was really interested in this man’s story. My favorite meals used to be slim fast shakes, coca cola, chips and bowls of cereal. Now I was learning to eat whole foods and feed my whole self while becoming a life coach and running a business. I found I had a huge passion to change our food system. I also felt who in the hell was I to care about something so huge. I was pretty much on information overload and in the midst of a wake up call in my life and I didn’t want to stop.
That day when our plane landed in another country, I shopped locally and bought fresh foods from the farmers market. I observed a way of life and a food system outside of the United States. I wrote constantly about it in my journal and would continue to do that for a decade. I was fascinated.
I saw a vision for a life and the way I thought that I wanted to live and take care of my body.
And when I looked around, I noticed three things:
I learned that where I spent my money made a difference not only in changes within my body but in our food system. The system that was driven mostly by big money companies that didn’t care about my health (or yours). I knew this system desperately needed to change. But corporate greed would not allow it. I knew that I had a message to deliver to the world. I was finding my voice. I decided to go to nutrition school on that trip and I couldn’t stop talking about our food system to others. I am sure I was utterly annoying.
I learned a truth. Our earth, our soil, our land, our water and the health of our people are in a state of crisis. I had personally just experienced in the couple years prior to this how I could heal my own body in really drastic ways. I went against the advice of some doctors who told me to take more medications to solve my health issues and doctors who said that food was just a placebo effect or that things couldn’t change for me and I would need to find a way to live with it. I proved all of this wrong. I healed my allergies. My migraines started to become mild headaches, my menstrual cycle came back, my digestion improved. I saw the corruption and scary genius of food marketing and pharmaceuticals and it’s lure on myself and others.
I had a degree in marketing. I understood the spin, selling and marketing genius draped upon our food system. And I saw how they sucked me in. I knew I was meant to teach people about feeding themselves and to continue to learn myself. However, I was scared shitless.
Procrastination kicked in. I allowed others in my life to slow me down from pursuing my passions and dreams. I knew that I needed to grow myself spiritually by doing the hard things that didn’t feel comfortable. My entire life I’ve known that wisdom. My inner voice since I was 11 or 12 has said to me, “Renee, step into the uncomfortable and grow your soul”. But the reality is that my life would unfold in ways where I would stay comfortable, avoid, numb or ignore emotions for many more years to come. I was afraid and stuck in fear and addiction to what was easier. This of course was the soul journey I had to open up to.
Photographer: Shannon Trempler Schwabe, Click Through Life Photography
I struggled with what to eat.
I knew I ate too much sugar. I wanted to eat more veggies and whole foods. But I didn’t know how to do it all in a way that fit my busy life that also felt fun and gave me energy. I wanted to feel calm in my body and I had a history of doing the opposite by numbing my emotions with food.
I did not want to accept that I would have to settle for processed food, factory raised meats, fast food, vegetables and fruits covered in chemicals and filled with a bunch of additives. I knew those foods were leaving me sick, in pain, exhausted and on the path to disease. I didn’t want to consume animals that I knew were treated horribly or that ate things I would never, ever feed an animal. I was so angry at the state of our food system, angry at myself, but I had no idea how to make the change.
A few role models.
I did not have a ton of role models at this time. The farmer on the plane was a huge inspiration. And there were two women that I had in my life that were examples of eating quite healthy but I saw their lives and circumstances as so different from mine. Here I was burning myself out at work. I was a total workaholic. I was still getting headaches and migraines from time to time and living in an environment where I was the odd ball who ate different. I was called a health freak and told to “get off my soapbox” or to “enjoy life a little” and constantly being challenged by the people around me as I attempted to navigate the choppy waters of feeding myself.
My soap box was huge and while sharing my thoughts to anyone who would listen, my words were still infused with fear, complaints and anger about a corrupt system that I didn’t know how to change. But deep within that, there was also passionate honesty of service. I really did want to help people. I still do. Also, I was enjoying life with my new way of eating and living more than I ever had before and I wanted to share it. I just didn’t know how. I was afraid to really use my voice. I was afraid of not being liked by others.
Teacher + student.
I began to teach others. I was already impacting other people as a manager, friend and life coach. And I was growing rapidly myself. As I learned more, I taught more.
Over the course of the next 6 years I changed my entire body and life with food. I boycotted fast food, ate local meat, eggs and veggies from local farms that I trusted. I grew my own food and shopped at farmers markets. I began learning how to recover from the massive sugar addiction I had and dove deeper into my own emotional healing as I became a certified life coach.
I then went to school to study nutrition and partnered with others right away so I could start speaking and teaching.
I spoke everywhere I could and then I began coaching. I’ve impacted thousands of people since and it’s been one of the best experiences of my life.
When I think back to what I really wanted when this all began ten years ago it was this:
Wholeness for me and for all of the people in the world. I wanted a connection to my body, to love myself, to live authenticity and in alignment with food and the environment. I wanted to teach.
Back then I created several successful coaching programs around these ideas for people. I have several great ones on my website here.
At this time in my life I was eating almost entirely organic and local food. My priority was to support local farmers. We purchased a half of a grass fed steer and also a new freezer to store this packaged up grass-fed beef. I had whole organic chickens and frozen veggies from my local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and my personal garden.
I was proud of my local food choices and I truly believed this was the future of a sustainable system that supported the human body and our earth’s environment.
Food Snob + Unhealthy Habits.
That following year I decided to give being a vegetarian a chance. I started getting sick of eating meat and I was exploring all of my edges as a new foodie. With a freezer full of meat that was getting eaten by other family and friends I didn’t feel wasteful giving plant based a try. The honest truth is I was very busy, traveled often and I didn’t put much effort into this idea of vegetarianism. I was naive and became what I would call an unhealthy vegetarian. I ate mostly sugary things such as breads, pastas and only the occasional veggies. My cravings became out of control. I became obsessed with food and I eventually went back to eating meat. It was just easier at the time.
About a year after that I would then begin nutrition school. I had huge wake up calls and I became a “food snob” and I judged what everyone else was doing. I also started to become more obsessed with eating the right thing. I later realized that I did this because I was so unsure of how to feed myself and had no idea what was considered right. I would learn later that it was just easier to spend my energy judging others versus being decisive and accepting myself the way that I was. I was definitely emotionally eating.
And let’s face it my ego felt pretty good in this space. Here I was feeling wealthy and buying a half a cow and a new refrigerator to store it in. I was on my high horse about growing my own foods and belonging to my CSA and going to a nutrition school that I loved. I was spending money and time on the best food I thought possible. I really believed this was the best way. I was also working my ass off to do it. Don’t get me wrong I had my hands in the dirt, I was composting and growing and weeding my garden until it was so dark outside I couldn’t see. I loved this time with my garden and it is one of my fondest memories of that time.
Reality sets in.
I learned how to be a healthy vegetarian. But don’t you dare call me one. I didn’t want to be in a box. I did not want to be labeled. I wanted to eat what my body needed and I ate mostly vegetarian and vegan foods with occasional meat and fish. But again, don’t put me in that box and give me some silly title. For me that was such a trigger.
I cannot say enough about my farmer friends that I have gotten to know along the way. Their character, compassion, work ethic and love for what they do, the animals or veggies they grow and sell, it’s a labor of love. The majority of the folks I got to know are working 2nd and 3rd jobs while running their farm. For many this farm has been in their family since their grandparents or earlier and it’s been the central focus of the culture they have grown up within. Everything revolves around that farm and their selling of produce, dairy or meat at the market and stores to people like me. #Respect
As I write this, I am sickened looking back because I realize now that my philosophy appealed to a wealthy elite. Focusing on just grass fed and local meat was never going to be accessible for everyone. And although I wanted this and imagined it could be, recent science has now proven that sustaining this way of life is impossible. At least in the way we are currently doing it.
Eating meat. No More.
I still believe that if you are going to choose to eat meat then grass fed, organic and local is the better choice for your body.
However, I no longer believe it is possible to eat meat or dairy and live a healthy, sustainable life on this earth.
Allow me to explain.
In order to create enough farms to feed our entire population grass fed meat, organic meat and healthy eggs we would take up so much more land space and there would not be any room left for us to live. Not to mention the water needed to sustain this. It’s actually not physically possible to have the organic, grass fed farms that I had always envisioned would save our health and planet. It caters only to a small percentage of the population.
I was a walking paradox. I cry when I think of a cow being murdered and always have. Yet I could enjoy a grass fed burger somehow separating the dying cow thought out of my mind. I bitched and moaned about the way chickens were treated. I justified my food choices by buying and supporting local farmers who treated their chickens nicely and yet still ignored the loss of life.
Somehow it seemed okay for that animal to die, if it was on a farm that raised their animals with love. It wasn’t until I started to seriously consider the land and water issue we have in the United States and around the world that my philosophy on this entire issue shifted. I also started to find the compassion for animals that I had buried.
Here are some facts (all information gathered from various sources listed on this website, Cowspiracy.)
Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction
We could see fishless oceans by 2048
Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon Rainforest destruction
Somewhere along my journey in the past couple of years I started feeling nauseated by meat.
It started to feel inauthentic for me to eat meat. I did not feel congruent with what I knew to be true about the environmental effects and the way I was feeding myself.
51% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock and their byproducts.
Raising dairy and meat are using up 1/3 of our precious water.
Big money corporations and lobbyists are protecting the meat, dairy, sugar, corn, pharmaceutical and soy industries so heavily that laws have been passed taking away people’s rights to speak out against them. (this is very scary)
It is not physically possible to keep growing our population on earth and eating meat – it just is not.
In 2015, The World Health Organization confirmed that processed meat causes cancer.
I no longer feel aligned with eating meat.
I want to share with you that I need balance in my body for it to be healthy (and so do you). So I may use bone broth. I might eat a can of sardines a few times a year. I’ve never been one to conform to a stereotypical box with labels on it. You won’t hear me proclaim from the rooftops that veganism is the only way to feed yourself. But what you will hear me say is that plant based is the way to eat for a healthy body and a healthy earth.
Feeding yourself is about loving and embracing yourself first and foremost. Being someone who really cares about planet earth there is no way I can eat meat and contribute to the massive problem that is growing.
I know too much.
It is a horrible feeling to not feel congruent with your eating. Especially if you teach or parent others.
As a nutrition practitioner and life coach who has interacted with and coached thousands of people, I can tell you that nothing triggers a person more than their relationship to food and their body. We have belief systems around this topic that runs so deeply and asking someone to question or change it, is usually not popular.
This is not my goal. My job is not to tell you what to do, but instead to help you find your own alignment with your body and food. I want you to find your own sense of wholeness and please know that I get what it feels like when you don’t know what to eat or how to navigate all of this.
I saw a sign once on a door outside an old farm house in New York State that said, “Thanks for supporting dairy and buying our milk”. I imagined in that moment a mother with several children all in school, her husband and her working so damn hard, tough winters, bad growing seasons and the family relying on those milk sales to keep things going. That farm likely being in the family for many years and the money from it being responsible for their way of life, their children’s education and so much more. The last thing that family wants to hear from some health nut woman like me is to stop eating meat and dairy and drinking milk. It threatens their livelihood, entire way of life, family security and belief systems.
That’s the ultimate paradox and depressing reality. In order for our earth to thrive and our people to stay healthy without more immune issues, cancers and diseases and our food system to become sustainable to support all of us we must make changes, enormous ones. The world is not the same place it was 50 years ago. Hell, not even 10 years ago.
Those changes involve sacrifice on all of our parts. I don’t have all the answers on how to fix this. But what I do know is that it starts with me.
I also know how to be an extremely healthy vegetarian/vegan and that it is possible to live absolutely healthy and thrive without meat. This gives me a great deal of confidence moving forward because I’ve lived the life a of undernourished, food obsessed vegetarian. And that simply will not do to live a quality life filled with self love.
I highly recommend you watch the movie “Cowspiracy“. This film will be a hard one to watch. It might trigger you and your belief systems. It has really funny moments in it too. It is incredible.
The general fears about not getting enough protein or calcium are false. Unless you become the vegetarian/vegan who is eating the processed foods, sugars and lacking in minerals and vitamins. Please don’t do that.
Ignorance isn’t bliss.
I am scared for our earth, not in a fear mongering way, but in a compassionate, emotional and action-taking way. So I’m taking action.
I know that people have literally been shot dead while trying to protect our Amazon rain forests from being turned into land to grow more soy crops so we can feed more cattle. I also know that people have spent centuries developing agricultural practices and we have dozens of organizations creating newer sustainable ways to farm and eat as I type this.
Go forward from here and educate yourself and most importantly learn to see both sides of this very large “feeding ourselves” issue. Rethink meat, fish, dairy. Eat more veggies.
There are people selling milk because it’s their family’s way of life and they believe you need the health benefits. There are people who believe that same milk has pus and hormones that you don’t need messing with your body and that it was meant for baby calves, not humans.
Each time we pick up our fork or spend our dollars, we are faced with a choice. Make a change or keep doing things the way we always have.
Our responsibility is to our children and their children. I desire for my son to live the most glorious life (certainly with challenges that he will learn to face head on) and I want my great grandchildren to experience this earth with plenty of fresh water, nice land, fish in our oceans, rainforests to walk in and clean air to breathe. I want the same for your family too.
It starts with you and me.
Thank you for being here.
Signing off, as this all makes me teary eyed.