Dietician Brenda Davis on the food we eat
October 20, 2005
Brenda Davis is a registered dietician who likes to travel the world telling people about the importance of a vegetarian diet. She's written five books. She was scheduled to speak at the Cameron Center on Oct. 19 as part of the latest Vegetarian Society of Hawai'i lecture series, but since that falls after our press time, I spoke to Davis by phone shortly before she flew to Maui.
Maui Time Weekly: So what got you started on the lecture circuit?
Brenda Davis: I have no clue, really. I've been doing it for 10 years. I've been on an eight-month speaking tour in 42 states. The main thing was writing my first book. It was a national bestseller. When you do really well, you go on the speaking circuit. I just got more and more requests to speak.
Why did you write that first book?
I'm a registered dietician. By 1994, I'd felt that the time had come for a scientifically based resource [on eating healthy]—a very concise guidebook that was acceptable to the medical community. Nothing was written up to that point that the medical community would consider reliable.
How long have you been a vegan?
I've been largely vegan for 15—no, 16 years. I've been completely vegan for five years. I say "largely vegan" because in the early days I wasn't quite so careful about eating certain things as I am now.
Why did you go vegan?
It's just an unbelievable story. I'm from Northern Ontario—that's the beer/bingo/hunting/fishing part of Canada. I never heard of a vegetarian, but growing up I always had strong sensitivities to animals. I never stepped on a worm. I always cared about animals.
Then one day a friend of mine went off deer hunting. I told him I didn't approve of that. What he said changed my life. He told me I had no reason to criticize him, that the animals he killed had a good life, and that I couldn't say the same thing about the animals on my plate.
What did you say to that?
I had no response. I wanted to find out more about animal agriculture. My mom worked on a farm, but today we don't have anywhere near the number of family farms we used to. Close to 90 percent of animals today come from factory farms. That's 10 billion animals in North America, not including sea creatures. People have no idea how many animals are being killed every year.
How many of those 10 billion animals are killed every year?
There are 10 billion animals killed every year.
Pigs only live four to six months [on factory farms]. They're pumped up with hormones. They're castrated with no anesthetic. It's insane what we're doing. In mainstream America too many people are too far removed to get that this is not ethical, not justifiable.
These are living, breathing, feeling creatures. Even if they weren't intelligent, it's mind-boggling what we've allowed the agricultural community to do.
How do you feel about the farmers?
I feel sorry for the farmers. Look at most farmers in the past—most treated their animals very, very well. Farmers today have no choice.
Are people listening, changing their diets?
The estimation is that about a million people a year are making these choices. But I'd say the real trend is to eat smaller portions of meat. The real growth we're seeing is in the young adult population: lots of them are moving toward a vegetarian diet.
Ecology to them is very important. We can grow enough food on one acre of land to feed a vegan for a year. The same acre of land can only grow a month's worth of food to feed an omnivore.
Our intense animal agriculture is really not sustainable. Ten years ago, I heard that if everyone on Planet Earth consumed the way a North American does, we'd need three planets. What would it be now? Four planets? Five?
Sixty to 65 percent of the American population is obese. We've got to take responsibility for our health.
Many people probably say they are doing fine, eating things in moderation.
But if everything you eat is junk, moderation will kill you. The problem is, for most North Americans, that's the last thing they should hear. They think deep fried pork rinds can fit into their diet.
They need to hear to eat more vegetables! They need to hear to eat less meat! But our policies are very much influenced by the industries that are killing us.
What's the single best thing people on a traditional North American diet can do to improve their lives?
Number one, to stop eating processed foods: fast foods, deep-fried foods. And if you'll let me give a second answer, number two is they should eat at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. We need to supersize vegetables. MTW
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