Lentils, Longevity & Sustainability

Moderation In All Things (Really?)
By Don's Early Light, Donald J. Brix, Ph.D.                  
Heard it from my Dad many times over many years, ‘cept he didn’t add the “really.” Much later, I heard it from a physician when I mentioned that I was eating an exclusively plant-based diet. And just a week or so ago from an old friend responding to the last issue of this ever growing collection of unsolicited exhortation and dubious entertainment. He was describing his generally quite healthful sounding diet, but invoked the 2000 year old aphorism (or is it an adage?) to explain his rationale for eating perhaps four or five steaks -- not at one sitting of course, but spaced over a year. Moderation in all things.
Despite the decline in the popularity of red meat in this country, there are still lots of people who would say, “man, five steaks a year ain’t moderation, it’s starvation.” If that’s all the beef you’re gonna eat why even bother? Eat only four or five steaks a year in Montana, and they’d probably say what a friendly steak house waitress said to me and Royanna when we asked for her help in finding something on the menu we were willing to eat—“This is beef country. We don’t much like your kind up here.”
She said it in good humor as a jest, though it almost surely carried a kernel of truth. It was mid-afternoon, we were on a road trip and hungry, the place was empty, and I had massaged her narcissism a bit by humbly appealing to her for help with the predicament we were in. Vegans in a steakhouse with stuffed animal heads gazing at us from every wall. We went in hoping we could get a baked potato and a salad.
Turned out she was indeed very helpful, and we had a good meal and some welcome laughs with her. Just another off-label payoff of a plant-based diet: if you lead with some honey rather than vinegar, you can have some rewarding interactions with restaurant servers.
Another thing about moderation is that it’s one of those things regarding which we humans can so easily deceive ourselves. One guy has a beer every couple of weeks, another hoses down a 12-pack every couple of days, and they both think they’re drinking moderately. 
I think moderation miscarries when we’re dealing with eating something with known harmful properties. Take trans-unsaturated fatty acids or trans-fats. Produced by a process of hydrogenation that allows otherwise liquid fats to remain solid at room temperature, think Crisco, margarine, or peanut butter without a pool of oil to deal with when you open the jar. Pretty neat, except that the stuff has been consistently associated with coronary heart disease. So much so in fact, that the government has now banned the use of trans-fats due, in no small measure, to the pressure of watchdog advocacy groups like The Center for Science in the Public Interest and The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine. Apparently the FDA has concluded that some things that we’ve been eating for years are not safe--even in moderation.
Visualize for a moment an array of steam-sautéed vegetables (e.g., broccoli, carrot, celery, mushroom, zucchini, snow peas, edamame, garlic) on a bed of brown rice. Now beside that is another plate with an array of cooked animal flesh (e.g. a “moderate” amount of beef, some chicken, pork of your choice, lamby pie, and yes, even some fish). One little plate has abundant dietary fiber, one little plate has none. One little plate is loaded with phytonutrients, one little plate has none. One little plate has a sensible amount of plant protein, one little plate has lots of animal protein which is linked to atherosclerosis and cancer promotion. One little plate is full of non-sentient foods from the green grocer of your choice, one little plate is a collection of the dead flesh of, most likely industrially-farmed, sentient creatures as capable of suffering as we are, which they certainly did on the day they were humanely slaughtered. Can there be any doubt about which one is best for us?
As one swallow does not a summer make, so one meal does not a diet make. It’s the dietary pattern that characterizes the days, weeks, months and years of one’s life that seals the deal.
It’s true that someone eating an otherwise low-fat, healthful diet predominately made up of copious quantities of plant-based, whole foods can include “moderate” amounts of animal meat, chicken, etc. in the diet and get away with it, probably for a long time. Who can say how long? But jack up the proportion of animal foods, and most people can’t “get away” with it nearly as long. You know about those people. Taking meds by mid-life or earlier to corral their blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar or all three. You know about the others too. The ones who never saw it coming; a fatal heart attack; or those deluded into thinking a cardiac bypass affords a permanent fix; or a stroke, perhaps survived but which left the victim severely damaged for the rest of his or her days.
“Omit (from your diet) or drastically limit any foods known to be, or widely suspected of being, harmful to health.” That’s my well-worn guide to deciding whether to eat or not eat any given thing. Using this filter, all animal-sourced foods get left out.
The nutritional virtues of a plant-based diet are, almost daily, becoming more widely known. Consider the massive inefficiency of cycling so much of our food through an animal before we get the compromised benefit of it. Consider the enormous cost in terms of damage to fresh water sources. Consider the cruel and ethically dubious practice of having someone, a proxy, kill a sentient creature so that we might eat it when other, more healthful food is readily available. Even when these additional factors are added to the equation, however, lots of people are still not ready to join the club and learn the secret handshake. It’s baffling and a continuing mystery to  me.
Royanna and I journeyed to Rockwall yesterday evening for their monthly potluck supper. It was our first visit with the group. We heard a spell-binding presentation by Robin Everson who reversed Type II diabetes by adopting a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet. She then went on to become a certified Food for Life Community Educator, a program launched by The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. For our contribution to the meal, I doubled the recipe that follows. I’ve had no reports of anyone falling ill after eating it, so I’ll share it here.
  • Dry  Lentils, brown or green, 1 cup
  • Water, 2 cups
  • Grated Carrots, 1 cup
  • Chopped Red Onion, 1/2 cup
  • Chopped Cilantro, 1/2 cup
  • Garlic, crushed, 1 clove
  • Rice Vinegar, 2 TB
  • Water, 1 TB
  • Soy Sauce, 1 TB
  • Dijon Mustard, 2 tsp.
  • Liquid Smoke, 1/2 tsp. (scant)
  • Oregano, ground or flakes, 1/2 tsp.
  • Freshly ground black pepper, several twists             
Place water and lentils in a pot and cook until just tender but still crunchy, not mushy. Remove from heat and rinse in cool water to stop cooking action.
While the lentils cook, combine vinegar, the TB of water, soy sauce, mustard, liquid smoke, oregano, garlic and pepper. 
Place cooled and drained lentils in a bowl. Add carrots, onion, and cilantro. Mix a little, then pour dressing over and mix some more. Cover and, if possible, refrigerate at least three hours before serving, though it’s also good heated.
I usually use lots more cilantro than required in the recipe. Suit your own taste, and if you can’t stand cilantro, sub parsley. Also, you can use Worcestershire sauce in lieu of the smoke. Recipe doubles nicely.
“Moderation in all things—including moderation.”  ~  Benjamin Franklin
Hey, gotta clean some kale, so I’m outta here.  ~  Don

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