Reflections on food and pandemics.
These are crazy days, right? Schools closing, kids home from college, businesses shuttered, retirement communities in crisis, store shelves stripped of basics. It is the stuff of dystopian science fiction. COVID-19 seems to be wreaking havoc on the world as I write. My heart goes out to any and all suffering in the midst of this pandemic.
However, like all crises, there are lessons to learn, conclusions to draw that can help us in the future. Times like this test our beliefs, our systems, our assumptions. While our governments, rightly so, are focused on containing, testing, and quarantining, I find myself reflecting on what big-picture lessons we can glean.
Lesson #1: Animal Consumption is Problematic
It is likely that COVID-19 was an animal-based influenza that jumped to humans in what are called “wet markets” in Wuhan, China. According to the United Nations, these poorly regulated markets mix the sale of both legal and illegal species. Disease and animal cruelty tend to thrive there. Experts see them as perfect breeding grounds for outbreaks of this sort.
In fact, most pandemic scares in the last thirty years are connected to bacterial contamination from animal agriculture. Remember that SARS, the Swine Flu/H1N1, Ebola, and AIDS all have similar origin stories in animal agriculture and/or animal markets.
Never before has avoiding animal products seemed like such a right move.
Lesson #2: Stay Healthy in Old Age
As we now know, COVID 19 seems to be especially dangerous for older adults, especially those with weakened immune systems and compromised health situations. 1.5 million adults live in nursing homes in this country, many of them struggling with lifestyle-related diseases that weaken the immune system: heart disease, cancer, and an array of auto-immune conditions. In a study conducted in 2012, researchers found that 60% of older American adults were managing two or more chronic conditions. The most common ailment in older Americans: cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Nutrition is a critical determinant of immune responses and malnutrition the most common cause of immunodeficiency worldwide.” Again, food is one of the best tools for preventing disease, whether it be a virus or heart disease.
It is well known that consuming a plant-based diet allows us to live vibrant and active lives well into our 70s and 80s, but now it appears even more important that we eat this way to make sure our immune systems are operating at full capacity.
Lesson #3: The World is Interdependent and Interconnected
Choices we make in our daily lives affect the world, like it or not. When I wash my hands in Ohio, I may be sparing a life in New York. The same goes for containment practices: what South Korea does affects health in Europe; cancelling a sporting event in California can save lives in Iowa. While ideas such as global citizenship often get nothing more than lip service, the current crisis is a 2 x 4 to the forehead: wake up, your choices affects others.
Times like these are a sobering reminder that we have responsibilities to ALL those around us. Similar to 9/11, the myth of American exceptionalism has been debunked once again. We do not float safely above the fray.
And, our food choices are part of this.
One of my personal mantras is this: “Change what is on your fork. Change the world.” It is my hope that this type of global thinking sustains itself well past the COVID-19 crisis. We need to remember our interconnectedness, our shared humanity, if we are to improve the nation’s health, not to mention the health of the entire planet.
These are difficult times, to say the least. Never before has transitioning to a plant-based diet seemed more important. COVID-19 is a tragic situation, but let’s be sure not to miss what the crisis is telling us.
What ‘s on your fork matters. Your personal choices matter.
It is that simple.