Dr. Michael Klaper is regarded by many as the voice of the vegan movement. While traveling around Australia recently he was in great demand as a gifted and humorous lecturer. He is the author of several successful books and video’s on cholesterol - free nutrition. David Horton visited him at his retreat outside of Sydney. Here is that interview.
David Horton: How did you first become interested in veganism?
Dr. Klaper: Early 1980s, a convergence occurred of a number of factors in my life. Primarily it was a spiritual quest; I was a young physician, in my early thirties. I had trained at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, and my nights were spent in the emergency and trauma units, seeing the terrible results of violence: shot gun blasts, knifings, and I saw the terrible devastations that violence brings to people’s lives, and not just physical violence, but emotional, sexual, mental violence and I knew I wanted to reduce violence in all forms in my own life - in my thoughts in my words, in my deeds.
I had always wanted things to be okay, even since I was a little boy, on a farm growing up. I wanted the animals to be okay, everyone to be okay, so in that way, eliminating violence was very key to my own substance. So I set about doing that and one day, over a steak dinner, I was expounding to a friend my desire to lead a less violent life. He said that was all well and good but "while you’re looking around for places in your life to eliminate violence you might start by looking at that piece of meat on your plate and what it took to get there. Realise that it is your desire for that taste that’s actually responsible for the death of that animal. And a little voice over my shoulder said, "You know, he’s right."
They say that "once you look behind the curtain, you can’t pretend you don’t know what’s behind the curtain" and, right then, the curtain got ripped right off.
David Horton: At that time did everything come tumbling through that it might implicate dairy products and all the rest?
Dr. Klaper: Within weeks I really looked at the entire web of the connection of our exploitation of animals, - not only meat eating, but leather wearing and dairy eating. Now, I had spent my first sixteen summers on my uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin, so I was fully aware of what it took to produce milk and meat. It really is amazing how we pull down those emotional blinds to permit ourselves to keep doing what we know is harmful – to ourselves and to other beings.
David Horton: Young people coming into this whole thing, going through the same sort of experience you went through, what stops them? What pulls them back? Because millions of young people have come across this and they have pulled back.
Dr. Klaper: The whole of society tells us that cheeseburgers are good, and that doing things that make you feel good at any cost is okay. So there isn’t a lot of encouragement to explore the alternatives. When young people do run into inconvenient realities, they retreat - unless their inner desire is so strong or there is a guiding person along the way who says it’s a safe and good path, then it’s easier to progress.
David Horton: Someone takes on a vegan diet and everything is going well, much easier than they thought, then they want to get this message across. There’s a big stumbling block, no one is listening. How do you see the best way to go to fulfil this urge?
Dr. Klaper: It’s difficult. We’re also struggling with this. We live in a decidedly non-vegan world. We all run into this and especially a young person, when he encounters what Joseph Conrad described in the Heart of Darkness, “the horror, the horror”, then you see the tremendous extent to which an exploitative lifestyle has infiltrated our entire being and existence.
It all starts with the self, to find that quiet place in the self that, no matter what is happening around, I know that I’m going to maintain my centre of non-violence, and no matter what anyone else is eating at the table, “no thank you. I’m not going to have any today.” You make your own decisions. You walk into the shoe store and you say, “What do you have in non-leather shoes?” Growing into your own power as a person is when you realise you don’t have to answer to anybody - only to the truth, and your own heart. You realise that you’re responsible only to yourself and to your own conscience. Then, it helps to remember that as Gandhi said, “Example is not the best way to teach, example is the only way to teach.”
So I would say to every young person, "Slow down. The world’s been going like this for a long time - but it’s ripe for change and it starts with your example. You live a vegan diet, a vegan lifestyle -and people will ask. They’ll come to you, you don’t have to go out and proselytise. Just by the purity and power of your own example, by what you wear, what you say, what you eat, what you do, who you are - it will get out, and you’ll at least create a vegan world for yourself and watch what a wonderful influence you have on people around you. Have faith in the power of the truth, and your example. Martial your energy and start by building your own inner sanctuary of your vegan stance towards life.
And then, decide if you want to become politically active – and then decide how you want to do it. Do you want to agitate, do you want to get the media’s attention, do you want to get people challenging you? Or do you want to teach, to write, to fund raise? There are many equally valid pathways. Whatever way you choose, let it come from that calm vegan centre and lead by example.
When you do, you will find that, fortunately, there’s strength in numbers. There comes a point where you start looking around, and you see there are others awake, caring human beings - many of them vegans or certainly sympathetic to the vegan ideal: people concerned about animals, the environment, about non-violence, and all of them on paths that lead to a vegan diet and lifestyle.
And soon you find kindred spirits and you find organisations that have already been in existence, and you start showing up at the meetings and the rallies, and you do your reading and you have conversations - you get involved to the extent you want to get involved. But again, your own example, your own inner sanctuary is the most important thing.
The concept of the ‘violent vegan’, is an ultimate oxymoron. But such aggressive vegans don’t realise the damage they do to themselves, the animals and the movement by their over-enthusiastic, in-your-face ranting. It doesn’t help, and in a deep way it’s not a vegan thing to do.
David Horton: People who have been a vegan for a long time give off impressions that they are hostile. How do we build a debating atmosphere, which is challenging yet not aggressive?
Dr. Klaper: That’s lovely point. It starts with the important step of dropping the idea of "us" and "them." "Us" and "the meat-eaters." Spiritual awareness begins with the understanding that, it’s all "us." I ate meat, I wore leather. How can I shake my finger and judge adversely those people who haven’t woken up yet? If someone’s sleeping, they are asleep! And it’s up to me to gently help them wake up. How do you compassionately awaken someone who is sleeping? Like you would like to be awakened yourself! Start by feeling compassion for your, I won’t say "opponent," your friend along the journey with you, their position at the moment is …
David Horton: ‘Adversaries’ is too strong?
Dr. Klaper: No, they are not adversaries, it’s a congenital, societally-fostered ignorance more than anything - and even that’s a pejorative term. It’s a not-knowing, a not understanding. They just haven’t woken to the truth of it, at this point. You must be patient, but persistent and realise that, as in your process, it’s one of those things that once you waken to it you say “how could I have not seen that.” But that’s the process of being human. Unless you were born and raised as a vegan, you went through it, too. Aren't you grateful for people who helped you understand?
What an ultimate blessing to meet a guide along your way to help you see, and grow and change. So when you have that blessed opportunity to be that guide for someone else, start by feeling a genuine wave of compassion towards the people you’re communicating with. Have confidence in the knowledge that the truth really is on your side. Nobody really thinks that it's a good thing to inflict death and suffering upon innocent creatures. And the science now clearly says that we don’t really need to eat meat, so you don’t have to use a sledge hammer. But you might have to be content to just plant a seed - one that will sprout later, maybe even much later. But that is not up to you. What is up to you is to plant that seed lovingly and effectively, and letting your friend see how a knowledgeable and compassionate vegan communicates and the example they set.
If people express their concerns, then know the proper response. When the great American actor Spencer Tracy was asked what is the secret of great acting, he gave a three word answer: “Know your lines”. Same thing with vegans when you’re trying to educate someone - have the facts. Go to the vegan environmental and nutritional websites, learn the facts and know what you are talking about. You don’t need to beat them over the head with it, but when you look at, the environmental, the ethical, the nutritional aspects of a vegan diet and lifestyle, we have a lot of trumps in our hand. Even the person who says they have to have some meat in their diet or their body gets weak, I say, "OK" then view animal products in the diet as medicinal. Find the smallest amount you need to consume to feel healthy and hold your meat consumption to that.
David Horton: Do vegans have an interesting enough story for the media because the very story we want publicised is not necessarily the story they want to tell?
Dr. Klaper: Absolutely. It’s a fascinating thing that, in the many interviews I’ve done with reporters who are non-vegan, you can see them being the reporter in their radio or press role, just trying to get at "the facts." But it is fascinating to also tune into the person behind their role, thinking about what’s in their refrigerator and how do their arteries look. And you see them wondering the same thing, and you are aware that movement, growth is happening - a seed is being planted. It’s a fascinating process. It’s an educational process.
We’re all in the same boat. We all want a healthy sustainable planet. We all want healthy children. We all want people to live in prosperity and to live to advanced years in good health. We all want those things. Yet, now we also see that the path that we’re on now is not sustainable, on any level: nutritionally, you cannot eat cheeseburgers every day and expect to live a healthy life. We are destroying the planet with this massively grotesque level of meat production and consumption that the world is so devoted to. The science is now so overwhelming that this is simply not sustainable: both the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global climate change and sea level rise, and the growing shortage of water and land resources, is driven by an exploding human population demanding ever more meat to eat.
The argument unfortunately is getting easier to make, and unfortunately because things are getting more and more dire, it’s hard to stand up and say we need to grow more animals, cut down more forests, create more pollution and release more methane. The other side has no stance, the truth of it is. This is Al Gore’s most inconvenient truth. And he will not see it and I have compassion for him but I’m also standing in the corner, tapping my foot waiting for him. This is the elephant in the living room. How can you not see this?
David Horton: Do you think the ethical animal question is on the back burner all of the time, because we’re very focused on global warming, very focused on the environment, because people can focus on that they put animal ethics on the back burner?
Dr. Klaper: The connections between global meat consumption and the environmental problems we face on this planet are becoming ever more clear.
People worry as fresh water disappears everywhere around the world. Australia is drying up, as is China and the western U.S. It is said the next round of wars will be fought over water. Yet, only now is meat production’s role in this global drought being realised. After all, where is so much of all that water going? Massive amounts of irrigation water are sprayed on hillsides and fodder fields to grow food for livestock – for meat. Consider the huge amounts of water used to water cattle, pigs and chickens in the monstrous feedlots and pork and chicken production facilities springing up around the globe.
Consider the billions of litres of water used each year to flush the millions of tons of manure these animals produce into lagoons and rivers. Consider the billions of litres of water all the slaughter houses and meat processing plants use each year to process animal flesh. Our appetite for meat drives so much of the worsening water shortages we all face – yet the world is still so reluctant to face this truth.
People worry about the loss of forests happening around the world, including the “lungs of the Earth” - the Amazon rainforest. Now they are starting to realise that most of that forest is cleared to grow feedstock for cattle.
Incidentally, to illustrate how bizarre the argument has become, I recently heard vegans being blamed as the cause of the destruction of the rain forest - since the forests were being cleared to grow all those soybeans to make tofu for vegans! To be clear, the overwhelming majority of soy and other crops grown on ex-forest land, including the rain forests, is destined for the gullets of cows, pigs and chickens – not people.
Of course, global warming and sea-level rise is on everyone’s mind, and without doubt, the massive amounts of methane and carbon dioxide released by ruminant animals and feedlots are a major contributor to greenhouse gases. This is often minimised, by saying livestock production releases less carbon than that produced by transportation and energy production. But this is a false comparison, because so much of the fossil fuels burned by the transportation and energy sectors is done precisely for meat production. Consider all the tractors around the world, going back and forth ploughing corn and soybean fields to feed to cattle for meat – they all burn oil. Consider the irrigation pumps spraying the feed corn, soybeans and pasture grass – to produce meat. Think about the millions of trucks on the world’s highways – how many of them are carrying grains, fertilizers, irrigation equipment, cattle - and meat! They all burn oil. Think of all the coal and oil being burned right now to generate electricity to run refrigerators and freezers in houses, restaurants and food storage facilities around the world – specifically to keep meat cold. Meat production is driving all this carbon burning. This is Al Gore’s most inconvenient truth. Yet, it has remained largely invisible, until now.
In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released its landmark report entitled: Livestock’s Long Shadow, clearly calling attention to the need to reduce global meat production and consumption. Recently, two excellent articles by meat-loving authors (The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat by Mark Gold http://www.wellfedworld.org/PDF/CIWF%20Eat%20Less%Meat.pdf.and The Low Carbon Diet by Mike Tidwell http://www.audubonmagazine.org/features0901/viewpoint.html) - focus on the environmental threat posed by the world’s out-of-control meat production and they call for a change in our global diet.
It is becoming ever more evident that the world’s diet needs to become substantially more vegan – soon! And, for powerful economic reasons, it will. If there is one silver lining to the current economic crisis, it is that the billions of dollars that the U.S. and European countries pay in agricultural subsidies to keep grain and meat prices artificially low will probably be ended, soon. When that happens, the price of meat around the world will rise to great heights, and meatless meals are going to become very popular. A more vegan world is coming to a planet near you – soon!
By the way, these days, I seldom use the word “vegan” when speaking to non-vegan listeners. The word, ‘vegan’, has acquired a political charge to it, and many of our omnivorous friends bridle at the word, thinking you are asking them to convert to some type of new religion or political belief. “You’re not gonna make me become one of them there ‘vegans!’ Rather than using a word that fosters resistance and prevents a reasoned exploration of the issues by people really who need to consider some important new ideas, I usually speak of “plant-based diets” and “non-animal-based foods.” That way, I find much less resistance in my listeners and people seem to remain much more open to consider the advantages of animal-free diets and lifestyles.
In fact, I don’t even insist that everyone become vegans! It would be nice, but the most important thing is what we do 90% to 95% of the time. Most of our health, environmental and world hunger goals would be met with just that change. I would gladly settle for that - and all my meat eating friends could relax and put down their defences and be open to a more vegetarian future for us all. My fellow crusading vegans might ponder this idea and perhaps, would find themselves making more progress in the cause we all care so much about.
David Horton: We’ve got this terrible health situation with so many, many people we personally know, they’re on a traditional diet, high sodium, high fat, high processed food content. How do we wean people off it, or rather how do we not wean them off it so much as to make what we have to offer attractive, reminding ourselves that it isn’t very easy, especially in this country, to find those sorts of transitional foods?
Dr. Klaper: Absolutely. As a physician, I find that when people are feeling good, they give themselves the liberty of not looking at their indiscretions, even though they may be doing themselves great harm by indulging them. But when they get their diagnosis of diabetes or chest pain, then suddenly, they become very interested, very teachable.
You hope that they don’t get to that point, but younger people are seeing their parents, their uncles and aunts, etc. getting these medical problems, and again, it is getting to be common knowledge, even among the young people, that too much meat and junk food in the diet makes you fat and clogged up – and sick. Each individual is going to have his own key to turn the lock of their own awareness. When you hear a particular person might be ready, expressing, “Gee, I don’t want to go on those pills” or “I don’t want to have that operation”, and they talk about their concerns, that is the time to either say something or give them a book or DVD that will enlighten them about the connection between their current diet and their medical concerns – and how a plant-based diet can be a key to better health and to avoiding medical catastrophes.
Also, don’t forget that a taste is worth a thousand words. Take them to a restaurant, order a tasty non-animal based meal and let the food do the talking. If, after biting into some delicious vegetarian lasagne or oriental vegetable stir-fry, they say, “Oh, if this is vegan food, I could eat this!” - you know that most of the battle is won.
David Horton: So, you’ve got to go home, they’ve got to cook for themselves, they can’t eat in a restaurant every night, how do they get that fixed in their mind that they can go home and actually conduct a really good lifestyle?
Dr. Klaper: Well, it certainly helps to have someone experienced along the way to help – that is really the key. Fortunately, there are many resources available through your local vegetarian society – books, DVD’s, classes, even knowledgeable, helpful people – to help people new to the path gain the needed information. If possible, take them shopping, help them buy convenient foods, like prepared soups, frozen dinners, etc. and help them make salads, sandwiches- anything that tastes good to them and that is easy to prepare. Look at the diet they are currently eating and help them “tweak” it to a more vegetarian nature, by substituting vegan alternatives for their current animal-based ingredients. It really isn’t that hard…
David Horton: What about those addictive components? In other words perhaps these people are a bit like junkies, they love it and how do they get off it?
Dr. Klaper: As one who is still struggling with my desires, sweet and salt and sugars and fats, I recognise that it’s all part of having a human tongue. We like those things, and it’s important to get across that this is not a diet of denial and austerity. It’s okay to have sweets and treats and foods that are satisfying on the tongue; it’s okay to have a big plate of pasta with a rich tomato sauce and some seasonings and to enjoy it fully and be satisfied. There’s lots of vegan treats and fruits and desserts to enjoy. Let’s do it! In fact I’m a fan of the meat analogues, etc, as a transition food. If that’s what it takes to get someone past their initial “ Oh my God, there’s no meat on my plate,” then give them the soy meats and the veggie hot dogs - not forever and ever, and with the idea of slowly tapering that out of the diet. I used to eat a lot of those faux meat products, and now I eat them very rarely. I live on soups and salads and steamed greens, healthy smoothies and occasional restaurant meals. It’s fine for me. Tastes evolve and mature as time goes on and we should allow for that, and not make ourselves (or others) anxious with overly rigid nutrition rules, especially during the early transition to vegan eating.
David Horton: The four food groups, five food groups, this problem about oil in the diet do you think it is a very serious one, I notice you include nuts as one of the five food groups.
Dr. Klaper: We need fats in the diet; it’s an essential nutrient. Your skin oils are made of fats, the myelin sheaths on your nerves are made of fats – we need fats. Fats, per se, are not evil – and they make food taste good! So, in the early days of a transition to a more vegan diet, I am pretty liberal concerning fats, so the person does not feel they have adopted a “diet of deprivation.” If a person wants to put some olive oil on their salad or have an occasional fatty dessert, I say, “fine”. If that is what it takes to help them take those first steps to healthy eating – and more importantly – to like the vegan style of foods so they will stay with it over the long term, then I’m all for that. I would rather let them eat the vegan foods they like at the beginning, while at the same time, planting the seeds that they will eventually need to include more whole plant foods in their diet and reduce the processed foods, even if they are vegan. (“Junk food vegans” are not healthy people.) But to help them take that key first step of enjoying the pasta with the tomato sauce instead of the meat sauce – that is the most important thing.
David Horton: Do you think there is something that at a certain age or a certain period of time after which you’ve been vegan, you need to remind yourself that there’s something else we need to do?
Dr. Klaper: Absolutely. We’ve been conducting our Vegan Health Study for several years now (people can go to www.veganhealthstudy.org if they wish to participate) and we see most people do quite well on vegan diets. But, there are some folks who will lose muscle mass, experience lower energy levels and not feel at their best eating a vegan diet. They will come to me and say, “I’m not thriving on a vegan diet.” When we do blood tests on them, we often find that they are low in important trace minerals like zinc, magnesium and copper. Part of that is attributable to the high fibre content of a whole-foods vegan diet.
That is, the essential minerals are in the kale, silverbeet and the broccoli we eat, but these trace metal atoms are tied up tightly to the plants’ fibres. You know the old saying, “you are what you eat?” Well, the more accurate statement is, “you are what you absorb!” If the calcium or zinc or copper is bound tightly within the plant fibres and then passes through the intestinal tract quickly, as happens on a vegan diet, we may not have a chance to absorb the nutrients we need, and as the years go by, mineral deficiencies may develop. We must do all we can to increase the absorption of the minerals in the foods we consume. There are several strategies for doing this.
Most importantly, it is to remember that your mother was right. It is essential to chew your food! Chewing your food “to a cream” breaks down the cell walls of the plant and allows the nutrients to be absorbed. So take the extra few seconds to use the 32 juicers (your teeth) that Mother Nature gave you to make “broccoli puree” in your mouth, and you will gain much more nutrition from the food you eat.
With all respect to my friends in the raw food community, one of the real advantages of soups and stews and cooked foods is that as the vegetables in the soup or stew water gently cook, the cells break down and the minerals get leached out into the broth. Vitamins may be minimally damaged, but that is why we eat salads, fruits and lots of uncooked foods. So, I’m a big fan of soups and stews and smoothies that have plant fibres that are well broken down to facilitate nutrient absorption. I think that a diet should be at least 50% raw, 50% cooked, and if necessary I’m certainly not averse to taking a vitamin/mineral supplement tablet once or twice a week, to top up your supplies of these essential trace minerals.
David Horton: And B12?
Dr. Klaper: Vitamin B12 is a real issue. Plant foods don’t have B12, and if one follows a pure vegan diet for many months or years, the B12 stores in the body will become depleted If a severe B12 deficiency is left untreated, severe damage to the brain, spinal cord and nerves can result, so this is a subject that vegans cannot ignore. I recommend that, at least once weekly, vegans have some food that is fortified with vitamin B12. Fortunately, today, many soy milks and rice milks and other foods are so fortified. To be even more sure, I suggest that they take a vitamin B12 supplement. The most effective form is to buy from the chemist or health shop, the little 500 mcg or 1000 mcg vitamin B12 sublingual (under the tongue) “microdots.” They are quickly absorbed and, taken once or twice monthly, produce excellent B12 levels. Vitamin B12 taken as part of an oral multivitamin is less reliably absorbed, so if a long-term vegan has any question – especially if they feel that their brain or nerve function is not what they would like – they should have their B12 level checked by their health care practitioner.
David Horton: I’d like to know your ideas on the links between dairy products and asthma, cancer and osteoporosis.
Dr. Klaper: For many people, diary protein is highly allergenic, and thus is notorious for setting off allergic reactions in these individuals. The bronchial membranes in the lung seem to be particularly sensitive, and I have a number of asthma patients that, when they consume dairy products, they have a harder time breathing. When they eliminate dairy products, their bronchial membranes become much less reactive and swollen. There are medical studies published in journals that substantiate these findings. (Lindahl, O. Journal of Asthma, 1985, 22(1): 45-55.)
There is also an association between dairy consumption and ovarian cancer in women, possibly involving the intake of certain milk sugars in dairy products. International Journal of Cancer, August 2005.)
David Horton: And the link between milk and osteoporosis?
Dr. Klaper: Certainly milk drinking does not seem to confer any protection against osteoporosis. The countries with the highest dairy consumption – the U.S., the U.K., the Scandinavian countries, etc. have the highest rates of osteoporosis. So right there, we see that dairy products don’t protect you from that disease. While we are bombarded by advertisements that hype dairy products for their calcium content, the reality is that osteoporosis is not a disease of calcium deficiency. That is, the disease of osteoporosis is actually the dissolution of an entire complex tissue called “bone” – composed of proteins, minerals, nerves, blood vessels, and many other components. The entire bone structure is dissolving due to lack of weight bearing exercise, lack of trace minerals, hormone imbalances, consuming excessive salt, caffeine and protein in the diet, as well as genetic factors. So, just to throw calcium down the gullet and expect it to reverse this complex process of bone dissolution is simplistic and naïve. Yet, the dairy industry uses this as their ticket to sell us their products. They harp, “You know, bones have calcium, milk has calcium, therefore, you need milk to keep your bones strong” – even though there is no convincing scientific evidence to support such a claim.
If you want to keep your bones strong, the most important thing to do is to use them – all of your life! Never miss a chance to walk up stairs, to ride your bicycle, to walk as much as you can. Walk holding light weights in your hands, carry packages from the store, stay active! Equally important, don’t do things that promote the dissolving of your bone structure, like cigarette smoking, drinking alcohol, consuming too much sugar, salt, caffeine, and protein in your diet. All these things conspire against good bone health and promote dissolution of your bone structure – paving the way to osteoporosis.
If one is concerned about calcium intake, and assuming you are dropping the dairy from your diet, make sure you have plenty of dark, green leafy vegetables in your diet – and chew them well! There are also plenty of calcium-fortified foods available – from soymilks to orange juice to breakfast cereals. Finally, one can always take a liquid or tablet calcium supplement – so to say that you must drink the lactation secretions of a large bovine to protect your bones is just silly.
David Horton: My next question is about children. When they come off breast milk, parents want to get them onto a vegan diet but they’ve been told of all sorts of dangers. What is your experience with this Doctor?
Dr. Klaper: Well, I feel that is an unneeded anxiety. In the past 29 years of medical practice as a vegan physician, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing dozens of vegan women go through their pregnancies. Almost every one of them was told by their family. “That child is going to come out weighing two pounds, and be scrawny, underweight, and have all sorts of problems!” Well, I have seen every one of these women deliver beautiful, bouncing, energetic 2 ½ to 3 ½ kilo babies without serious obstetrical problems. They have easier labours, and not one needed a caesarean section. A vegan pregnancy is a beautiful thing, and statistics show it is much lower in medical risk. (Carter, J.P. et.al. Southern Medical Journal, 1987, June 80(6) P. 692-7)
The same is true for the child’s early years. If the child is drinking mother’s breast milk, there is no better food. I think that, if possible, women should breast feed for the first two years of the child’s life. During the first 6 months of life, they should be exclusively breast fed, and after six months, simple foods like mashed fruits and pureed vegetables should be introduced, all the while, the background flow of breast milk is assuring nutritional adequacy. Today, there are many wonderful books available on raising vegan infants and children, such Raising Vegetarian Children by vegan dieticians Vesanto Melina, R.D, and Brenda Davis, R.D, available through www.nutrispeak.com Other books obtained from the library or through your local vegetarian society, as well as from the Vegetarian Resource Group, at www.vrg.org. will provide much needed guidance in raising healthy vegan children.
After one year of age, more complex foods like grains and legumes can be added, but there is no hurry to do this. Waiting until at least one year of age will let the intestinal lining mature and reduce the incidence of food allergies. By the end of the second year, the child is eating what is on the parents’ table, and getting the same nutrition they are. One of the best allies parents of vegan infants can have is a baby food maker. After 18 months of age or so, whatever the parents are having for dinner is put through the baby food maker and out comes a nutritious puree that will nourish the child as they learn to chew and enjoy solid foods. Again, parents need to become knowledgeable about this most important subject - but fortunately, today, reliable guidance is readily available through the books and websites I’ve mentioned. So, parents should not worry – vegan children grow up, full sized, strong and healthy! (Sanders, T. (1981) Journal of Human Nutrition. 35, 349-357.)
David Horton: Are there any dangers in soy products?
Dr. Klaper: I feel that has been a bit over blown. I think much of the anti-soy literature spewed out lately has come from animal-food industry sources and are not to be given much weight. At the same time, there are some estrogenic compounds in soy foods, so in young children, they should probably be limited to a few times per week. That said, we have seen several generation of people raised on soy-based infant formula, and I have not seen any credible evidence that they experience any increase in health problems. Consequently, I don’t think soy foods pose much of a health risk.
David Horton: I want to ask you about teenagers, they are having a lot of problems, transitional problems, sociological problems. If a teenager was here at the moment what would you say to them?
Dr. Klaper: Actually, teenagers give me the most hope. As a teenager growing up in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, I see that today’s teens are so much more aware. They’re connected by the internet, they are corresponding with kids around the world, they’re quicker to get the animal connection, the environmental connections – and it’s becoming cool to be a vegetarian, and even a vegan. I’m not saying that is true for the majority of teens, but the idea is not so foreign to today’s teens as it was when we were in that age group.
That said, when all your friends want to go to McDonald’s and have cheeseburgers, it can be difficult for a young person. The peer pressure in that age group is just huge. But those are the years when kids are defining themselves, exploring other peoples’ ideas, checking and measuring up their values to those of others. I would say to teenagers, “Don’t be afraid to express your individuality, especially when it comes to things that really matter to you. If your individual nature is not to hurt animals, to care about the planet, if compassion matters to you, if violence is abhorrent to your soul – then it is OK to make that stance. You don’t have to get into a fight with your friends about it. All you need to do is to say, ‘No, thank you. I’ll have the veggie-burger’ or ‘I’ll choose the non-leather belt or wallet.’ In the end, you only have yourself and your conscience to answer to. You make the choices that are in alignment with your highest truth, with the call of your heart - and your friends will respect you for it. You will wind up being their teacher by your example. Even if you only plant the seeds in their mind that will sprout many years later, you will have helped them - as well as having helped the planet, the animals, and yourself.”
David Horton: Is there anything else you wanted to say that I haven’t asked?
Dr. Klaper: These are very important, and perhaps even perilous times in which we find ourselves. 25 years ago, my friend Keith Akers who wrote the landmark, A Vegetarian Sourcebook said, “The world is going to become more vegetarian, one way or the other.” For the past 29 years I have been working to help that vegetarian transition happen “one way.” Now, it looks like the current global economic situation we are all facing may well usher in a more vegetarian world in “the other” way.
As the U.S. and European countries find themselves trillions of dollars in debts, the hundreds of billions of dollars they give in agricultural subsidies to create the illusion of “cheap meat” will probably be cut. As a result, the price of beef, pork and other meat products will likely go up – WAY up. As American and European beef and pork gets more expensive, they will buy up all the Australian and South American meat they can find, so meat prices on those continents will also go sky high. As a result, meatless meals and veggie-burgers are going to become much more common – and suddenly, the vegans are going to find themselves people of great interest, because they are living proof that one can live and thrive without meat on the table. Society may well be turning to the vegan community in the near future, saying, “Hey, show us how to live without animal products.” The world’s farmers currently produce enough grains and legumes to feed 10 billion people if those foods are fed to people – but only 2 billion if those foods are fed to animals to make meat. To me, the realities are clear. Though many express concerns of global famine sweeping the world, I predict a tide of vegetarianism will be sweeping the globe – soon!
That will open many opportunities to those in the vegan community to perform a great service for the larger society, as exemplars and teachers. There are courses to give, gardens to grow, foods to produce, co-ops to organise, seeds to buy and distribute – so many vegan opportunities. As Eckhart Tolle says in his book, A New Earth, everyone does not have to be an up-front leader. An equally important role is what he calls, ‘the frequency holders.” These are the every-day people who just hold the frequency of stability, calmness, compassion and sustainability – who provide the societal “glue” that helps hold the communal fabric together and allow our world to keep functioning. And just by being that person, we all can help this essential transition to a kinder, gentler, more vegan world begin to happen. Just holding the frequency of vegan calmness and compassion – by what you say, what you do, and of course, what you eat and wear - you have the chance to really help save the world for us all, including our children and those who follow them.
The vegan community has often found itself ridiculed and marginalised – but in these remarkable times, we may well see the old prophesy that, ‘the first shall be last and the last shall be first’ come to pass. Our fellow vegans will likely be called upon to play the most important, life-saving, planet-saving, future-saving roles of their lives. We all will be part of it, and I’m looking forward to making my contribution, along with you and all your readers.