A Brand New Outlook, the hike that changed everything.

The “Ah-Hah” Moment

There are a lot of factors that go into anyone’s decisions regarding their everyday diet.    Things you think about – like whether you’re trying to trim down for swimsuit season, or whether you really need another helping of french fries.  And things you don’t think about – like where this food came from, and what animal gave its life for the momentary satisfaction of my taste buds.

It’s this latter question that sort of escaped my conscious thought for a long time.  If and when I did think about it, like at a pig roast or at a turkey or lobster dinner when the whole carcass is unavoidably on display, I might have crinkled my nose for a moment and then moved on.  I probably used the typical justification that I NEED to eat meat to live.  And if an animal has to die for me to live, then that’s just the way it is.   And of course, when it comes to farmed animals, out of sight is so often out of mind.  And so I went on with life like so many do, accepting this carnivorous lifestyle as it was handed to me, without any real thought nor questioning.

My first eye-opening experience happened this past Memorial day on a backpacking trip with some great friends.  After a fabulous wedding and reunion weekend, several old college buddies headed out on a journey to conquer Old Rag Mountain in Virginia.  With hours to spend in the wilderness, we got to talking about things we don’t normally talk about.  I learned that our friends didn’t really eat much meat at all, and only a little dairy.  In exploring the details further, I learned about a book called The China Study that discusses the link between animal products and human health.

Since we were all Cornell University alum, and the author T. Colin Campbell is a CU professor, my interest was piqued.  I bought the book the next week and read it cover to cover in record time.  The research explained in the book specifically exposes the irrefutable link between caesin (the main protein found in cow’s milk) and cancer.  Decades of collaborative research done in the US, China, and around the world found the same results over and over again.  The findings:  Regardless of the levels of exposure to carcinogens, caesin had the power to turn on cancer cell growth.  And when the caesin was removed?  You guessed it – cancer cell growth was not only turned off, but tumors receded.

I was puzzled, excited, astounded, and a little angry that I had never heard of this concept sooner.

The BIGGEST thing I learned from this book was life changing – we don’t need NEARLY the amount of protein we think we need.  The current USDA recommendations suggest 17-21% of daily calories come from protein.  Key word here is US…  but we’ll get into that later.  Truth be told, a better recommendation would be to maintain protein levels closer to 10% of total calories.  And that’s probably even on the high side.

Any time I tell people I don’t eat meat or animal products, they seem to be concerned about my protein intake.  As a culture, we have, after all, been brainwashed to think meat=protein and we must consume meat, and lots of it, to survive.  Here’s a thought…  How many people do you know that suffer from protein deficiency?  Can’t think of many people suffering from “kwashiorkor”, can you?  Yep, that’s the name for malnutrition from lack of protein.  How about people suffering from an overdose of animal protein – perhaps diseases like congestive heart failure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and obesity sound more familiar.  They sure do for me.  I can name someone in my own small family that currently suffers from or has already died from nearly every one of the above.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that 70% of Americans die from chronic diseases.  And when the chronic diseases we’re talking about are the ones listed above, you may also say that 7 out of 10 of us are dying from food-borne illnesses.  That’s right, things that are caused by the very food we choose to put into our mouths every day.  Something tells me we need to be a lot more worried about getting too much animal protein and a lot less worried about getting too little.

So after reading these and hundreds of similar statistics I was faced with some very harsh and some incredibly liberating realizations:

1) I do NOT need animal protein to survive.  In fact, I’ll be healthier without it.

2) If I stop consuming animals and animal products, I won’t contribute to any more needless animal death and suffering.

3)  By following a whole foods, plant based diet, I can take control of my future health.  My family history is no longer a life sentence.

By the end of The China Study I was a believer.  I needed to make a change.  And this may be challenging but I think I’m worth a little bit of effort.  In fact, my health is my responsibility alone.  This could change the whole course of my life.   Now that’s an “Ah-hah” moment!

I owe a major THANK YOU to Kim and Ross who led us down an unexpected path while leading us to the top of Old Rag Mountain in Virginia!  I also owe a big thank you to Kim and Stephanie who brought us all together for their wedding in DC!



  1. I’ve never heard of this book – it sounds very interesting. I will certainly take a look. Thanks for the post.

    A couple of questions I’m interested in – does it say anything about young children, or do the findings generally apply more to adults? Also, does the book talk about the effects of seriously restricting calories and isolate that effect?

    • Great questions. Everything I’ve read indicates that this diet (and I use that term in its real definition that it’s simply what’s going into your body) as the ideal lifelong grouping of foods and it’s suitable for all people. Not only is it safe for young children, it’s arguably the very best thing you can be feeding. I don’t recall if this particular book discusses calorie restrictive diets or not. One of my very favorite things though, is that in eating a whole foods, plant based diet, you will never have to worry about portion control or counting calories ever again! So many things we’ve trained ourselves to do in order to be ‘healthy’ no longer apply.

      Veggies, beans, fruits, and whole grains are by nature less calorie dense than their animal counterparts (4 cal/gram in good carbs vs 9 cal/gram in fats). So to maintain a healthy caloric balance, you actually will have to eat more often and larger meals than you’re used to. But who’s gonna argue with that!? I do ‘count’ calories from time to time just to make sure I’m eating enough – but I don’t have any trouble getting to somewhere around 1800-2400 cals/day.

      I’m sure you noticed that T. Colin Campbell was a prof. at Cornell. Still is in the eCornell classes. It blows my mind that his research was going on literally in our backyard. It’s not outlandish to say the ‘cures’ to heart disease, cancer, and all the obesity related illnesses can be reversed and prevented, and the people discovering all this were on our campus, while we were there. This book was published in 2004, but the research has been uncovering these ideas since the 1980’s. Our entire lives… yet we have had no idea. Kinda makes me angry to realize that!

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