19 March 2012

Vegan 'super powers' surface on trip to India

The smell. The first thing that struck me when I arrived in India was the smell. I had read that it is a country of "sensory overload" but I hadn’t expected smell to overtake all the other senses, including sight. It was an enveloping mix of pollution, spices, and animals. Thank goodness I had brought my Neti pot.

The second thing that struck me about India was that it is a place of extremes: extreme poverty and extreme beauty...and animals...everywhere. For an animal-lover, animal activist, and passionate vegan, India is a tough pill to swallow.

A friend told me that the PETA is very active in India... so I was slightly encouraged by that. However, on my initial long and bumpy 4 hour drive from the airport, as I downed ginger pills, reality set in as my heart ached for all the emaciated cows we passed. Their pelvis and ribs could be counted from aboard the passing car.

Many were seen pulling a plow to till the soil. But most of their tails were wagging, and I caught a glimpse of a man lovingly bathing one in a small pond. I want to believe that the majority of cows live a better life in India than in the US. They appear to be treated as workers, not as a commodity. This is certainly not ideal, but I guess it to be a small improvement over the factory-farmed life of no grazing, little sunlight, zero free will, and cruel death that most cattle endure on American soil.

Throughout my time in India, I encountered many animals: cows, pigs, goats, chickens, monkeys, camels, donkeys and dogs. They seem to live a life of independence, and a life of acceptance. I was incessantly laughed at by some locals when I sat down to play with a tiny puppy and give it water, and I was frequently admonished by my friend and travel companion each time I reached out to pet a wandering dog or cow or goat. She was probably correct to be worried that we didn’t know how these animals would react to human touch and affection. So I did the best I could, and I sent a blessing (some silent and some aloud) to each and every animal that walked along side me during my journey in India.

But my true purpose for sharing my experiences in India is to share a story of encouragement...

As a vegan traveler, it is wise to do some research as to dining options before arriving in a foreign land. Prior to my trip, I did my due diligence, and found that it might be difficult to eat out very often, as even though meat is scarce, dairy is in almost everything. I decided that I could most certainly live off of water, fresh juices, and my provisions of trail mix and Vegan Food Bars for 12 days.

I was pleasantly surprised by the little cafes I stumbled upon, or was directed to, that offered fresh juices and fresh fruit plates. And so my daily diet pretty much consisted of lots and lots of water, one glass of fresh orange juice for breakfast, fresh fruit and fruit juice for lunch, and some of my nuts, seeds, dried fruit and bars for dinner. It was satisfying, and it kept my energy up, and indigestion at bay...which is a challenging feat in India.

During the final few days of the trip, my friend and I ended up in Darjeeling...a beautiful city tucked amid the foothills of the Himalayas. We were hoping to be able to reconnect with nature here, and get some earth beneath our feet before our departure.

We set off, with a local to guide us, on a hike through the mountains that would prove to be 20 miles long. We had no idea that we would be hiking this long, and I was certainly not in "20 mile" shape. But somehow I breezed through the trek with ease. The miles flew by, and as I fueled up on oranges, bananas, mango juice and water, I was shocked to acknowledge to myself that this long hike was not the challenge I had anticipated it to be.

On the flip side, my travel companion, who is in FAR superior athletic shape than me, but who also had been consuming dairy and even some meat along our travels (much to my dismay and admonitions), found the hike to be quite challenging. She required frequent stops to rest, and by the last 5 miles she was trailing so far behind that we had to continually stop and wait for her, so that she didn’t lose her way.

So why was this happening? Why was the ‘fit’ girl so exhausted, and the relatively "out of shape vegan" breezing along with ease? I am certain the answer to this mystery lies in the food that each of the hikers consumed.

It is well know that animal products are far more taxing on the digestive system than plant foods. They are also acidic. When we consume animal foods, our bodies are forced to use a large amount of energy to carry out the digestive processes. In addition, in order to maintain the proper pH level, the body is forced to do extra work to buffer the acidity, by doing things such as leaching calcium from the bones to move towards a more alkaline pH.

In contrast, when we consume plant foods, especially in their raw form, our digestive system is given a reprieve. Raw fruits and vegetables already contain the enzymes within them that are required to carry out their digestion. They also have an alkalizing effect on the body. A significant amount of energy is thus conserved, as it is not wasted on digestive and alkalizing processes.

This ‘extra energy’ can then be utilized for the tasks at hand, such as muscle functioning, respiration, and flushing out lactic acid build up to reduce muscle fatigue and burn out. Anyone familiar with vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier is probably already aware of this truth. It is something I have known, but to see and experience it firsthand was incredible. I thought back to a client of mine a few years, who I was coaching into a more healthy diet. He too was a triathlete who thought he was eating healthy. But as his diet shifted from that of a carnivore to a 50 to 70 percent raw vegan, he told me that he felt like he had super powers. In fact, here is quote:

"As an athlete I am able to perform strong and consistent in my daily workout regime whether it be cycling, surfing, yoga, or a standard gym workout. My clothing fits better and I feel like I even look younger, which I would attribute to better skin quality as a result of the higher grade of nutrients that I am consuming. There are even days where I even feel like I have superpowers, and while I have not mastered flight or x-ray vision I am able fly by other cyclists when riding."

And so, whether it be for reasons of compassion and nonviolence, or even the lofty goal of achieving athletic super powers, a vegan diet is where it’s at, my friends. For the people, for the planet...and for the animals.

Lori Zito | @LoriZito
Lori is an animal-loving, life-loving vegan who is passionate about spreading the message of better health through a vegan diet. She works as a certified holistic health and nutrition coach, a yoga instructor, and a physical therapist. Learn more at her website Live In The Balance and follow her on Facebook.

Photo credit: Lori