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What made me vegan - Brenda Davis

"That sentence changed the course of my life and I became vegan". Brenda Davis lived in a hunting and fishing territory. Now she is one of the most famous authors in the field of plant-based diets and vegan lifestyle.
"I'm a registered dietitian. I live in Kelowna, British Columbia, which is about 4 hours east of Vancouver. I have been a dietitian for about 35 years and I have been a vegan for about 30 years. I think that my work has been really pioneering work in vegan and vegetarian nutrition over the course of my career. I began my career as a public health nutritionist teaching the traditional food guide with meet and dairy as food groups and so forth. And so 30 years ago when I decided to make the switch towards a plant based diet, I was a little bit worried that I might be ousted from my profession because I didn't even know if there are other real life vegetarian dietitians on the planet. I'd never met one. It really was in a time when this was a little bit a novel thing to do. The change I've seen over 30 years of doing this is so encouraging! There was a time when I would have hardly believed that we would be at where we're today. And it's wonderful to see. I think in North America the transition has been a little more rapid then in Europe where vegan diets especially are concerned. But my area, a sort of expertise, is of course in vegetarian and vegan nutrition. I just finished my 10th book, I have written fairly extensive and I have also been involved in a little bit of research on diabetes. And this is specifically in the Marshall Islands. Right now I'm in private practice, most of what I do is writing and speaking and doing lifestyle interventions in various places. That's really my passion.
I'm very happy that when I decided to make this switch over to a plant based diet, that I didn't leave my profession because I was a little bit nervous about how my fellow colleagues would reacted. Probably rightly so in the early days this was something a little bit new to them. But what I found is that they were always interested. They are always interested in how vegetarians could do this right. So that was our niche, my writing partner Vesanto Melina and I, that was our niche and we helped to dietitians to help their clients to do this properly. One of the thing that maybe upsets me the most about that in the mainstream dietary practice is where dietitians, instead of teaching people how to do this properly, they just say: "Oh, you shouldn't do it, it's too dangerous" or "Children shouldn't be vegetarian" or whatever. Because I think that really the blame for children who don't do well, falls squarely on our own shoulders. We need to be providing really good solid guidelines. So nobody gets this wrong. And that is possible. We've seen hundreds and thousands of children grow up healthy on plant based diets. So it's no question that it can be done, it's just how do we get this done appropriately in the way that absolutely minimizes, if not eliminates, the risk for the most of vulnerable people.
One of the questions I often get asked is why did I become vegan. I actually lived in Northern Ontario 30 years ago when I made the switch. And Northern Ontario is hunting and fishing territory. Everybody hunts and fishes. There are no vegetarians there. It was a time when it would have been very unlikely if anybody living there to make that kind of switch in the diet. But what happened to me was I was a dietitian who was very interested in health. And I found myself gradually transitioning to eating more things like lentils and vegetables, just gradual shift towards a more plant richer, plant strong diet, if you will. But what put me over the edge towards a completely vegan diet was the most unlikely source you would ever imagine. It was actually a very dear friend who was on his way on a hunting expedition. He was hunting for deer. When he called and said: "Can I stop, I'm on my way deer hunting". And I said: "Sure". But I had a big heart for animals and I was very disturbed that he was going to be going shooting another innocent animal. So I thought: "What could I say to him that would stop him from shooting another deer?" When he arrived, I said: "I don't understand why you want go to kill a deer, they are such beautiful innocent animals. All they want to do is live. Why would you go and shoot one when you don't have to?" And it was what he responded to me that changed the course of my life. So I thought I was gonna convince him of something but in fact it ended in ended up backfiring in a very big way. So what he said to me was: "Just because you don't have the guts to pull the trigger, does not mean you are not responsible for the trigger being pulled every time you buy your piece of meat camouflaged in cellophane in the grocery store". He said: "At least the animals I ate had a life. I doubt you could say the same for the ones that are sitting on your plate". 
It was a first time when anybody has ever said to me that I need to take responsibility for the food that I was purchasing from the grocery store. And I always had this image of a sort of Old McDonald's farm in my mind. My mum grew up in a farm and they had this cow Betsy and they milked her and drank her milk. And they had a couple of pigs. It was a very old fashioned family, a small small family farm. Mainly growing wheat and things like that, but a few animals. And I imagined life for animals was like it was on that farm my mum grew up on. And after this friend challenged me in this way, I decided that I needed to learn more about where the animals I was eating were coming from. I spent a couple of weeks researching that. What I learned, filled me with a shame, to be honest. I was ashamed to be a human being because what had happened over some years was that the number of animals that we were killing had grown so much that, in order for farmers to make money, they were creating systems farming that were very very intensive. We call them Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations now, where you may have a hundred thousands pigs in one factory. Pigs are animals that have the intelligence of, actually probably they are little more intelligence than a average dog. The've been rated to be as intelligent as a 3 years old child. I think for dogs it's about 2,5 years old child. And pigs, there was a study in Barkley that showed they could be taught very quickly how to play a computer game where they had to match 2 items that were the same, and when they would match them correctly, they would get a trick coming out off this low funnel. And the researcher said that it was no pig that ever made a mistake of that game. She said she tried to teach chimpanzees that game and it took them way longer to figure out than it took any pig. And she said dogs they couldn't teach to play that game.
So pigs are far more intelligent than what we understand. When you think about: a hundred thousand pigs in a building. The normal life span, I think is about 12 to 15 years, very similar to dogs. They live 6 months. 6 months in the most horrendous conditions you can possibly imagine. They are in this cage where they can't lay down, they can hardly move. Their tails are cut off, their ears are docked, their genitals are.., you know, they are castrated when they're about 3 weeks old and all of this to reduce sort of their chances of going insane and biting the pig in front of them tail off. Whatever it is. Their smell is about 200 times more sensitive than ours. The dust in entering in this buildings is so bad that we have to wear a gas mask to go in and those poor animals live in that filth. And this are not filthy animals, actually they are clean animals. And we've got this kind of nightmare of a six-month life for this very sentient, very intelligent beings. The first time when they see the daylight is when they get taken by track to a slaughterhouse. In the slaughterhouse we try to be so efficient with line speeds that it's estimated that 10 to 30 % of this animals are inadequately stunned and boiled alive. Would we ever do that to our dog? I don't think so. So why we are justifying doing that to a animal that every bit is intelligent, every bit sensitive. There is no justification. And we are slaughtering 70 billion animals on this planet a year. Our population is just growing, the demand for meat is growing in developing nations. It's a system that makes absolutely.. to me it's a system that is ethically unjustifiable. I've got to a point in my life where I said: "I don't want to contribute to that kind of pain, suffering and death when I don't have to". And we don't have to. Non only we don't have to be putting animals through this kind of misery. It's actually we are harming the planet in the process because raising this animals for food is so ecologically destructive. And we are harming our own health because many of the diseases from which we are perishing are induced by eating too much of this high fat animal products. So it's a lose, lose, lose, proposition to be farming animals in this way and to be consuming them.
As thinking human beings, we should have enough intelligence to be able to come up with a system of producing food that doesn't cause such pain and suffering in other creatures. And actually is ecologically sustainable for this ever expanding human population. I don't care of people say: "Well, it tastes good, well, it's this, it's that, got a lots of protein", whatever it is. We should be intelligent enough to figure out another way, even if that way is as we are gonna be hearing about later at this conference - figure out how to culture meat or how to make a burger that tastes like meat. We need to have the technology to figure out things if people want that taste. Maybe we can get that taste without causing a kind of destruction that we are causing".
This video was realised during the International Congress VegMed 2018 in Berlin.
This is a video of the web-tv Veggie Channel.
Director: Massimo Leopardi
Editor: Julia Ovchinnikova
Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina's books:

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VegMed 2018

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