Last updated on April 12th, 2017
I’ve never been tempted to become a vegetarian, let alone a raw foods vegan, and after reading a new book by Susan Schenck, LAc, I’m glad of it.
Schenck spent several years eating and promoting a raw vegan diet before realizing it was seriously compromising her health. She then curbed her carb intake and added animal-based protein. She has written about her experiences in Beyond Broccoli: Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work (247 pages, Awakening Publications, 2011).
Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book. I probably would not have bought a copy because the vegetarian hook doesn’t work for me. Those who have chosen, or are thinking of choosing, a vegetarian diet, and who have some doubts about the choice, would be the primary audience for Beyond Broccoli.
That said, I enjoyed the book and learned from it. Schenck provides a comprehensive look at the historical, nutritional, cultural and even moral aspects of my favorite kind of diet: low-carbohydrate. She adds the additional wrinkle of a raw low-carb diet. Anyone interested in reducing carbs should find the book to be a useful resource. Still, the people who need to read it the most are those who are eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, and like Schenck experiencing nutrition-related health problems.
For people like that, the book could be a life-saver.
Susan Schenck is a Licensed Acupuncturist with masters degrees from Indiana University and Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. (I also have a masters from Indiana, but as far as I know, we have never met.) Schenck’s main credentials are her experience and her reading. Beyond Broccoli is thoroughly researched and documented. It contains 14 pages of notes and six pages of selected bibliography.
The book is organized into five parts, each with several chapters:
- The Vegetarian Mystique
- Evolution of the Human Diet
- Finding Balance in Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins
- Morality, Spirituality, and Sustainability of Eating Meat
- What’s for Dinner?
You get a clear idea of the scope and structure of the book from those section titles. The first two sections covered material that I was somewhat familiar with from other sources, such as Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution. Like Schenck, Wolf was a vegetarian who found his health failing and switched to a diet with more animal-based foods and fewer plant-based carbs.
One thing I learned from Schenck is the definition of “veganism,” which she says is
a new, stricter version of vegetarianism that prohibits not only meat, but also all animal foods, including eggs, dairy, and gelatin capsules. . . . The word “vegan” was coined in 1944 by British carpenter Donald Watson, founder of the now-world-wide Vegan Society.
In Part 1, she also describes the moral — and moralistic — aspects of the vegan diet, which its rabid adherents see as “kind to animals, eco-friendly, sustainable, and planet saving.”
It’s everything except healthy. Schenck lists examples of long-time vegans who have added foods such as raw liver, eggs and fish oils into their diets to deal with vitamin deficiencies. Among the health problems she associates with a vegetarian diet (and especially a raw vegan diet of the type she followed) are tooth decay (from eating large amounts of fruit), extreme fatigue, body bloat, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, and depression. Schenck cites numerous and authoritative published works to back up these claims, as well as her own experiences and those of her friends.
Part 2 of the book provides an evolution-based explanation for why we need meat in our diet. This is an argument that most of us in the low-carb/ paleo community are familiar with through the writing of Art DeVany, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf and others. While nothing in this section surprised me, Schenck presents the theory (actually, several related theories) in a clear, persuasive manner and incorporates vivid details and examples. She notes that the earliest primates 65 million years ago were “primarily insectivores” who “only later ate fruit.” Thus, from the start, animal-based protein was a big part of the primate diet. Closer to our own era and species, Homo Sapiens and their big brains gained an evolutionary edge 40,000 years ago on a diet rich in shellfish. They maintained that edge and those big brains for thousands of years on diets of meat, fish, greens, fruits, roots, and nuts. Then after the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, and the substitution of grain for much animal-based food, average human brain-size shrunk by 10-15 percent. With agriculture came civilization, but with civilization came a decline in human physical stature and health. The diseases plaguing us so much today — obesity, diabetes and hyper-tension — are diseases of civilization.
As I said, the general ideas of Part 2 are well-known in the low-carb community, and this is perhaps even more true of Part 3: “Finding Balance in Fats, Carbohydrates, and Proteins.” In this section, Schenck takes up many familiar themes: carb addiction, Syndrome X, insulin resistance, the “Big Fat Lie” and the “Cholesterol Con,” the benefits of curbing carbs, the hazards of soy, the advantages of seeds and nuts, eggs as a super food, and the physiological (if not political) correctness of eating meat. Schenck is more cautious about dairy and salt intake than I am, but for the most part I found myself nodding in agreement throughout Part 3. As with all the sections, this one is based on solid research.
Part 4 was more of a revelation to me. In this section, Schenck considers the morality, spirituality, and sustainability of eating meat. I pretty much have ducked these issues on my blog. In the first instance, I have no moral conflict over eating meat. Therefore, I have no problem accepting Schenck’s basic response to the vegetarian’s moral stance:
Vegetarians think that we, unlike other animals, are capable of moral decisions and thus should not eat animals, since we have other food options. I agrue that most of us would reach mediocre levels of health at best without a bit of flesh.
She goes on to argue that the real morality issue is over modern factory farms and slaughterhouses. Such mass-production enterprises create miserable, horrific living conditions for animals, and low quality meat for us. Writes Schenck: ” The karmic ‘revenge’ of the farm animals translates into poor health to all who consume their desecrated meat.”
I have no problem with that idea, either.
Of course, raising enough animals on the open range and in green pastures to feed everybody seems like a tall order, indeed. Morality aside, one of the strongest arguments for a vegetarian diet is that grains are the only way to go to feed a world population of six billion plus people. That the human population has grown so large is the main problem, and such an unnaturally large population may not be sustainable by any type of food-production system. At any rate, Schenck argues, a grain-based diet is not healthy for the individual and therefore cannot be healthy for the planet long-term: “What works for the macrocosm has to work for the microcosm.”
A diet heavy in wheat, corn and soy most assuredly will not work in the microcosm, but instead will produce an “arthritic, diabetic, cancer-ridden population with chubby or obese bodies and dull minds.”
Sound like any population you know? If not, take a closer look around you.
Schenck’s bottom line advice is, “If you are at less than peak health, forget about saving the planet; save yourself!”
Part 5, the final section, lays out an argument for eating a raw low-carb diet. That’s right: Schenck advocates eating raw meat. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, she says you should at least cook your meat as lightly as possible. She claims that cooking adds toxins to the meat. I’ve read other sources that make the same point, and I believe it is best to avoid char-broiling and other high-temperature cooking techniques. But I am a ways from eating raw meat. I have less trouble with Schenck’s call for us to demand “clean meat” from grass-fed animals raised in pastures, not factory farms. Indeed, I strongly support that call. Schenck concludes the book with a chapter outlining what she calls a “balanced, high-raw, near-paleolithic diet.” Except for the “high-raw” aspect, it’s reasonably close to the diet I have been eating for the past seven months, with splendid results for my waist-line and my overall health.
While she hasn’t convinced me to eat uncooked or even lightly cooked chicken and turkey, Susan Schenck has convinced me that she has many sensible, hard-won ideas on diet. Her book Beyond Broccoli is well worth your attention — especially if you are a vegetarian or are considering becoming a vegetarian. (Not that a whole lot of vegans read this blog!)
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