WFPB is an abbreviation for Whole-Food, Plant-Based, a term coined by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and now being used by an increasingly wider audience of people concerned with human nutrition and the connection between diet and disease.
Campbell has been a preeminent nutrition researcher of over 50 years. He is now retired from Cornell University’s Human Nutrition Department, but still very active. He is the author of The China Study and, most recently, Whole. The China Study had a profound influence on how we think about food, and Whole had a profound influence on how I think about science and science funding.
We had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Campbell and hearing him speak on the two Holistic Holiday At Sea (HHaS) cruises we went on in 2012 and 2013. (Theses cruises are organized by A Taste of Health and have used MSC Cruise Lines in recent years.) The China Study, along with a PBS program featuring Neal Barnhard, M.D. (founder and president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) and a documentary featuring Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. (of the Cleveland Clinic) and his work on reversing and curing heart disease through diet and exercise, were the tipping point influences in our decision to progress from a “vegetarian” diet to a “vegan” diet in the summer of 2011. We also had the pleasure of hearing and meeting Drs. Barnhard and Esselstyn on the 2012 cruise and Dr. Barnhard again on the 2013 HHaS cruise.
We have both had great personal success with this way of eating, losing significant weight and keeping it off while also terminating (me) or avoiding (Linda) all of the “lifestyle medications” as our lab results now show no need for them. We no longer think of this as a “diet” and have come to prefer the term WFPB over vegan as a more accurate way of describing a maximally healthful way to eat. The NutritionFacts.org website, run by Michael Greger, MD and a group of volunteer consultants, provides a brief daily dose of ongoing education and reinforcement for our decision to go down this path.
Vegetarians come in several “flavors” and many of them (including us from 2000 to 2011) eat eggs, dairy products, fish, and seafood. If you read The China Study and still consume cow’s milk (in any form) you either didn’t understand what you read, didn’t believe it, or don’t care enough about the consequences to change how you eat. This is the way we were eating as we both struggled to keep our weight at a reasonable level, I got put on medications for blood sugar, cholesterol, acid reflux, and high blood pressure, and Linda was being threatened with the same. In our own stupid ways we tolerated this situation while we were working and had a health plan to cover the costs. But as we started to close in on retirement we knew that we wanted to be healthier and more active, and did not want to be burdened with the cost, daily routine, or side effects of these kinds of medications. Something had to change, and the change came from PBS programming that hit us at the right time.
Vegans don’t eat animals, and most of them don’t eat animal products of any kind, including eggs and dairy. The term vegan also carries with it certain animal rights connotations, and while we are sympathetic to those ideas, it is not why we changed the way eat. But we also discovered that some of our “old” favorite foods, like Fritos (TM), are in fact vegan. Seriously, read the label; corn, oil, and salt, that’s it. Oh yea! (Not.) We still have some on very rare occasion, but we now use oil and salt in moderation. More importantly is that the corn is highly processed, not WFPB. Fritos (TM) don’t grow on trees. Read some other labels. As we heard from Colin Campbell, Neal Barnhard, Christina Perillo, and many other speakers on the HHaS cruises, “If you’ve never heard of it, and can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not a whole food.” You can be a vegan and eat a really crappy diet, and your health will ultimately reflect that.
So we made the shift to WFPB and Linda gets almost all the credit for that. She decided we were going to do it, latched on to the idea with enthusiasm, and dove in. She has maintained that interest and is making a serious study of how to cook real (healthy) food using real (healthy) ingredients that taste real good. Ha, I bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?
My role in this has been to eat what she fixes. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much of a contribution, but I deserve a little credit here. When she announced that we were going to make this change I accepted it without resistance and said that if she planned the menus, bought the ingredients, and fixed the dishes, I would eat them. And I have. That was not a small thing, as I did not have a natural love of vegetables. But I have a been a good and willing sport in this venture and I have come to really like them, in no small part due to Linda’s ever increasing skill in preparing them in very tasty but healthy ways.
She has not been “burdened” with kitchen duties. She has always liked cooking, but working full time rarely had the time to devote to it that she wanted. As she approached retirement she wanted to do this, so I stayed out her way. Again, this was no small thing since I have also always liked to cook.
But she doesn’t get all of the credit. We read and were told that if we would stick with this way of eating long enough our tastes would actually change, and that is, in fact, what has happened. I now anticipate and savor foods that I would once have refused to eat, and I have eaten many things in the last two years that prior to that I did not even know existed. And there is still much to discover. We have always liked Chinese and other Far Eastern cuisines, but most of it, at least in restaurants, isn’t even vegetarian, much less vegan. What we are discovering in their place are the cuisines of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and India. While these are not necessarily WFPB cuisines, they all have WFPB dishes and methods of preparation, and other dishes that are easily adapted.
It’s so simple, yet so profound, that’s it’s hard for people to see. It was for us, but now we can’t imagine going back to our old ways. An added challenge has been learning how to integrate this with our RVing. On the one hand we have access to fresh, locally grown produce as we travel to different parts of the country. On the other hand, RV rallies almost always include food as part of the rally fee, and much of it is stuff we can not (choose not) to eat. You would think that RVing was an active lifestyle, but so many of the RVers we see, at least at RV rallies, eat a very typical and unhealthy American diet even as they obviously struggle with all kinds of health issues.
The journey continues. I report on Linda’s cooking in the blog portion of this website, but we are also building an illustrated archive of Linda’s best recipes. Here’s to healthy eating!