I’m at risk. I inherited this. I sure as heck didn’t ask for it. But then again, I don’t think anyone did — no one ever does. My dad didn’t. My mom didn’t. My uncle didn’t. My brother didn’t. My grandmother didn’t. It’s in your control to a certain extent, but the rest is hereditary.
Pure, full of love, kind, compassionate, pure gold, made of stone, courageous, worn out on your sleeve, vulnerable, invisible, in pain, broken, left ventricle, right ventricle, left atrium, right atrium, aorta, pulmonary vein, pulmonary artery, semilunar valve, atrioventricular valve, vena cava, systole, diastole, oxygenated, deoxygenated, blood, lub dub, lub dub, lub dub — what am I describing? Just one of the most important organs in the human body: the heart. It’s more than a hollow muscular organ that pumps blood throughout the body and maintains circulation: it’s what makes you you.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States; it has taken more lives than all types of cancer combined. Just in this country, about every 40 seconds, someone has a heart attack. Think about it — that’s about how long it takes to walk from from Noah’s Bagels to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. I am no stranger to this deadly beast. My uncle passed away of a heart attack a little over a year ago and my dad had a coronary angioplasty done when I was in elementary school. Many of my relatives have high blood pressure (although this is not heart disease, the strain from hypertension can cause arteries to become more narrow due to plaque buildup), and high cholesterol is a common thing in my family.
As a 10-year-old, I clearly remember the one food we had every single day for months upon months after my dad’s procedure: chicken breast. Chicken breast with lemon pepper, chicken breast with salt and pepper, chicken breast with thyme, chicken breast baked in the oven, chicken breast on the George Foreman Grill, chicken breast in soup, chicken breast in tacos, chicken breast with pasta, chicken breast with a side of chicken breast — if it consisted of chicken breast, you can bet I’ve had it. As one of the healthier cuts of meat, my dad’s cardiologist had recommended it, but I guess my mom thought that was the only food to exist on the entire planet. I grew to despise to the taste. In the years after, I cut back on my meat consumption tremendously, in part because of the horrendous memories of eating chicken breast on the daily.
The EPA reports that animal food production accounts for 14 percent of global greenhouse emissions. Now more than ever, it is important that we do what we can to take care of our planet and manage our resources. The “Stewardship Worldview” assumes that as human beings, we have an ethical responsibility to take care of Earth. If we use what we have in a smart way and are mindful of the other life forms that live alongside us, everyone will benefit. I’m a firm believer in this environmental worldview. It’s what has encouraged me to opt for the vegetarian option at House of Curries more times than not; it’s why I enjoy going to the farmers market on Saturday mornings to buy produce; it’s why I refuse to use my favorite Neutrogena body wash until they get rid of the microbeads; it’s why I keep the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable seafood pocket guide in mind when I go to the grocery store.
Upon coming to UC Berkeley, I was inspired to get involved with the food movement. In the future, I would love to work in a career that allows me to do that while improving both human and environmental health. I’m a nutritional science major, and everything about food fascinates me, from the chemistry and arrow-pushing behind the Maillard reaction (the reaction responsible for the browning of meat), to driving past the farms in central California on the way up to Berkeley, to Sunday morning brunch Downtown. Freshman year, I took the “Integrative Biology Food Systems, Nutrition, and Ethnobiology” seminar with professor Thomas Carlson. One day, we were talking about plant-based diets, and he was telling us about how he gave up meat for Lent as an 18-year-old and decided to never go back.
I wanted to take preventative measures in doing what I can to fight cardiovascular disease, so I am making an effort to eat a more of a pescatarian and plant-based diet. Growing up, I was surrounded by unhealthy eating habits and behaviors toward food. As I got older, I started to realize what it was doing to me and those around me physiologically. I wanted to have more control over what happens to my body. The environment is something that is important to me, and I want to minimize my foodprint and do what I can to take care of the planet we call home.
A mostly plant-based diet has about half the carbon footprint than an omnivorous one. Ever notice the design on many of the AC Transit buses? They advertise that they’re zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell buses. Isn’t it crazy to think that the steak on your dinner plate has more of a negative environmental effect than the bus you took to get from your dorm to campus this morning?
A wise man named Michael Pollan (who happens to be a professor at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism) once said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Those are words I aim to live by, and I hope you’ll join me.
Kithumini Jayasiri writes the weekly Eating Berkeley column on conscientious eating. Contact Kithumini Jayasiri at [email protected].