Sunday, July 7, 2013

Accidental Vegetarian (or Pecetarian if you want to get technical)

A week before Kaya was born, my dad had a (non-fatal) heart attack. He was 62 and did not have cholesterol or blood pressure levels high enough to be on medication. He had a belly, but generally seemed pretty healthy. He exercised a bit and didn’t eat terribly. It was pretty much a huge shock to all of us.

As heart attacks go – it went amazingly well.

My mom says that Kaya was late in order to save my dad’s life. If she hadn’t been late, my dad never would have been in Houston. He’d have been in Los Alamos instead. In addition, my mom convinced my dad to drive down the night before he was planning to. Which means that he was in my apartment instead of driving on the road. On top of all that, he recognized early signs of a heart attack. He took some aspirin and had my mom drive him to the emergency room. They were there before he started to get chest pain.

The hospital I sent them to was maybe a bit further away than another one, but it was the first that came to mind. It happened to be Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center, which houses the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute ( They have a whole floor dedicated to catheterization.

By the time they got my dad in – he had 100% blockage in his right coronary artery. (Apparently less dangerous than in the left.)  They were able to put in a stent and everything was done so quickly that he had very minimal damage to his heart. They told him it would probably be hard to see even.

So if you’re going to have a heart attack – do it that way.

Anyway, before my dad’s heart attack I had read The China Study. In it, Campbell argues that animal proteins cause pretty much all western diseases. I thought it had interesting information in it, but didn’t feel that his findings supported his argument to be vegan. He pretty much says that you can actually eat a little bit of animal protein, but it’s safer just to give it all up because otherwise you will underestimate how much you are eating and will still probably get sick. It had at least convinced me that I should eat less.

But I remembered he talked about some guy who had reversed heart disease by putting his patients on a vegan diet.

So I looked him up – and recommended my dad read Esselstyn and also Dean Ornish. I read them as well.

My dad’s numbers weight and health all improved. Prior to his heart attack, his total cholesterol was around 200 – with fairly low HDL (he doesn’t remember the specific numbers). About three months ago, his total was 98 – with an LDL of 54. His HDL is in the 30s, which is lower than they would like it to be, but he has already added back in things like nuts to his diet to help bring it up. His numbers were even lower when he was super strict about his fat intakes. He has also lost about 25 pounds.

My sister and I decided that genetics were not working in our favor. In addition to our dad’s heart attack, his brother had had a quintuple bypass and both of his sisters had been on medications for blood pressure and cholesterol.

I liked Ornish’s idea of all food being on a spectrum. He says that if you are going for prevention rather than reversal of heart disease you do not need to be as strict. Everyone should aim to eat on the healthiest end of the spectrum, but it’s not the end of the world if you eat from the less healthy categories here and there. (Unless you already have heart disease, in which case you pretty much have to stay on the healthiest side. However, my dad was told specifically by his cardiologist to add in more nuts, avocado, olives and other things that are not in Ornish’s healthiest category.)

I decided that I would go ahead and be vegetarian at home. I wouldn’t worry about it at other people’s houses. I had the goal of cutting out dairy as well, but so far that hasn’t happened. I would continue to eat seafood. I had been leaning in that direction anyway after reading The China Study and also Food Matters by Mark Bittman. (Bittman argues for less meat, but not for complete veganism. His argument is both for health and also for the environment.)

But as time went on…and it was longer and longer since I had eaten meat…it suddenly seemed really strange to do so. I do still eat seafood, and as I mentioned, I still eat dairy and the occasional egg. And so, it was a bit by accident, but I no longer eat meat. Since I do eat seafood, I am not a vegetarian, but sometimes it’s easier to explain it that way. Not many people really know the term pescetarian.

I have only recently started telling people about it, and it still feels weird.


  1. So just curious-do you eat eggs, butter, cheese (animal products in general)?

  2. my dad has fat free feta sometimes and the occasional egg, but that's it.

    i am working towards that...but still eat way more dairy than i should and butter. eggs i eat about as much as i did before, which is occasionally. but i'm trying to do my mind i eat them less...but in practice... :)