Joel Kahn: a doctor’s call for the celebration of veganism

Sunday, January 28, 2018 - 5:24pm

NOSELL

Darby Stipe / Daily

 

Renowned cardiologist, clinical professor and bestselling author Dr. Joel Kahn spoke at Literati on Thursday to promote his new book, “The Plant-Based Solution.” In his book, Kahn explores the benefits of following a vegan diet through scientific research. Kahn proposes a compelling argument for plant-based nutrition, both for general health and the prevention and reversal of chronic illnesses.

“The Plant-Based Solution” draws from Kahn’s many years of medical and personal experience to encourage readers to use veganism to take control of their own health. Kahn himself has been following a plant-based diet since he was 18.

“I walked into the East Quad dormitory in Ann Arbor in 1977 to start the Inteflex combined premed-medical program,” Kahn wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “I was observing Kosher dietary rules and the salad bar was the obvious option. Soon after, a few places like the salad bar at Pretzel Bell on Liberty, the market at Kerrytown, and... Zingermans indicated to me I could do this all the time... The last time I had a hamburger and such was in 1977. I started to learn about nutrition in medical school (just a bit but enough for me to pursue studies on my own) and I became a student of the health, environmental and compassionate foundations for a vegan diet.”

Though there is often suspicion surrounding plant-based diets, by both the medical community and the general public, Kahn explains that veganism is the most health-conscious diet an individual could follow.

“There is never enough nutrition science as it is very hard to organize and fund long term studies where group A eats one way and group B eats another,” he wrote. “So you have to take clues from five areas of science: basic research, studies of long lived populations, epidemiology, randomized trials and the study of complex systems. Most fad diets have at best one of these pillars. Take the ketogenic diet — the rage right now. It has at best a few epidemiological studies but none of the others. A diet of nearly or completely plant foods has the strongest support based on all of these pillars.”

In addition to health benefits, the vegan diet is beneficial in the context of the environment as well, due to America’s often inhumane and environmentally detrimental farming practices.

“Initially (my influence to go vegan) was ‘survival’ and then health,” Kahn wrote. “A book in the 1980s appeared, ‘A Diet for A New America,’by John Robbins which indicated to me for the first time that a bigger picture of ethical and environmental concerns were favored by my diet, and I incorporated those reasons to stay on target.”

Kahn also dispelled arguments about the accessibility of veganism, for it is broadly considered expensive and inconvenient: “Veganism is the hottest food trend internationally and it will be sustained,” he wrote. “The tipping point has occurred. It may need to be negotiated during travel, and I often eat only side dishes at restaurants like a steakhouse. A website called www.happycow.net lists restaurants anywhere in the world to help out. If budget is an issue then beans — dried or canned — rice or other grains like buckwheat, frozen or fresh produce, herbs and spices and a few sauces can make infinite number of combinations.”

“The native diet of remote areas in Asia, Africa and South America are largely whole food complex-carbohydrate menus from the garden and market, and we need to go back to those roots,” he continued. “A friend of mine in Detroit is a nursing educator and travels to Indian reservations in the Southwest to retrain Native Americans in the foods their ancestors ate and get them off of government subsidized disease-causing foods. We all need to shun some of the convenience foods that have destroyed our health.”

Even from my perspective as a vegan, Kahn’s conversation at Literati was illuminating. Though I find myself answering questions (often rather defensively) about my diet, I’ve never answered them in the context of a medical perspective. I often fall back on my undying love for animals and mission of single handedly saving the environment to explain my personal decisions — which usually results in both me and my meat-eating opponent either laughing or falling into an awkward post-argument silence.

Kahn, however, provides concrete medical evidence for the benefits veganism in both his speech and writing — evidence that can enlighten carnivores and that can save vegans in any argument.

Through his work, Kahn allows space for readers and listeners to consider what they are putting into their bodies and why. He dispels common assumptions around veganism, such as suspicion around nutrition, executability and accessibility, and forms his argument in an unbiased, fact-based way. His speaking and writing is accessible to vegans, the vegan-curious and the die-hard carnivores interested in learning about veganism from a medical standpoint.