It's October, which means that every store we stroll into and every website we visit is going to bombard us with pink tchotchkes "for the cure."
Well, forgive me if my home decor isn't in the style of Barbie's Dreamhouse. It's not that I don't give a hoot about breast cancer - quite the contrary. My beloved grandmother lost her fight with breast cancer at just 64 years old, and other women in my family have battled the disease, too, so stopping breast cancer is a cause close to my heart. But I know there are much better ways for me to help save women's lives than by going to the mall - such as by going to the farmer's market.
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Animal-derived foods are full of saturated fat, excess protein, hormones and other harmful substances that can raise a person's risk for breast cancer. According to Dr. Jane Plant, a British scientist, cancer survivor and author of The No-Dairy Breast Cancer Prevention Program, "Undoubtedly, the best anti-cancer diet would be to go completely vegan." It's telling that in countries such as the U.S., where people get a high percentage of their calories from meat and dairy products, there are a lot more cases of breast cancer. By contrast, in Japan, people get far fewer calories from animal-derived foods, and breast cancer rates are low. But when Japanese girls are raised on Western diets, their breast cancer rates surge.
According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University and director of the China Project, the most comprehensive study of health and nutrition ever conducted, "(No) chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein." Large studies of vegetarians in Germany and England found that vegetarians were about 40 percent less likely to develop cancer than their meat-eating counterparts.
That's why many nutritionists recommend what dietician and author Julieanna Hever calls The Vegiterranean Diet in her book of the same name: all the colorful, varied, whole, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, with none of the cancer-causing meat and dairy products.
I've discovered that cancer prevention is just one of many benefits to going vegan. Since I ditched all animal-derived foods, I don't have to struggle so much to maintain my desired weight, my skin looks clearer and I have more energy. I've also learned that when you stop centering your meals on meat, you start incorporating a much wider variety of foods and open yourself up to a whole new world of flavors.
And there's another reason to "go green" rather than pink this month. As the watchdog group Think Before You Pink points out, "(I)f shopping could cure breast cancer, it would be cured by now." But many companies throw a pittance at a breast cancer charity in order to slap a pink ribbon on their products and rake in huge profits. Worse, many of the organizations they support waste that money on antiquated experiments on animals that in more than four decades haven't produced a cure. Funding patient services for poor families, education and vital research that does not rely on animal models would be a much better use of that money.
Because of my family history, I'm considered at high risk for breast cancer, and reducing that risk is important to me. So this October, you'll find me in the produce section, not strolling the mall looking like I washed a red towel with all my whites. I invite other women to join me in combating breast cancer by investing in effective cruelty-free charities and in their own health.
Michelle Kretzer is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation.