I live in a very rural, farming area of NC and, after adopting a whole-food, plant-based way of life a number of years ago, people kept saying, “But, my grandfather grew up on a farm eating meat and drinking milk his whole life, and he lived to be 87 years old. So, how can it be bad for me?”
That was a stumbling block for me until I did my own investigation a couple of years ago.
Interviewing family members
I have three living family members (1 biological, and the other 2 by marriage) that are 85, 86, and 90 years old. All of them are women and still living on their own and driving, visiting, and shopping! All three ladies grew up around this area on farms, so I took this question to them.
I asked them, “Growing up on a farm in your childhood, how many times a week did you eat animal products?” I was stunned at the uniform answers from each one because, though they are all my family, they are not related to each other, and definitely didn’t grow up together.
Each one said they averaged eating meat only once a week, almost always on Sunday, usually when the preacher came after church.
They said that, though they raised their own cows and chickens, they did not slaughter and eat them as much as I had originally thought. They didn’t have refrigerators and freezers like we do today, so storage was more difficult.
Mostly vegan 86-year-old is healthiest
To this day, the 86 and 90-year-olds do not eat much meat or dairy. The 86-year-old declares she is mostly vegan and has been her entire life. She is the healthiest of the three and has never had any major illnesses. She played softball up until her 70’s. She told me she just never liked the texture of meat and didn’t care for milk or cheese.
As added evidence, she has a twin sister that has always indulged in meat and dairy and has had many, many more health problems, while she herself is spry and loves to walk and stay very active. She is more energetic than most 60-year-olds I know!
The 90-year-old is my biological grandmother. She eats some meat and dairy, but not a lot. Retirement wasn’t even considered until she was in her 70’s. She’s had some heart issues in the last two years and had a pacemaker put in. But, she still lives by herself and is completely independent.
Youngest is least healthy
The youngest, and least healthy, is the 85-year-old, my mother-in-law. She is the biggest meat and dairy eater. She grew up not eating much of it because her family was poor especially during the Depression, but as an adult she went to the other extreme, indulging daily.
She has had two open-heart bypass surgeries, multiple stents, a heart attack, and has Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. She still lives on her own but takes many medications. She stays weak a lot and gets out of breath very easily, and is now on oxygen at night. Unfortunately, she is deteriorating very quickly.
My own family’s experiences match up with scientific research. It speaks volumes of the secrets to longevity.
I realize that there are stories of people living into their 80’s and 90’s on the very unhealthy Standard American Diet and smoking their whole lives, but those stories are not the norm. My maternal grandfather was a heavy smoker his entire life and lived to be 93, and very healthfully until the final two years. But, I still believe smoking causes cancer.
UPDATE: August 2020
Unfortunately, we lost my mother-in-law to heart disease and diabetes on April 13, 2020.
I interviewed my grandmother, now 95-years-old, on camera in this video, Diet & Longevity: What Did They Really Eat A Century Ago. Her answers will surprise you!
The other participant in this article, Dot, is now 90-years-old, still mostly vegan, and going strong.
What the Research Suggest
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