19 Jun 2019

The sheep farmer turned vegan activist

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:26 pm on 19 June 2019

James Wilson was a typical Kiwi sheep and beef farmer who, for 40 years, ate meat and drank milk.

But then he had a health scare and decided to try a plant-based diet in order to get off prescription drugs – and never looked back.

Tired of people saying 'oh, not another vegan', James has now written a book he can "slap down in front of them". It's called Plant Paradigm.

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Photo: 123rf

James tells Jesse Mulligan that he enjoyed being a farmer – thinking he was helping to feed the world – and raised his kids to eat meat three meals a day.

Then, while still working on the farm, he had a pulmonary embolism.

After a second embolism two years later, James was told he'd be on the blood-thinning medication Warfarin for the rest of his life.

"I went on the Warfarin, but seeing as I was spending a lot of my time using it to kill rats I didn't particularly like taking it myself'."

Then, back in 2010, James heard the American physician Caldwell Esselstyn talking on RNZ about how people with cardiovascular illnesses can benefit from on a plant-based whole-food diet.

He decided to give up Warfarin and gradually become a vegan.

"My wife agreed to it on the condition that I did the cooking and we could still drink alcohol."

James Wilson, author of Plant Paradigm

James Wilson, author of Plant Paradigm Photo: Supplied

It took about three months to "get over the hump" (off dairy products and meat), James says, and the hardest part of the transition was getting confident with cooking plant-based meals.

Although his wife Barbie is vegan at home, she sometimes orders steak in a restaurant – prompting a mixed reaction from James.

"I look across the table and I see this succulent steak and I can smell it. In the end, I give in, especially if I've had a wine, and I say 'give me a mouthful' … I grab a mouthful and I just can't take it … The brain is still wired to go and grab the meat but the tastebuds certainly don't go for it."

James reckons that by eating a plant-based diet, he's cut his personal CO2 contribution by 50 percent - and concern for the environment is one of the reasons he wrote Plant Paradigm.

"I'm convinced one of the few things we can do as individuals to backtrack on CO2 emissions is to give up eating meat."

He also wanted to share with others the health benefits he's seen since making the change.

"I got a new lease of life, lost a whole lot of weight … Hardly had a sick day since.

"I'm in great shape and long may I continue."

When James told his farming friends about his new diet, they were confronted and "pretty horrified", he says, but now most of his close friends are accepting.

"Gradually I'm wearing quite a few of them down to changing their ways."

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