by Rachel Gabel
Rachel Gabel originally wrote this article for The Fence Post
In Nebraska’s capital city, two illuminated billboards will soon be in place, asking Gov. Pete Ricketts to choose a plant-based diet for the residents of his state. The billboards, paid for by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine read, “Governor Ricketts: Can Nebraska Switch to a Safer Food Supply Like Beans Over Beef?” Ricketts said he’s not swayed. “This is PETA masquerading as respectable doctors to push their anti-animal agriculture agenda,” Ricketts said. “It’s ridiculous if you look at the value of beef. For example, 3 ounces of beef is the same amount of protein as three cups of quinoa. I don’t know how many people are going to eat three cups of quinoa versus three ounces of beef to get the amount of protein they need in their diet.”
“Beef is one of the most nutritionally dense foods we have and is a great part of a healthy diet and to suggest that we should get rid of it is inexplicable,” he said. “In Nebraska, in particular, it is a huge part of our economy.” In a complaint that was sent to Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services the group requested that the state support the transition of meatpacking facilities to cleaner, safer facilities that produce plant-based protein and that the state report new cases of COVID-19 at meatpacking facilities.
Ricketts said the group’s request for subsidies for plant-based protein production, something he said is akin to the government picking winners and losers, is fundamentally wrong. “These people are Socialists,” he said. “They want big government intervention to tell private companies what to do and that’s a Socialist mentality. If the market rises and shows increased demand for plant-based food then that’s consumers asking for it and that’s where we as a state and as beef producers need to educate people. Beef is our biggest single industry in Nebraska and we think we have the best beef in the world right here. We need to promote it and we’re willing to do that.” Ricketts said he’s not planning to respond to the group but did tout beef’s nutritional value during a press conference this week.
On a cattle ranch on the West Coast, Kiah Twisselman is 125 pounds lighter than she was late in 2018, and said beef remains her favorite healthy food. A sixth generation cattle rancher, she said having the opportunity to promote beef is an opportunity she doesn’t take for granted.
Working for the Kentucky Beef Council and speaking about beef nutrition while overweight prompted Twisselman to change her life but enjoying beef did not. In 2018, Twisselman was working as the director of consumer affairs for the Kentucky Beef Council, on behalf of the checkoff. Her role put her on the consumer-facing side of the industry, representing the state’s producers in media interviews and working with influencers. One of the programs she led was the nutrition program and she spoke to dietetics groups, hosted farm tours, and spoke to various groups about beef’s role in a healthy diet.
“I knew what I was saying was truth, was factual, was backed up by science, I believed in beef’s nutrition but I felt like such a hypocrite,” she said. “I felt like I was doing a disservice to the beef industry at the time because I personally wasn’t a vision of health.” She said she remembers looking out at a group of registered dieticians and wondering who among them would listen to her, a woman without credentials who didn’t look healthy.
Kiah Twisselman believes in beef and earned her spot as an advocate for its place in a healthy diet. Later that year, she caught a flight and couldn’t buckle her seatbelt, something that had happened before. The flight attendant asked whether she needed an extender and she took it, embarrassed and ashamed. She had picked up a copy of Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face, and said she buried her face in it for the flight. The book encouraged her to make five changes — drink more water, move for 30 minutes daily, wake up one hour earlier, give up one food, and write down things you’re grateful for. Incorporating beef in her diet, though, is one thing that remained. Despite how much she enjoyed her job, she returned to California to be closer to her family ranch and continued her health journey there.
A sixth-generation rancher in California, Twisselman lost 125 pounds and beef was one of her tools. “When people talk about what’s the best diet or the healthiest diet, the best diet for anybody is one they can stick with,” she said. “I don’t think telling anybody to fear foods or to reduce certain foods or to eliminate certain foods. It isn’t helpful. I don’t think we should tell anybody there are good foods and bad foods, I think it’s more about how to honor your body with food choices that make you feel good and that are foods that taste good.” “Beef’s nutrition speaks for itself,” she said. “There’s research out there that touts beef’s benefits. It’s the most complete protein out there, you get half your daily protein in one 3-ounce serving of beef. It’s big nutrition in a small package, you’re getting zinc, iron, protein, B vitamins, and 10 essential vitamins and nutrients in less than 200 calories per serving. It’s great nutrition that you can’t beat and it doesn’t compare to anything else.” Shaming someone for their food choices, she said, isn’t helpful and if someone is going to make a change to improve their health, it has to be something they enjoy. She said people should have permission to enjoy beef for all of its nutritional value.
Rather than replacing beef, oftentimes with a food that has more calories for the same nutritional benefit, she said she pairs beef with other healthy choices. Twisselman said she learned how to process her emotions in other ways rather than depending on food as an emotional crutch. “This restriction piece is really harmful and perpetuates this diet culture and this cycle of temporary diet fix and diet elimination in order to get a certain result and then falling off the wagon,” she said. “It’s a constant cycle of restrict, overeat.” She said there are no beef dishes or cuts she eliminated during her weight loss journey or now that she’s maintaining her loss.
“I don’t plan to give up cheeseburgers for the rest of my life, so I learned how to eat a cheeseburger in a healthy way that fits into my healthy diet and lifestyle,” she said. “Now, that being said, I feel like the biggest change for me for all foods, including beef, was just being more mindful of my own hunger cues and portions. So making sure when I eat a meal that includes beef, that I’m also pairing it with other healthy foods. Sometimes the No. 1 thing you can do is add more nutritious things in.”
She said she loves steak and pairs it with salad and vegetables. Other choices she made include wrapping a burger in lettuce rather than a bun but giving up beef was never part of the healthy plan. “The beautiful thing about beef is that it’s one of the most versatile foods out there, regardless of the cut,” she said. “Beef was never the part of the meal that I substituted out for something else.”
Twisselman said she knows and understands how personal food choices are. Being a cattle rancher and working in the beef industry, she believes in and loves beef. “We live in a world where people can make different food choices based on their preferred production practices,” she said. “I don’t ever want to shame someone for their food choices, whether it’s because of their preferred production practices, whether it’s their taste preferences, or if it’s how foods make them feel. We are so fortunate to live in a time and a place where we have so many options.”
Over the course of a year, she said she lost 103 pounds and is currently maintaining a 125-pound loss. That being said, she focuses on being healthy rather than being wrapped up in a number on a scale.
She said she always thought her struggle with obesity was a curse but now sees that having a platform to speak to consumers through her work as a life coach and health coach, and through appearances in People Magazine, Women’s Health, Access Hollywood, and Good Morning America makes it her greatest blessing. On one of her national television appearances, in fact, the ribbon below her interview proclaimed that beef is her favorite diet food.
“I know I can be an example of what’s possible,” she said. “I lost over 125 pounds. It’s not about eliminating beef to be healthy.”