While there certainly is no denying the importance of fruits, vegetables and natural foods
in a well balanced and healthy diet, there are some foks who claim that meat should be in a well balanced diet as well. So who's right? Well, instead of
thinking who's "right" or "wrong", why don't we agree to disagree (dodged a bullet there, eh!?) That said,
the point of this page is not to convince you to become vegetarian, (we'll leave that to PETA) but
instead, to encourage you to adopt a diet more rooted in vegetarian principles, which
essentially amounts to cutting back meat consumption - not ending it altogether.
Besides - as you'll see further down on this page - cutting back on meat is an excellent way to go green and make a positive impact
on the environment.
There are many arguments for and against eating meat and going vegetarian, with nearly all of them based on different principles and morals. For instance, some people are vegetarian strictly for health reasons, while many others do it because of religious convictions. Still, there are those who are vegetarian in the name of animal rights or simply because they believe human beings to be herbivores. With all these different reasons for going vegetarian, I suppose a good starting place would be to uncover the roots and history of vegetarianism over the millenniums. Scare tactics aside (although there are some very moving videos on the Web documenting the animal cruelty that still takes place to this day... view them at your own risk over at PETA), by exploring the many different reasons why people go vegetarian in the first place, hopefully this article will inspire others find at least one reason to give vegetarianism a chance and adopt some of its practices.
That being said, let's go back to the beginning.
Vegetarianism is thought to have been practiced as early as the 2nd millennium BCE on the Indian subcontinent, where devotees of Hinduism and Jainism openly held (and still do) vegetarianism as an ideal. Mahayana Buddhist Monks (as opposed to the Theravada branch in China) have been practicing vegetarianism as early as 100 BCE. In Europe, Pythagoras and his adepts were historically recorded as being vegetarians as well (in the 6th Century BC), with Pythagoras himself speaking on the matter directly. The Roman poet, Ovid, attributes the following quote to Pythagoras: "As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
While the vast majority of vegetarians come from Hindus living in India, every religion has ties with vegetarianism at one time or another. Gnostics were vegetarians because they believed to be a sin of the flesh; Essenses, who were a mystical sect of Judaism between the 2nd and 1st Century BC, considered eating meat and making sacrifices an unlawful practice. And to this day, adepts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Cao Daiists and Rastafarians also frequently live a vegetarian lifestyle. All of their reasons are based on religious convictions. Currently, approximately 70% of the world's vegetarians live in India, while no more than 3% of the U.S. population does not eat meat or seafood.
For Hindus, the motivations for being vegetarian somewhat vary. Some Hindus do so because meat is considered an indulgence, while others do not take part in killing any life forms whatsoever so as not to reap bad karma. For some, being a vegetarian is part of the non-violent code which Ghandi set forth, while others simply cannot eat meat because their chosen deity does not accept offerings of meat. Other religions characterized by vegetarianism are Jainism (largely for their beliefs of non-violence) and Chinese Mahayana Buddhists.
Tibetan, Japanese and Theravada Buddhists do not believe a vegetarian diet is essential for devotees. In Judaism, the dietary law, Kashrut, has very strict guidelines regarding the eating and slaughtering of meat, founded on elements of dogma and a belief in non-cruelty. Most practicing Jews eat kosher meat, while many other Jews choose to abstain from eating meat simply because of their own personal convictions.
Christianity and Islam are not associated with vegetarianism, although some Christians believe that humanity will return to being vegetarian at some point in time. In Islam, only meat that is slaughtered according to the rules of haram, are allowed to be eaten. Otherwise, since the sacrificing of animals is widely practiced throughout Islam, it is rare to find a vegetarian Muslim. In modern times, many post modern Christians often referred to as neo-pagans, subscribe to vegetarianism. Many neo-pagans believe that eating meat is a natural act. However, they do not condone the way in which animals are treated and slaughtered by the animal agriculture industry. Most neo-pagans do no eat meat out of compassion for animals as well as the environment.
Speaking of the Environment...
The environmental reasons for taking up a vegetarian diet are numerous. Did you know that animal agriculture (largely cows), contribute to 18% of the
world's greenhouse gases in Carbon Dioxide equivalents. This is more than the
13.5% Carbon Dioxide contribution of the world's transportation, including cars.
Other dangerous compounds produced from the animal agriculture industry include
65% of the world's Nitrous Oxide and 37% of human produced methane (both of
which are more dangerous than Carbon Dioxide). The world's agriculture is also
responsible for producing 64% of global ammonia levels in the environment, which
is a large contributor to acid rain and the destruction of the world's rain
forests. Some other statistics which many vegetarians are motivated by are what
the agriculture industry is doing to the world's crops and natural resources.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, half of the water supply needed
in the U.S. goes toward growing crops used for feeding animal agriculture. These
animals, in turn, consume more than 90% of the soy crops, 80% of the corn crops
and 70% of grain crops grown in the United States. The WorldWatch Institute
reported that massive reductions in meat consumption will improve public health,
to include the public health care system. With increases in worldwide
population, one of the best solutions for making efficient use of natural
resources such as water, will be obtained by cutting back on the raising of
cattle, and ultimately meat consumption.
Health and Nutrition...
Health concerns are a major motivator for vegetarians. This is largely where
you have the many different spin-offs and varieties of vegetarianism. Vegans are
those who abstain from meat and fish, eggs and dairy products and honey; Ovo
vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or dairy products but do allow themselves eggs
and honey. Lacto vegetarians do not eat meat, fish nor eggs, but partake in
dairy and honey. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat or fish but will eat
eggs, dairy and honey. Of course, some of the reasons for choosing one type over
the other are often more than just health reasons. For instance, most vegans do
not stand for the captivity of animals whatsoever, whether it be for slaughter
or for producing eggs or milk. In actuality, most dairy cows wind up as
slaughter anyways, and so for many vegans, partaking of the milk is condoning
the slaughter. Some of the spin-offs of vegetarianism, which are often based on a
combination of health and ethical reasons, are Pescetarianism, which is a
vegetarian diet allowing seafood (much like the Mediterranean diet),
Pollotarianism, which is a vegetarian diet in which fowl can be eaten, and
Flexitarianism, which is primarily a vegetarian diet that allows occasional
exceptions of meat eating.
In terms of health, the motivations for going vegetarian are numerous. While most vegetarians do not passionately latch onto just one of the many health benefits of vegetarianism, the individual arguments are powerful in their own right. Let's begin with the nutritional benefits. It is scientifically proven that a vegetarian diet offers several nutritional benefits, including decreased levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher levels of fiber, folate, omega-6 fatty acids, carotenoids, antioxidants, vitamins C and E, minerals such as magnesium and potassium and phytochemicals, which are plant and fruit derived chemical compounds shown to reduce the risk of cancer. Case studies show that vegetarians have lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, lower incidents of obesity and appendectomies, coronary heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's Disease, dementia and hypertension, not to mention the fact that vegetarians generally live longer than non-vegetarians. On the flip-side, vegetarian diets can be low in protein, Vitamin B12, Iron, Calcium and Zinc if not properly supplemented or compensated. It is the well-thought-out vegetarian diet that produces the most success, and which is applicable to every phase of human existence.
There have been several studies undertaken (mostly in the U.K.) which show that vegetarians live longer than non-vegetarians. Fish eating vegetarians are actually shown to have the lowest mortality rates (Go Pescatarians!). However, in order to be politically correct, so to speak, these studies do not espouse definitive conclusions that these positive health effects are specifically due to the vegetarian diet. The reason being is that vegetarians tend to live an overall healthier lifestyle than non-vegetarians, including lower incidents of cigarette smoking and increased physical activity and exercise. In other words, they are not ruling out that these benefits could be largely due to increased physical activity. While this "disclaimer" may be necessary for the scientific community, any reasonable human being can see that better health is a combination of all these factors. It is clearly evident that healthfulness is a holistic way of life. Obviously, if you go vegetarian but continue to smoke cigarettes, you are still going to increase your chances of getting cancer. Likewise, even if you are a vegetarian and you consistently think negative thoughts and harbor feelings of anger and resentment, your cells are still going to age at an accelerated pace. See our Holistic Health section to find out more about the Power of Your Thoughts.
the first things a well-planned vegetarian diet takes into consideration is
Protein. With adequate calories and protein rich foods, such as tofu, the
necessary amounts of protein will be obtained with a vegetarian diet. Tofu is
especially high in protein, as well as zinc and iron, which are often lacking in
poorly managed vegetarian diets. And if you think that this means you have to
eat plain tofu, think again. Tofu based products, many of which taste like real
meat, abound these days. Even outside the aisles of natural food stores, tofu
products can now be found on the shelves of mainstream grocery stores, not to
mention online health food stores. Rather than thinking of getting more protein,
vegetarians should focus on supplementing their diet with amino acids, which are
the building blocks of protein. Since essential amino acids cannot by
synthesized by the human body, it is important that a vegetarian diet include
soy, buckwheat, protein-rich quinoa, hempseed and/or amaranth for obtaining
essential amino acids. Other nutritional deficiencies that should be safeguarded
by vegetarians are Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be supplemented with
avocados, eggs (if your not vegan), walnuts, flaxseed products and canola oil
(which is okay after all), Iron (which can be supplemented with green
leafy vegetable, beans, lentils, peas, soy, legumes, cereals and nuts),
hormone-acting Vitamin D (which is primarily synthesized by exposure to the
Sun's rays, and helps with the absorption of Calcium and Phosphorous in
producing strong bones), Vitamin B12 (which can be optimally supplemented with
vegetable protein, soy milk, veggie burgers and many cereals), and the mineral
Iodine (which can be effectively supplemented with Iodinized Salt). It should be
noted that a vegetarian diet is not inferior to a meat based diet. Many
vegetarians say that the so-called deficiencies of a vegetarian diet would not
even be a matter of concern if human beings had not grown dependent on meat in
the first place. In other words, the supplementation of protein and certain
vitamins and minerals is an overcompensation for the imbalance of a meat-based
diet. And yet there are some vegetarians who think that meat is necessary for a
balanced diet but choose to be vegetarian due to their personal ethics against
animal cruelty (more on that later).
Other health concerns often raised by vegetarians are diseases and sickness originating from infected meat. One of the most notorious of these is E. coli (known in scientific fields as O157:H7), which is turns deadly when produced in the intestines of cattle. One of the many side effects of feeding grain to cattle is that their stomachs produce higher levels of acidity than they are accustomed to. An unnatural bi-product of this increased acidity is the deadly strain of O157:H7. One of the most recent outbreaks of this deadly E. coli (in the U.S.) evidently came from contaminated spinach. However, the source of this infection was determined to come from cattle herds located only one-half mile from the infected spinach crops. Other dangerous meat-borne illnesses include Avian flu (from poultry), Foot-and-Mouth disease (from Sheep), elevated level of Mercury (from fish), growth hormones and antibiotics commonly found in beef.
people who choose to be vegetarian for more than health reasons often abstain
from consuming any animal products whatsoever - leather being a major one.
Considering that shoes are often made of animal leather, there is now a growing
line of vegetarian shoes made of synthetic leather. If you thought that
vegetarian motivations ended here, there's more. The ethical concerns of
vegetarians are substantial. One of the most active purveyor of animal rights,
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has undertaken many
undercover campaigns to get video footage of how animals are slaughtered in
industrialized meat packaging plants. Disturbing to say the least, if you are
ready to face the truth and are open to the possibility that you have allowed
yourself room for psychological numbing, we recommend you view the undercover
videos at the PETA website. On this note, we would like to cap our little
treatise on vegetarianism with a quote from Albert Einstein, who said, "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet".
If you want to find out more about the Vegetarian Lifestyle, check out out Veggie Living Tips down below.