“Our task must be to free ourselves… by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” Albert Einstein
Let me establish right up front that I don’t consider myself a vegetarian. Neither did Einstein. I do eat meat – but not often. While it’s likely material for another post, I’ve found that some people are extremely judgmental of others who “violate” a self-proclaimed label. In 2007, Sarma Melngailis, an icon in the raw food community and co-founder of one of my favorite NYC restaurants, Pure Food and Wine reported that she’d consumed one small lamb meat ball. People were vicious with their criticism. For some, she skidded off the raw food pinnacle where she’d been placed. Others, admired her honesty and although I don’t know if this is a change from 2007, in her blog, she specifies that by “raw”, she means totally honest.
So what then are the reasons for moving to a plant-based diet?
1. For religious reasons – From my research, it appears that the largest percentage of vegetarians maintain this diet plan due to their spiritual beliefs. A 2006 study showed that in India alone, the Hindu population contributes 399 million vegetarians. There are many other religious disciplines that incorporate a meat free diet. The old testament which is widely read by both Christians and Jews tells the story of Daniel, Hanaiah, Mishael, and Azariah who would eat only vegetables and water for 10 days and at the end of the 10 days, were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youth who ate the king’s rich food.
2. For better health – The consumption of animal protein and it’s saturated fat and cholesterol is associated with obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancers, diabetes and more. We’ve all heard this one before.
3. For better health – Fruits and vegetables have been found to contain a number of antioxidants that protect us against certain types of cancers and that can repair the body after stress and illness. In addition, they’re high in fiber which keeps our digestive systems toned and healthy.
4. Because it uses far less of the earth’s water resources. It takes 1,799 gallons of water to raise one pound of beef. One pound of chicken uses 468 gallons. Those are big numbers on a planet with a dwindling supply. Try wheat at 132 per pound, soybeans at 216 per pound or eat an orange which took 13 gallons to produce.
5. In order to reduce to the emission of green house gases. Methane production is a normal part of the digestive cycle of animals. It can also be a by-product of manure depending on the method of manure management employed by a farm. When deposited naturally in a grassland setting, it produces little methane but when stored as slurry in factory farm operation, it decomposes anaerobically and creates methane.
6. Because it’s kinder to animals. Many vegetarians believe that the breeding of livestock for food is inhumane. If you haven’t bought into this, just watch one of the pop food films like Food, Inc. and you’ll become a believer.
7. It’s more economical. Just take a quick survey of your next few grocery receipts. I’m confident that you’ll find that any animal products are by far, leading the way in your expenses. During tough economic times, eliminating meat or treating it as a side dish has pocketbook impact.
8. Your veggies haven’t taken antibiotics but you can’t say the same for animal protein. The use of antibiotics and hormones has become common place in factory farming. Animals are given low doses of antibiotics on a consistent basis while hormones cause them to grow bigger faster and are used to boost productivity. There are numerous sources that discuss the risks and implications of both – some, yet to be determined.
9. Because you can compost your food waste. Scraps of fruit and vegetables including egg shells and coffee grounds are all easily compostable items which can be used to improve the quality of soil in your own garden. Meat and dairy items won’t do that for you.
10. We could feed the world. In addition to the increased use of water, it takes 16 pounds of grain and soy to produce a single pound of beef. According to one source, an additional 60 million people could be fed with the agricultural land that would have grown livestock feed if Americans reduced their collective meat consumption by just 10 %. Of course that assumes a good distribution system and compassion. I think they’re both worth working towards.