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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

14 April 2003 Issue

WHY IS THE NUMBER OF VEGETARIANS INCREASING SO RAPIDLY?

There seems to be an increasing number of articles in the media about the dangers of eating meat: pesticides, antibiotics, bacteria, Mad Cow disease and harmful fats. But people were always eating meat, what is different now? How should one react to such articles? Why not to close one's eyes and hope that everything will once again be OK? Are there not enough more important issues in the world? And is the situation really as bad as is described?

From these types of articles people whose eating style includes substantial intake of meat naturally experience the feeling of a loss: if not meat, then what to eat? Amazingly, many people who ceased eating meat do not view this as a restriction but rather as an opportunity to discover a variety of delicious foods which they never tried before.

Indeed, there is a greater variety of fruits, grains, vegetables, nuts, mushrooms than that of meats.

While years ago vegetarians (people who do not eat animal flesh), were often considered "abnormal", today many food stores and restaurants carry food specially for vegetarians. Who are these vegetarians? Why do they choose this style of eating, and what do they actually eat except potato and salad?

Until the middle of the 19-th century vegetarians were known as Pythagoreans. The name came from the Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras (580-500 b.c), whose writings became the basis for vegetarianism in his day. Well-known ancient Greek and Roman philosophers such as Herodotus, Socrates, Diogenes, Seneca, Plutarch, Plautus, Plato were vegetarians.

At present about 1 million Americans each year are adopting the vegetarian choice. By 2005 it is conceivable that some 25 million Americans will be vegetarians. Some data shows that the percentage of vegetarians among college students is even higher. Moreover, there is an increasing number of the so-called vegans, who not only avoid eating any animals but all animal products (milk, butter, cheese, eggs, etc.) as well.

What makes all these people arrive at their decision?

A poll showed that about 78% of vegetarians choose this life-style because of the health benefits (vegetarian diet is known to reduce risk of many illnesses), 69% for ethical reasons (it feels good to know that you are not participating in violence and killing, and thus you can promote kindness and compassion without any hypocrisy, 35% for ecological reasons (we have only one Earth to live on); other reasons include religious, philosophical, economical (vegetarian food in general is cheaper). (Since 78%+69%+35% exceeds 100% it is clear that some people indicated more than one reason.)

As early as in 1961, the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that 90-97% of heart disease, the cause of more than one half of deaths in America, could be prevented by a vegetarian diet.

Neal Bernard, MD (Director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) writes, "The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all the natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of "real food for real people", you'd better live like real close to a real good hospital".

Here are some facts about factory farming, its effect on our health and on the planet.

Every year about 41.8 million beef cattle, 115 million pigs, 8.8 billion chicken and 268 million turkey are slaughtered for human consumption in the United States. On factory farms, animals are confined to extremely small spaces, which allows farmers to maximize production. For example, 90% of the US eggs comes from chicken who are crammed 5 or 6 to a cage of the size 16x18 inches. In order to prevent cannibalism inherent in overcrowding, chicken have part of their upper beaks cut off with hot iron without anesthetics. Without going into details about raising and killing of farm animals let us quote the well-known vegetarian Sir Paul McCartney who said, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian."

Since such conditions breed incredible stress and disease, animals are routinely fed growth hormones, antibiotics, tranquilizers and sprayed with pesticides. A growth hormone DES (diethylstilbestrol) which is banned in 32 countries as carcinogenic is used by the U.S. meat industry. According to FDA (The

Food and Drug Administration) it saves meat producers more than $500 million annually. Banned pesticides, including DDT, are routinely sold to Third World countries, where they are used in growing food that is imported to the US and end up on our dinner plates. According to scientists and physicians the rampant use of antibiotics in farming animals leads to human diseases resistant to known treatments.

According to FDA, poultry is the number one source of food-borne illnesses, causing an estimated 1,680 deaths per year and millions of cases of "stomach upset" or "food poisoning." Up to 90% of all chicken flesh sold in the U.S. is likely to be contaminated with leukosis (chicken cancer) and about 90% of factory-farmed chickens have salmonellosis or other harmful bacteria. An inspector has only two seconds per bird to check for signs of contamination.

Meat industry is the major cause of water pollution in the US since animals raised for food produce 130 times more excrements than the entire human population. Every year, the U.S. poultry industry produces 6,000,000,000 pounds of manure.

Raising cattle for food consumes over half of all water used in the U.S.

It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. Chicken processing plants use up to 100 million gallons of water per day.

Rain forests are being destroyed at a rate of 125,000 square miles per year to create space to raise animals for food. Rainforests are extraordinarily important for the health and climate of the planet since they produce a great deal of oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide.

Many people believe that we have to eat meat in order to get enough protein. Unfortunately, besides the accumulation of environmental toxins, that is the chemicals fed to animals, animal protein in the process of metabolism degrades to highly toxic nitrogenous residues.

Another downside of eating animal protein is that it requires a lot of work and energy from the digestive system. Everybody knows that after a good meat-based dinner there is a downtime. On the contrary, after a good dinner based on soy and grain one feels satisfied and energetic.

All soybean products, such as tofu and soymilk, contain, the so-called complete protein, i.e. all the essential amino acids necessary for our body. One can also obtain complete protein from the combination of the following products: beans, brown rice, corn, nuts, seeds, and wheat.

Soybeans not only contain complete protein but present also a source of fiber, unsaturated fat, potassium, phytoestrogens and isoflavones. At the same time, soy does not contain cholesterol and is low in calories in comparison to meat. For centuries, soy has been an essential part of diets in many Asian cultures. Studies show that consumption of soy protein has a positive effect on cardiovascular health and bones. It appears to support the health of menopausal and premenopausal women as well as promote a healthy prostate in men.

It is usually believed that one can obtain enough calcium only from milk products. Studies show that calcium found in some plant foods, such as collard greens and kale, is absorbed nearly twice as well as the calcium in milk. Other sources of calcium are extra firm tofu, spinach, broccoli, almonds, asparagus, and cabbage. These foods also help us avoid consumption of large amounts of antibiotics and hormones used by dairy farmers, the high fat content of many diary foods, and cholesterol.

The author of an international bestseller and one of the world's leading experts on the dietary link with the environment and health, John Robbins, writes in his book "THE FOOD REVOLUTION -- HowYour Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World", "The five countries with the highest rate of osteoporosis are exactly the five countries with the highest milk consumption. It's so funny that we are bombarded with those ads saying that we need dairy products or our bones are going to erode. The data says something very different."

Physical activity has a better effect on the bone density than the intake of calcium. For example, a recent study, published in Pediatrics, found that inactive teens have lower bone density by age 18 than those who engaged in regular physical activity. The researches also found that the amount of calcium consumed - from milk or other sources- had no effect on their bone density.

It is no big surprise that according to these studies, vegetarians have much less risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, kidney problems, and even appendicitis compared to meat-eaters. Do we really need to wait for all the possible studies and "proofs" about the advantages of vegetarianism?

Playwright George Bernard Shaw first tried to become a vegetarian at age 25. Shaw's doctors warned him that the diet would kill him. When he was old and in good health, he was asked why he didn't go back and show them what good vegetarianism had done him. He replied, "I would, but they all passed away years ago."

There is plenty of literature on any aspect of a vegetarian style of life: studies on the correlation between vegetarianism and health, prevention and curing diseases by changing your eating habits, relation with religions and ethical aspects, recipes, etc. Concerning recipes, there is one simple remark: one can easily substitute soy products for meat in stuffed vegetables, cutlets, lazagna, and other popular dishes.

Similarly, one can substitute soy milk for milk. I cannot stop myself from recommending to try a strawberry soy shake (blend "silk" soy milk with strawberry and banana, sugar is optional), or a mango soy shake. As in the case of any products, soy products from different brands vary by taste and ingredients, so find the one you like the most.

Besides books, one can find on many web sites (Russian and English) a lot of interesting information about vegetarianism, order a free Starter Kit, watch a video, find answers to frequently asked questions or ask new ones. Here are some sites:

www.vegetus.info/health  (has Russian, English and Italian versions)

www.veget.ru  

www.greenlife.narod.ru  

www.veganoutreach.org  

www.foodrevolution.org  

www.goveg.com  

www.pcrm.org  

In conclusion let us return to Pythagoras who said, "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 seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love".

*Written by Tatiana Gelfand. (January 23, 2003).

Tanya. tva@dimacs.rutgers.edu  

Staff: myREBAdog@att.net  

 

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