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25 April 2001 Issue
Vegetarian Questions

Source: Anonymous

* Aren't veganism and vegetarianism socially difficult?
Although vegetarianism has become widely accepted now, veganism is still regarded with suspicion by most people. This will only change as veganism grows, so rather than an excuse for complacency it is a reason in itself to do what you can now.

The priorities are clear, no animal should have to suffer or die to save you a little social inconvenience. Any life is worth more than that.

* Does a vegetarian/vegan diet require specialist knowledge?
The basic principles of healthy eating are not difficult to grasp and have nowadays become almost common knowledge. The same principles apply whether you be vegan, vegetarian or otherwise: eat more fresh fruit, vegetables, and wholefoods and cut down on saturated fats, sugar, salt and alcohol.

There is nothing in animal products that has to be carefully compensated for (except, perhaps, vitamin B12). Many of them do us a lot more harm than good. Cutting out animal products only makes a 'healthy' diet healthier.

* What about iron?
The average vegan diet not only supplies twice the minimum daily requirement of iron but also up to three times the daily requirement of vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron in the body, consequently vegans rarely suffer from anemia. Studies have shown the incidence of anemia in vegetarians and meat eaters to be roughly the same.

Rich plant sources of iron include dried fruits, whole grains nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds, pulses, molasses, and seaweeds. Using iron pots and pans can also contribute to a dietary intake.

* What about calcium?
There have been no reports of calcium deficiencies in vegans. It has been shown that animal protein causes the body to excrete calcium more quickly than plant protein does. This may be one reason why vegans and vegetarians are less at risk from osteoporosis.

Rich plant sources of calcium include tofu (contains more than four times the calcium of cow's milk), green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, molasses and seaweeds.

* What about protein?
Protein deficiency is almost unheard of in the West. Vegans certainly needn't worry, the average vegan diet easily fulfills the daily protein recommendations of the Department of Health, World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Committee on Nutrition Education (NACNE).

One of the problems with animal proteins is that they usually come with saturated fats and so are a major risk factor in heart disease -- our biggest killer. Plant proteins on the other hand are associated with dietary fiber which is one of the most important parts of a healthy diet. In fact vegans as a dietary group have been found to be the most likely of all to achieve their daily fiber requirement.

The proteins in animal products are very highly concentrated and most people who eat meat take in far more protein than their bodies can cope with. This can lead to conditions like gout, arthritis, rheumatism, fibrositis and deficiencies in niacin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and other minerals. A high protein diet also puts enormous strain on the pancreas -- an organ that produces enzymes for the digestion of proteins but also for fighting cancer.

It is not widely known that most vegetables contain useful amounts of protein. Particularly rich sources include nuts, pulses, grains, seeds, green leafy vegetables and potatoes.

* What about vitamin D?
Vitamin D is produced by the action of the sunlight on the skin. Although it is available in fortified foods like margarine, a little fresh air every day (even if it's cloudy) is all you need.

* What about vitamin B12?
The human body needs only minute amounts of vitamin B12 and is able to conserve it when supplies are scarce. Deficiency is extremely rare and actually doesn't affect vegans any more than it affects nonvegans. It is usually caused by an inability to absorb the vitamin rather than a dietary deficiency.

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in the small intestine, it is possible that the body can absorb all it needs from there. Not enough research has been done yet, but it may explain how some life-long vegans, who never take supplements, remain in excellent health.

Vitamin B12 is not found in most plants but it is often present in micro-organisms living on them. Although most of these organisms are destroyed by modern chemical agriculture, it does suggest that fresh, raw and organically grown produce could be a valuable source. But again, the research has not yet been done.

Vegans generally needn't worry too much about B12 but it is probably prudent to take a supplement occasionally.

* You would have to eat so much, don't you?
Totally untrue as any vegan or vegetarian will tell you. Try it and see!

* Is vegetarianism/veganism safe during pregnancy?
Pregnant women have special dietary needs and must always take care to ensure they receive all the nutrients that they and their developing children need. These nutrients can all be easily obtained on vegan and vegetarian diets.

A 1987 survey found that a well-planned vegan diet during pregnancy could reduce the incidence of pre-eclampsia.

* Is vegetarianism/veganism safe for babies and children?
The British Medical Journal report 'Nutrition and Health' states that: "the vegetarian diet is adequate for the nutritional needs of infants". Vegan and vegetarian children thrive. Vegan children in particular tend to be slimmer than their peers and therefore less prone to obesity-related diseases.

* Don't animals convert plants we can't eat into meat we can?
True, but more relevant is the fact that to keep us in animal products we don't need we feed the livestock alone in this country with enough food for 250 million people. There are over 500 million severely undernourished people in the world. Thirty-million die of starvation every year.

* There wouldn't be enough food, would there?
90% of the agricultural land in this country is used either directly or indirectly to feed livestock. We actually produce enough food to feed 250 million people. There are over 500 million severely undernourished people in the world, 50 thousand die every day of starvation. It has been estimated that a vegan country could be self-sufficient in food on about 25% of the land currently being farmed.

* How do you know that plants don't suffer?
To experience suffering you must have a central nervous system to feel pain and a degree of intelligence to suffer from that pain or to feel grief. A plant has neither. We therefore have no reason to believe that they suffer.

* Shouldn't a plant have rights?
We attribute rights to an individual because without those rights they may suffer. As plants are incapable of suffering they cannot possess rights. This does not excuse the wanton destruction of plant life as is happening now all over the world because we animals, who do possess rights, depend on those plants for our survival. Without plant life there can be no life on Earth.

* Wouldn't there be fewer animals in the world?
90% of the agricultural land in this country is used either directly or indirectly to feed livestock. It has been estimated that a vegan country could be self-sufficient in food on about 25% of the land currently being farmed. This would free vast areas of land that could be returned to the wild, all those millions of acres of sterile crops would become densely populated ecosystems. There would be more animals in this country than there have been for hundreds of thousands of years.

* Wouldn't we be overrun with livestock?
There are huge numbers of farm animals but it is not as if they would ever be let loose overnight. They are only farmed in such large numbers because it is profitable. As vegetarianism and veganism grow so the demand for meat will decline and farm animals will be bred in decreasing numbers. Those that are left will undoubtedly be well cared for by a society that has put compassion before taste and profit.

* Wouldn't many customs and traditions be destroyed?
Other examples of customs and traditions include sexism, racism, torture, public executions and witch burning. For society to progress some customs and traditions have to be abandoned.

* Wouldn't many people lose their jobs?
The move towards vegetarianism/veganism is a gradual process. As less and less people are employed in the animal-based industries so more and more will find work in the industries that replace them. Some people may well lose their jobs and every effort must be made to find them new employment. But let us not forget that the animals upon whom their jobs are based are losing their lives.

* I didn't kill the animal.
The people who buy meat are solely responsible for the deaths, in Britain alone, of over 700 million animals every year. The killing is done at their request and financed with their money. Their guilt is inescapable.

* The animals are killed humanely, right?
In their 1984 report, the Government's own advisory committee, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) said that animal welfare in British slaughterhouses had a "low priority." They criticized the "woeful ignorance" of the slaughterhouse staff, the continuous and unnecessary use of painful electric goads to move the animals and thought it "highly probable" that stunning methods used before killing did not render the animals insensitive to pain. All in all they made 117 recommendations for improvement, only a few of which have ever been implemented.

In America, the USDA is so understaffed and overworked that the slaughterhouse industry basically polices itself, and the profit motive always wins out over humane issues. The conditions at slaughter though are not the main issue. It is the killing itself that is wrong and it remains wrong however 'humanely' it is done. Would we ever excuse a child murderer for killing his victims 'humanely'?

* The animals are bred for it.
Animals that are bred for food are just as capable of suffering as their wild counterparts and it is their suffering which is at issue.

* The animals are here to be used.
Animals are not a means to a human end; they are independent, free-thinking individuals with their own needs and desires. We have no need and therefore no right to cause them suffering and death.

* The animals have never known anything better.
Not having known anything better does not alleviate the suffering of the animal. Its fundamental desires remain and it is the frustration of those desires that is a great part of its suffering. There are so many examples: the dairy cow who is never allowed to raise her young, the battery hen who can never walk or stretch her wings, the sow who can never build a nest or root for food in the forest litter etc. Eventually we frustrate the animal's most fundamental desire of all -- to live.

* Animals have adapted to farming.
Animals have been forced into adaptations that increase their productivity by straining their bodies often beyond their physical limits. Typical examples include the dairy cow who may go lame as she breaks down her own body tissues to produce 10 times her natural yield, and broiler chickens, 6% of whom die from the physical strain of increasing their body weight 50-60 times in seven weeks. Forced adaptations only increase the suffering of farm animals.

* The animals have got to die sometime/or somehow.
So have humans but that does not give you a reason or excuse to kill someone.

* A great deal of pleasure is gained from animal products.
To cause the suffering and death of others for pleasure is wrong. This is common moral sense and is believed by most people in the world. Surely, in our endless ingenuity, we can find other ways to enjoy ourselves?

* Just my turning vegan/vegetarian wouldn't make any difference.
In their lifetime the average meat-eater eats 36 pigs, 36 sheep, 8 cattle and 550 poultry. That may be only a comparatively tiny contribution to the meat industry but vegetarianism grows. If someone is inspired by others to become vegetarian (and later vegan), people will follow and still others will follow them. We can all make a difference because none of us is alone.

* Animal product industries are worth a lot of money.
You cannot justify or defend a practice on the grounds that it is profitable. After all, a great many crimes are very profitable too. We should ask ourselves not how much an animal's life is worth to us but how much it is worth to the animal -- for whom it is everything.

* Vegan/vegetarian food is too expensive.
Animal products, especially meat and cheese are the most expensive of all our staple food stuffs. The more of them you cut out and replace with the much cheaper (and healthier) fruit and vegetables the more money you are going to save.

Go on to It's Kitten Season - Remember Your Local Animal Shelter
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