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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Go Vegetarian?


Quoted from an editorial by William Clifford Roberts, M.d., Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology:
"When we kill animals to eat them, they end up killing us because their flesh, which contains cholesterol and saturated fat, was never intended for human beings, who are natural herbivores."



A friend recently explained to my child, Beezy, who is a vegetarian like me and her dad, that people are meant to be omnivorous, eating both plants and meat. This is not, however, a statement of fact, but an opinion. I don't think anyone could make a case for humans being strictly carnivorous, eating only meat. Even the most die hard steak lover likes a potato on the side! But the case can be made for vegetarianism. I don't know enough about the vegan diet, which contains no animal products at all, such as cheese or eggs, to comment on it. Some vegetarians eat fish but otherwise no meat. I used to be primarily vegetarian because I ate fish, but now I am strictly vegetarian, but not vegan, so that is what I will focus upon.

I became interested in vegetarianism in my mid-to-late 20s because a friend of mine was vegetarian, and I asked her why. She mentioned how the processing of meat is often not only cruel to animals, but that it also affects humans. For instance, she explained how turkeys are hung by their necks on a conveyor belt before their heads are chopped off, and how the fear and trauma they experience results in high levels of stress hormones flooding their systems, which are then in the meat that we eat. Interesting. I don't know exactly what the science is behind that idea, but it makes logical sense. Most people assume vegetarians make that choice to avoid unnecessary cruelty to animals, but that is not the only reason.

I then read in a yoga book how the human anatomy is not designed to consume meat, based on details of the teeth, digestive system, and saliva. Another blog gives a detailed explanation of the facts, which you can read here:  http://ahadalam.blogspot.com/2006/07/why-veg-biological-reasons-part-2.html

In summary, the function of our saliva, shape of our teeth, length of our intestines, and the way we digest food indicates a closer resemblance to herbivores than omnivores. In nature, the anatomy of the omnivore is very similar to the carnivore. Ours is quite different. Also, we are not opportunistic eaters, scavenging for whatever we can find to eat, which describes the omnivore in nature. Even if our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, it seems likely that we have evolved toward a more plant based diet. In fact, I saw Dr. Oz, the renowned heart surgeon, describe on the Oprah show how meat is digested by rotting for three days in our bodies! Plant material, on the other hand, passes easily through. He did not say humans should not eat meat, but that is just gross and can't be particularly good for you.

There are also humanitarian and ecological reasons for being vegetarian. The land it takes to graze cattle to feed just one person can feed 30 people with soybeans. In a world full of starving people, this is hugely significant. Rainforests are being depleted at an alarming rate in order to provide land to raise beef, mostly for Americans. Cow farts contribute more to the greenhouse gasses that cause global warming than our cars do! And of course most medical specialists agree that saturated fats and bad cholesterol from animal product consumption are major contributors to heart disease. Many people I know, who have become more conscious of health for themselves and for the planet are eating much less meat, even if they do not become vegetarians. It seems to be an intuitive change. In my case, it was also part of a deepening spiritual growth and awareness. I began by cutting out beef, then poultry, and finally fish and seafood. Now any meat simply doesn't taste good. I accidentally ate bacon not too long ago, which I once really liked, but it tasted terrible. One can become accustomed to omitting even his or her favorite meats from one's diet without any secret, residual longing, though this may take some time.

Along the way I would occasionally eat meat; for example, turkey at Thanksgiving or when my dad made his awesome barbeque chicken. It can be hard to be different and feel like you don't fit in with friends, family, or your community in general in this way. But you can make the transition gradually, being fortified in the knowledge that your choice to be vegetarian is really the best all around. Americans generally eat too much protein, and it is easy to get adequate amounts from nuts, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds, and small amounts of organic dairy. A vegetarian can be malnourished, but no more so than an omnivore who does not eat a balanced diet.

And for anyone who reads the Bible or cares, in Genesis God specifically gives herbs and plants to the humans He has created. There is no mention of eating the animals in God's original purpose for us people made in His image. My guess is that the eating of animals, by both people and other animals, was a result of the imbalances in the world due to the fall from grace. Just a thought.

Certainly the case can be made, and has been, for humans being naturally omnivorous, and if that is your true belief and intuition, eat the way it makes the best sense for you and your family. But I would advise anyone who eats meat to know where it comes from and how it was raised. No food is good for us when produced by some of our modern methods of adding growth hormones and pesticides, feeding the animals in a way not natural to them, and raising them with cruel and unhealthy methods. Know the farmer you get it from, or buy organic! My daughter's pediatrician said she could be perfectly healthy on a vegetarian diet, and because my child loves animals, the idea of eating them is revolting to her. In a world in desperate need of greater lovingkindness, gentleness, and care for all of God's creations, a primarily vegetarian diet is certainly worth a shot.

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