This past March was my 17th anniversary of “surviving” without meat. I am a vegetarian. In my early days of vegetariansim, little choice existed unless I cooked everything myself. Meatless products were fairly new inventions and restaurants certainly weren’t going to cater to weird individuals who did not exhibit the same enthusiasm for chomping on meat as the regular customers. In 1990, Morningstar Farms was a little over 8 years old, the Gardenburger was only 7 years old, and the Boca Burger wasn’t born until 1993, four years after I went meatless. The choices varied from slim to none, and salad was the good old standby.
At the time I chose vegetarianism, I also chose to go “cruelty free” and use only products not tested on animals. What a challenge it was in the early days to locate brands that didn’t use animals in their laboratory testing of products. The only line I could find at the time was Aveda. Now hardly any product lines, if any, are tested on animals.
I often have people ask me why I chose to give up meat and become a vegetarian. Before I set out my reasons, let me explain the various kinds of vegetarianism. Probably, the most misunderstood idea is that a person can eat fish, chicken, lobster, etc., and be a vegetarian. Nope, no, no way, no how. If those items are a part of your diet, you are not a vegetarian.
I am not sure where the notion came from that certain types of living creatures didn’t qualify as meat: perhaps someone who thought only mammals qualify as a meat source. Anyway, vegetarians don’t eat fish or other similar critters. So if you are hung up on hamburgers, crazy for chicken, flippin’ for fish, savorin’ the shrimp, or lovin’ the lobster, you won’t make it as a vegetarian.
Even within the vegetarian community, distinctions exist as to the consumption of dairy products and eggs. Vegetarians fall into four types:
- lacto-ovo vegetarian: eats no meat but will eat dairy products and eggs.
- lacto vegetarian: eats no meat or eggs but will eat dairy products.
- ovo vegetarian: eats no meat or dairy products but will eat eggs.
- vegan: eats no meat, eggs, dairy products, or any products derived from animal sources
I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian; however, I won’t drink milk. I substitute weird sounding beverages such as almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, and oat milk. They are really pretty tasty. I do eat dairy products such as yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, regular cheeses, etc. I do not keep eggs in my refrigerator, and the only time I eat eggs is when I eat breakfast out about once a month. I have learned to do nicely without eggs.
As a vegetarian, I have to be careful when I go grocery shopping because many things contain animal byproducts which are not evident until I read the label. For instance, gelatin is a protein substance that is extracted from collagen, a natural protein present in skin, bones, and animal tissue. That means Jell-O or any other product made with gelatin is out for me, but, fortunately, I have found a gelatin substitute called agar agar, a product made from sea vegetables.
I buy very little processed, packaged, or canned food. But when I do, I review the label to make sure no animal products have been used in the item. As a collateral issue to being a vegetarian, I also avoid leather shoes, purses, clothing, belts, etc. You won’t catch me wearing a fur coat or leather tennis shoes or carrying a fancy leather purse.
Now, my three reasons for my decision to go vegetarian.
#1: The first reason arose out of living on the farm when I was married. Since we raised livestock, it made sense that we would slaughter our own, have it butchered, and freeze it. The first time I saw a cow slaughtered was horrible. The cow was shot through the head and hung up by its two hind legs from a loader (bobcat). Even though it was still kicking and twitching, its throat was slit to drain the blood. This was done in the open in our driveway. I remember gagging and almost throwing up as I watched the process. That took away much of the desire to eat meat. I had never eaten a lot of meat anyway, and that scene made it easier to eat less. However, I still ate some meat and continued to cook meat for our meals. So reason number 1 is the cruelty to the animal. I doubt there exists a process that is not cruel.
A good book to read, although written some time ago, is Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” Sinclair wrote the novel based on the horrendous conditions of the Chicago stockyards. His book describing those conditions led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act, cracking down on unsafe food and patent medicines, and the Meat Inspection Act. To this day, our hamburgers, chicken patties and other meats are safeguarded by the same law.
#2: The second reason I am a vegetarian is the health benefit. The three leading causes of death in the United States—heart disease, cancer and stroke—are related to diet. In 2000, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmed-weight equivalent) per person, 57 pounds above average annual consumption in the 1950s.
Cholesterol itself isn’t bad; it is one of the substances created and used by our bodies to keep us healthy. We need cholesterol to make vitamin D, some hormones, build cell walls, and create bile salts that help you digest fat. All animal products contain cholesterol. When meat, fish, fowl, eggs or dairy products are eaten, additional cholesterol is added to that which we make ourselves, and often this is more than the body’s cholesterol filtering system can eliminate.
The problem is that since cholesterol doesn’t dissolve in the blood, it must be carried to and from our cells by lipoproteins – think of the transportation as a “piggyback” ride. The low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the bad one, carries the cholesterol to the arteries. It combines with other substances to form plaque which builds up in the walls of arteries eventually blocking them. The high density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered the good cholesterol because it tends to carry the cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver.Cholesterol is then excreted from the liver in bile and reabsorbed from the intestines. Trigycerides, a form of fat made by the body, also help make up the total cholesterol level. So, my second reason is a health reason – my body can make enough cholesterol without the addition of meat and animal products. The addition of meat and animal products simply “stacks” unneccesary cholesterol on top of the adequate cholesterol already produced by the body.
The diagram shows a partially clogged artery. Over the years plaque deposits can buildup in the artery to the point of occlusion. Although cholesterol is found in animal products, heredity also plays a part in cholesterol production. But why worry about heredity? I prefer to just eliminate the animal products as a way to control cholesterol and better my health.
#3: The third reason is the enormous amount of energy required to transform resources into grain to feed out livestock. Traditionally, the human diet has centered on plant foods, with animal foods playing a supplementary role. Only recently have Americans and people from other industrialized countries begun to center their diets on meat. Animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of plant protein while yielding animal protein that is only 1.4 times more nutritious for humans than the comparable amount of plant protein. To produce animal protein, a grain of some type is needed.
Corn is the most widely produced feed grain in the United States, accounting for more than 90 percent of total value and production of feed grains. Around 80 million acres of land are planted to corn, with the majority of the crop grown in the Heartland region. Most of the crop is used as the main energy ingredient in livestock feed. However, meat production is an inefficient use of grain; grain is used more efficiently when consumed directly by humans. Continued growth in meat output is dependent on feeding grain to animals, creating competition for grain between affluent meat eaters and the world’s poor.
Each pound of meat represents several pounds of grain, either corn or wheat, that could be consumed directly by humans. If the 670 million tons of the world’s grain used for feed were reduced by just 10 percent, this would free up 67 million tons of grain, enough to sustain 225 million people or keep up with world population growth for the next three years. If each American reduced his or her meat consumption by only 5 percent, roughly equivalent to eating one less dish of meat each weak, 7.5 million tons of grain would be saved, enough to feed 25 million people-roughly the number estimated to go hungry in the United States each day.
Production of meat not only uses grains inefficiently but also depletes water resources. According to the Water Education Foundation, it takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. This is the same amount of water you would use if you took a seven-minute shower every day for six entire months. In contrast, only 25 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of wheat. Thus, meat production is a wasteful and inefficient process which doesn’t provide any better nutrition than that found in non-meat sources.
Vegetariansim is my choice; I do not try to convert others for it is a lifestyle that can sometimes be hard for those who just really believe they can’t give up meat. While the three reasons I have listed may not make sense to others, they certainly make sense to me. The old ditty “hold the pickle, hold the lettuce” includes, for me, “hold the meat” as well.