The Vegetarian Diet
Today’s society views veganism as “negative.” There is a constant struggle between vegans and people who despise them. Individuals dislike vegetarians and vegans because of their opposing view on the food practices of most of the society. The non-vegetarian individuals believe that these practices are a very important aspect of what makes up their social identity. When one views this constant struggle between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, it somewhat portrays the ongoing debate about feminism. This is because in both situations, the vegetarians and the feminists both seem to be on the more logical side of the debate. We do not need to get into the debate about feminism, but we know that vegetarians and their diets, also known as a plant-based diet, seem to have no negative effects whatsoever. If we dig down deeper into why a plant-based diet is more beneficial than any other type of diet, we find that this diet prevents many different diseases and illnesses. The diet, if done right, also benefits local agriculture and the many small businesses that are not government-sponsored. This diet can also benefit the environment much more than humans think. Of course, one of the older reasons for switching to a vegan diet deals with the ethical side of the debate. There are a lot of humans in the world that do not think that animals deserve to be physically and emotionally harmed for food. But humans have been questioning whether we as are supposed to be killing animals for food for a long time now. All said, the health side is no doubt the most important reason for why one should go vegan.
According to nutritionist Michael F. Jacobson, at least one of every sixth deaths in the United States are caused by the poor dietary lifestyle of us humans. The average American citizen is more likely to die from a disease related to their diet and not getting enough physical activity than from smoking tobacco, homicides, and car accidents. The list goes on, but what exactly are these dietary “diseases?” Some of the major ones are different types of cancers, diabetes, heart diseases, and strokes. And how do we even know that this is true? Well, there has been research that proves that the consumption of meat and dairy products are critical “causes of chronic diseases” (Jacobson 21). There have also been studies showing that vegetarians live longer and are “less prone” to chronic diseases. Regarding the debate between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, who is morally right here? Sure, meat is good, but the long-term risks of consuming meat are just not worth consuming it regularly. There is a numerous amount of studies that meat-eaters are “more susceptible to heart disease” alone (Petter). Yes, it’s fine to have meat occasionally, but consuming it daily can lead to some health problems. As for people who have a diet mostly made up from meat, it doesn’t go quite well. For example, if someone were to just eat cooked meat, they would be lacking vitamin C. The only way to receive vitamin C from meat is by eating it raw. Doing this may increase vitamin C, which is good, but it would significantly increase one’s risk for bacterial diseases, depending on how fresh the meat is, of course. A sufficient way for us humans to gain a good amount of vitamin C to keep us healthy is by eating citrus fruits and certain vegetables (Bowler).
As Daniel Dombrowski states, the moral reason for not eating animals “held sway” for about a millennium, with a reemergence in the late 1960s/early 1970s. But this reemergence has sparked an ongoing contemporary debate regarding vegetarianism in the forms of “scholarly books and articles.” Anti-vegetarianism also dates to the days of when the bible was written. There are certain books from the bible that reference vegetarianism, with some actually “condemning” vegetarianism. In Genesis 9:3, after the Flood that destroyed all plant life, it was said that “Every creature that lives and moves shall be food for” humans. In a way, this seems to be opposing the practice of vegetarianism itself. All the research conducted by vegetarians over the years relating to vegetarian diets all seem to have “unconscious bias.” This is because every human has their own set of beliefs, and those beliefs make their research (more scientifically) unwise. But that does not necessarily mean that all research regarding vegetarianism is not credible (Why I Am Not a Vegetarian).
So, when exactly did people start to think a vegetarian diet was better for the body? Well, if we observe the origin of a plant-based diet, we find that it dates to 1500-500 B.C. where the Indo-Aryans who inhabited present-day India “encouraged vegetarianism due to religious reasons.” Various famous individuals such as Pythagoras and Leonardo da Vinci also refrained from eating meat (Blumenfeld). A century after Pythagoras’ existence, vegetarianism was linked to his name along with the contemporary debate. Pythagorean vegetarianism was founded on multiple principles, but the most important and interesting one is the religious term “transmigration.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, transmigration means “Passage of the soul at death into another body.” Pythagoreans believed that animals possessed souls that either have been or will be in a human body. In fact, he was so confident in his belief in transmigration, he admitted his own preexistence multiple times. But along with this belief in transmigration, problems arose, such as the question “if plants have souls like animals do, what are we to eat?” (Dombrowski 35). Pythagoras also considered beans to be very “dangerous to one’s health.” Along with his dislike for beans, came his dislike for meats. He considered both foods to encourage drowsiness, which was not what he wanted since he believed that too much sleep was “unhealthy” (Dombrowski 44). Over two thousand years after Pythagoras’ existence, those who refrained from eating meat were referred to as “Pythagoreans,” hence the term “Pythagorean vegetarianism” mentioned earlier.
Centuries after Pythagoras’ existence, what is still known today as the “Vegetarian Society” was founded in Great Britain in the mid-1800s (Blumenfeld). This society is responsible for coining the term “vegetarian” from the Latin word vegetus, which signifies “sound, whole, vital” officially in 1847 (Kellman 87). The organization is still going strong today, offering education and cooking classes to families as well as trying to influence future legislation regarding education relating to plant-based diets. In the early 20th century, Upton Sinclair spent his life experimenting with various diets such as only eating meat and going completely vegetarian for long periods of time. This then led to the published the famous novel “The Jungle” which had the original intent of solely exposing the “harsh conditions” of immigrant populations in the United States. But it became more recognized for exposing the major meat industries instead. As the U.S. troops were fighting in World War I, the FDA encouraged “Meatless Mondays” for the sole purpose of conserving meat supplies for the U.S. troops. However, this was not a campaign to make anyone go vegetarian, notice how the only purpose was to save meat products for the soldiers fighting across the seas. This campaign rose again when World War II came around three decades later, with the same intentions. After World War II, vegetarianism became very popular in the United States through the counterculture movement. The main goal of the vegetarian-aspect of the movement was to “promote social and environmental justice.” The term “Meatless Monday” however returned in 2003 when the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health called for an initiative to reduce saturated fat in the American diet. This initiative was different because it tried to focus on the health and physical wellbeing of humans (Blumenfeld). Since then, the vegetarian movement has grown significantly through the research and the support of its members.
A tough question posed upon us humans today is “why do we still eat meat?” Most of the people who constantly eat meat will respond to that question saying, “I eat meat because I like it.” But saying that is like saying “I smoke cigarettes because I like them.” Because like cigarettes, meat is addicting. Some people just do not realize it. We know of the negative effects of eating meat along with the physical harm it can cause to our bodies. But we continue to consume it. Previous studies have shown that about 35 percent of individuals who switch to a vegetarian diet do so because of health reasons. An important factor regarding susceptibility to certain diseases is age. The older someone is, the more health problems they will face if they continue to eat meat. There are so many elements in meat that are considered harmful to the human body. Some examples are pesticide residues, pathogens, cholesterol, saturated fats, and hormones, just to name a few (Ion 354). Although the exposure to pesticides is very miniscule and its effects may be very rare, there is a greater risk of long-term exposure to these pesticides that may lead to diseases such as cancer or an impaired immune system. In a 2001 study, 181 million out of the 511 million pounds of pesticides were used on the crops that livestock consume. These pesticides are used for controlling weeds, insects, and fungi on crops. There are many different types of pesticides, but they are known to cause tumors in laboratory animals. This raises concern for a large risk on cancer for us humans (Jacobson 53).
Perhaps on the other side of all things, the animal rights group known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, are taking a slightly different approach rather than just using statistics to promote a healthy vegetarian lifestyle. There are a lot of common sayings in this world that include “anti-animal language,” according to PETA. They have taken initiative to change these sayings to be more animal friendly. For example, the term “bring home the bacon” does not sit well with PETA. They believe it should be “bring home the bagels” (Gugliotta). Could this mean that they are taking it too far? It all seems unnecessary, because surely no one means any sort of harm against animals by using these sayings. If PETA really were trying to promote the safety and welfare of animals and a healthy vegetarian lifestyle, they would be doing beneficial research such as the research that nutritionists do, and not trying to change common sayings common in our culture today. If such a big nonprofit organization that has a lot of voice and influence, that influence can be committed to changing people’s diets and in the end their lifestyles. They are trying to work backwards and changing people’s lifestyles before they think about changing their diets, which is the more important issue. Diet is more important than lifestyle because it is essential to all humans every day. And a positive change in diet can lead to a positive change in the lifestyle of anyone.
To recap, the effects of switching to a plant-based diet are overwhelmingly beneficial. Not only would we improve the healthiness of ourselves, but we would also improve the healthiness of the environment. The meat and dairy industries have spent billions of dollars on advertising their products, and it has been successful. But we cannot continue to listen to them if we want to change ourselves. The changes can be small or large, but there are so many ways to change an individual’s diet. The concept of nutrition seems complex, but it is quite simple. Diets should be based on fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and healthy oils. Substances such as refined sugars, salt, white flour, and basically anything with preservatives in it should be avoided. If one wants to continue to eat animal products, make sure they are produced locally and humanely treated, along with making sure the animals are grass-fed only. After switching to a plant-based diet, one will see positive differences in their energy levels, sleep, strength, mood, and mental health. In the end, whether the reason why a person changes their diet is health, moral, or environmental, everybody wins.