The argument over vegetarianism

part one

Ah, yes, the argument over vegetarianism. It's as hot as the question of who's going to be our next president. The ''purist'' on one side could make you feel guilty for just looking at the menu selections that contain meat. And, if that doesn't work, most will launch into an emotional argument of how could you eat that beautiful animal or, they have rights too!

On the other side you have the down-to-earth farm families that make a living raising and selling live stock. They will argue that it's the cycle of things, that meat is good for you, a meal is not a meal without meat. So who's right?

Well, you aren't going to get a vegan, someone who uses absolutely no animal products, to ever change his mind. Most true vegans have made a conscious choice not to eat meat and they do what they do because they're listening to their body and they just feel better when they don't eat meat.

Most meat eaters, although they are becoming wiser about the advantages of eating less meat, have not given themselves the opportunity to experience richly-prepared satisfying vegan food. Eating meat has simply been a way of life -- one they see nothing wrong with. But who's right?

Our ancestors ate meat. They seemed to fair well. Why should this longstanding practice change now?

Well, speaking of ancestors, let's go back to the beginning of this story and see if we can find some answers there. We evolved eating roots, tubers, grains, nuts and wild vegetables -- for a few million millennia or so. We became fisherman and hunters later, after we figured out tool making, specifically spears and arrow heads.

Meat was prized for several reasons. For men, hunting was a right of passage and proud he was if he was the one left standing at the end of the battle. Meat was a concentrated food source that could be dried and used over the long winter months to sustain the clan while waiting for the return of spring and vegetable food sources.

So, physiologically, we evolved with large flat teeth good for grinding and chopping, not a lot of large incisors like the carnivore. If you look further into our digestive tracts you find that our intestinal tract is very long. Good for a body that needs a lot of time to take apart the long chain carbohydrates found in vegetable foods, unlike the carnivore that has a very short digestive tract that doesn't allow time for animal proteins to purify.

This summer I spent three days at my herbal co-op listening to some of Americans best herbalists, homeopaths and naturopaths discuss diet and healing. Here we have both the educated purist, or vegan, and the educated meat-eater, both with strong beliefs about the correct diet to make you well and keep you that way.

One well-renowned healer, author and herbalist, Susan Weed, believes that to be well you must consume meat and dairy products daily. She spoke strongly, as if challenged, to those in the crowd, when asked about animals rights, stating that if you care about the animal, eat it! Now she is talking strictly about the animal that has been allowed its life and is fed only grains and grasses. She pointed to the fact that it takes two acres of ground to support one large organic animal, therefore supporting the natural environment and the small family farm. Good point!

Others such as Christopher Hobbs MD, believe that even your dog should be vegetarian! Now that is taking it too far. The dog is what he is and he's not a vegetarian. Hobbs reasoning is like many vegans. It's a conscious choice made with the understanding that most meat is industrialized food -- chemicalized and just so much poison, not to mention the impact on the environment or the poor animal that has to live that life. Also a good point!

Well, I'm not at my end point with this topic just yet and I've run out of space, so let's duke it out some more next week. Maybe I'll just go have some water!

Till next time, Rebecca

part two

Last week in part one of this article I discussed facts, fiction, and some social mores surrounding the ongoing argument over vegetarianism. I looked, too, at how evolution influenced the development of the human digestive tract, leaving us with at least some facts supporting a case for vegetarianism.

Other more modern-day concerns leaning towards a case for vegetarianism are the industrialization of meat. For those of you who live in larger, more metropolitan areas it may come as a surprise just how terrible the conditions are for cattle, hogs and chickens. For me it's enough to just pass the empty livestock trucks on the interstate and see dead animals lying in the bottom of the truck.

For those of you who have a particular like for veal, were you aware that veal comes from a calf, taken from its mother and raised almost completely in the dark, literally. Fed only milk, the animal stands in a stall so small it cannot turn around. The muscles, underdeveloped and weak from no exercise, give the meat its pale color, different taste and texture.

I could go on with more sickening facts about animal cruelty but I won't. If all this doesn't really matter to you, I still have to ask how you think all this meat poisoned with antibiotics and hormones is effecting your own body?

I believe I agree with Susan Weed, if you choose to eat meat, eat a vegetarian animal that has lived its life naturally, walking on the earth eating grains and grasses cared for by a farm family that has given it lots of loving care.

Native American ritual teaches us that during and after a successful hunt, blessings and prayers of thanksgiving were given to the spirit of the animal. Their belief was that the animal allowed his life to be taken to support yours. It seems the natural way.

I have known people who call themselves vegetarian simply because they do not partake of animal flesh. Uneducated about good food as are so many Americans, or just not interested in cooking, they eat too many simple sugars and processed foods. Some studies show this may be more harmful than eating industrialized meat -- no balance!

I suggest to my clients that if they are considering becoming vegetarian, they need to do some careful study and self examination as to their motives. A food journal is also a good way to chart your progress into vegetarianism.

If you are considering vegetarianism because of severe heart disease or cancer, you definitely need to do some serious reading and seek out top-drawer professional help. The best books on the topic of vegetarianism and heart disease are by Dr. Dean Ornish. His books are available in book stores everywhere. For cancer, read about macrobiotics. Books from the Laurence Kushi institute are a little harder to find but are excellent.

A final word: as you embark upon a new diet, any new diet, understand that it should not be undertaken lightly or be something you're doing to look trendy or meet with your friends' approval. Journal your response to new foods and new ways of eating. If you find your energy and wellness increasing, then why wouldn't you want to stay with it. If not, say you felt better before you started, maybe you should return more to your original diet. Listen to your body, it will give you the answers you need.

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online November 15, 2000

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