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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarian Essays/Vegan Essays

Vegetarians in Paradise regularly presents informative articles by guest contributors on subjects of interest to vegetarians and vegans. This month we feature a commentary by Dan Brook, Ph.D. who is a writer, poet, teacher, and activist, and has been a happy and healthy vegetarian since 1983. Dan lives with his vegetarian wife, vegetarian son, and vegetarian rat in San Francisco. Dan created and maintains Eco-Eating , The Vegetarian Mitzvah , No Smoking? and CyberBrook's ThinkLinks . He can be contacted via Brook@california.com.

Eco-Eating: Eating as if the Earth Matters

By Dan Brook, Ph.D.

Are people still eating meat? Do some of them consider themselves environmentalists? Can they be both? More and more scientific evidence strongly suggests that a vegetarian diet is both good for our bodies and good for our environment. Eating lower on the food chain is clearly the way to go. I know how hard switching could be--I was there over twenty years ago--but I also learned how important it is and how good it feels! And more and more people, including celebrities and athletes, are becoming vegetarian too.

Many reputable health and science organizations--including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Cancer Institute, National Heart Foundation, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Union of Concerned Scientists, World Health Organization, and others-all agree that a diet centered around fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can significantly reduce the incidence of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, the top three leading causes of death in the US.

Eating meat and other animal products is also correlated with high blood pressure, obesity, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer's, atherosclerosis, aneurysm, impotence, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and other serious ailments. According to the most recent data, in fact, about 2/3 of diseases in the U.S. are diet-related--and vegetarians are much less afflicted by all of them.

Further, because more than half of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to livestock (plus immense amounts of chemicals, steroids, hormones, and other), resistant bacteria are increasing at an alarming rate. And don't forget mad cow disease, bird flu, hoof and mouth, E. coli, salmonella and food poisoning. Additionally, fish often contain arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, and toxic POPs including PCBs, DDT, and dioxin, which cannot be removed from the fish, even after freezing and cooking, and which bio-accumulate in consumers. Since the meat industry is unhealthy and unsafe, reducing your consumption is the best bet. Indeed, many people who stop eating meat report feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually better.

Dan Brook Jamie Adams of the Nutrition Care Division at the Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu explains that maintaining a vegetarian diet is an excellent way to promote health and reduce the risk of disease. Adams recommends reducing the consumption of animal protein and cholesterol (which is found exclusively in meat) and saturated fat (which is abundant in meat). Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in fat, especially saturated fat, and much lower in cholesterol. Vegan diets contain absolutely no cholesterol. Vegetarian diets also tend to be rich in health-protecting vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Fiber, which is essential for good health, is totally absent in animal products.

While repeated research clearly demonstrates that the best way to protect our health is to eat a vegetarian diet, we increasingly discover that our individual rights and health are also related to our environmental rights and health. The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, was selected precisely for this belief-which she also puts into action. We need to think of the environment as being both outside and inside of each of us.

We eat much more than food with each meal; indeed, we cannibalize our environment. The editors of the prestigious World Watch (July/August 2004), a leading environmental institute and magazine, nicely summarize this vital issue in a recent report:

    "The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future-deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease."

Vegetarianism, therefore, is literally about life and death-for each of us individually and for all of us together. Eating animals simultaneously contributes to their suffering and death, the ill-health and early death of people, the unsustainable overuse of oil, water, grain, and other vital resources, environmental destruction, including species extinction, deforestation, and global warming, the legitimacy of force and violence, the mis-allocation of capital, skills, land and resources, vast inefficiencies in the economy, massive inequalities in the world, the transmission and spread of dangerous diseases, and moral failure in so-called advanced societies. Vegetarianism is an antidote to all of these unnecessary tragedies.

Being vegetarian has many environmental benefits. By choosing a vegetarian diet you will, for example:

  • Save massive amounts of precious water, indeed up to 5,000 gallons for every pound of beef you don't consume
  • Avoid polluting our streams, rivers, and other waterways, as well as our air and soil, with chemicals, feces, and other contaminants
  • Reduce the depletion of topsoil, thereby better respecting and preserving our land
  • Reduce our dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels, such as oil
  • Prevent the destruction of tropical and rain forests, including the Amazon, protecting "the lungs of the Earth"
  • Protect coral reefs as well as other ocean life and habitats
  • Lessen the emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, the two major greenhouse gases that significantly contribute to global warming, deemed the most dangerous threat to life on our planet, according to Oxfam International, the World Bank, the Pentagon, World Meteorological Organization, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, and other major reports (it is estimated that eating a single pound of hamburger does the same damage as driving a car for about three weeks)
  • Scale down the destruction of wildlife habitat, helping to save endangered species from becoming extinct, thereby preserving vital biodiversity.

Besides significant environmental and health benefits, there are many ethical arguments for vegetarianism. Without going into detail, we can simply quote Alice Walker, who says: "[Animals] were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." All the rest is commentary.

Being vegetarian is clearly the best diet for your personal health, your spiritual health, and our collective environmental health. We need to educate our families, friends, and others on the benefits of vegetarianism, trying to get everyone involved! In the meantime, congratulate yourself for making a healthy, sustainable, and life-affirming choice.

There's no need to feel guilty about what you eat or don't eat, do or don't do. Instead, there is a need for all of us to move in a positive direction--for ourselves as well as for the environment. Remember that being a vegetarian isn't about sacrificing anything; it's about making positive choices aimed at improving our health, saving animals, and protecting the environment that we all share. Being a veggie makes a world of difference. Enjoy the process!

For more information on vegetarianism with its many benefits, in addition to Vegetarians in Paradise, please visit some of the following web sites:


If you prefer the phone, you can also call toll-free 1-866-MEAT FREE for a free vegetarian starter kit.

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