Thinking of Going Veg?
The Whys and How-to’s of Plant-based Diets
By Terri Goodwell
Giving up Big Macs, chicken nuggets and sushi may sound extreme, but vegetarianism is on the rise. If you’re one of more than 7 million Americans who have decided to “GO VEG,” you’re in good company. From historical greats like Pythagorus, Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci, to present-day celebs like Ellen Degeneres, Carrie Underwood and Alec Baldwin, vegetarians and vegans are going mainstream.
Why go vegetarian? Most people do it for animal welfare, but others cite religious reasons, or because of health, environmental or world hunger concerns. Whatever the rationale, people usually decide to “GO VEG” because they want to make a difference.
The majority of vegetarians say they don’t want to be the cause of animal suffering. They think of their fellow beings as friends not food, and they object to how inhumanely animals are treated in the overcrowded and unsanitary factory farms where they live until they are slaughtered.
As ex-Beatle vegetarian Paul McCartney says of the killing, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” So, switching to a vegetarian diet will certainly make a difference by saving the lives of more than 100 animals a year.
Many people are becoming vegetarian or are eating less meat, fish and poultry because of health concerns. According to Dr. Neal Barnard of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), “Eliminating meat and dairy products from your diet is a powerful step in disease prevention.” The American Diabetic Association states that vegetarians and vegans are less prone to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity than are meat eaters.
Marta Holmberg of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says that people who become vegetarian report weight loss, more energy, clearer skin, better resistance to colds and flu, and a more positive outlook on life. So if you want improved overall health, moving toward a vegetarian diet could be a good first step.
Some eco-minded people decide to “go veg” because it’s the green thing to do. Factory farming has a negative effect on serious environmental problems like climate change, over-exploited natural resources, deforestation, and water and air pollution. PETA states that producing a gram of protein from meat uses more than 10 times the amount of fossil fuels than it takes to produce a gram of protein from vegan food. So, adapting a vegetarian or vegan diet could make a real difference to the health of our planet.
Sometimes those concerned about world hunger become vegetarian. Farmed animals consume about 60 percent of the grains that we grow. Thinkquest’s Health Zone states that of 20 million tons of plant protein given to raise cows, only 2 million tons of protein are used when the cows are consumed. That means 18 million tons of plant protein are wasted! If the 20 million tons of plant protein had gone to people and not cattle, this may have greatly helped the world’s starving people.
Whatever the reason, if you do “go veg,” it’s important to do it the healthy way. These days it’s relatively easy to get all the necessary nutrients from a vegetarian diet — as long as you’re not eating mainly cheese pizzas, fries and other junk foods, and you’re giving fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based protein sources about equal billing in your diet. The latest USDA food guidelines depict a plate divided roughly into quarters for fruits, vegetables, grains and protein, with an optional dairy choice off to the side.
Nutritionists agree that eating a variety of plant foods every day is sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements. PETA’s Vegetarian Starter Kit (E-mail email@example.com for a free copy) advises that adequate protein can be easily obtained by eating whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, tofu, nuts and veggie meats. Iron requirements can be met by eating such foods as beans, cashews, spinach, broccoli, tomato juice and tempeh.
Vitamin B-12, which is not readily available in vegetarian or vegan diets, can be found in many fortified cereals and soy milk, or it can be taken in fruit-flavored chewable tablets. According to The Vegetarian Resource Group, vegans, who avoid all dairy products, can meet the daily requirements of calcium by eating tofu, leafy greens and fortified soy milk and orange juice.
Eliminating meat and dairy products from your life may take some retraining and adjustment, especially for family and friends. But, if you “GO VEG,” even just a couple days a week, you will truly be making a difference — for yourself, the animals, and our planet.
So, the question to ask might not be “Why go vegetarian?” but “Why not?”
Terri Goodwell is a freelance writer who has published articles, poems and short stories. She is currently working on a young adult novel about the magic of believing.