Steve Woods

Meat and the Move Toward Economic Justice

In What Day is it? on October 1, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Where did the term Vegetarian come from?

Vegetarian Society Logo

Vegetarian Society Logo

Today is World Vegetarian Day. Although the word Vegetarian was in existence previous to its formation, the Vegetarian Society is credited with making Vegetarianism a household word.  The Vegetarian Society has a somewhat purist definition of the term, stating that those practicing “semi-vegetarianism” are not true Vegetarians.  The term semi-Vegetarianism (or Flexitarianism) exists due to the multiplicity of choices individuals have made in their diet, whether based on ethical, religious, health, economic or other reasons.

What forms of Vegetarianism (and Flexitarianism) are there?

  • Vegan – excludes all animal products and products that are produced from animal labor such as honey and eggs.
  • Pescetarian – A Vegan who includes fish in his diet.
  • Lacto-Vegetarian – includes dairy products but not eggs in his diet.
  • Ovo-Vegetarian – includes eggs but not dairy.
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian – includes eggs and dairy.
  • Fruitarian – eats only what can be harvested without harming the plant, including fruits, seeds and nuts.
  • Su Vegetarian – eats no animal products or “fetid” vegetables such as onions, garlics, scallions, leeks or shallots.
  • Macrobiotic – eats largely whole grains or beans.  Some also consume fish.
  • Raw Veganists – eat only fresh and raw fruit, nuts, seeds and veggies.
Tending grapes in Greece

Tending grapes in Greece

The earliest records of Vegetarianism exist among the peoples of Ancient India, as well as Ancient Greece around the 6th Century BCE, both as a result of philosophies regarding nonviolence towards animals. As Christianity became prominent later in the Roman Empire, Vegetarianism disappeared across much of the European continent, as fish began to make its way into the common diet.  During the Renaissance, Vegetarianism began to rise in popularity, becoming more widespread in the 19th and 20th Centuries.

The Vegetarian Society was founded in England in 1847, and soon thereafter other larger nations joined the bandwagon, forming the International Vegetarian Union in 1908.  Vegetarians in the nation of India make up more than 70% of the World’s Vegetarian population, largely due to Centuries-old religious and economic necessities.  The U.K. has roughly 11% of its population Vegetarian (as defined by the Vegetarian Society,) and the United States has only around 3% Vegetarian.

Health and Vegetarianism

Vegetarian Food Pyramid

Vegetarian Food Pyramid

The American Dietetic Association has succinctly stated that a proper Vegetarian diet satisfies all of one’s dietary needs, significantly lowering one’s risk of Cancer, Heart Disease, Hypertension, Diabetes, Osteoporosis, Dementia and Alzheimers. The Association goes on to state that Vegetarians tend to have less excess fat in their bodies, therefore less illnesses commonly associated with those that have high Body Mass Indexes (BMIs.)

To ensure a balanced Vegetarian diet, one must include with a good supply of fruits and vegetables plenty of greens, soy, lupin, hempseed, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa in their diet. Particularly Westerners, who tend to eat a diet high in Carotenoids but low in Vitamin B and Calcium. Include beans, peas, cereals, seeds, whole-wheat breads, nuts and tomato juice to keep your iron intake high, but be prepared to have to eat quite a bit often, as iron stores in Vegetarians tend to be lower than in those that consume red meats. Various oily nuts and seeds can help with Omega 3 fatty acids.

The Seventh-Day Adventists did a study on its members in California, and found that extended Vegetarianism added approximately 8 more years to a man’s life, and 3.5 more years to a woman’s life, on average.  Studies in France (where a high plant and low meat diet is predominant) showed a significantly higher life expectancy.

Environment and Vegetarianism

Those that choose Vegetarianism based on environmental interests do so largely because they believe that the large-scale raising, slaughtering and consumption of animal products has a deteriorating effect on the environment. According the United Nations, the livestock industry is the second or third largest contributor of global air, land and water pollution, climate change (almost 20% of greenhouse gasses – more than all transportation sources combined) and loss of biodiversity (one hamburger = 6.25 square meters of rain forest lost.)

Top consumers of all our food?

Top consumers of all our food?

Grain-fed animals consume far more water than merely growing the grain crops themselves.  The United Stated Department of Agriculture states that growing the crops necessary to feed animals requires 50% of our water supply, and 80% of our currently used agricultural land. Animals raised for slaughter consume 90% of our soy crop, 80% of our corn crop, and 70% of our grain.  The index used to measure the efficiency of conversion of eaten plant matter to bodily substance incidates that 10% of what a cow eats is converted to body substance by cattle (which means 90% of all of those crops eaten by our cattle turn into fecal matter.) Trophic Dynamic theory states that it requires 10 times as many crops to feed a production animal as it would to feed one person on a Vegetarian diet.  Many of these same researches admit that to tend smaller bands of animals grazing on unusable lands would be beneficial, and only take umbrage with large-scale animal farms.

Economic Justice and Vegetarianism

Many groups, including the controversial PETA, decry Vegetarianism as a method to offset poor working conditions in the meat industry, citing psychological damage caused by working in the slaughterhouse.  Agricultural in general is one of the most dangerous forms of work in the World, and having to raise less crops to feed animals would lower the rate of injury, they say.  Health advocates add to their argument that eating less meat would lessen the burden on the health care systems.  The lower need for grain would also likely make more available to poorer nations.

Religious Vegetarianism

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism practice Vegetarianism to one degree or another as a form of morality.  Judaism and Islam have a long-standing tradition of animal welfare in how its farmers raise and slaughter animals, and many have moved to Vegetarianism as a moral stance in favor of animal welfare.  Many of the disciples of Jesus were rumored to be Vegetarian, and some Christian scholars argue that the allowance for eating of meat following the Great Flood was due to the dearth of plant matter available.

Considering Vegetarianism?

What to do, what to do...

What to do, what to do...

Making the swap to something you may’ve gotten so much culinary pleasure from is daunting, to say the least.  Here are some tips for you on this journey:

  • Vegetarians all agree that to successfully make the transition from omnivore to one who consistently turns down meat, you must find within yourself and agree upon a strong reasoning.  You must be absolutely sure as to why you are doing it, or risk temptation at every turn, from family, friends and co-workers.  Think cold beer and BBQ on a hot summer day…
  • Next, read up on Vegetarianism.  I mean really read up on it.  Make yourself your own personal expert on it.
  • Find tons of recipes and organize them for use.  Try out one Vegetarian recipe a week and keep the ones you like.
  • Begin the process of substitution in your meals by purchasing and using meat substitutes in your recipes.
  • Give up red meat while keeping white meats and fish for awhile.  Then slowly cut out the others, and figure out for yourself what you’re going to do about dairy and eggs.
  • Tell everyone you know about your choice; those that care about you will support you.
  • Find as many ways as possible to make your choice fun, in the foods you eat, how you eat them, and the rate at which you take on Vegetarianism.
  • Find Vegetarian restaurants and convenience foods in the Supermarket.
  • Join a support group.  Look up Vegetarian on Twitter and FaceBook and join groups and talk, talk, talk!
  • Download the free eBook Vegetarian Starter Kit

If you choose to make this journey, good luck!  Let me know how it goes!

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