Do you consider your juicy steak to be a dead cow? Do you think that
lambs are delicious or cuddly, or both? Do you like your fish swimming or deep fried? Would you gobble a turkey at Thanksgiving or let it continue to
gobble? The answers to these questions might define whether you call
yourself a vegetarian or not, and what you would include in your diet or avoid.
Vegetarians do not eat meat, poultry or fish, and some vegans, (pronounced vee-guns) avoid all animal products including eggs, milk, cheese and butter.
Those who eat dairy but not eggs are called lacto-vegetarians and those who include eggs are lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Some people consider themselves vegetarian if they only eat meat occasionally, or limit themselves to chicken and fish, but most vegetarians would not accept this definition.
We were both raised to be normal American meat-eaters who ate with relish, mustard and ketchup, whatever our parents put in front of us. It was not until we were introduced to yoga in the early seventies that we heard a different point of view and first became vegetarian.
In India, where yoga originated, where the cow is sacred and vegetarians make up at least half the population, the principle of ahimsa , or harmlessness, is considered one of the paramount principles of yoga. So most spiritual aspirants adopt a meatless diet as a necessary condition for
spiritual growth. The yogis also feel that eating meat, fish and eggs lowers
one’s level of consciousness, impeding one’s spiritual development.
We found that while actively pursuing a yogic lifestyle, we would give up
meat, but the old habits would creep in during less devoted periods, resulting
in addictions for barbecued chicken or smoked salmon. Our recent change back to vegetarianism resulted from a particularly convincing chalkboard discussion of the issues by Baba Hari Das, an enlightened spiritual teacher from India who has been silent for 38 years. His silent wisdom impelled us to again become vegetarians, which we had abandoned out of convenience, desire, and rationalization.
In John Robbins’ 1987 book, Diet for a New America, he eloquently defends the rights of animals not to be exploited, treated cruelly and eaten, as well as presenting all of the clearly defined health benefits of a vegetarian and chemical-free diet. The scientific data is very clear. Vegetarians live longer and suffer far less from chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease, strokes, hypertension, colon, prostate, lung, breast and cervical cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, gout, kidney stones, and gallstones. Studies of the Seventh Day Adventists, who avoid meat, poultry, fish, eggs, smoking, and alcohol, have consistently lower incidences of heart disease. Studies on osteoporosis in post-menopausal women indicate that a low protein intake, as is common in Asia, is better insurance against bone decalcification than calcium supplementation. People on a high meat, high fat diet have been shown to be at much greater risk for colon cancer than vegetarians or those with a low meat intake.
The Journal of the American Medical Association stated in June, l96l that a
vegetarian diet can prevent 97% of coronary occlusions. We were impressed
that, after giving up chicken and fish, Judyth’s cholesterol dropped from 220
to l83, triglycerides (blood fat) from to 65, and risk factor of heart disease (4.5 is considered normal for her age), from 3.5 to 2.8. She made no other dietary or vitamin/mineral changes during that period of time.
There is a common misconception that meat, fish, or poultry are necessary for adequate protein consumption. Several studies have, in fact, shown that only 6% of our caloric intake needs to consist of protein. Most American diets have at least 20% protein which is necessary only for those who have intensive, regular physical activity, such as marathon runners.
An article in the May, l990 East West Journal presented shocking and revealing information on the beef industry and explained why Europe is refusing to import U.S. beef due to the long-term health hazards of growth hormones, whether natural or synthetic. These hormones may lead to an increased risk or breast, and other forms of cancer or to menstrual or hormonal irregularities. In addition, bovine growth hormones (BGH) reduce a cow’s body fat, thereby releasing any toxins previously stored in the fat cells, such as heavy metals, dioxin, and other pesticides. These growth factors, apparently identical to those in humans, could cause premature growth and other abnormalities in infants. One of the reasons for the Reagan administration’s silence on the hormone issue was because he refused to eat any hormone-treated beef. In addition to hormones, antibiotics are regularly given to poultry and meat animals to prevent contagious diseases in the cruelly crowded and sometimes unsanitary feedlot conditions under which they are raised. These antibiotics and their residues end up in the meat, eggs, and dairy products you eat, which can affect the normal healthy balance of microorganisms in your intestinal tract or cause allergic reactions.
In the face of all of this compelling evidence for the benefits of vegetarianism, why have so many people chosen to endanger their health and perhaps their spiritual well-being by continuing to eat meat in their diet? The answer to that is both complex and individual. Because of habit, taste preferences, cultural conditioning, advertising campaigns by meat producers and marketers, peer pressure, religious beliefs etc., many people just want to continue eating meat. The dangers of meat consumption are neither obvious nor immediate enough to change their behavior. Some lack information, and many choose to take the path of least resistance. We would urge that you become better informed about the consequences of meat-eating, both to you and to the animals you eat. Although vegetarianism may not be for everyone, moving in that direction may help you live longer, be healthier and give you greater peace in your life.