Questions and Answers Related to Vegetarianism
’Tis better thrice to ask your way Then even once to go astray.1
Q UESTIONS ON GENERAL VEGETARIAN-RELATED issues are considered in this chapter. Whole books can and have been written about some of these topics, but space concerns limit us to just brief introductions here. It is hoped that readers will use
the discussions below as stepping stones to more detailed investigations, and will use the many valuable books in the Bibliography to investigate some of these questions more thoroughly.
1. If everyone became vegetarian, what would happen to butchers, shochtim (kosher slaughterers), and others dependent for a living on the consumption of meat?
There could be a shift from the production of animal products to that of nutritious vegetarian dishes. In England during World War II, when there was a shortage of meat, butchers relied mainly on the sale of fruits and vegetables. Today, new businesses could sell such food products as tofu, miso, felafal, soy burgers, and vegetarian cholent (Sabbath hot dish).
The change to vegetarianism would probably be gradual. This would provide time for a transition to other jobs. Some of the funds saved by individuals and groups because of lower food and health costs could be used to provide incomes for people during the retraining period.
The same kind of question can be asked about other moral issues. What would happen to arms merchants if we had universal peace? What would happen to doctors and nurses if people took better care of themselves, stopped smoking, improved their diets, and so on? Immoral or inefficient practices should not be supported because some people earn a living in the process.
2. What if everyone became vegetarian? Wouldn’t animals overrun the earth?
This concern is based on an insufficient understanding of animal behavior, both natural and under present conditions. There are not millions of turkeys around at Thanksgiving because they want to help celebrate the holiday, but because farmers want them to exist. The breeders, not the animals themselves, control the breeding behavior and thus the number of animals. Throughout history, food supply and demand have kept animal populations quite steady. An end to the distortion of the sex lives of animals to suit our needs would lead to a decrease, rather than an increase, in the number of animals.2 For example, dairy cows are artificially inseminated annually so that they will constantly produce milk. We are not overrun by the animals that we do not eat, such as lions, elephants, and crocodiles. The problem often is that of the extinction of animals, rather than their overpopulating the earth.
3. Instead of advocating vegetarianism, shouldn’t we try to alleviate the evils of factory farming so that animals are treated better, less grain is wasted, and fewer health-harming chemicals are used?
The breeding of animals is big business, whose prime concern is profit. Animals are raised the way they are today because it is very profitable. Improving conditions, as suggested by this question, would certainly be a step in the right direction, but it has been strongly resisted by the meat industry since it would greatly increase already high prices. Here are two counter questions: Why not abstain from eating meat as a protest against present policies while trying to improve them? Even under the best of conditions, why take the life of a creature of God, “whose tender mercies are over all His creatures (Psalms 145:9),” when it is not necessary for proper nutrition (and, indeed, has many harmful effects)?
4. Isn’t it important that we keep our priorities straight? How can we be so concerned about animals when there are so many critical problems facing people today?
Certainly many critical issues face the world today. I have written two other books, Judaism and Global Survival and Mathematics and Global Survival, which address current world problems. There is an ecological principle that “everything is connected to everything else.” Every action has many ramifications. Hence, adopting vegetarian diets doesn’t only reduce cruel treatment of animals. It also improves human health, reduces stress on threatened ecosystems, conserves resources, and provides the potential to reduce widespread hunger. In view of the many threats related to livestock agriculture, next to attempting to reduce the chance of nuclear war, working to promote vegetarianism may be the most important action one can take for global survival.
While there are some people who love animals and are cruel to people, the reverse is much more often the case: those who are cruel to animals are often also cruel to human beings. In fact, cruelty to animals among children is a strong predictor of violent criminal behavior later in life.
On the other hand, kindness to animals can lead to kindness to people. Some of history’s greatest humanitarians were vegetarians and/or strong advocates of vegetarianism. These include: Plutarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, Jean Jacques Rousseau, General William Booth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dr. J. H. Kellogg, Horace Greeley, Susan B. Anthony, Leo Tolstoy, Upton Sinclair, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Albert Schweitzer, and Mahatma Gandhi.3 Jewish humanitarian vegetarians include Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Franz Kafka, and Isaac Leib Peretz, as well as several chief rabbis, as mentioned before (see their biographies in Chapter 11).
5. Haven’t Jews historically had many problems with some animal rights groups which have often opposed shechitah (kosher slaughter) and advocated its abolishment?
Jews should work to improve conditions for animals not because of the views of animal rights groups (whether they are hostile to Jews or not) but because it is the approach most consistent with Jewish values. We can look to the Torah, not animal rights groups, to see how far the treatment of animals is from fundamental Jewish teachings.
While there are probably some extremists and anti-Semites in the animal rights movement (as in any movement), most vegetarian and animal rights advocates, a very high percentage of whom are Jewish, are people of good will. The fact that many people have misconceptions about Jewish practices is all the more reason for greater involvement by knowledgeable and committed Jews. It is important that the Jewish community engage in respectful dialogue with animal rights groups so that our teachings and our religious needs become better known to them.
The Jewish community should also consider how cruelty to animals can be reduced while meeting all halachic requirements. It is time for a commission of scholars and rabbis, along with experts in nutrition, health, ecology, agriculture, and other fields related to food, to consider how modern technology related to animals runs counter to many basic Jewish teachings.
6. Can’t one work to improve conditions for animals without being a vegetarian?
Certainly. There are many areas where animals are abused today, and certainly there is much that needs to be done. However, one should keep in mind that the major area of animal abuse is related to factory farming. AccordingtoFARM(FarmAnimalReformMovement), “Thenumberof warm-blooded animals brutalized and slaughtered each year is approximately seventy times the number of animals killed in laboratories, thirty times the number killed by hunters and trappers, and 500 times the number killed in pounds.”4 They also report that almost ten billion farm animals are killed annually to produce food. A typical animal welfare advocate who eats meat (like any non-vegetarian) is personally responsible for the slaughter of twenty-two warm-blooded animals per year,5 1,500 in a lifetime, and probably many more that are slaughtered for the advocate’s meat-eating family.
7. What is the definition of a vegetarian diet? Can a vegetarian eat fish?
The generally accepted definition of a vegetarian diet is a diet that excludes flesh foods—that is, a diet without meat, poultry, or fish.6 There are three types of vegetarian diets: the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, which includes dairy products and eggs; the lacto-vegetarian diet, which includes dairy products,butnoteggs;andthevegan(pronounced “VEE-gan”)diet, which uses no animal products at all.7 Vegans also generally avoid using non-food animal products such as leather, wool, and fur. Many base their practice on a belief that it is ethically wrong to kill animals or exploit them in any way. Others feel that it is the healthiest diet and/or the diet that does the minimum harm to the environment, uses the least amount of natural resources, and is least harmful to the world’s hungry people.
Vegetarians avoid fish because (1) they feel it is unnecessary to kill living creatures for food that is not necessary for proper nutrition; (2) fish are high in cholesterol, protein, and sometimes fat, and lack fiber and complex carbohydrates; (3) the extensive pollution of many bodies of water and the magnification of pollution effects through food chains make the consumption of fish dangerous to human health.8
Commercial fish farming (aquaculture) has grown rapidly in the past twenty-five years and now produces about one-third of all the fish humans eat.9 While it has been advocated as a way to take pressure off rapidly dwindling stocks of wild fish, it has had the opposite effect, since it has raised demand for ocean fish (such as mackerel and anchovies) that are ground into meal to feed farmed fish. For each pound of farm salmon produced, two to five times that amount of ocean fish are caught to feed them. Fish farming also pollutes coastal areas with large amounts of animal waste.
8. If vegetarian diets are best for health, why don’t most doctors recommend them?
While doctors are devoted to the well-being of their patients, unfortunately many doctors lack information about basic relationships between food and health, because nutrition is barely taught in medical schools. Also, many patients are resistant to making dietary changes. Hence, the accepted approach today seems to be to prescribe medications first, and, perhaps, recommend a diet as an afterthought. However, there now seems to be increasing awareness on the part of doctors about the importance of proper nutrition, and it is hoped that this will increase.
9. Why don’t medical and governmental authorities recommend vegetarianism?
There have been some medical and governmental indications of the benefits of vegetarian diets. For example, as long ago as June 1961, an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that a vegetarian diet can prevent ninety percent of strokes and ninety-seven percent of heart attacks. Also, as indicated in Chapter 3, the American Dietetic Association’s 1997 “Position paper on Vegetarianism” illustrates the many benefits of plant-based diets. The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs recommended in February 1977 that Americans decrease their consumption of meat and increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also, the 1988 report of the Surgeon General pointed out the many negative health effects of animal-centered diets and recommended an increase in the consumption of plant-based foods. Perhaps more will be done in the future, but the financial power of the beef and dairy lobbies and other groups who gain from the status quo prevents rapid changes.
10. What should a vegetarian eat to insure adequate nutrition?
There are a very large number of nutritious foods that vegetarians can eat from the plant kingdom. The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) indicates that adequate nutrition can be obtained by eating a wide variety of foods from their “New Four Food Groups”: (1) fruits, (2) vegetables, (3) whole grains, and (4) legumes. Recent recipe books (several are discussed in the Bibliography) contain a wide variety of delicious, nutritious vegetarian dishes.
11. How can a vegetarian get sufficient protein?10
This is the question most frequently asked of vegetarians. As Dr. Neal Barnard, director of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, points out, protein has been regarded with great awe in our society, almost as a fourth color of the flag: red, white, blue, and protein. However, the amount of protein that a person needs (as a percent of total calories) is actually relatively low: 4.5 percent, according to the World Health Organization of the United Nations; six percent, according to the Food and Nutrition Board of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and eight percent, according to the U. S. National Research Council. It is extremely significant that during infancy, our period of most rapid growth, when infants double their birth weight in just six months, mother’s breast milk provides only five percent of its calories from protein.
Most people get far too much protein, often several times the amount required, and this causes health problems. While the typical American consumes ninety to 120 grams of protein per day, recent studies indicate that twenty to thirty grams are sufficient. Adequate protein can easily be obtained from vegetarian, even vegan, diets. Protein is found in most plant foods as well as in animal foods. Green beans, for example, have over twenty percent of their calories from protein, and spinach has more than fifty percent.11 It is almost impossible not to get adequate protein, even on a plant-based diet, provided that one is getting enough calories and consumes a reasonable variety of foods. Based on this, one might wonder why so many people think that getting sufficient protein is a major dietary concern. Perhaps the main reason is that much of our nutrition information has come from experiments on rats, and rats require far more protein than humans do; a rat mother’s milk has about forty-seven percent of its calories from protein. The huge amount of money spent by the beef, dairy, and egg lobbies is also a major factor.
12. Do vegetarians have to “complement” proteins, that is, get a combination of different foods containing proteins at each meal to make sure that they get complete protein?
This was a theory first advocated by Frances Moore Lappé, who mistakenly argued in her very influential book, Diet for a Small Planet, that vegetarians should combine proteins in order to get the same “protein value” as meat. However, nutritionists no longer agree with that theory, and even Ms. Lappé indicated a change in her mind in later editions of her book. The American Dietetic Association made clear in its 1992 paper, “Eating Well—The Vegetarian Way,” that “Vegetarians do not need to combine specific foods within a meal as the old ‘complementary protein’ theory advised.” The paper states: “The body makes its own complete proteins if a variety of plant foods—fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds—and enough calories are eaten during the day.
13. How can a vegetarian get sufficient calcium? Don’t we need milk and other dairy products in our diets to make sure that we are getting adequate calcium to reduce the risk of contracting osteoporosis?12 Osteoporosis, a disease generally related to aging, involves loss of bone mass which may result in one or more bones being broken, often under relatively little force. It is one of the most common bone diseases affecting women in affluent Western societies. The disease has commonly been associated with a lack of calcium, and the dairy industry has been promoting the consumption of a plentiful supply of dairy products as a way to prevent osteoporosis. However, scientific facts contradict this view. Worldwide, the countries with the highest levels of consumption of dairy products, including the United States, Israel, and several Scandinavian countries, are the ones with the highest rates of female osteoporosis. Eskimos, who have the highest dietary calcium intake of any people in the world, primarily from fish, have extremely high rates of osteoporosis. As mentioned in Chapter 3, while many Chinese people are lactose intolerant and consume no dairy products, their rate of osteoporosis is far lower than that for the U.S.
Recent research has linked osteoporosis to high animal-protein diets. It has been found that animal foods acidify the blood. In order to neutralize this excess acidity, calcium is drawn from the bones and later excreted. Vegetarians, even those who eat little or no dairy products, seldom get osteoporosis because they consume relatively little, if any, animal protein. Of course, it is important to consume plant foods that are rich in calcium and other vegetarian products, such as soy milk and cereals, that are enriched with calcium. Getting adequate exercise is another way to reduce the risk of getting osteoporosis.
Among the plant foods that are good sources of calcium are dark leafy greens (such as kale and mustard, collard, and turnip greens), broccoli, beans, dried figs, sunflower seeds, and calcium-fortified cereals and juices.13 Dairy products are good sources of calcium, but they also contain large amounts of fat and animal protein.
According to the American Dietetic Association papers previously cited, vegans can usually obtain the calcium they need from plant foods alone, and studies have shown that vegetarians can absorb and retain more calcium from foods and have lower rates of osteoporosis than non- vegetarians.
14. What are other negative effects of getting too much animal protein?
Calcium lost due to high protein diets must be handled by the kidneys, and this may contribute to the formation of painful kidney stones. Excess dietary protein causes destruction of kidney tissue and progressive deterioration of kidney function. When people with partial loss or damage to their kidneys are placed on low-protein diets, they are often able to maintain much of their remaining kidney function.
People on animal-based diets not only get excessive protein, but also large amounts of hormones, fat, cholesterol, pesticides, antibiotics, and other harmful components of animal-source foods that place major burdens on the kidneys, liver, and digestive system.
15. How can a vegetarian get sufficient iron?14
There are many good plant food sources of iron. They include dried green vegetables, such as spinach and green beans, dried beans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, black strap molasses, and iron-fortified breads and cereals. Foods high in vitamin C, such as broccoli, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, and green pepper, help the body absorb iron from plant sources. Vegans seldom suffer from iron-deficiency anemia.
16. Does a vegetarian need to have an extensive knowledge of nutrition?
Naturally, the more information a person has about nutrition, the better. But one need not be an expert on nutrition to be sure of getting adequate nutrition on a vegetarian diet. If one has a balance of foods from the “New Four Food Groups” (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes), avoids empty calories, and gets adequate rest and exercise, one can be very healthy. The avoidance of the excessive fat, cholesterol, and protein associated with flesh/dairy centered diets is a major positive step toward improved health.
Of course, once one moves toward vegetarianism, he or she might wish to learn more by reading books (see Bibliography), attending meetings, and speaking to knowledgeable people.
17. Don’t vegetarians (especially vegans) have to be concerned about getting sufficient vitamin B12, and can’t the absence of this vitamin cause irreversible nerve damage?15
This is the one nutrition issue that should be of concern to vegans, because plant foods grown by modern chemical-based agriculture do not contain vitamin B12. Vegetarians who consume dairy products and/or eggs will generally get adequate amounts of this essential nutrient because cows and chickens are high on the food chain and concentrate the vitamin in their tissues. With regard to vegans, some positive factors are (1) many studies have indicated that very little (about two micrograms [millionth of a gram]) of vitamin B12 is needed daily; (2) while there are and have been millions of vegans who do not consume any animal products at all, cases of vitamin B12 deficiency-related problems among them are rare. Still, vegans should not ignore this potential danger. Fortunately, many soy milk products and cereals are fortified with vitamin B12. Also, it can be obtained through non-animal-based vitamin B12 pills. When in doubt, a trusted medical professional should be consulted and/or one’s B12 level should be checked.
18. Can a vegetarian diet be unhealthy?
Yes, if it is extremely unbalanced. For example, if a person eats only or primarily fruits, or has a diet based almost completely on one food, such as rice, or consumes a great deal of candy bars and other sweets and empty calories from diet sodas, one can have a diet that lacks essential nutrients.
But a well-balanced diet with an adequate mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, provides optimum health.
19. What health problems are associated with the consumption of dairy products?
The basic dairy product, cow’s milk, is an ideal food—for the calf. For human beings, it can lead to several health problems. It is high in fat, protein, and cholesterol, low in carbohydrates, and devoid of fiber. Because dairy products and meat are so similar in many nutrients, John McDougall, M.D.assertsthatdairyfoodscanbethoughtofas “liquidmeat.”Likeflesh products, dairy products have been linked to several degenerative diseases, including heart disease, stoke, and diabetes.16
Due to extensive advertising campaigns by the dairy lobby, most people erroneously believe that dairy foods are good for human health. Manybelievethatitis “nature’sperfectfood.”However,inadditiontothe recent medical evidence against dairy products, we can observe how other animals use milk. In its natural environment, no other young animal drinks the milk of another species or drinks milk after it is weaned. Humans are the only species to do both.
How about skim milk and other low-fat dairy products? These are lower in fat, which is positive. However, when the fat is skimmed from the milk, there is an increase in the relative proportions of protein and lactose, the same ingredients that cause many of the health problems associated with dairy products, such as food allergies and lactose intolerance. These low-fat products also have other nutritional deficiencies, including a complete lack of dietary fiber and low amounts of some vitamins and minerals.
20. What is an ideal cholesterol level?
Probably no one has done more work on connections between cholesterol and heart disease than William Costelli, M.D., Director of the Framingham (Massachusetts) Heart Study, the largest epidemiological study of heart disease. He states:
We’ve never had a heart attack in Framingham in thirty-five years in anyone who had a cholesterol under 150. Three-quarters of the [world’s people] never have a heart attack. Their cholesterols are all around 150.17
It is important to note that for every decrease of one percent in the cholesterol level, there is a two percent decrease in the risk of heart attack.18 Hence a reduction in cholesterol level is a very effective way to reduce risk of heart problems. Cholesterol is only found in meat and other animal products, but never in plant foods. Eggs are extremely high in cholesterol having as much as 250 mg. The consumption of eggs can cause rapid and dramatic increases in people’s cholesterol levels.
21. Is a change from beef to chicken and fish a positive step for improved health?
There may be some improvement in terms of lower fat, but chicken and fish still have high levels of protein and cholesterol. For example, 3.5 ounces of broiled lean flank steak are fifty-six percent fat, forty-two percent protein, with seventy mg of cholesterol, while the same amount of light or dark chicken, with the skin, is fifty-one percent fat, forty-six percent protein, and eighty-eight mg of cholesterol.19 The high protein in fish and chicken can cause health problems, as discussed above.
Many people feel a false sense of security when they change from red meat to a primarily chicken and fish diet. The previously discussed study by Dr. Dean Ornish showed dramatic improvements in the condition of patients with severe heart problems who switched to vegetarian, almost vegan, very low-fat diets. It also showed that those who followed diets recommended by medical groups, such as the American Heart Association, which involve thirty percent of calories from fat, and include chicken without the skin, fish, and some dairy products, showed little improvement, and in most cases stayed the same or became worse.
22. Is vegetarianism an effective approach to weight loss?
Generally, yes. Many nutritionists believe that more important than the amount of food eaten is the type of food eaten. The reason is the calorie content of different nutrients: every gram of carbohydrates contains four calories; every gram of protein contains four calories; but every gram of fat contains nine calories. Hence, the typical high fat standard American animal-based diet is a prime contributor to obesity. Since vegetarians generally have lower fat diets than meat-eaters, they tend to be slimmer.
An effective long-term weight control program should include plenty offoodsfromthe “newfourfoodgroups”—fruits,vegetables,wholegrains, such as breads, rice, and pasta, and legumes, such as beans. It should exclude (or at least minimize) meats, poultry, fish, high-fat dairy products, fried foods, and added oils, such as salad dressings and margarine. It is important to read food labels and select foods with low fat content. Remember that every gram of fat, whether from an animal product or a vegetable product contains nine calories.
Recently high-protein low-carbohydrate diets have become very popular because people can temporarily lose large amounts of weight eating the high fat foods they enjoy so much. It is important to note, however, that when these diets are successful, it is because of caloric restriction when following the plan, and not because of the types of food consumed. There are serious health risks associated with these diets, because they promote the types of foods that have been strongly linked to a wide variety of degenerative diseases. Because of these factors, these diets have been opposed by many medical groups, including the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Surgeon General of the United States, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the American Dietetic Association.20
23. Isn’t it true that many people in nations that don’t get enough meat suffer from malnutrition?
Yes, but they suffer not because they don’t eat meat. They don’t get enough calories. It has been estimated that twenty million people are dying annually because of a lack of adequate nutrition. Animal-based diets contribute to this, because, as noted previously, over seventy percent of the grain grown in the United States (and over one-third of all grain grown worldwide) is fed to animals destined for slaughter, and the U.S. and other developed countries import food from countries where people are severely malnourished.
Actually, there are two faces of malnutrition in the world today: one is in the less-developed countries, where people lack sufficient food, and the second in developed countries, like the U.S., where people suffer from degenerative diseases due to too much rich food, such as meat and dairy products. According to a recent Worldwatch Institute report, the number of overweight people in the world (about 1.2 billion) now equals the number of people suffering from malnutrition due to inadequate food intake.21
24. While vegetarianism may be fine for adults, don’t children need to consume meat, dairy, products, and eggs?
Children can get all the protein, calcium, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutrients from plant-based foods. Meat is a good source of iron and protein, but it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and the high amount of protein that it contains depletes calcium from the bones.
Children raised on strict vegetarian diets are generally healthy. A good source for further information is Pregnancy, Children, and the Vegan Diet by Michael Klaper (see Bibliography).
25. Don’t meat producers take good care of their animals since their profits depend on it?
Profits depend on obtaining the maximum output in terms of pounds of meat, gallons of milk, or number of eggs produced, with the least expenditure in terms of such factors as feed and energy. Producers have found that crowding animals into very small spaces increases profits, until the point where the crowding is so great that the number of animals that die prematurely becomes too costly. This is similar to the transportation of slaves: it was considered “economical” to crowd slaves on the slave ships, even though many died during the trip.
26. Aren’t animals raised for the kosher food market treated more compassionately than other food animals?
Unfortunately, animals raised for the kosher market are generally raised under the same conditions as nonkosher animals. It is usually only the process of slaughter that differs.
27. Doesn’t humane legislation ensure the welfare of farm animals?
On both state and federal levels, the raising of animals for food is specifically exempted from anti-cruelty laws and humane legislation. Strong opposition from the powerful farm lobby has defeated legislative efforts to even study the treatment of farm animals.
28. Since animals kill each other in nature, why should we be concerned about killing animals for food?
Predator animals have no choice. They must eat other animals in order to live. Perhaps this is the way that nature takes care of old and weak animals that would not be able to survive much longer anyway. But human beings do have a choice, and we now know that we can be very healthy on a vegetarian diet, in fact far healthier than on a animal-based diet. Hence, there is no good reason to raise and slaughter animals for food.
29. Shouldn’t people who abstain from eating meat also avoid consuming eggs and milk?
Many of the arguments made for not eating meat are valid with regard to eggs and milk, although to a lesser degree in some cases. And the vegan diet (non-use of any animal products) is a more humane diet. However, an estimated ninety percent of vegetarians today are lacto-ovo vegetarians. Many hope to become vegans eventually and some are moving toward that goal.
I prefer to look at vegetarians who consume eggs and milk as people who have made an important ethical decision, but who have not yet gone as far as possible. One can become a vegan by degrees. What is important is to take the first step and then progress toward improvements.
30. Aren’t vegetarians who use leather shoes and other leather products being inconsistent?
It depends upon one’s reasons for being a vegetarian. If it is based upon health, rather than concern for animals, for example, it would not be inconsistent.
Some vegetarians use leather products because these are byproducts of slaughter, rather than prime causes of it. Many vegetarians have changed to shoes of natural or synthetic non-animal materials. It has become easier to get such products recently as the demand for them has increased. Some vegetarians continue to wear leather products until they wear out and then purchase non-leather products.
31. Aren’t there also problems related to eating vegetables? Aren’t vegetables also sprayed with chemicals?
The concept of concern for plants is actually a strong positive point for vegetarianism. Because animals have to eat about ten times as much vegetable food to return a single unit of food value as meat, a vegetarian diet means less destruction of plants. Also, most vegetarian food can be obtained without killing the plant; this includes ripe fruits and nuts, berries, melons, seeds, legumes, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins.
It is good that people are starting to think that plants have a certain state of sensitivity because this may lead to a greater awareness that animals are not unfeeling things. And certainly any consciousness in plants is of a different quality than that in humans and animals.
Unfortunately, it is true that many vegetables are sprayed with chemicals. It is important to wash them well. Also, efforts should be made to reduce unnecessary spraying of pesticides. But here, too, vegetarianism is beneficial because, as indicated previously, the movement of chemicals up the food chain leads to far greater amounts of pollutants in meat and fish.
32. What are the effects of the consumption of meat and other animal products on the onset of puberty and sexual maturity of females?22
This is one of the most negative effects of animal-based diets. Several studies have shown a decrease in the average age of puberty for females from about seventeen years of age in the middle of the 19th century to an average of about twelve years today. This shows how unnatural animal- centered diets, especially with all the added hormones and other chemicals, are for human beings. There is strong evidence that the sharp drop in the age of puberty is due to the steady increase in hormone-treated animal products in typical Western diets. In areas of China where people still consume plant-based diets, the average onset of puberty ranges from fifteen to nineteen years, and averages seventeen years. Migration studies also show a drop in the age of puberty in the next generation when people change from plant-based diets to the typical animal-based diets in their new country.
Experts indicate that physical maturity does not necessarily mean emotional maturity. As Laurence Steinberg, co-author of You and Your Adolescent (Harper Perennial, 1997) says, “A girl may look like a woman long before she [can act] like one.”
Many girls face difficult, highly emotional situations at a time when they are not emotionally mature enough to react properly. Hence, in addition to its many other health and environmental benefits, a shift to well balanced vegetarian diets, without artificial hormones, would help prevent early pregnancies and the many social and emotional problems related to early sexual awareness and activities. A related concern is that early puberty has been linked to increased risk of breast cancer.
33. Is it important for vegetarians and everyone else to eat organic foods?
Certainly. EarthSave lists sixteen healthy reasons to eat organic.23 these include: organic vegetarian foods have less residue from herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, toxic nitrates, and toxic metals; have no hormones or antibiotics; have more essential and trace minerals and other healthy agents; taste far better and enable the eating of the plant’s skin; are better for children (children receive an average of four times greater exposure to at least eight widely used cancer-causing pesticides in non-organic foods); are better for farm workers (according to a National Cancer Institute Study, farmers exposed to pesticides had a six-times greater risk of contracting cancer than non-farmers); are better for the environment since there is less soil erosion, water pollution, and loss of diversity; and are better for small farmers who are being squeezed by the technologies being used by agribusiness.
34. How serious are food-borne diseases?
They are very serious. The following summary is based on documented facts from John Robbins’s The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World (see Bibliography). The primary source of E.Coli O157:H7 infections is hamburgers and other sources of ground beef. A very conservative estimate (since many cases are not reported or are misdiagnosed) is that about 200 people in the United States become sick from E.Coli and several die daily. Long term afflictions suffered by many survivors of E.Coli O157:H7 poisoning include epilepsy, blindness, kidney failure, and lung damage.
The leading cause of food-borne illness in the United States is Campylobacter, a bacteria found in contaminated chicken flesh; an estimated seventy percent of American chickens and ninety percent of American turkeys are contaminated by this bacteria. It is estimated that more than 5,000 people in the United States become ill with Campylobacter daily and that there are fifty fatalities annually. Each year over 650,000 Americans are sickened from eating Salmonella-tainted eggs annually, and this causes about 600 deaths. Among symptoms of Salmonella poisoning are fever, headache, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. While the dangerous bacteria discussed above have also been found in non-animal products, they are far more often found in animal products. In virtually every investigated case in which these bacteria were found in fruits and vegetables, the cause has been traced to animal agriculture, usually a result of water contaminated by animal waste.
35. Wasn’t Hitler a vegetarian?24
Is it really relevant what Hitler ate or did not eat? Would anyone cite Hitler’s abstinence from smoking to discredit non-smokers? However, Hitler’s alleged vegetarianism is brought up so often that it invites a response.
Because he suffered from excessive sweatiness and flatulence, Hitler sometimes went meatless. However, he generally continued to eat meat. In his definitive biography, The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler, the historian Ralph Payne mentions Hitler’s special fondness for Bavarian sausages (p. 346). Other biographers, including Albert Speer, point out that he also sometimes ate ham, liver, and game.25 Hitler not only ate meat, but he also banned vegetarian organizations in Germany and the occupied countries, even though vegetarian diets would have helped solve Germany’s food shortage during the war.
36. I enjoy eating meat. Why should I give it up?
If one is solely motivated by what will bring pleasure, perhaps no answer to this question would be acceptable. But Judaism is motivated by far more: doing mitzvot, performing good deeds, sanctifying occasions, helping feed hungry people, pursuing justice and peace, and so on. This book attempts to show that people who take Jewish values seriously should be vegetarians.
Even if one is primarily motivated by considerations of pleasure and convenience, the negative health effects of an animal-centered diet should be taken into account. One cannot enjoy life when one is not in good health.
1. Guiterman, A Poet’s Proverbs, 1924, 50.
2. J. Harris, “Killing for Food,” in S. R. Godlovitch and John Harris, eds., Animals, Man, and Morals, New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1972, 109.
3. A list of famous vegetarians is in Nathaniel Altman, Eating for Life, Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Pub. House, 1977, 6.
4. Pamphlet of FARM (Farm Animal Reform Movement); PO Box 30654, Bethesda, Maryland 20824 (www.farmusa.org), 1-888-FARM-USA.
6. Victor Sussman, The Vegetarian Alternative, Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1978, 2.
7. Ibid. For a very thorough discussion of vegan diets, see The Vegan Sourcebook by Joanne Stepaniak (see Bibliography).
8. For a more detailed discussion of why vegetarians do not eat fish, see Richard H. Schwartz, “Do You Eat Fish?,” Tikkun, November/December, 1999, 24–26.
9. This paragraph is based on information in the Anchorage Daily News, Associated Press: Rick Callahan, “Aquaculture Taking Its Toll,” June 29, 2000.
10. A comprehensive discussion of protein needs for humans is in Marc Sorensen, MegaHealth, Irvins, UT: National Institute of Fitness, 1993, 278–287, as well as the other vegetarian books in the Bibliography.
11. Percents of calories from protein in vegetable foods can be found in MegaHealth,
12. The analysis of dairy products and osteoporosis is based on material from MegaHealth,
172–176, 179, and other vegetarian books.
13. Calcium contents of typical plant and animal foods are presented in MegaHealth,
14. The analysis of iron requirements is based on material from MegaHealth, 249–250.
15. The analysis of vitamin B12 requirements is based on material from MegaHealth, 293–295, and other vegetarian books.
16. An extensive discussion of the negative effects of dairy products is in John A. McDougall, M.D., The McDougall Plan (Clinton, NJ: New Win Publishing, 1983),
17. Quoted by Neal D. Barnard, M.D., The Power of Your Plate, Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company, 1990, 16.
18. Ibid, 18.
19. Andrew Nicholson, M.D., “Chicken is Not a Health Food,” Good Medicine, PCRM, Autumn, 1994, 14.
20. For more information, please see ADA’s position paper on weight management which is posted at their website (www.eatright.org). Also see John Robbins, The Food Revolution (unpublished manuscript), 28.
21. Gary Gardner and Brian Halweil, “Underfed and Overfed—The Global Epidemic of Malnutrition,” Worldwatch Paper 150, Washington, D. C.: Worldwatch institute, March 2000, 7.
22. Much of the information for this section is from “Discuss puberty with girls early on,” Susan Spaeth Cherry, Staten Island Advance, June 8, 1999, p. D3 and “More Girls Experience early puberty,” by Jennifer Haupt, CNN, March 31, 2000. More information on connections between high fat diets and the decreasing age of puberty can be found in Diet for a New America by John Robbins (Walpole, NH: Stillpoint Publishing, 1988, 266–267), and The Power of Your Plate by Dr. Neal Barnard (Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1990, 60–61).
23. “Earthsave: Healthy People, Healthy Planet,” Spring 2000, Volume II, No. 2, 11.
24. I am indebted to Ralph Meyer for this information related to Hitler’s alleged vegetarianism, including copies of pages from several biographies which refer to Hitler eating meat. For more information, Ralph Meyer, Box 3301, Santa Monica, CA 90408.
25. See John Toland’s Adolph Hitler (New York: Doubleday. 1992), 30, 54, 107, and 256 and Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich, 89.