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The Pros and Cons of Eating Vegetarian / Vegan
The Pros and Cons of Eating Vegetarian / Vegan

Maybe I should really give a vegan diet more of a chance?

Monday, February 20, 2012 Rochester, NY - First, I love meat. I'm old school. I am very omnivorous, yet come down more on the side of consuming animal products rather than 'greens'. I grew up on dairy products, red meat, chicken, turkey, and fish. And yes, my mother did buy us kids sugar cereals (and somehow, I still loved her). We were a typical, 1960's-1970's American family.

This is a difficult article to write, since I am defending a way of eating, a way of life, that is now causing me to maintain weight gain. I don't blame sugar, animal fat, or other extravagances in my diet. No one holds a gun to my head, and forces me to consume ice cream, cheese burgers, or pizza. It's all me.

So, since I am certainly overweight, how can I deny myself the benefits of a vegetarian-vegan diet? Namely, taste of food (the more decadent, the better), protein burst, and sometimes very old and bad habits.

But forget about me. What are the alleged experts saying and writing about a plant based diet, versus eating food that had parents?

A Taste for Blood. Is it really true that humans are not meant to be meat eaters? Since we are primates, are we not primarily leaf eaters? The following are quite interesting dietary critiques from internet research:

"I finally read The Vegetarian Myth over my winter break. I know I'm more than a little late joining the party — the book has been out for some time and received quite a few reviews — but I'm going to add my review to the mix anyway, for one simple reason: It's one of the best books I've ever read, and I want you to read it too, if you haven't already.

"[Author] Lierre Keith is an extraordinarily talented writer. I enjoy some authors because they're diligent researchers and fill their pages with facts I didn't already know...

"As I read this book, I soon realized that Keith is all three: a tenacious researcher who can dig up the facts, arrange them into coherent arguments, and fold them into sentences that are pure brain-candy for anyone who loves words.

"If you've spent any time debating vegetarians, you know the supposed superiority of a meat-free existence boils down to three main beliefs: it's immoral to kill in order to eat, we must all give up meat to save the planet, and giving up animal products will improve your health. Keith refers to these as the Vegetarian Myths, and during her decades as a dedicated vegan, she believed them. But in this book, she destroys them one by one...

"In part one, Moral Vegetarians, she dispenses with the "killing animals is immoral" myth. I found this section particularly enlightening, because I long ago conceded the point that vegetarians don't kill to eat. Okay, Mr. Granola, my food involves killing animals and yours doesn't. Good for you. It so happens I don't believe it's immoral to kill an animal for food, especially since I'm healthier now, but if you feel morally superior ordering a soy burger, be my guest.

"Turns out I was wrong to concede even that much.

As Keith writes: "The moral argument is the clarion call that rallies most vegetarians to the cause. It's what kept me unable to examine or even question my vegan diet, despite all the evidence that my health was failing. I wanted to believe that my life – my physical existence – was possible without killing. It's not. No life is.

"She then explains why living without killing is impossible, beginning with a fascinating, detailed description of the cycle of life ... and "cycle" is the crucial concept. There is no food chain, with humans sitting at the top. We are members of a food cycle, with all of us eating each other. As Keith explains, even the soil is alive, with literally millions of organisms in each tablespoon. Take the animals out of the equation — along with the urine, feces, blood and bone that the soil "eats" — and the soil will die.

"Keith discovered this for herself when she decided to grow her own food. She soon learned that her soil required nitrogen, and discovered to her horror that she had two choices: natural nitrogen — mostly blood meal and bone meal — or synthetic nitrogen made from fossil fuels ... another form of dead animals. As she reluctantly concluded, "My garden wanted to eat animals, even if I didn't."

"Her garden gave her further fits when she realized she had to stop the bugs from eating the plants she planned to eat herself. Chemical pesticides were obviously out, so she looked into "natural" pesticides — which she learned rip the guts out of the bugs. She finally elected to keep some chickens that would eat the bugs instead...

"To create those sprawling acres of wheat, corn, and soybeans, prairies and forests that were home to millions of animals are destroyed, taking the animals down with them. Rivers are dammed, killing all the animals who depended on them. That soy burger Mr. Granola chews so smugly requires at least as many deaths as my steak, if not more.

"And as Keith explains in section two, Political Vegetarians, eating soy burgers won't save the planet, either. All those goofy vegetarian arguments about how many more people we could feed per acre if we all ate the crops instead of the animals who eat the crops are based on a flawed idea: that the animals who provide our meat are supposed to eat corn. They're not. They're supposed to eat grass. Keith recalculates the calories-per-acre figures assuming we were smart enough to raise our animals on their natural food, and not surprisingly, the disparity shrinks to nearly zero.

"And feeding the masses is only part of the equation. When you raise animals in a pasture, you create topsoil — you literally can't create topsoil without animals. Then, of course, there's all that fossil fuel required to keep the crops growing as the topsoil disappears. (Imagine the fun of explaining to your wild-eyed vegan friends that their "sustainable lifestyle" is enriching the oil industry.)...

"My minor quibble is Keith's interjections of feminism (some have called it male-bashing) into the narrative. I don't see any reason for it, other than the fact that she considers herself a radical feminist and felt a need to express some feminist ideas. As she points out herself, brutality and patriarchy existed in plenty of hunter-gather societies. And most of the radical, "meat is murder!" granola-chomping vegetarians I've met have been women who consider themselves feminists. Maybe I'm missing something here. But again, these are minor quibbles.

"In part three, Nutritional Vegetarians, Keith recounts how her vegan diet destroyed her health. I'm sorry to say much of the damage is permanent. Her spine has degenerated, and it won't come back. She spends much of her life in pain. I'm also sorry to say I know some vegetarians with ailments similar to hers, but unlike Keith, they refuse to connect the dots.

"Now, 20 years too late, Keith has done the research...She describes how our digestive systems work ... which would be pretty much like the digestive system of a meat-eating animal, not an herbivore. She explains the biochemistry of the physical damage caused by eating grains and soy. She knows this topic well, since she lives with the damage every day.

"And of course, she now recognizes the many benefits of eating animal fat, as well as the shoddiness of the "research" that concluded animal fats will clog our arteries and kill us. She craved animal fat during her vegan days, but rarely allowed herself to eat it. When she did, she felt simultaneously renewed physically and tortured with guilt for giving in. She describes the depression, the fatigue, the "vegan rage," and the chronic forgetfulness that plagued her and her vegan friends. And of course, none of them could admit that perhaps their diets had something to do with it.

Ms. Keith: "Listen to your body, reader, a listening that must make your body known to you, less mysterious and more beloved. The listening is hard. You will have to hear past the propaganda of the agriculturalists, both the corrupt and the righteous. You will also have to listen past the cravings those foods produce: the addiction to opioids and intense sweeteners, the biological emergencies of blood sugar swings. And you will have to accept "the soft animal of your body," as poet Mary Oliver so sweetly says, not punish it.

"Told ya she could write".

Is Human Brain Size Related in Any Way to the Consumption of Animal Based Fats & Protein?

Factors in Encephalization: Energy (Metabolism) and Diet:

"The reality of encephalization--the relatively large human brain--with its correspondingly high intelligence, is readily apparent. The object of current research and debate, however, is the examination of what evolutionary factors have driven the development of increased human encephalization. Such research provides insight into our evolutionary diet, and also reveals why any comparative "proof" that ignores intelligence and the significant impact of brain size on metabolic requirements is logically dubious.

Life cycle and energy requirements:

"Parker [1990] analyzes intelligence and encephalization from the perspective of life history strategy (LHS) theory, a branch of behavioral ecology. LHS is based on the premise that evolutionary selection determines the timing of major life-cycle events--especially those related to reproduction--as the solution to energy optimization problems.

"Extensive energy required for brain growth. Parker discusses the life history variables in non-human primates, and then examines how life history events relate to large brain size, gestation period, maturity at birth, growth rates and milk consumption, weaning and birth intervals, age of puberty, and other events. The motivation for studying such events is that the brain is the "pacemaker of the human life cycle" [Parker 1990, p. 144], and the slow pace of most human life history events reflects the extensive energy required for brain growth and maintenance.

"Foley and Lee [1991] analyze the evolutionary pattern of encephalization with respect to foraging and dietary strategies. They clearly state the difficulty of separating cause and effect in this regard; from Foley and Lee [1991, p. 223]

"In considering, for example, the development of human foraging strategies, increased returns for foraging effort and food processing may be an important prerequisite for encephalization, and in turn a large brain is necessary to organize human foraging behavior.

"Dietary quality is correlated with brain size. Foley and Lee first consider brain size vs. primate feeding strategies, and note that folivorous diets (leaves) are correlated with smaller brains, while fruit and animal foods (insects, meat) are correlated with larger brains. The energetic costs, both daily and cumulative, of brains in humans and chimps, over the first 1-5 years of life are then compared. They note [Foley and Lee 1991, p. 226]:

"Overall the energetic costs of brain maintenance for modern humans are about three times those of a chimpanzee. Growth costs will also be commensurately larger.

"Then they consider encephalization and delayed maturation in humans (compared to apes), and conclude, based on an analysis of brain growth, that the high energy costs of brain development are responsible for the delay in maturation.

"Dietary shift beginning with Homo. Finally, they consider the dietary shifts that are found in the fossil record with the advent of humans (genus Homo), remarking that [Foley and Lee 1991, p. 229]:

"The recent debate over the importance of meat-eating in human evolution has focused closely on the means of acquirement... but rather less on the quantities involved..."In considering the evolution of human carnivory it may be that a level of 10-20% of nutritional intake may be sufficient to have major evolutionary consequences...

"Meat-eating, it may be argued, represents an expansion of resource breadth beyond that found in non-human primates...

"Homo, with its associated encephalization, may have been the product of the selection for individuals capable of exploiting these energy- and protein-rich resources as the habitats expanded (Foley 1987a).

"The last sentence in the preceding quote is provocative indeed--it suggests that we, and our large brains, may be the evolutionary result of selection that specifically favored meat-eating and a high-protein diet, i.e., a faunivorous diet"

Enough Cutting & Pasting. Lastly, allow me to tell you what this article is not. My article should not be construed as a condemnation of 'healthy eating'. Even someone as old school and stubborn as I must concede that eating a lot more fruits, vegetables, and non-animal products is certainly a good idea, and could add a few years to my life.

My love of 'foods' like chocolate, hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, rich European cheeses, all things Mexican, rolls and butter, and Pepperidge Farms Bordeaux cookies is mostly indefensible. A diet too rich in these types of foods, and lacking in far healthier dietary choices, may make for an early grave. Maybe.

But perhaps this is the point I've been attempting to make all along: If each adult (children and minors need more guidance and protection) can truly take responsibility for one's food and beverage choices, than is it really anyone else's business what or how often one eats?

Some would say yes, due to the increasing costs of medical technology and medicine associated with obesity and a high fat diet. Fair enough.

However, eating is one of life's great pleasures. If we're really honest with ourselves, and each other, we might confess that tasty, good food (often decadent) is not only nearly as pleasurable as good sex, but available to the average American more often (as we grow older, frankly, how long can we last in bed?).

Being a libertarian, I feel it is my business what I eat, how much, and when. Over eating does not cause DWI-like auto deaths, is not often associated with the illegal use of guns, and if anything, eating tasty food is more often linked to joyous celebrations with family and friends. Because of my current weight, if I must purposefully blur my eyes when encountering my reflection, than so be it.

Come on, when is the last time someone uttered a joyous moan after eating tofu, wheat germ, or brussel sprouts?

-Christopher J. Wilmot, Pittsford, NY

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