Eating Without Killing

Vegetarian Health without animal cruelty

by Douglas Dunn

Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2014 Douglas Dunn / Word Wizards communications -- all rights reserved

Index: Health | Environment | Cruelty | Kinds of Vegetarians

This brief explanation is intended as a simple response to the question most asked by friends, relatives and loved ones: "WHY did you become a vegetarian?" Having grown up eating meat, the idea of giving up the centerpiece of the dietary system seems incomprehensible. So, whether the reasons offered are persuasive or not, at least perhaps they will help others to understand that there is a solid framework of rational decision-making that went into this determination.

The reasons fall into three main categories: 1-Health considerations (purely a matter of self-interest); 2-Environmental considerations (concern about other people and the milieu in which we share the functioning of a civilized society); and 3-Concerns about animal cruelty (concern with a broader interest in the feelings of other sentient creatures).

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Health Considerations
The first consideration often begins with that of self-interest: the desire to live a long and healthy life. And the eating of meat is not healthy for humans; it is not even natural to those of our species! The American diet, heavy with sweets, fats, additives and chemicals, bears little resemblance to that which sustained either our earliest human ancestors or the primate members of the animal kingdom such as gorillas, orangutans, gibbons and chimpanzees which are most biologically similar to ourselves.

So what? We like our red meat, pizza, chocolates and fast foods. A meat- and fat-based diet has served generations of Americans. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But why is it that, when biologists say we should be capable of living to ages of 100 and up, that we die in our 50's, 60's and 70's and call it "old age." It's broke.

To "fix it" we must make sure that we ingest all needed nutrients, while avoiding the toxins and unhealthy substances that reduce physical vigor and shorten our life spans.

Our bodies did not evolve for diets that require the killing of other sentient beings. As with our closest biological relatives, our bodies were developed to thrive on the fresh fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables that were abundant in the primeval surroundings from which our species emerged. These are the foods which are high in fiber and low in fat and other harmful substances. Our dental structures, digestive systems and other physiological traits are similar to those animals that eat produce, and are very different from meat-eating species. This suggests that such foods are the ones which are natural for our bodies and which should be central to our dietary habits.

Imagine you're walking through a beautiful forest and stumble across the day-old carcass of a cow. What's your reaction? Are you hungry? Or does this sound gross? A real carnivore, like a wolf or leopard, would be licking his chops -- he likes to eat his meat raw, including the raw guts, too.
If you think it's natural for humans to eat meat, put a three-year-old toddler in a crib with an apple and a live chicken and watch which one he eats and which one he plays with. If you give the same apple and chicken to a young cat of equivalent maturity, it will play with the apple and eagerly kill and eat the chicken, all by itself!

You still protest, "Whaddayamean a meat-based diet isn't natural? Meat is central to the diet in almost every known civilization on earth!" That is true. But all human peoples trace their origins to the early humans that developed in North Africa. At a time when the feeding and breeding grounds of that region were changing from a lush tropical paradise into a harsh, scorching desert, survival of our species demanded that we either retreat deeper into the continent, as some species did, or diversify our diets. Perhaps the first regular use of meat was revolting and unpleasant. But it occurred around the same time as another milestone in human development: control of fire. Our ancestors put the two together so they could survive. By cooking the meat and adding spices and sauces and seasonings they could disguise its revolting, unnatural flavor and learn to like it. After eating it enough, people not only learned to like it, but they got addicted to it. Eating meat kept our ancestors alive long enough to have offspring and pass along their genes, but they paid a high price for it in shortened lifespan and loss of physical strength compared with other primates who are almost exclusively vegetarian.

Eating meat is still an "acquired" taste -- it is not natural to us the way eating fruits or vegetables is. Even today, we don't put mustard on apples or catsup on oranges. While we sometimes do eat fruits and grains in cooked or seasoned forms for variation, we are quite comfortable eating fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts in their fairly natural condition, but we still disguise our meat so it has very little resemblance to the natural carcass that a true carnivore would savor.

Today we are no longer at the brink of survival. We no longer need meat. Like many animals, such as elephants, hippopotami and the livestock that we use for food, our bodies can produce plenty of bulk, strength and energy entirely from plant sources. Even the largest of man's closest relatives, gorillas and orangutans, have plenty of body size, and its all strength, on a purely vegetarian diet.

Disease avoidance: Related to the issue of maintaining good health is, of course, the issue of avoiding DISEASES. Those who do not eat meat are not at risk for contracting mad cow disease, transmitting hoof and mouth disease and have far lower likelihood of coming down with an e-coli infection.

Note on recent diet trends: In recent years, the "Atkins Diet" by Dr. Robert Atkins and the newer "South Beach Diet" by Dr. Arthur Agatston have become popular. In different ways, these allow fats and limit carbohydrates, in contrast with the diet program of Dr. Dean Ornish which emphasize extremely-low fat vegetarian sources of nutrition. Recent independent studies have shown that both Atkins and Ornish can lead to weight loss and cardiovascular health if followed strictly; Agatston's much newer South Beach Diet (published in 2003) was not included in these studies conducted before it was released. Agatston acknowledges that he has known both Atkins and Ornish and respects them both. He says that both of them made important discoveries and have some valid points. He does NOT say that carbohydrates or fats are bad or good. He is more selective. He identifies the difference between GOOD CARBS and BAD CARBS; he identifies the difference between GOOD FATS and BAD FATS. After an initial two-week introductory period of eliminating carbs (similar to Atkins) to re-set the glycemic metabolic response, he encourages consumption of GOOD CARBS (fiber and fruit) and GOOD FATS (monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega 3 fatty acids), but warns against consuming BAD CARBS (refined sugars and starches) and BAD FATS (saturated fats and triglycerides). This is a much more balanced approach that recognizes the contributions of both Atkins and Ornish. Proof of its merit is that recently the Atkins program has been modified to allow "good carbs."

The widespread assumption that Atkins (as well as Agatston's South Beach Diet which is derived from many of Atkins' principles of metabolism) requires a meat-based diet is false. Even Dr. Atkins acknowledged that it is possible to be a vegetarian and follow the Atkins diet, though in fairness it should be noticed that he did not recommend this. Because Agatston is more selective, and favors the kinds of unsaturated fats more common to vegetable sources as well as accepting good carbohydrates from plant sources, he is far more friendly to vegetarian sources. Because Agatston's South Beach Diet recognizes the valid principles from both Ornish and Atkins, while avoiding the more extreme positions of either, we feel comfortable in suggesting that readers consider it before experimenting with Atkins, even though South Beach is not specifically a vegetarian diet, because it can easily be adapted for vegetarians.

Jump to: Health | Environment | Cruelty | Kinds of Vegetarians
Environmental Considerations
The interest in eating for health as a motivation for adopting vegetarian eating habits often moves beyond this self-interest, to concern about protecting and preserving the environmental habitat in which other people must also live and work -- for the benefit not only of self, but for all of us.

Eating meat harms the environment and is economically wasteful. Meat is expensive to produce. It uses land and water resources inefficiently, and still is based on the use of vegetable food sources (grains fed to livestock) for the vegetarian species consumed by humans, except that we obtain those vegetable-based nutrients "second hand," diluted and filtered inefficiently through the digestive systems of other creatures -- usually vegetarians such as cows, pigs or poultry. Humans who eat meat prefer to consume these vegetarian species which are higher up (more efficient) on the food chain; humans only eat carnivore species when desperate -- the meat's just no darn good. The amount of grain used in one day to feed livestock for meat in the United States alone would provide two loaves of bread every day for each person in the entire world!

The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a person who has to support a meat-eating habit is 3.25 acres. The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a pure vegetarian is 1/6 acre. As cited by John Robbins in his book Diet for a New America, Lester Brown of the Overseas Development Council has estimated that if Americans would reduce their consumption of meat by only 10%, the amount of grain wasted on animal feed that could be diverted for direct human consumption would be sufficient to adequately feed every one of the 60 million people who die from hunger each year.

Production of meat in developing countries trying to emulate the American lifestyle is a major cause of deforestation as jungle habitats are replaced with large ranches to raise livestock. Those who want to "save the rainforests" should consider giving up meat.

Production of meat also wastes precious water resources for watering and cleaning livestock animals and their equipment and facilities. Producing one pound of meat requires about 2,500 gallons of water. Those who eat meat require more than twelve times as much water as is needed for a pure vegetarian.

Jump to: Health | Environment | Cruelty | Kinds of Vegetarians
Concerns About Animal Cruelty
Ethical concerns often evolve beyond solely human considerations, to an interest in respect for and concern about the feelings and interests of other sentient creatures whose brains are imbued with some extent of consciousness. While it is difficult to say exactly what levels of intelligence or consciousness or sentience that various other animals may have, it is clear that especially the vertebrates definitely have some level of consciousness and emotion. Vertebrate animals experience pain, fear, excitement and familial bonding, and this is evidenced by many formal scientific studies as well as extensive "anecdotal" personal experience. It is also certain that they are biologically autonomous: while our existence and habits may threaten other species and their habitats, their existence in no way threatens ours or even infringes our personal space, except in the rare instances when predatory animals may pursue humans as prey. Thus, the killing of animals -- which is wholly unnecessary except to satisfy a lust for artery-clogging animal fat -- is wanton and cruel as well as unnecessary. Non-vertebrate animals may also experience some form of consciousness or sentience, but this is more difficult to gauge and, in any case, it seems likely that the further down the "org chart" of the animal kingdom one travels away from the vertebrates, the less likely formal sentience, consciousness and feelings as we know them may exist.

One comment often raised by non-vegetarians hints at possible hypocrisy of vegetarians who claim that concerns about animal cruelty are even part of the reason for their choice: "You claim that vegetarianism respects life, but you eat plants. Plants are living creatures, too."

When we eat animals, we kill them. But when we eat fruits, nuts, grains, tubers, gourds and many other kinds of vegetable food sources we don't have to kill the plant. On the contrary, we help the plant reproduce by taking a part of it which was designed to be attractive, to spread its seeds. If we don't take the fruits or nuts or grains, the plant will drop them to the ground and try to give the seeds a chance to grow. But it would prefer that another creature help spread the seeds as far as possible.

For someone who claims eating plants causes pain, I would respond: Even if one could prove the absurd notion that plants did have feelings, or sentient consciousness of any kind, it would be more logical to conclude that when birds or animals pluck their berries, any feeling they might feel is not pain, but some kind of ORGASM.

Think about it: plucking berries, or taking an apple, gathering nuts, digging up a tuber or a gourd or even harvesting grain with the right kind of thresher DOES NOT KILL THE PLANT. It helps it reproduce. Birds and mammals pluck the fruit, eat the fleshy part, and help disperse the seeds so the plant can reproduce.

And reproduction is based on pleasure and attraction. Birds and animals make themselves attractive to those who spread their seeds, and then (if they have the capacity to feel anything at all) feel pleasure at the time seeds are dispersed and reproduction is consummated.

If plants do have any consciousness, perhaps they have little orgasms when a bird or animal plucks a fruit. And if an apple, orange or berry doesn't get picked? When over ripe fruit drops uneaten to the ground, is the plant masturbating? Did Sir Isaac Newton learn the wrong lesson from watching the apple fall?

Jump to: Health | Environment | Cruelty | Kinds of Vegetarians
Kinds of Vegetarianism
There are various forms in how a vegetarian diet is followed:

Vegan -- Does not eat anything derived from animals and does not use any animal-derived products

Lacto-ovo -- Permits eating milk, eggs and cheese as these can be produced without killing the animal. In some cases, for health reasons, lacto-ovo vegetarians will only eat non-fat forms of dairy products.

Pesci -- Permits the eating of fish and seafood, but no meat from land-based animals or birds, since these forms do not affect the land-based environmental issues (though there are other issues related to pollution of the seas and depletion of fishing sources). Pesci-vegetarians also note that regarding the health aspects of the issue, fish is less harmful than meat/poultry and contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, and regarding the cruelty aspects that fish may be vertebrates (though shrimp, crab, lobster are not) but are still at the lowest level of consciousness of the vertebrates.

It may be easier for some who are new to the vegetarian diet and lifestyle to begin with a regimen that is easier to follow and gradually develop a more pure form of vegetarian lifestyle. Others find that the most effective way to get started is just to jump in all the way and give up all eating of meat, poultry and fish altogether. The key is to take action and do SOMETHING, to improve your health, to preserve the planet and to live in harmony with the other sentient creatures that share our world with us!

Index: Health | Environment | Cruelty | Kinds of Vegetarians

Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2014 Douglas Dunn / Word Wizards communications

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References and Recommended Readings:
Robbins, John. "Diet for a New America." Stillpoint Publishing, 1987.
Excellent resource for in-depth documentation and reference on vegetarianism as to health issues, animal cruelty issues and environmental issues.
Lappe, Frances Moore. "Diet for a Small Planet." Ballantine Books, 1982. Seminal reference on vegetarianism and environmental issues.
Wuerthner, George and Matteson, Mollie, editors. "Welfare Ranching - The Subsidized Destruction of the American West." Island Press, 2002. Excellent in-depth documentation of how cattle grazing in the west causes extensive environmental damage and is economically counterproductive.

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Douglas Dunn also wrote an article, "You're Going to be a What?" published in Vegetarian Times magazine November 1991 profiling the experience of how he became a vegetarian following the example of his then-teenage daughter. Vegetarian Times magazine is also an excellent source of RECIPIES and other ongoing information of interest to those in successfully developing healthy dietary habits that do not include killing other conscious, sentient creatures.

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