Friday, August 14, 2009

Diet For A New America

I recently finished reading John Robbins' book, Diet For A New America. It has been around for a while, so maybe you have already read it yourself. For me, it was very educational as well as inspiring. Today I am going to share with you a couple highlights that I marked in the book as well as my reasons for pursuing a vegetarian diet.

Overall, the message of the book is to persuade the reader to forgo meat and animal products in one's diet. The reasons are plentiful and backed up with abundant scientific research. Some reasons include the following:
  • The animals we eat are raised in horrendous, unnatural conditions on factory farms, fed an unnatural diet of corn and soybeans, and endure an unbelievable amount of suffering.
  • The meat from the animals raised on the factory farms is unhealthy as a result of the poor diet and unhappiness of the animals. For example, the adrenalin that courses through the animal just before it is slaughtered poisons the meat. And that is just the beginning.
  • The hormones and antibiotics given to the animals are imparted to the consumer through the flesh and negatively impact one's health by causing hormonal imbalance and destruction of one's internal digestive ecology.
  • The factory farms on which most meat is raised, pollute and destroy the environment.
  • The vast amount of resources such as grain and water that go into fattening herds of cattle, for example, could eliminate world hunger. The number of input calories is far fewer than the number of output calories. It is a very inefficient way to feed humans. 
  • The human body really does not require so much protein that eating concentrated sources such as meat is necessary or useful. In fact, it is often damaging causing gout, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.
  • Meat and dairy products acidify the blood and tissues leading to overall calcium loss and osteoporosis. Drinking milk does not result in calcium increase and stronger bones as we may have been led to believe. It actually has the opposite effect.
  • Pesticides are concentrated in animal products many times more than in plants and vegetables. This toxic load impedes the body's ability to efficiently regenerate and carry out primary functions for optimal health.
  • The human digestive system is not best suited for digestion of meat. In fact, it is much different from that of carnivorous creatures. The regular consumption of meat will, over time, result in various physical maladies such as colon cancer.
  • The meat that is mass produced in this country and all over the world is so unhealthy it is seriously damaging the health of all those who eat it which increases the burden on the health care system as well as supports a society dependent on pharmaceutical drugs leading ultimately in a continuous downward spiral of degenerative disease.

My reasons for being vegetarian are out of concern for the following:
  1. My health: I wish to live to an old age, free of physical pain and physical limitation. I always wish to be active and dwelling in a fully functioning body. Being vegetarian and eating whole foods will greatly contribute to the accomplishment of this goal.
  2. The environment: It is apparent how much the meat industry from start to finish irrevocably damages the environment. Climates change; drinking water becomes scarce and contaminated; clean air becomes polluted. It is important to think ahead rather than live for today's profit or pleasure.
  3. The suffering of animals: A certain passage from the book sums up my viewpoint regarding the animals - "It's not the killing of the animals that is the chief issue here, but rather the unspeakable quality of the lives they are forced to live."  Most people have no concept of what suffering was endured by the animals they have eaten. It is so bad that it is nearly beyond belief. I personally don't wish to make that suffering literally a part of me.

Another passage from the book states the issues succinctly: "We have become protein obsessed, and we pay an incalculable price for it. We feed an enormous amount of grain to livestock which could otherwise be fed to the world's hungry. We cause a great deal of needless suffering to animals. And finally, we seriously compromise our health."

Busting the Protein Myth

The book presents a great study on how much protein is really needed for a proper functioning body and how easy it is to consume sufficient amounts on a vegetarian diet. Healthy protein intake ranges on a spectrum of 2.5 - 10% of daily calories. Mother's milk provides 5% of its calories from protein which feeds babies who are growing faster than at any other time in their lives. If one eats protein at the high end of the spectrum (10% of calories), it is almost impossible to not get enough protein on a well balanced vegetarian diet. 49% of the calories from spinach are from protein. If we ate nothing but spinach, we'd have WAY more than enough protein. If we ate nothing but cabbage (22%), we'd have more than double the maximum protein requirement. Even a cantaloupe diet (9%) would provide our bodies with sufficient protein.

A meal of 1 cup of beans and 1 cup of brown rice, for example, provides complementary amino acids and contains approximately 19 grams of protein. Add 1.5 cups of broccoli for 6 more grams. And that's just lunch! If you are consuming enough calories with natural foods, you are virtually certain of getting enough protein.

Be Thankful & Aware

I don't wish to come across as dogmatic or judgmental in my approach. I am just so passionate about both physical and environmental health, I want others to grasp some portion of the impact that eating meat has in myriad realms of our world. I realize that people are not going to give up meat over night, but my hope is that people could be concerned enough about their own health at the very least to cut consumption of meat and animal products in half.

I always thought that I would not hesitate to eat meat if given some from an animal that was properly raised in a natural environment. I allowed myself the opportunity one night to partake of meat from a non-factory farmed animal. While it tasted pretty good, I ultimately realized, I liked the vegetables that were on my dinner plate much more. The meat felt heavy in my stomach and did not make me feel particularly well. It was good to allow myself that experience and realize that my body truly no longer desired meat. I am not harsh with myself. Sometimes I will allow myself to eat a little meat thinking that I want it. In the end, it so happens that the experience only reinforces my desire to stay vegetarian.

Whatever your eating philosophy, I implore you to eat with positive thoughts and thankfulness. If you are on a road trip and have to eat something you would typically not, bless it and be grateful for it. Otherwise, the supposed unhealthy food will truly create unhealth. So often, people who are pursuing a healthy diet will beat themselves up when they falter a bit. For instance, I very often talk to raw foodists who express guilt at having eaten cooked food. My philosophy is to be gentle with oneself. Make the best choice you can at the moment. If you are going to break your eating plan, do it consciously, realize how it makes you feel, then get over it. The most important thing to remember is to eat with gratitude. A statement from the book (paraphrasing Mark Braunstein) says, "The person who eats beer and franks with cheer and thanks will probably be healthier than the person who eats sprouts and bread with doubts and dread."

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