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Written by Lindsay Crowder   
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Tuesday, 05 May 2009

A Vegetarian Perspective

For the greater half of my life, my daily diet has been vegetarian. My middle school years turned me onto the animal rights movement, causing me to dismiss red meat, and then white meat, and finally any form of seafood. As I got older, my taste for eggs and most dairy products began to fade, but I have yet to give up cheese and chocolate. When my eating habits come up in conversation, I encounter many of the same questions. Why are you vegetarian? Do you get enough protein? Are you sure it is healthy? What do you eat? Do you feel tired? Is it because of animal rights, the environment, or is it just a taste preference? My answer is always the same: I am vegetarian for many reasons, I feel strong, healthy, and well nourished, and I do not feel that my culinary options are limited because of my vegetarian diet. Although my initial motivation for removing meat from my diet was based mostly on animal rights issues, my reasons have shifted with the rise of the free-range meat movement. Many options for cruelty-free meat exist, although I have yet to explore them. The thought of eating an animal still hurts my heart, but I now choose what I eat because I believe it is the most responsible way to fuel my body and reduce my impact on the environment. If approached wisely, a vegetarian diet can provide a creative, earth-friendly, and healthy way to dine.

What exactly constitutes a vegetarian diet?

Vegetarian diets can be unique to the individual maintaining them, but generally speaking, vegetarianism is the practice of a diet that excludes meat (including game and slaughter by-products), fish (including shellfish and other sea animals) and poultry. There are many different forms of the diet, some of which also exclude eggs and/or products produced from animal labor such as dairy products and honey.1 A good vegetarian diet is derived from a variety of sources, including fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes. When approached correctly, “The American Dietetic Association and the Dietitians of Canada have found that a properly-planned vegetarian diet can satisfy the nutritional needs for all stages of life, and large-scale studies have shown that vegetarianism can significantly lower risks of cancer, ischemic heart disease, and other fatal diseases.”2 To maintain proper health, a vegetarian diet should focus on sources of protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and fatty acids—all of which can be sufficiently satisfied without meat. For a list of sources, check out: http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/nutshell.htm.

Environmental benefits

The impact of the meat industry on our environment is often overlooked in the vegetarian debate. In November 2006, the United Nations released a report that details the environmental consequences of eating meat, called Livestock's Long Shadow, stating that raising animals for food is "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."3 Raising livestock and other animals for food uses more resources—including land, energy, and water—than raising crops, and animals also contribute to more air and water pollution than plant agriculture. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “growing the crops necessary to feed farmed animals requires nearly half of the United States' water supply and 80 percent of its agricultural land. Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90 percent of the soy crop, 80 percent of the corn crop, and a total of 70 percent of its grain.”4 Just think of how many more people we could feed if we didn’t have to feed all of those animals! In regards to pollution, animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire U.S. population, roughly 89,000 pounds per second, all without the benefit of waste treatment systems.5 Most of their waste ends up in our waterways, our air, or in the land. It has also been noted that animal agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases being responsible for 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. As Robert F. Kennedy Jr. once said, “The factory meat industry has polluted thousands of miles of America’s rivers, killed billions of fish, pushed tens of thousands of family farmers off their land, sickened and killed thousands of U.S. citizens, and treated millions of farm animals with unspeakable and unnecessary cruelty.”6

So by now, you may get my point. I choose to be vegetarian because I truly believe that it is the best decision for my health and for our environment. In addition to not eating meat, I also try to eat an organic and locally grown diet. Organic farming reduces the amount of pesticides, chemicals, and other unnecessary pollutants used on crops while also adding to the biodiversity of the land used for farming. Locally grown food supports sustainable food systems and reduces the carbon footprint of what you eat. By incorporating all of these ideologies into my daily diet, I feel extremely well nourished and less guilty about my impact on the environment.

For more information on vegetarianism, go to: http://www.goveg.com/.

For delicious recipes and different food ideas, check out: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/

You can check the calendar below to see if there are any vegan or vegetarian events going on around you.

Calendar taken from: culinaryschools.org/upcoming-vegan-and-vegetarian-events/

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1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism.
2Id.
3http://www.goveg.com/veganism_environment.asp.
4http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarianism.
5http://www.goveg.com/environment-pollution.asp.
6http://www.goveg.com/environment-wycd-footprint.asp.




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