WORRIED ABOUT MAD COW DISEASE? The Vegetarian Resource Group suggests these alternatives to beef.
Consumers may have a beef with cattle feed
- USA Today and Hinduism Today:
Mad cow disease raises questions about eating meat
Time to Chuck Meat - Compelling evidence supports vegetarianism as a hedge against cancer and heart disease
It's Mad to eat meat: PETA
The Official Mad Cow Disease Home Page
If you don't finish your steak at a restaurant, did you know the leftovers might be dinner for a cow? Or that calves, instead of drinking their mothers' milk, are fed formula made from cows' blood?
These practices, all perfectly legal, have come to light with the discovery last month of North America's first homegrown case of "mad cow" disease.
Rocked by the specter of spreading infection on the continent, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture have turned their attention to ways of keeping deadly agents that spread the disease out of cattle and cattle feed.
But opening this delicate topic could have unappetizing consequences for consumers who rarely think about what those sizzling steaks and burgers went through on the way from feedlot to backyard grill. When they do, they might not want to pay higher prices to change the system.
Americans have a bucolic image of cows happily chomping grass in fields. Many don't know that modern animal husbandry practices have provided cheap, plentiful meat through such standard practices as feeding cattle not only pieces of their herd mates (before the practice was banned in 1997) but also chicken litter, leftover restaurant food and out-of-date pet food.
Cleaning up this act could be costly, and Americans demand cheap meat, says Janice Swanson, an animal behavior specialist who studies cattle at Kansas State University.
"The consuming public needs to understand that it's not just the fault of the producers. The pressure on them is to produce a product that's so cheap that they have to capture every possible efficiency," Swanson says. "The average consumer doesn't care, and they're not going to pay one penny more."
For now, that choice seems far away. Authorities have found "mad cow" disease in only a single cow in Canada, although it was reported Wednesday that five steers that once were part of that cow's herd had been shipped to Montana and later sent to slaughter. Officials caution that there's no reason to believe the bulls were infected because all other animals from that herd have tested negative.
Even so, the authorities have taken no chances: The United States closed the border to Canadian cattle and beef products after the discovery, and teams of USDA and FDA investigators descended on Canada and Montana.
Even if this case is contained, authorities want to head off disaster. Scientists know there's only one way a cow — a natural herbivore — can get bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, the brain-wasting disease that in its human form has killed at least 150 people worldwide since 1996 and devastated the British beef industry. It has to be given feed by its human handlers that contains infected animal byproducts. In short, someone has to feed it ground-up cow.
The FDA tests 600 domestic and 600 import feed samples a year for prohibited materials, which include ground-up ruminants — animals that chew their cud such as cows, sheep and goats — in cow feed. Consumer groups say this is woefully inadequate.
On Nov. 6, the FDA published an "advance notice of proposed rulemaking," federal-speak indicating that the agency might change meat industry regulations. The FDA notice was couched as the beginning of a discussion on whether it was even necessary to change the rules on cattle feeding practices.
The leisurely nature of this discussion is gone. Industry leaders agree current U.S. rules on the feeding of cattle — the mostly likely source of the infection in Canada — will undergo a major overhaul, though no one can say when.
"Before this thing in Canada happened, I really doubted there would be much change," says Rex Runyon of the American Feed Industry Association. "But now ... it's going to happen; they're going to make some changes."
The five areas of discussion the FDA delineated in its November notice include:
•Excluding brain and spinal cord from animal byproducts. Before the outbreak of mad cow in Britain, cows were given feed that included the ground-up remnants of cows. The most dangerous of these byproducts are the brains and spinal cords, the tissues that harbor the most infectious agents. Mad cow is caused by prions, proteins that for unknown reasons fold into the wrong shape and wreak havoc.
As for using the parts of animals that we don't consume, the rendering industry was considered an ecological success until mad cow, says Will Hueston, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Animal Health and Food Safety and a BSE expert.
"You were cooking the material, reducing the bulk, extracting the fat which could be used in soaps, candles, fuels and a whole range of industrial uses, and the rendered protein material turned out to be a great protein supplement. It looked like a win-win situation," Hueston says. "And remember that prior to BSE, everyone believed that the high-temperature cooking in rendering kills all the disease organisms."
What happened in Britain in the late 1980s was a cycle of infection in which a sick animal's parts went into the feed and infected more animals. Britain eventually banned the feeding of meat and bone meal to animals, which stopped the disease in its tracks.
In response to the outbreak in Britain and other European countries, the United States and Canada in 1997 made it illegal to feed cows meat and bone meal made from ruminants. The feed bans in both countries do allow use of that feed for poultry and pigs.
But the larger concern since the inception of that ban has been that there were too many loopholes, too many ways for material that can transmit mad cow to get to cows and then possibly to humans.
The crisis "calls for some pretty drastic measures if we're going to try to ensure the safety of the beef industry," says Larry Hollis, an extension veterinarian at Kansas State University. To him, and to many in the industry, a total ban keeping all mammal by-products out of animal feed might be the only way to protect consumers. "Some people are so hung up on low-cost production that they will violate whatever rules are there," Hollis says. "Unless we keep it out of the feed stream for any purpose, we could have trouble."
Says John Stauber, author of Mad Cow USA: Could the Nightmare Happen Here?: "What we need to do is obvious but economically painful for the livestock industry. That's to implement exactly the same regulations that exist in Britain and Europe and ban all feeding of slaughterhouse waste to livestock."
New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle, author of Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology and Bioterrorism, says: "There are lots of reasons why cannibalism isn't a good idea. This is a real wake-up call about the way we've been feeding animals."
•The use of poultry litter in cattle feed. In parts of the country where cattle are raised near poultry production areas, it's not uncommon to feed them poultry litter — basically excreta, bedding, spilled feed and feathers. This practice is not allowed in Canada.
Chickens can't get any diseases similar to mad cow, so they can legally be fed meat and bone meal made from cattle. But there is concern that spilled feed as well as partially digested feed might end up back in cattle troughs, resulting in the same potential cycle of infection that caused the British outbreak of mad cow.
"It's gross," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Until BSE, this was this hidden issue of what the animals were eating."
But it makes sense from a nutrition stance, says Neil Lamming, a BSE educator with the Washington state Department of Agriculture. Cows have four stomachs that can digest this material and extract nutrients in a way that animals with one stomach cannot.
Because Washington isn't a major poultry producing state, the practice isn't common there. But Ali Kashani, who manages the state's feed program, acknowledges that there's a public relations problem. "The main reason it's not so widespread is because of consumer reaction to it." Kashani says.
•Eliminating the restaurant-plate waste exemption to the feed ban. The 1997 law that banned most mammalian remains from cattle feed has an interesting provision that clears a path from cuisine to cow. The "plate waste" exemption allows restaurants to sell plate scrapings and leftovers to renderers, which turn them into cattle feed, among other things.
The American Feed Industry Association's Runyon defends the exemption: "How can you tell the consumer 'Hey, you've just eaten a T-bone steak and it's fine for you, but you can't feed it to animals'? "
•The use of pet food in ruminant feed. Retail pet food frequently contains ruminant meat and bone meal, but unlike agricultural animal feed, there's no requirement that it be labeled "Do not feed to cattle or other ruminants." However, out-of-date dry cat and dog food is sometimes sold as salvage and ends up being fed to cattle. The FDA is wondering whether all pet food should be labeled, just in case.
•Preventing cross-contamination of feed. A Government Accounting Office report found that at rendering and feed plants where both ruminant and non-ruminant meat and bone meal were made, cross-contamination could occur. FDA is considering whether it should require that rendering and feed plants be allowed to do only one or the other, but not both, to guard against cross-contamination.
It's in the blood
Spray-dried cow and pig blood is used in feed to provide protein, as a soluble product to mix in animals' drinking water and, most commonly, as a milk replacement for calves. Blood serum is especially effective as a supplement for calves that are removed from their mothers at less than 24 hours after birth.
Though scientists have been able to transmit the sheep version of mad cow via blood, no one has been able to do it in cattle.
But Stauber, author of the Mad Cow book, finds it laughable that while U.S. regulatory agencies are cautious enough about the human blood supply that they don't allow anyone who lived in Britain in the 1980s to donate blood, they feed cow blood to cows every day and then allow them to be eaten. "The question is whether it can be transmitted by oral feeding. But those experiments involve years, if not decades," he says. "We have to err on the side of caution."
In the end, some change is likely, whether from scientific, practical or political necessity.
"I believe there's always going to be folks out there who are maybe going to be trying to cut corners and get ahead of the game," says Shane Sklar, executive director of the Independent Cattleman's Association of Texas. "But we can't risk the entire United States beef industry on a few bad apples that are toying around with trying to make a quick dollar."
But Mad Cow author Stauber, who has followed the disease for more than a decade, says he'll believe in the reforms when he sees them. "Every time there's media attention to this issue, every time consumer and producers start asking questions, we get this lip service out of USDA and FDA that 'Yes, we need to do the right thing; it's just going to take time.' But they're just not ready to bite the bullet — it's too economically painful for the livestock feed industry."
Is it time to Chuck Meat????
The Hidden Cost of Meat
The scarcity myth - solving the hunger in the world problem
Health and a Meatless Diet
our butcher friends suggest the "benefits of meat" might be good for them to read this
Should We All Be Vegetarian?
From TIME Magazine
Is a well-balanced vegetarian diet healthier than one
that includes meat?
....and their conclusion was YES
Everything you need to know about a balanced diet
Some might rightly say that the Meat company wanting to use the Hare Krishna's could be seen as flattering, recognizing the powerful impact that Harinam sankirtan of taking the Lord's Holy name to the streets is having on the world. That would be okay, BUT to use that pure chanting to promote one of the primary principles that we are so against changes flattery to hard in your face insult - it is VERY offensive to associate the Hare Krishna's with meat eating and or animal slaughter.
Actually we are flattered that they recognize us as being such a threat to their industry, exposing the truths that they so carefully try to cover up of what happens to these poor animals to actually reach a meat eaters dinner plate. It points out just how much in-roads we have had in preaching that they consider us their greatest threat, which indeed we are. Hare Krishna is now a household word all over the world, everyone knows that we stand for no meat-eating, no intoxication, no gambling, and no illicit sex outside sacred marriage.
For the meat industry to target their biggest threat, try to ridicule in this way, and have to do so much research in order to imitate us on our street chanting says a lot for the tottering state of the meat industry, not just in NZ but world wide (see US statistic below).
Five Good Reasons to Be a Vegetarian
In the past fifty years millions of meat-eaters have made the personal decision to stop eating the flesh of other creatures. There are five major motivations for such a decision.
1) The Dharmic/Scriptural Law reason
Ahimsa, the law of non injury, is the Hindu's first duty in fulfillment of his religious obligations to God and God's creation as defined by Vedic scripture.
2) The Karmic Consequences reason
All of our actions including our choice of food have karmic consequences. By involving oneself in the cycle of inflicting injury, pain and death, even indirectly by eating other creatures, one must in the future experience in equal measure the suffering caused.
3) The Spiritual Consciousness reason
Food is the source of the body's chemistry, and what we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and experiential patterns. If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then he cannot eat meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of butchered creatures. For these reasons, shakaharis live in higher consciousness and mansaharis abide in lower consciousness.
4) The Health reason
Medical studies prove that a vegetarian diet is easier to digest, provides a wider range of nutrients and imposes fewer burdens and impurities on the body. Vegetarians are less susceptible to all the major diseases that afflict contemporary humanity, and thus live longer, healthier, more productive lives. They have fewer physical complaints, less frequent visits to the doctor, fewer dental problems and smaller medical bills. Their immune system is stronger, their bodies are purer, more refined and skin more beautiful.
5) The Ecological reason
Planet earth is suffering. In large measure, the escalating loss of species, destruction of ancient rain forests to create pasture lands for livestock, loss of top soils and the consequent increase of water impurities and air pollution have all been traced to the single fact of meat in the human diet. No single decision that we can make as individuals or as a race can have such a dramatic effect on the improvement of our planetary ecology as the decision to not eat meat. Many seeking to save the planet for future generations have made this decision for this reason and this reason alone.
"Cattlemen" running scared
SOURCE: "As more teens go vegetarian, cattlemen saddle up,"
The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com/, By Kathy Boccella, February 7th 2003
The group that made real men want to eat beef now wants
to convince young girls that it's cool for them, too.
With about one million kids nationwide forsaking meat and actually eating their vegetables, America's cattlemen are trying to round up the strays and bring them back to the meat-eating herd.
"We're just trying to bring home the point that all foods fit into a healthy diet and, yes, that includes beef," said Mary Young, nutrition director for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Teenagers are the fastest-growing group of vegetarians, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). And young girls are more than twice as likely to stop eating meat as boys are, market researchers say.
To reach them, the cattlemen's group launched a Web site
(www.Cool-2b-real.com) in December that touts healthy living, offers lots
of tasty beef recipes, and makes educational kits available to teachers
who might want to include lessons on beef in their curriculums.
The cattlemen have cause to worry. One in four teenagers considers vegetarianism "cool," according to Teenage Research Unlimited in Illinois. Their reasons vary, but many cite concern for animals, weight loss, and health for giving up meat, nutritionists say.
Two percent of 13- to 17-year-olds ate no meat, poultry or fish in 2000, up from 1.4 percent from 1995, reported Vegetarian Resource Group, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization. Five percent ate no beef or pork in 2000.
PETA says the trend is bigger on college campuses, where
from 15 to 20 percent of students say they're vegetarians.
For the cattlemen, it makes sense to try to brand these youngsters with product loyalty: In not too many years, they will be parents, and feeding their own little calves.
Part of the group's pitch is to warn youngsters, and their
parents, of the dangers of a meatless diet. The cattlemen cite university
research suggesting that youths who don't eat beef are more prone to poor
health, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and even suicidal thoughts.
"Hogwash," said Michele Shuker, a nutritionist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Though she's a beef-eater, she said, "One does not need beef to live a healthy life."
With record numbers of children suffering from obesity, "kids need to get a grip on portion size and get more physical activity," not load up on beef, she said.
To teens devoted to the cause, meat is a four-letter word.
"That's ridiculous," Laura Humpal, 18, of Spring City, said of the cattlemen's campaign. "I'm in fine health. I never get sick, and I've been a vegetarian since I was 8 and vegan [someone who doesn't eat any animal products, including eggs and dairy] since I was 14."
She has never liked meat and would never consider eating it, she said.
To get all her vitamins and nutrients, she eats lots of green leafy vegetables and takes a Vitamin B-12 supplement.
Her friend Ashley Randolph, 17, of Phoenixville, loves meat but became a vegan three years ago and said she feels "lighter, cleaner, more energetic."
She doesn't think meat is necessary for a balanced diet: "You can definitely get by without it."
Such attitudes have the beef industry "running scared," said Bruce Friedrich, a PETA spokesman, "because kids are learning that if they're eating meat, they're promoting cruelty to animals and harming their own health."
With so many children forgoing meat, fish and fowl, 60 percent of the nation's schools offered vegetarian alternatives in 2001, up from 40 percent in 1999, according to the American School Food Service Association.
Students are asking for "fruits, vegetables and vegetarian items," said Erik Peterson, the group's director of media relations. "Teenage girls request salads."
The Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County offers a daily salad bar. And Kimberton Waldorf School in Chester County serves only vegetarian meals, for cost and food-safety reasons.
"I don't believe that meat is the be-all and end-all of nutrition," said Jennifer Keogh, co-director of Kimberton's lunch program. "There are kids eating hamburgers every night, but they're not having vegetables and fruit."
While experts say health concerns usually are only a minor factor in a teen's decision to stop eating meat, the result can be a more nutritious diet than the standard teen fare of burgers, fries and pizza.
A University of Minnesota study of 4,500 teenagers found that young vegetarians consumed more fruits and vegetables and less fast food, cholesterol and regular soda, and more folate, vitamin A, fiber and iron than their meat-eating peers did. However, they also consumed more diet soda and caffeine, and less Vitamin B-12 than non vegetarians.
"The vegetarian teens were doing significantly better on things like fat intake and vegetable intake, which are just two predictors of long-term health," said Cheryl Perry, a co-author of the study.
But the study also found that adolescent vegetarians were
more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies, to report dieting, and
to have been told by a doctor that they had an eating disorder. They were
also more likely to have contemplated or attempted suicide.
Other studies have suggested that low protein diets (associated with vegetarianism) reduce calcium absorption and may have a negative impact on skeletal health.
With many youngsters not eating meat for ethical reasons,
such as concern for animals, telling them they have to eat meat to stay
healthy "is appalling," said Reed Mangels, a nutritionist with the Vegetarian
The sides agree that the majority of teens, regardless of their vegetarian beliefs, have horrible diets. Young, the cattlemen's association nutrition director, says children who become vegetarians are worse off since they don't know what they're doing.
"To have a healthy vegetarian diet, you need to be pretty committed to getting the right nutrients. Most kids this age, meat eaters or vegetarians, are not that committed," she said.
Beef contains iron, zinc and B-12, which are necessary for growth and good health, she said. But those are available in plant based foods and supplements, too, other nutritionists point out.
And though lean beef has plenty of valuable nutrients in it, recipes on the Cool-2b-real Web site - such as taco beef dip, beef chili, and cheeseburger mac and cheese - "are not particularly healthful," Shuker said, noting that they are loaded with high-fat ingredients and short on fruits and vegetables.
Parents who are worried about their child's diet should
consult a registered dietitian, Mangels advised.
Perhaps the cattlemen can learn something from Jessica Watson's parents.
The 23-year-old became a vegetarian when she was 12 because of her love of animals.
"My parents hated it," she said, and tried to force her to eat meat by telling her she would not grow and making her sit at the table until she cleaned her plate.
"Mom's been a vegetarian for three years now, and my dad's been a vegan for five years," said Watson. "It's very satisfying."
Courtesy of the Animal Spirit newsletter:
The Animal Spirit website is up and running again.
More about Vitamins, and the use of a healthy balanced Vegetarian life-style HERE
Vegetarian Fact Sheet HERE
Love and Sorrow
(HinduDharma: Dharmas Common To All)
by the former/late Shankaracharya of Kanchi - understanding Vegetarianism
Should We All Be Vegetarians?
Would we be healthier? Would the planet? The risks and benefits of a meat-free life.
By RICHARD CORLISS
Posted Sunday, July 7, 2002; 10:31 a.m. EST
FIVE REASONS TO EAT MEAT:
1) It tastes good
2) It makes you feel good
3) It's a great American tradition
4) It supports the nation's farmers
5) Your parents did it
Oh, sorry ... those are five reasons to smoke cigarettes.
Meat is more complicated. It's a food most Americans eat virtually every
day: at the dinner table; in the cafeteria; on the barbecue patio; with
mustard at a ballpark; or, a billion times a year, with special sauce,
lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun. Beef is, the TV
commercials say, "America's food"—the Stars and Stripes served up medium
rare—and as entwined with the nation's notion of its robust frontier heritage
as, well, the Marlboro Man.
But these days America's cowboys seem a bit small in the saddle. Those cattle they round up have become politically incorrect: for many, meat is an obscene cuisine. It's not just the additives and ailments connected with the consumption of beef, though a dish of hormones, E. coli bacteria or the scary specter of mad-cow disease might be effective enough as an appetite suppressant. It's that more and more Americans, particularly young Americans, have started engaging in a practice that would once have shocked their parents. They are eating their vegetables. Also their grains and sprouts. Some 10 million Americans today consider themselves to be practicing vegetarians, according to a Time poll of 10,000 adults; an additional 20 million have flirted with vegetarianism sometime in their past.
To get a taste of the cowboy's ancient pride, and current defensiveness, just click on South Dakota cattleman Jody Brown's website, www.ranchers.net, and read the new meat mantras: "Vegetarians don't live longer, they just look older"; and "If animals weren't meant to be eaten, then why are they made out of meat?" (One might ask the same of humans.) For Brown and his generation of unquestioning meat eaters, dinner is something the parents put on the table and the kids put in their bodies. Of his own kids, he says, "We expect them to eat a little of everything." So beef is served nearly every night at the Brown homestead, with nary a squawk from Jeff, 17, Luke, 13, and Hannah, 11. But Jody admits to at least one liberal sympathy. "If a vegetarian got a flat tire in my community," he says, "I'd come out and help him."
For the rancher who makes his living with meat or the vegetarian whose diet could someday drive all those breeder-slaughterers to bankruptcy, nothing is simple any more. Gone is the age of American innocence, or naiveté when such items as haircuts and handshakes, family names and school uniforms, farms and zoos, cowboys and ranchers, had no particular political meaning. Now everything is up for rancorous debate. And no aspect of our daily lives—our lives as food consumers—gets more heat than meat.
For millions of vegetarians, beef is a four-letter word; veal summons charnel visions of infanticide. Many children, raised on hit films like Babe and Chicken Run, recoil from eating their movie heroes and switch to what the meat defeaters like to call a "nonviolent diet." Vegetarianism resolves a conscientious person's inner turf war by providing an edible complex of good-deed-doing: to go veggie is to be more humane. Give up meat, and save lives!
Of course, one of the lives you could save or at least prolong is your own. For vegetarianism should be about more than not eating; it's also about smart eating. You needn't be a born-again foodist to think this. The American Dietetic Association, a pretty centrist group, has proclaimed that "appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."
So, how about it? Should we all become vegetarians? Not just teens but also infants, oldsters, athletes—everyone? Will it help us live longer, healthier lives? Does it work for people of every age and level of work activity? Can we find the right vegetarian diet and stick to it? And if we can do it, will we?
There are as many reasons to try vegetarianism as there
are soft-eyed cows and soft-hearted kids. To impressionable young minds,
vegetarianism can sound sensible, ethical and—as nearly 25% of adolescents
polled by Teenage Research Unlimited said—"cool." College students think
so too. A study conducted by Arizona State University psychology professors
Richard Stein and Carol Nemeroff reported that, sight unseen, salad eaters
were rated more moral, virtuous and considerate than steak eaters. "A century
ago, a high-meat diet was thought to be health-favorable," says Paul Rozin
of the University of Pennsylvania. "Kids today are the first generation
to live in a culture where vegetarianism is common, where it is publicly
promoted on health and ecological grounds." And kids, as any parent can
tell you, spur the consumer economy; that explains in part the burgeoning
sales of veggie burgers (soy, bulgur wheat, cooked rice, mushrooms, onions
and flavorings in Big Mac drag) in supermarkets and fast-food chains.
Children, who are signing on to vegetarianism much faster than adults, may be educating their parents. Vegetarian food sales are savoring double-digit growth. Top restaurants have added more meatless dishes. Trendy "living foods" or "raw" restaurants are sprouting up, like Roxanne's in Larkspur, Calif., where no meat, fish, poultry or dairy items are served, and nothing is cooked to temperatures in excess of 118°F. "Going to my restaurant," says Roxanne Klein, "is like going to a really cool new country you haven't experienced before."
Like any country, vegetarianism has its hidden complexities.
For one thing, vegetarians come in more than half a dozen flavors, from
sproutarians to pesco-pollo-vegetarians. The most notorious are the vegan
(rhymes with intriguin' or fatiguin') vegetarians. The Green Party of the
movement, vegans decline to consume, use or wear any animal products. They
also avoid honey, since its production demands the oppression of worker
bees. TV's favorite vegetarian, the cartoon 8-year-old Lisa Simpson, once
had a crush on a fellow who described himself as "a Level Five vegan—I
don't eat anything that casts a shadow." Among vegan celebrities: the rock
star Moby and Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who swore off steak for
breakfast and insists he feels much better starting his day with miso soup,
brown rice or oat groats.
To true believers—who refrain from meat as an A.A. member does from drink and do a spit-take if told that there's gelatin in their soup—a semi vegetarian is no vegetarian at all. A phrase like pesco-pollo-vegetarian, to them, is an oxymoron, like "lapsed Catholic" or "semivirgin." Vegetarian Times, the bible of this particular congregation, lays down the dogma: "For many people who are working to become vegetarians, chicken and fish may be transitional foods, but they are not vegetarian foods ... the word 'vegetarian' means someone who eats no meat, fish or chicken."
Clear enough? Not to many Americans. In a survey of 11,000 individuals, 37% of those who responded "Yes, I am a vegetarian" also reported that in the previous 24 hours they had eaten red meat; 60% had eaten meat, poultry or seafood. Perhaps those surveyed thought a vegetarian is someone who, from time to time, eats vegetables as a side dish—say, alongside a prime rib. If more than one-third of people in a large sample don't know the broadest definition of vegetarian, one wonders how they can be trusted with something much more difficult: the full-time care and picky-picky feeding of their bodies, whatever their dietary preferences.
We know that fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts are healthy. There are any number of studies that show that consuming more of these plant-based foods reduces the risk for a long list of chronic maladies (including coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes and many cancers) and is a probable factor in increased longevity in the industrialized world. We know that on average we eat too few fruits and vegetables and too much saturated fat, of which meat and dairy are prime contributors. We also know that in the real world, real diets—vegetarian and nonvegetarian—as consumed by real people range from primly virtuous to pig-out voracious. There are meat eaters who eat more and better vegetables than vegetarians, and vegetarians who eat more artery-clogging fats than meat eaters.
The International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition, a major conference on the subject, was held this spring at Loma Linda (Calif.) University. The research papers presented there included some encouraging if tentative findings: that a predominantly vegetarian diet may have beneficial effects for kidney and nerve function in diabetics, as well as for weight loss; that eating more fruits and vegetables can slow, and perhaps reverse, age-related declines in brain function and in cognitive and motor performance—at least in rats; that vegetarian seniors have a lower death rate and use less medication than meat-eating seniors; that vegetarians have a healthier total intake of fats and cholesterol but a less healthy intake of fatty acids (such as the heart-protecting omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil).
But one paper suggested that low-protein diets (associated
with vegetarians) reduce calcium absorption and may have a negative impact
on skeletal health. And although several studies on Seventh-Day Adventists
(typically vegetarians) indicated that they have a longer-than-average
life expectancy, other studies found that prostate-cancer rates were high
in Adventists, and one study found that Adventists were more likely to
suffer hip fractures.
Can it be that vegetarianism is bad for your health? That's a complex issue. There's a big, beautiful plant kingdom out there; you ought to be able to dine healthily on this botanical bounty. With perfect knowledge, you can indeed eat like a king from the vegetable world. But ordinary people are not nutrition professionals. While some vegetarians have the full skinny on how to watch their riboflavin and vitamins D and B12, many more haven't a clue. This is one reason that vegetarians, in a study of overall nutrition, scored significantly lower than nonvegetarians on the USDA's Healthy Eating Index, which compares actual diet with USDA guidelines.
Another reason is that vegans skew the stats, because
their strict avoidance of meat, eggs and dairy products can lead to deficiencies
in iron, calcium and vitamin B12. "These nutrients are the problem," says
Johanna Dwyer, a professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts University.
"At least among the vegans who are also philosophically opposed to fortified
foods and/or vitamin and mineral supplements."
Debates about the efficacy of vegetarianism follow us from cradle to wheelchair. In 1998 child-care expert Dr. Benjamin Spock, who became a vegetarian late in life, stoked a stir by recommending that children over the age of 2 be raised as vegans, rejecting even milk and eggs. The American Dietetic Association says it is possible to raise kids as vegans but cautions that special care must be taken with nursing infants (who don't develop properly without the nutrients in mother's milk or fortified formula). Other researchers warn that infants breast-fed by vegans have lower levels of vitamin B12 and DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid), important to vision and growth.
And there is always the chance of vegetarian theory gone madly wrong in practice. A Queens, N.Y., couple were indicted last May for first-degree assault, charged with nearly starving their toddler to death on a strict diet of juices, ground nuts, herbal tea, beans, flaxseed and cod-liver oils. At 16 months, the girl weighed 10 lbs., less than half the normal weight of a child her age. Their lawyer's defense: "They felt that they have their own lifestyle. They're vegetarians." The couple declined to plea-bargain, and are still in jail awaiting trial.
Many children decide on their own to become vegetarians and are declaring their preference at ever more precocious ages; it's often their first act of domestic rebellion. But a youngster is at a disadvantage insisting on a rigorous cuisine before he or she can cook food—or buy it or even read—and when the one whose menu is challenged is the parent: nurturer, disciplinarian and executive chef. Alicia Hurtado of Oak Park, Ill., has been a vegetarian half her life—she's 8 now—and mother Cheryle mostly indulges her daughter's diet. Still, Mom occasionally sneaks a little chicken broth into Alicia's pasta dishes. "When she can read labels," Cheryle says, "I'll be out of luck."
By adolescence, kids can read the labels but often ignore the ingredients. Research shows that calcium intake is often insufficient in American teens. By contrast, lacto-ovo teens usually have abundant calcium intake. For vegans, however, consuming adequate amounts of calcium without the use of fortified foods or supplements is difficult without careful dietary planning. Among vegan youth who do not take supplements, there is reason for concern with respect to iron, calcium, vitamins D and B12, and perhaps also selenium and iodine.
For four years Christina Economos has run the Tufts longitudinal health study on young adults, a comprehensive survey of lifestyle habits among undergraduates. In general, she finds that "kids who were most influenced by family diet and health values are eating healthy vegetarian or low-meat diets. But there is a whole group of students who decide to become vegetarians and do it in a poor way. The ones who do it badly don't know how to navigate in the vegetarian world. They eat more bread, cheese and pastry products and load up on salad dressing. Their saturated-fat intake is no lower than red-meat eaters, and they are more likely to consume inadequate amounts of vitamin B12 and protein. They may think they are healthier because they are some sort of vegetarian and they don't eat red meat, but in fact they may be less healthy."
Jenny Woodson, 20, now a junior at Duke, has been a vegetarian
from way back. At 6, on a trip to McDonald's, she ordered a tossed salad.
When Jenny lived in a dorm at high school, she quickly realized that teens
do not live on French fries and broccoli alone. "We ended up making vegetarian
sandwiches with bagels and ingredients from the salad bar, cheese fries
and stuffed baked potatoes with cottage cheese." Jenny and her friends
were careful to avoid high-fat, calorie-laden fare at the salad bar, but
for those who don't exercise restraint, salad-bar fixings can become vegetarian
Maggie Ellinger-Locke, 19, of the St. Louis, Mo., suburb of University City, has been a vegetarian for eight years and went vegan at 15. Since then she has not worn leather or wool products or slept under a down comforter. She has not used cups or utensils that have touched meat. "It felt like we were keeping kosher," says Maggie's mother Linda, who isn't Jewish. At high school Maggie was ridiculed, even shoved to the ground, by teen boys who apparently found her eating habits threatening. She found a happy ending, of sorts, enrolling at Antioch College, where she majors in ecofeminism. "Here," she says, "the people on the defensive are the ones who eat meat."
Maggie hit a few potholes on the road to perfection. Until
recently, she smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day (cigarettes, after
all, are plants fortified with nicotine), quitting only because she didn't
want to support the tobacco business. And she freely admits to an eating
disorder: for the past year she has been bulimic, bingeing and vomiting
sometimes as much as once a day to cope with stress. But she insists she
is true to her beliefs: even when bingeing, she remains dedicated to vegan
The American Dietetic Association found that vegetarian diets are slightly more common among adolescents with eating problems but that "recent data suggest that adopting a vegetarian diet does not lead to eating disorders." It can be argued that most American teens already have an eating disorder—fast food, soft drinks and candy are a blueprint for obesity and heart trouble. Why should teens be expected to purge their bad habits just because they have gone veggie? Still, claims Simon Chaitowitz of the pro-vegetarian and animal-rights group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, "Kids are better off being junk-food vegetarians than junk-food meat eaters."
Maybe. According to Dr. Joan Sabate, chairman of the Loma Linda nutrition conference, there are still concerns over vegetarian diets for growing kids or lactating women. When you are in what he calls "a state of high metabolic demand," any diet that excludes foods makes it harder to meet nutrient requirements. But he is quick to add that "for the average sedentary adult living in a Western society, a vegetarian diet meets dietary needs and prevents chronic diseases better than an omnivore diet."
Like kids and nursing moms, athletes need to be especially smart eaters. Their success depends on bursts of energy, sustained strength and muscle mass, factors that require nutrients more easily obtained from meat. For this reason, relatively few top athletes are vegetarians. Besides, says sports nutritionist Suzanne Girard Eberle, the author of Endurance Sports Nutrition, "lots of athletes have no idea how their bodies work. That's why fad diets and supplements are so attractive to them."
Eberle notes that vegetarian diets done correctly are high in fiber and low in fat. "But where are the calories?" she asks. "World-class endurance athletes need in excess of 5,000 or 6,000 calories a day. Competition can easily consume 10,000. You need to eat a lot of plant-based food to get those calories. Being a vegetarian athlete is hard, really hard to do right."
It's not that easy for the rest of America, either. Middle-aged to elderly adults can also develop deficiencies in a vegetarian diet (as they can, of course, with a poor diet that includes meat). Deficiencies in vitamins D and B12 and in iodine, which can lead to goiter, are common. The elderly tend to compensate by taking supplements, but that approach carries risks. Researchers have found cases in which vegetarian oldsters, who are susceptible to iodine deficiency, had dangerously high and potentially toxic levels of iodine in their bodies because they overdid the supplements.
Meat producers acknowledge that vegetarian diets can be
healthy. They also have responded to the call for leaner food; the National
Pork Board says that, compared with 20 years ago, pork is on average 31%
lower in fat and 29% lower in saturated fat, and has 14% fewer calories
and 10% less cholesterol. But the defenders of meat and dairy can also
go on the offensive. They mention the need for B12. And then they ratchet
up the fear factor. Kurt Graetzer, ceo of the Milk Processor Education
Program, scans the drop in milk consumption (not only by vegans but by
kids who prefer soda, Snapple and Fruitopia) and declares, "We are virtually
developing a generation of osteoporotic children."
Dr. Michelle Warren, a professor of medicine at New York Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City—and a member of the Council for Women's Nutrition Solutions, which is sponsored by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association— expresses concern about calcium deficiency connected with a vegan diet: "The most serious consequences are low bone mass and osteoporosis. That is a permanent condition." Warren says that in her practice, she has seen young vegetarians with irregular periods and loss of hair. "And there's a peculiar color, a yellow tinge to the skin," that occurs in people who eat a lot of vegetables rich in beta carotene in combination with a low-calorie diet. "I think it's very unattractive." She also is troubled by the reasons some young vegetarians give for their choice of diet. One female patient, Warren says, wouldn't eat meat because she was told it was the reason her father had a heart attack.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for
Science in the Public Interest in Washington, sees most of the meat and
dairy lobby's arguments as desperate, disingenuous scare stories. "It unmasks
the industry's self-interest," he says, "when it voices concern about B12
while hundreds of thousands of people are dying prematurely because of
too much saturated fat from meat and dairy products." Indeed, according
to David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist, the average American consumes 112
grams of protein a day, twice the amount recommended by the National Academy
of Sciences. "This has implications for cancer risks and stress on the
urinary system," says Pimentel. "And with this protein comes a lot of fat.
Fully 40% of our calories—and heavy cardiovascular risks—come from fat."
Pimentel argues that vegetarianism is much more environment-friendly than diets revolving around meat. "In terms of caloric content, the grain consumed by American livestock could feed 800 million people—and, if exported, would boost the U.S. trade balance by $80 billion a year." Grain-fed livestock consume 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food they produce, compared with 2,000 liters for soybeans. Animal protein also demands tremendous expenditures of fossil-fuel energy—eight times as much as for a comparable amount of plant protein. Put another way, says Pimentel, the average omnivore diet burns the equivalent of a gallon of gas per day—twice what it takes to produce a vegan diet. And the U.S. livestock population—cattle, chickens, turkeys, lambs, pigs and the rest—consumes five times as much grain as the U.S. human population. But then there are 7 billion of them; they outnumber us 25 to 1.
In the spirit of fair play to cowboy Jody Brown and his endangered breed, let's entertain two arguments in favor of eating meat. One is that it made us human. "We would never have evolved as large, socially active hominids if we hadn't turned to meat," says Katharine Milton, an anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. The vegetarian primates (orangutans and gorillas) are less social than the more omnivorous chimpanzees, possibly because collecting and consuming all that forage takes so darned much time. The early hominids took a bold leap: 2.5 million years ago, they were cracking animal bones to eat the marrow. They ate the protein-rich muscle tissue, says Milton, "but also the rest of the animal—liver, marrow, brains—with their high concentrations of other nutrients. Evolving humans ate it all."
Just as important, they knew why they were eating it. In Milton's elegant phrase, "Solving dietary problems with your head is the trajectory of the primate order." Hominids grew big on meat, and smart on that lovely brain-feeder, glucose, which they got from fruit, roots and tubers. This diet of meat and glucose gave early man energy to burn—or rather, energy to play house, to sing and socialize, to make culture, art, war. And finally, about 10,000 years ago, to master agriculture and trade—which provided the sophisticated system that modern humans can use to go vegetarian.
The other reason for beef eating is, hold on, ethical—a matter of animal rights. The familiar argument for vegetarianism, articulated by Tom Regan, a philosophical founder of the modern animal-rights movement, is that it would save Babe the pig and Chicken Run's Ginger from execution. But what about Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? asks Steven Davis, professor of animal science at Oregon State University, pointing to the number of field animals inadvertently killed during crop production and harvest. One study showed that simply mowing an alfalfa field caused a 50% reduction in the gray-tailed vole population. Mortality rates increase with each pass of the tractor to plow, plant and harvest. Rabbits, mice and pheasants, he says, are the indiscriminate "collateral damage" of row crops and the grain industry.
By contrast, grazing (not grain-fed) ruminants such as cattle produce food and require fewer entries into the fields with tractors and other equipment. Applying (and upending) Regan's least-harm theory, Davis proposes a ruminant-pasture model of food production, which would replace poultry and pork production with beef, lamb and dairy products. According to his calculations, such a model would result in the deaths of 300 million fewer animals annually (counting both field animals and cattle) than would a completely vegan model. When asked about Davis' arguments, Regan, however, still sees a distinction: "The real question is whether to support production systems whose very reason for existence is to kill animals. Meat eaters do. Ethical vegetarians do not."
The moral: there is no free lunch, not even if it's vegetarian. For now, man is perched at the top of the food chain and must live with his choice to feed on the living things further down. But even to raise the question of a harvester Hiroshima is to show how far we have come in considering the humane treatment of that which is not human. And we still have a way to go. "It may take a while," says actress and vegetarian Mary Tyler Moore, "but there will probably come a time when we look back and say, 'Good Lord, do you believe that in the 20th century and early part of the 21st, people were still eating animals?'"
It may take a very long while. For most people, meat still does taste good. And can "America's food" ever be tofu?
—Reported by Melissa August and Matthew Cooper/Washington, David Bjerklie and Lisa McLaughlin/New York, Wendy Cole/Chicago and Jeffrey Ressner/ Los Angeles
An interesting book worth reading; Vegetarianism:Movement