In Brief—Healthful and tasty vegetarian meals give us energy while they simultaneously preserve the habitability of the planet, save sentient animals and prolong human lives.
Healthful Eating Can Save Lives…and Earth—
Imagine a chessboard seen from above, the white squares representing ecologically diverse tropical forest and the black squares representing land denuded of trees, and you have an ecological test laboratory that reveals how climate change can affect our survival. Not just our survival but the survival of thousands of species from trees and insects to the mammals living within those laboratories.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction draws a sobering picture of how humans are affecting our home planet from the Amazon to the ocean to the Poles. The chessboard I have discussed can be found in Kolbert’s book. Even now, those barren spots are growing grass to fatten the cattle that will wind up on your plate. Nearby, the shrinking tropical forest is leading to the extinction of countless species unable to adapt to the warming world we have wrought. With those extinctions will disappear the cures to many diseases. Will the recently concluded Paris climate meeting that is being ballyhooed as a success save Earth’s bacon? Don’t bet the farm on it.
Several decades ago, I decided to switch to a vegetarian diet. I had grown up eating meat, enjoying a rare steak, pork chops, chicken, with nary a thought about the animals I was eating. It was a habit, an enjoyable one, but a habit nonetheless. Almost on impulse—perhaps because of my social environment—I decided to become a vegetarian.
At first, I missed meat, the flavor and texture, but then I began to notice something different. My weight dropped to an ideal level and held yet I was eating the same amount. I never felt hungry after a meal. Stranger still, when I showered I no longer smelled like the meat I had eaten earlier. I smelled…clean.
The dishes I was eating were flavorful: green vegetables, grains, nuts seeds, fruit, tofu. The spices added pleasure to my palate. The amount of salt I had once used diminished, yet I was not deliberately cutting back. The need simply wasn’t there. The energy was there. I can’t say now whether there was more, but I can definitely say it wasn’t less.
Until I did the research for my blog piece “Eat Your Veggies,” the animals that provide the meat in our diets didn’t cross my mind. In the years since my foray into vegetarianism, I have learned that the animals we so thoughtlessly slaughter are aware of their coming demise and are understandably frightened. Wild-eyed cows can sometimes be seen trying to escape as they approach the slaughterhouse. Chickens, pigs, calves and lambs are kept in tiny cages until they are slaughtered to fill our stomachs. We eat that steak, order those McNuggets, fry those pork chops without a thought about how those animals feel, how they lived and died.
Our son and daughter are both vegetarians, have been for years and both are healthy. In turn, they have influenced their cousins who are vegetarians or vegans. When we first moved to Sweden in 1994, ordering a vegetarian meal led to a plate that included shrimp. Today, schools and restaurants throughout the country serve genuine vegetarian foods that are flavorful and nutritious.
As I put it in “Eat Your Veggies,” a meat-eater always asks, “Can I get the protein I need to be healthy?” The simple answer is, “Yes.” If you can’t stand tofu, then whole grains, nuts, beans of all types, dark greens, peas, avocado, broccoli, eggs, yogurt and cheeses will provide you with more than enough protein to keep you healthy. The added bonus is that you will be able to shed unwanted extra weight while eating—and enjoying—all you want.
Will you miss meat? Probably so at first, but eventually that craving will pass. If you don’t believe that, then at least think about those poor animals experiencing raw fear as they are herded to the slaughterhouse to fill your stomach. And think about our suffering planet, the only home we have.
Since starting this piece, a friend sent me a TEDx Talk by Melanie Joy that presents the benefits of eating vegetables instead of animals, but it contains a genuinely disturbing clip of the animals we ignore. Please watch it at http://youtu.be/o0VrZPBskpg. Think of the animals and what you eat.
I encourage you to help preserve the habitability of the planet and eat delicious vegetarian food at the same time. There are several different types of vegetarianism and one of them will surely fill your needs.
Type into your browser “Vegetarian/Vegan Recipes” and you will find reams of recipes. Not only will you eat delicious food, you will be saving the planet and countless animals in the bargain. Go ahead, Go Vegetarian/Vegan.