Here’s an article I wrote that was published in the Toronto Vegetarian Association’s Journal, as well as a few other health magazines. I feel that this article is relevant to the Nexus site because of the central themes of non-violence and compassion.
HEALTH WORLD PEACE AND THE VEGETARIAN DIET
People all around the world are turning to a vegetarian diet. The reasons range from health and economics to ethics and religion. In North America alone there are over ten million people who now consider themselves vegetarian.
Among those who have renounced meat are some great and famous people. Henry David Thoreau wrote: “I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals.” The twentieth century apostle of non-violence Mohandas Gandhi was a vegetarian. In his book ‘Moral Basis of Vegetarianism’ Gandhi wrote, “I hold flesh-food to be unsuited to our species. We err in copying the lower animal world if we are superior to it.” George Bernard Shaw’s doctors warned that a vegetarian diet would kill him. When older, he was asked why he didn’t go back and show the doctors the good that vegetarianism had done him. Shaw replied, “I would, but they all passed away years ago.” H.G. Wells wrote about vegetarianism in his vision of a future world: “In all the round world of Utopia there is not meat.” Nobel-prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer became a vegetarian at fifty-eight. He said, “Naturally I am sorry now that I waited so long, but it is better late than never.” The Bible states, “Thou shall not kill,” and Jesus Christ said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Lord Buddha also taught the principle of non-violence, to protect innocent creatures from being slaughtered. Finally, the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein said, “The vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.”
HEALTH AND THE MEATLESS DIET
Is the human body better suited to a vegetarian diet or one that includes meat? Although we are technically considered omnivores, physiological comparisons indicate that the human body is designed for a vegetarian diet. Carnivorous animals have claws, no skin pores (they perspire through the tongue), sharp front teeth for tearing, no flat molar teeth for grinding, and an intestinal tract three times their body length so rapidly decaying meat can pass out quickly, and strong hydrochloric acid in the stomach to digest meat. The human body is closer in design to a herbivor’s because we don’t have claws, we perspire through skin pores, we have flat rear molars but not sharp front teeth, our intestinal tract is twelve times our body length, and our stomach acid is twenty times weaker than a carnivore’s.
The human digestive system can have great difficulty digesting meat. Since meat is really just part of a corpse, its putrefaction creates poisonous wastes within the body and thus meat must be quickly eliminated. The short intestinal tract of the carnivore is designed for this quick elimination process. The human body has a very long digestive tract that retains rapidly decaying flesh for a much longer time, producing a number of toxic effects.
The kidneys are adversely affected by these toxins. This vital organ extracts wastes from the blood and becomes strained by the overload of poisons introduced by meat consumption. The kidneys demand three times more work from even moderate meat-eaters.
As early as 1961 the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’ stated that 90 to 97 percent of heart disease could be prevented by a vegetarian diet. The American Heart Association reports that a “high-saturated-fat diet is an essential factor in coronary disease.” The human body is unable to deal with excessive animal fats in the diet. When, over time, excess fat is consumed, the fatty deposits accumulate on the inner walls of the arteries leading to a condition known as arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Numerous studies about the relationship between colon cancer and meat-eating provide further evidence of the unsuitability of the human intestinal tract for digestion of flesh. One reason for the higher rate of colon cancer among people who consume a meat-centered diet is meat’s low fibre content. The lack of fibre results in a slow transit time through the colon, allowing toxic wastes to do their damage. Studies from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of California at Berkeley indicate that “Dietary fibre appears to aid in reducing…colon and rectal cancer.” Moreover, while being digested, meat is known to generate steroid metabolites possessing carcinogenic (cancer-producing) properties. Evidence linking meat-eating to other forms of cancer is building at an alarming rate. The National Academy of Sciences reports that “people may be able to prevent many common cancers by eating less fatty meats and more vegetables and grains.” Also in his ‘Notes on the Causation of Cancer” Roll Russell writes, “I have found of twenty-five nations eating flesh largely, nineteen had a high cancer rate and only one had a low rate, and that of thirty-five nations eating little or no flesh, none had a high rate.”
Numerous other potentially hazardous chemicals are present in meat and meat products. Growth hormones such as diethylstilbestrol (DES) and arsenic continue to be used in the meat industry despite studies that have shown it to be carcinogenic and/or poisonous.
Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are chemicals used as preservatives to slow down putrefaction in cured meat and meat products. These chemicals give meat their bright red appearance and without them, the natural grey-brown colour of dead meat would turn off many prospective consumers. The FDA points out that “only a small margin of safety exists between the amount of nitrate that is safe and that which may be dangerous.” These chemicals do not distinguish between the blood of a corpse and the blood of a living person, and many persons accidentally subjected to excessive amounts have died of poisoning.
The excessive amount of antibiotics used by the livestock industry affects human health because the antibiotics are showing up in the meat being consumed which contributes to the increase in drug -resistant bacteria and infectious diseases.
As well as dangerous chemicals, meat often carries diseases from the animals themselves. Animals are crammed together in unclean conditions, force-fed and inhumanely treated. As a result animals destined for slaughter contract many more diseases than they ordinarily would. Because of pressures from the meat industry and lack of sufficient time for inspections, the attempts of meat inspectors to filter out unacceptable meats do not succeed and as a result, much of what passes is far less wholesome than the meat purchaser realizes.
THE HIGH COST OF MEAT
In practical terms, the meat production process is extremely wasteful and costly. The meat industry is so costly that it needs subsidies in order to survive. The majority of people are unaware of the extent to which governments support their meat industries by means of grants, favourable loan guarantees and so forth. The government spends millions of dollars each year to maintain a nationwide network of inspectors to monitor the little-publicized problem of animal diseases. Despite much evidence from government health agencies showing the link between meat eating and cancer and heart disease, government continues to spend millions promoting meat consumption.
Another price we pay for meat-eating is degradation of the environment. The heavily contaminated runoff and sewage from thousands of slaughterhouses and feedlots are a major source of pollution of the nation’s rivers and streams. The fresh water resources of this planet are becoming polluted and depleted, and the meat industry is particularly wasteful in this regard. Paul and Anne Ehrlich in their book ‘Population, Resources and Environment’ found that to grow one pound of wheat requires only sixty pounds of water. In contrast, a pound of meat requires anywhere from 2,500-6,000 pounds of water.
According to studies one acre of grain produces five times more protein than an acre of pasture set aside for meat production. An acre of beans or peas produces ten times more and an acre of spinach twenty-eight times more protein.
THE CAUSE OF VIOLENCE AND WAR
Despite impressive progress in science and technology, our world is faced with a crisis of unremitting violence. This violence emerges in the shape of wars, terrorism, murder and vandalism. More than 145 wars have been fought since The United Nations formed in 1945. In North America well over 20,000 people are murdered each year. At this time in our modern society, the propensity for mercy is almost nil. Social and political solutions fail to resolve these problems of violence. Perhaps it’s time to analyze the problem from a different perspective- the law of action and reaction.
The law of action and reaction proposes that because people kill so many animals for food and sport, they in turn will also be cruelly slaughtered like animals in big wars. The slaughter of countless helpless animals therefore becomes linked to violence in society generally.
Also, the wasteful process of meat production creates social conflict. The meat industry requires more land than vegetable agriculture. This has been a source of economic conflict in human society for thousands of years. As a result the meat industry has created a dilemma where there is not enough to go around. There lurks a fear in us all that we will be the one who won’t get enough. It is out of such fears that some wars arise. As a result, conflicts stem from territorial disputes and become more frequent and more intense. Basic human needs become less important that property rights. Consequently, we are set off against each other. Meat-eating makes food scarce and puts us at odds with each other. Our world history is full of battles that were fought because meat-eating societies needed more land to graze their stock.
Gandhi urged us to “live simply so others might simply live.” Over two thousand years ago, another wise man,Socrates, said much the same thing: “And with such a vegetarian diet they may be expected to live in peace and health to a good old age, and bequeath a similar life to their children after them.”
Never before has it been so important as it is now to distinguish between basic human needs and excessive cravings. Never has it been more important to understand and defuse fears that drive humanity to war. If any person on the planet is starving we feel it…we’re all connected.
A significant step toward a non-violent world would be a new direction for the standard North American diet. Vegetarianism is the most significant step in creating a more simple lifestyle and in creating peace on earth. A nonviolent world has its roots in a nonviolent diet.
References: Based on teachings of Prabhupada in “The Higher Taste” and “Diet For A New America” by John Robbins.