The terms “vegetarianism” or “veganism” often are followed by cringes or comments of extremism. Plant-based diets are put to shame almost upon mention, but the reasons are somewhat unclear. Generally, diets are clumped with many other categories of fads, but it seems that proponents of plant-based diets might have some validity in their arguments.
Walk into any public elementary school cafeteria, and you will see a food pyramid sticky tacked to a wall to remind kids that taking two cookies may not be the best choice for one meal. According to the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, we all need to reconsider our notions of what the best choices for our bodies really are.
“Action is needed along the entire food processing, delivery, and service supply chain in order to provide the U.S. population with affordable and accessible foods that are nutrient dense and low in added sugars and sodium,” outlines the Advisory Report.
Plants offer a variety of health benefits that cannot be replicated in other foods. Today, America is seen as one of the top nations in agrarian science, yet the vast majority of our citizens face deficits in vitamins A, C, D, and E, iron, fiber, potassium, calcium, and many more vital nutrients. Further, Americans get an average of 67 percent of their protein from animal sources in comparison with a worldwide average of 34 percent. Our primary consumption of meat replaces fruits and vegetables as opposed to incorporating them, and it leaves us malnourished in an ironically prosperous country.
For an overwhelming few, food has gone from a necessity to a luxury. For most of the world, though, food security remains a daily life-and-death struggle — including domestically. The most efficient way to provide for the hungry may not be raising and slaughtering animals. It takes 10 pounds of plant protein to produce one pound of beef protein. Measures can, and should, be taken to change that. In addition to the amount of resources used, 171 different species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act specifically because of environmental damage caused by grazing livestock. That environmental damage maybe in the form of increased methane in the atmosphere, changes in vegetative structure, alterations in the species that make up a particular plant community, or even altered seed dispersal and germination. Ultimately, biodiversity and the environment are both at risk in the inefficient attempt to feed a starving world.
In addition, current and past studies have associated heart disease, one of America’s top killers, with meat and dairy consumption. It is not that these foods are inherently bad, but our excessive consumption means the cholesterol and the fat content add up. We live in a society that is quick to exploit, yet slow to reconsider. Food should feed and nourish, not destroy. Hippocrates understood the importance of these issues centuries ago when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
My argument is not that eating meat or dairy is an unnecessary evil. In fact, it is important to realize the significance certain animal-based dishes have played in many cultural traditions and even economics. However, when the costs outweigh the benefits, it is time to reconsider the importance of tradition and, in the act of eating meat, mindful consumption is of the utmost importance. The USDA has already concluded that vegetarian diets are capable of meeting the recommended dietary allowances for nutrients.
A diverse and colorful plant-based diet, focused on consuming seasonal fruits and vegetables, could potentially be the change that reverses some of our most adverse impacts on the environment. We have an opportunity here to sacrifice our morning bacon for a cup of fruit in favor of a wholesome body and a wholesome world. While you could sit and argue over the ethics of the situation as well, the impacts show that a method-change in food handling, distribution, and consumption might be past due. Would anyone truly concerned about the well being of our Earth knowingly pass up this opportunity? I never said it would easy, but it seems to me that it is definitely worth a shot.