By: Prema Vilas Krishna Dasa
A detailed analysis on various aspects of vegetarian diet and how it scores over a non-vegetarian diet.
Non-vegetarian food costs much more than money; it costs HELL (Health, Environment, Life – Subhuman, Life – Human), an acronym that conveys poignantly four hidden costs of a non-vegetarian diet. Let's first look at these hidden costs and then see how we can practically adopt vegetarianism.
Food researcher John Robbins, author of the widely-acclaimed Diet For A New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness, and the Future of Life on Earth, states, "Feedlot beef as we know it today would be impossible if it weren't for the routine and continual feeding of antibiotics to these animals. This leads directly and inexorably to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These are the new 'superbugs' that are increasingly rendering our 'miracle drugs' ineffective."
Stated simply, the stomachs of cattle are made to digest grass, not grains. But most slaughterhouses, to avoid the costs associated with grazing land, feed grains to their captives. This unnatural change of diet imposed on the cattle causes many diseases in them. So the cattle are routinely administered antibiotics, which lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their bodies. When we humans eat their meat, those resistant bacteria enter into our bodies and render ineffective the antibiotics we take.
Here's an extract from the table on The Comparative Anatomy of Eating prepared by Milton R. Mills, M.D. (http://www.vegsource.com/articles2/anatomy_mills.htm)
We may still have a residual doubt: will vegetarian food give us sufficient physical strength? Why not? If vegetarian food gives elephant, rhinoceros and hippopotamus their super-human strength, why will it not give us our human strength?
Nature could have hardly have made a clearer statement through human anatomy about the diet that is natural for humans.
Let's now examine the common notion that if we don't eat meat, we will suffer from protein deficiency.
Here's what The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-profit Washington D C-based organization of 4,500 medical doctors, says, "High protein diets are unhealthy. However, adequate but not excess amounts of protein to maintain body tissues, including muscle, are still important and can be easily achieved on a vegetarian diet" PCRM points out that the excess proteins resulting from a meat-centered diet contribute to osteoporosis, cancer, heart diseases and impaired kidney functioning. PCRM recommends the following healthy protein sources:
(All PCRM references are from http://www.pcrm.org )
In his Pulitzer Prize nominated-book, How to Survive in America, The Poisoned, Lewis Regenstein writes, "Meat contains approximately 14 times more pesticides than do plant foods…Thus, by eating foods of animal origin, one ingests greatly concentrated amounts of hazardous chemicals."
Naturally, these chemicals cause many diseases in meat-eaters. Let's look at just two of them:
Heart disease: So many studies have confirmed that heart disease is initiated or aggravated by a meat-centered diet that William Castelli, M.D., director of the Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running clinical study in medical history, declared, "If Americans adopted a vegetarian diet, the whole thing [the heart disease epidemic] would disappear."
[Author’s note: I have focussed on American statistics in this article because, firstly, the most systematic and extensive research on this topic has been done in American and, secondly, America is the trend-setter for most of the world.]
Cancer: Dr. T. Colin Campbell, one of the world's foremost epidemiological researchers, announces, "Human studies also support this carcinogenic effect of animal protein, even at usual levels of consumption. … No chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein" (http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/cancer.aspx)
The medical costs of meat consumption, based on 1992 data, but inflated to 2011 dollars corresponding to increases in medical costs, are estimated at approximately $60 billion to $130 billion annually. If 5 percent of these costs were saved, it would amount to $30 billion to $65 billion over a 10-year period. (http://www.pcrm.org/search/?cid=2836)
Assembly-line meat factories (read 'hi-tech slaughterhouses') cause enormous pollution of water bodies. In a New York Times article (2008/01/27), specialist food writer Mark Bittman states, "In Iowa, USA alone, hog farms and hog factories produce more than 50 million tons of excrement."
Moreover these factories also generate significant greenhouse gases. Well-known environmentalist R K Patchauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reports in the The Impact of Meat Production and Consumption on Climate Change, "A Japanese study estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef emits as much carbon dioxide as is emitted by the average European car every 155 miles." He further points out, "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18% of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions."
The environmental fallouts of assembly-line meat factories don't end with water and air pollution; they extend far beyond to include the consumption of enormous amounts of energy and the consumption of ever-increasing amounts of grains, thus leading to enormous deforestation.
3. Life – Subhuman:
Researcher Arthur Poletti, author of God Does Not Eat Meat, states, "The average American consumes in a 72-year lifetime approximately 11 cattle, 3 lambs and sheep, 23 hogs, 45 turkeys, 1,100 chickens and 862 pounds of fish…In the United States alone approximately 660,000 animals are killed for meat every hour."
Our meat diet causes not just the death, but also torturous death. Here are just three examples of the terrible torture that is typical in slaughterhouses:
Hens: Hens are so tightly packed in the battery cages that they cannot move an inch during their encagement. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) recommends giving each hen four inches of 'feeder space'. In this little space the birds cannot stretch their wings or legs, and cannot fulfil normal behavioral patterns. Constantly rubbing against the wire cages, they suffer from severe feather loss, and their bodies are covered with bruises and abrasions. They are forced by chemical manipulation to lay about 200-220 eggs every year, leading to weakened bones and several other painful maladies.
Male chicks: As male chicks can't lay eggs, they are of no economic value. So they are ruthlessly disposed of by throwing into trashcans or plastic bags where they undergo an excruciating death due to suffocation or due to being crushed under the weight of other chicks. Or they are mercilessly ground to powder while alive in the hope of making their remnants into manure.
Veal: A newborn calf is taken within 24 hours of birth from the mother cow to a veal factory. There, it is locked up lifelong in a small box where it doesn't even have enough space to stand properly. As if this were not bad enough, it is injected with hormones and antibiotics to artificially fatten it more and more – till the last day of its life.
4. Life – Human:
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization 930 million people on our planet suffer from hunger or malnutrition. This starvation is not due to shortage of land, but due to misuse of the land for growing livestock fodder instead of human food. According to Dr David Pimentel, as quoted in The Vegan Sourcebook, the percentage of all cereal grains grown in the US that goes to feed livestock and not people is a staggering 72%.
Such use of land is inherently inefficient, as is explained by researcher George Stanley McGovern in his book Food and Population: A World in Crisis.
When animals eat grains and then humans eat their flesh, the nutritional value that humans get is around one-fifth of what they would get if they ate the grains directly.
A meat-centered diet is inefficient not only in nutritional value, but also in land utilization. The US Department of Agricultural Economic Research Service reports that 16 kg of grain are needed to produce 1 kg of beef. Consequently, as is depicted in the adjacent diagram, the average land produce required to feed one beef-eater can be used to feed 10 grain-eaters.
While the exact figures of inefficiency may vary from survey to survey due to the criterion used for comparison, the core fact of colossal inefficiency is undeniable. That's why Mark W Rosegrant of the International Food Policy Research Institute declares meat-eating to be as harmful as smoking and calls for "a stronger public relations campaign in the reduction of meat consumption – one like that around cigarettes – emphasizing personal health, compassion for animals, and doing good for the poor and the planet."
The Appeal to Conscience
In our present times, we have scores of statistics like the ones quoted above to make the logic of vegetarianism compellingly clear. But even without these statistics, the resonance of vegetarianism with our essential human conscience and intelligence is so intuitively strong that eminent thinkers throughout history have not only chosen but also championed vegetarianism. To illustrate, here are the quotes of just a few reputed vegetarians:
"As long as man massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love…Those that kill animals to eat their flesh tend to massacre their own."
"Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! I have since an early age abjured the use of meat."
– Leonardo Da Vinci
"Flesh eating is unprovoked murder."
– Benjamin Franklin
"The flesh eating is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to moral feeling- killing. By killing man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity – that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself – and by violating this his own feelings become cruel."
– Leo Tolstoy
"When a man wants to murder a tiger, he calls it sport; when a tiger wants to murder him, he calls him ferocity…While our bodies are the living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on earth?"
– George Bernard Shaw
"It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind….Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. "
– Albert Einstein
"A dead cow or sheep lying in a pasture is recognized as carrion. The same sort of a carcass dressed and hung up in a butcher's stall passes as food."
– J. H. Kellogg.
"We have enslaved the rest of animal creation and have treated so badly that, if they were to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form."
– William Ralph
Regaining moral courage:
The foregoing statistics-based analysis indicates that the acronym HELL is not just a mnemonic; it conveys the disturbing reality that persistence in meat-eating is creating hell here on earth.
Unfortunately, many meat-eaters become angry when reminded that their dietary preferences are contributing to such hellish consequences. American author Matthew Scully points out the moral implications of such an aggressive denial: "When he [the meat-eater] gets angry at being reminded of animal suffering that his own daily choices might help avoid, that is moral cowardice."
We don't have to be victimized by moral cowardice. Regaining our moral courage and dignity becomes easy when we experience the sublime happiness of Krishna consciousness. Ultimately, all of us are pleasure-seeking and meat promises pleasure for our taste buds. However, Krishna consciousness offers a far greater pleasure – not just for our taste buds, but for our entire being. Let's see how.
1. Spiritual food: Krishna conscious culture doesn't stop with naturalizing our diet as is done by vegetarianism; it goes further to spiritualize it by sanctifying the vegetarian food. As recommended in the Bhagavad-gita (3.17). Krishna conscious cuisine comprises numerous delicacies offered to Krishna and taken as his remnants (prasad). These offer such immense satisfaction to our taste buds that we can soon reject and even forget the taste of flesh and blood. Moreover, prasad goes beyond satisfying our material taste buds to whetting our appetite for spiritual happiness.
2. Spiritual happiness: Prasad is just one of the many aids offered by Krishna consciousness to re-connect with Krishna, who is the reservoir of unlimited spiritual happiness. This re-connection helps us reclaim the spiritual happiness that is our right as beloved children of Krishna. Once we experience just a fraction of that happiness, we can eschew harmful sensual indulgences like meat-eating that were earlier irresistible – not reluctantly, but joyfully (Bhagavad-gita 2.61). Just as the candle that was indispensable at night becomes entirely dispensable on sunrise, the tastes that were irresistible during our night-like spiritual unawareness become entirely dispensable when we become spiritual illuminated. Self-restraint no longer remains an exercise in self-denial; it becomes a welcome choice for catapulting us to further spiritual happiness. The easiest way to experience this spiritual happiness is by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra regularly as a spiritual discipline and additionally as a spiritual defense mechanism whenever we feel tempted.
To conclude, objective logical analysis provides a clinching case for vegetarianism and Krishna consciousness helps us clinch the case.