Four Logical Reasons to Become a Vegetarian
“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
question that devotees are often asked. Devotees base their dietary choice on scriptural directions, knowing those directions embody timeless wisdom that eclipses passing dietary fads. Nonetheless, those same scriptures recommend (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.19.17) that we convey their faultless message to worldly-minded people by using the means of acquiring knowledge that such people esteem: empirical observation and logical inference, for example. In keeping with this scriptural spirit, this article shows how scientific research based on observation and inference are increasingly vindicating the scriptural recommendations for vegetarianism.
Let’s look at some of this scientific research in terms of an acronym that encapsulates the benefits of vegetarianism: HELP (Health, Environment, Livestock, Poverty). When we choose vegetarian food instead of non-vegetarian food, we help the world in four ways: by improving our own health, by preventing unnecessary harm to the environment, by stopping murderous violence against the livestock and by decreasing global hunger and poverty.
Cows’ stomachs are made to digest grass, not grains. Still, most slaughterhouses feed grains to their captives in order to avoid the costs associated with providing for grazing land. Due to this unnatural change in their diet, the poor animals become afflicted by many diseases. To counter these diseases, they are routinely administered antibiotics, which lead to the formation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their bodies. When we humans eat their flesh, those resistant bacteria enter our bodies and render ineffective the antibiotics we take. Referring to these resistant bacteria, 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, “These are the new ‘superbugs’ that are increasingly rendering our ‘miracle drugs’ ineffective.”
Anatomy: Please refer to the table shown below, which is an extract from the table The Comparative Anatomy of Eating1, prepared by Milton R. Mills, M.D.
Mother Nature could hardly have made a clearer statement about what sort of diet is natural for humans than what she has already done through the features of human anatomy.
Nutrition: Let us now examine the common notion that if humans don’t eat meat, they will suffer from protein deficiency.
Commenting on this idea, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. and comprised of 4,500 medical doctors, state,“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.” PCRM2 points out that the excess proteins resulting from a meat-centered diet contribute to osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and impaired kidney functioning. For adequate protein intake, PCRM recommends the following vegetarian protein sources:
And yet, we may still have a residual doubt: Will a vegetarian diet give us sufficient physical strength? Why not? If a vegetarian diet gives elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses their super-human strength, why would it not provide us with our normal human strength?
Disease: 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: Numerous studies have confirmed that heart disease is initiated or aggravated by a meat-centered diet. This verdict is so unequivocal and unanimous that that William Castelli, M.D., director of the Framingham Heart Study, the longest-running clinical study in medical history, declared, “If Americans3 adopted a vegetarian diet, the whole thing [the heart disease epidemic] would disappear.”4
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.”5
The medical costs of meat consumption based on 1992 data, but inflated to 2011 dollars and accounting for increases in medical costs are estimated at approximately $60 billion to $130 billion annually. If only five percent of these costs were saved, it would amount to $30 billion to $65 billion over a ten-year period.6
Assembly-line meat factories (a euphemism for hi-tech slaughterhouses) cause enormous pollution of water-bodies. In a New York Times article (2008/01/27), specialist food writer Mark Bittmanstates stated, “In Iowa [USA] alone, hog farms and hog factories produce more than 50 million tons of excrement.”
Moreover, these meat factories also generate alarming amounts of greenhouse gas. Eminent environmentalist R. K. Patchauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reports in 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 grain, thus leading to staggering deforestation.
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 death, but also torturous suffering. Here are just three examples of the terrible torture that is typical in slaughterhouses.
Hens: Hens are so tightly packed in 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: Because male chicks can’t lay eggs, they are of no economic value. They are ruthlessly disposed of by being tossed into trash cans or plastic bags, where they undergo excruciating deaths by suffocation or by being crushed under the weight of other chicks. In some cases they are mercilessly ground to powder while still alive so that their remains can be made into manure.
Veal: Newborn calves are, within twenty-four hours of their birth, taken away from their mothers to veal factories. There, they are locked up in small boxes where they don’t even have enough space to stand. This is where they are confined for the full duration of their lives. As if this were not bad enough, the calves are injected with hormones and antibiotics to artificially fatten them more and more until the day they are slaughtered.
Even in pre-modern times, eminent thinkers have spoken out against flesh food due to the cruelty it involves. For example, renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci stated, “Truly man is king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! I have since an early age abjured the use of meat.” But in modern times, the setting up of meat factories has aggravated the cruelty to such hideous levels that thinker William Ralph compared humanity with the Devil: “We have enslaved the rest of animal creation and have treated them so badly that, if they were to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 930 million people on our planet live in such poverty that they suffer from hunger or malnutrition. This starvation is not due to shortage of land, but due to misuse of land; more land is used for growing fodder for livestock than for 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 scandalous seventy-two percent.
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 amount of grain required to feed one beef-eater can be used to feed ten grain-eaters.
Breaking Free from Moral Cowardice
The foregoing statistics-based analysis demonstrates that the acronym HELP is not just a mnemonic; it conveys the encouraging reality that helping the world is within the power of each one of us. It begins by choosing vegetarianism.
To help people evolve to vegetarianism, Mark W Rosegrant of the International Food Policy Research Institute 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.”
Unfortunately, information alone doesn’t seem to be enough. Many meat-eaters, even when they are informed about the harms of meat-eating, become angry and brand the call to vegetarianism as an infringement on their freedom of choice. American author Matthew Scully unmasks such pretentious calls to freedom unceremoniously: “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.”
Of course, the cause of this moral cowardice in most cases is not an innate evilness but an unspoken fear of losing the pleasure of eating good-tasting food. Krishna consciousness allays this fear by providing a lifestyle that makes moral courageousness easy and enjoyable. Let’s see how.
1. Spiritual food: Vegetarianism naturalizes our diet; Krishna conscious culture 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 (prasada). These offer such immense satisfaction to our taste buds that we can soon reject and even forget the taste of flesh and blood. Moreover, prasada goes beyond satisfying our material senses to whetting our appetite for spiritual happiness.
2. Spiritual happiness: Prasada 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 once the sun has risen, the tastes that were irresistible during our night-like spiritual unawareness become entirely dispensable once we are spiritually 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 happiness is by regularly chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra as a spiritual discipline and additionally as a spiritual defense mechanism at those times when we feel tempted by our previous habits.
To conclude, objective logical analysis provides a clinching case for vegetarianism, and Krishna consciousness helps us clinch the case.
Caitanya Carana Dasa is the associate-editor of Back to Godhead (US and Indian editions). To subscribe for his daily Bhagavad-gita reflections, please subscribe for Gitadaily on his site thespiritualscientist.com.