To be or not to be vegetarian

Posted on December 5, 2011

I recently joined the organization, Farm Sanctuary, a group that promotes the well-being of farm animals through rescue, education and advocacy. Last week, we attended an event in Denver that featured the cofounder of Farm Sanctuary, Gene Baur. The primary topic of his lecture was the importance of a vegan diet for our health, the environment and the well-being of all creatures. More than 9 billion farm animals are slaughtered in the U.S. every year, and are treated like commodities. Livestock rearing produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. Once the question and answer part of the event started, John and I realized we were surrounded by people who were all vegetarian or vegan. We may have been the only meat-eaters in the room.

I’ve mentioned many times before that I try to only eat meat that I know the source, and that it was raised in a sustainable manner. I can’t however guarantee that these animals were all raised and butchered humanely, because I haven’t seen the actual farm/operation. I left the speech thinking something that I have thought before – if I’m not willing to kill and butcher an animal for food, should I be eating meat?

I’ve read a lot of materials and heard many speakers discuss the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. I have also heard a lot of debate about whether we as humans are meant to eat animal products. Our teeth and digestive system are most similar to apes. Following the logic that our teeth and digestive system are indicators of the appropriate diet, the most natural diet for humans would consist of fruits, nuts and certain raw vegetables. Because we can cook, we can also add cooked grains and vegetables.

I do tend to crave meat, which may be attributed to the fact that I am an O blood type and have Scandinavian/Nordic ancestry.  Or it could just mean that when I’m not eating meat, I’m not eating enough other sources of protein, such as beans. I’ve read that one herb that is beneficial for O blood types who want to be vegetarian, but crave meat is Coleus Forskohlii, which is in the mint and lavender family and is an ancient Ayurvedic plant. Coleus is known to directly stimulate digestion and is thought to assist in the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. It has been a popular herb used for heart health, because it increases the amount of blood pumped in each heart beat, reduces risk of blood clots and lowers high blood pressure.

Cravings aside, the main concern I have about being vegetarian is getting enough nutrients, and the fear that I may have to eat more processed foods. I don’t see myself sticking to a way of eating that means having a lot of frozen meals or items with ingredients that I can’t pronounce. I’m also concerned about giving up fish and missing out on some essential Omega 3s. Another nutritional concern is becoming deficient in B12, which is essential for a healthy nervous system and is needed for the formation of red blood cells – a severe deficiency can lead to anemia. I know that I can take supplements, but I wonder if a way of eating that doesn’t provide you with the nutrients you need is the most appropriate.

Overall, the research I’ve seen recommends experimenting with what works best for your body. Winter may not be the best time to make the switch to vegetarianism because your body tends to need more protein and fat in the winter. It is important to be sure that you cook lots of beans and grains as a vegetarian, so that you don’t have to rely on sugar for energy and risk becoming hypoglycemic.

I will do my best to eliminate meat and eat lots of beans and grains over the next few weeks, and see how well I do and feel. I’ll continue to do more research to be sure I can get all of the nutrition that I need from whole, plant-based foods, and slowly work towards transitioning away from animal products. My goal next week is to learn to make black bean burgers. I already have made mushroom quinoa cakes a couple of times as an alternative to beef patties and think they are super tasty. Go to the recipes section of my site to learn how to make them.

I know I will easily be able to avoid drinking cow’s milk, but I do like to cook with butter for certain things and would find it difficult to avoid ice cream all summer long. I know there are alternatives, so I’ll have to be open-minded to giving them a try. I would like to raise my own chickens for eggs, and get more of my food from local, sustainable sources. My ultimate goal is to eat a diet that is primarily made up of whole, plant based foods that leaves me feeling great, both physically and spiritually.

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