There is little doubt about it that Americans are addicted to meat, and the evidence is overwhelming that a diet high in animal products is not only bad for your health but it is also bad for the environment. As a person who has not eaten meat for five years, I can tell you firsthand how difficult it is to explain to non-vegetarians the benefits of changing their diets, but getting people to actually consider changing their behavior is like trying to convince a nicotine addict to stop smoking or a alcoholic to stop drinking.
Nathan Myhrvold recently wrote an article for Bloomberg regarding Texan’s love of Barbeque. His headline says it all, "Texas’s Cult of Smoke". At first glance you might assume that the article will be pointing out the insanity in cutting down acres of mesquite hardwood in order to feed the "eternal fire" at Smitty’s Market in Lowell Texas, but there is hardly a discouraging word in the entire article. The article even points out how bad the beans are so that customers are encouraged to eat more meat like that's a good thing!
In preparing this article, I found it extremely discouraging to not find any articles or studies that evaluated the environmental impact of the cult of barbeque beyond the benefits of propane verses charcoal. Have we become so addicted to the practice that even organizations like the Sierra Club are more content to seek a compromise with long-time barbeque fans rather than pointing out the fact that America’s barbeque and meat habit is destroying natural habitat, polluting the air, reducing the water table, and increasing our healthcare costs at the same time?
The reason why most people stop eating a vegetarian diet is because they simply don’t know how to eat a diet without meat in it. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve met people who have told me that they tried eating a vegetarian diet, but they got tired of eating salads all the time, and they couldn’t stand the fact that they didn’t have a lot of energy. There is a myth among meat eaters that a vegetarian diet is simply a normal diet without the meat. That instead of a 10-ounce porterhouse and a side of (mostly untouched) greens, the vegetarians will just go for the greens and leave the table hungry.
When I first began eating a mostly vegetarian diet, I cannot tell you how many people told me that my new diet would actually be BAD for my health! At the time, I was overweight, I had Stage One Hypertension, my cholesterol was slipping into the danger zone, and I was often tired, moody, and I was passing kidney stones every other month. In other words, at 35 years-old, I was falling into a high-risk group for a heart attack, stroke, colon cancer, and renal failure, yet my friends and family simply assumed that my diet had nothing to do with that!
Since changing my diet, my blood pressure is under control, my cholesterol is manageable, I have plenty of energy, I’m more productive than ever and I haven’t passed a kidney stone in four years.
A word of warning about taking the pledge: it won’t be easy. When I first made the change to my diet, I cannot tell you how many times I was hanging out with friends and finding there was very little for me to eat. There was one time when I attended a banquet where there was absolutely nothing on the menu I could eat as even the salad and the dinner rolls contained meat. At a family picnic, the only thing I could eat was an ear of corn and hamburger bun. (My family didn’t even bother packing lettuce and tomatoes for their burgers)
Today, rather than depend on my friends and family to prepare enough food for me to be satisfied, I bring my own "main course". If I’m going to a picnic, I take along a couple of mushroom burgers. If I’m going to a dinner where I know my choices are likely to be limited, I eat before I arrive, or if the meal is "potluck", I’m sure to bring something that I’ll be able to eat and I know others are likely to enjoy as well.
The one thing you should never do is wear your vegetarianism on your shoulder like a newfound religion. You will never be able to convince anyone to change their diets or improve their health by being an ass about it.
In conclusion, in the spirit of doing something good for yourself and the rest of the world, consider taking the pledge next month to eat a vegetarian diet. Do it for a day, or try it for the entire month. As long as you plan your meals carefully, you won’t starve. Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean you’re eating nothing but salads all day. It’ll surprise you how much good food loaded with easily digestible fats and protein is out there.
There may come a time within our lifetimes when sustainable, mostly vegetarian eating will become a necessity, so why not give it a try right now? Your body and your community may thank you for it.
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