Vegetarianism: Yay or Nay?

Isaiah Ross (Defiance, OH)

Vegetarianism has existed for centuries and is practiced by millions of people worldwide.  There are numerous reasons that one may choose to be a vegetarian, but as Albert Einstein – a theoretical physicist, 1921 Nobel Prize winner, and humanist – puts it, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”  Einstein was correct when he stated this; his quote briefly touches on various different aspects of vegetarianism.  Evidence has proven that humans are not designed for a meat-eating diet, that vegetarians are less likely to get certain illnesses, and that it is oftentimes inhumane to put animals to death for food.

Scientists have found distinct differences in bodily characteristics of carnivores/omnivores and herbivores.  One such difference is the shape of the mouth.  Carnivores tend to have a large opening for a mouth whereas herbivores generally have a small mouth.  Furthermore, a carnivore’s teeth are large and sharp, specially made for subduing prey and tearing the flesh.  An herbivore’s teeth are significantly shorter than those of carnivores and are flat.  This dental structure allows for the herbivore to masticate the leafy greens, fruits and nuts that they would typically eat.  Next, a carnivore’s intestinal tract is very short as to allow quick passage and digestion of meat.  The long intestinal tract of herbivores is made for the slow, processed digestion of plants.  It is not difficult to tell that the aforesaid list of herbivorous qualities match the characteristics of humans, thus giving the implication that humans were not meant to be meat-eaters, and therefore are more adept to the vegetarian diet.

Since it is reasonable to believe humans are not built for devouring meat, it is logical to expect that there are health issues related to the consumption of meat.  This is also very much true.  The American Diabetes Association stated: “Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, are nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”  Recent studies by the American Association for Cancer Research have linked heme iron (the primary source of iron in red meats) to a higher risk of colon and rectal cancer.  Similar research even goes as far as to put numbers on it.  Vegetarians are approximately 40% less likely to get cancer of the prostate, ovaries, colon, and breast.  This has recently been widely publicized by the reports of processed meats (especially bacon) being a contributing factor to cancer.  Vegetarianism offers not only a lowered cancer risk, but also a reduced chance for heart disease.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released its findings that people following a strict vegetarian diet were 24% less likely to get ischemic heart disease than those who followed a semi- or non-vegetarian diet.  Moreover, vegetarianism is proven to promote a healthy, maintainable Body Mass Index (BMI).  This Oxford University study of over 35,000 men and women tested four main groups: meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.  The results were conclusive with a majority of what has already been mentioned, as the average BMI of meat-eaters was highest whereas the average BMI of fish-eaters and vegetarians were relatively similar and significantly lower than that of meat-eaters, and the BMI of vegans was by far the lowest of all four.  Other disease/ailment risks that a vegetarian diet has been linked to improving include: hypertension, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia.  Given all of these negative health issues, is it safe to say that vegetarians live longer?  Indeed.  It has been found that adhering to a well-planned vegetarian diet for long periods of time (20 years or more) can increase one’s life by an average of 3.6 years.

Vegetarianism definitely has the proof behind it to be considered a healthy way of life, but take a step to the side and look at the animals themselves instead of the health aspect.  These animals that the American public dines on casually different times throughout the day have to come from somewhere, but where exactly?  More times than not, they come from overcrowded, unsanitary, and inhumane factory farms.  Annually, over thirty-five million cows, three hundred and fifteen million pigs, and nine billion chickens are slaughtered for the meat industry.  As to how they are slaughtered is enough to make anyone cringe.  This next part may not be for the faint of heart (or stomach).  According to The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, broiler chickens (kept in their overcrowded, windowless sheds the way it is) are chained by their feet, hung on a conveyor belt, and submerged into an electrified pool to stun them before butchering.  Pigs are subject to a tool designed to induce cardiac arrest before being butchered.  Cows have bolts shot into their brain that is supposed to kill them before they are butchered, but on occasion they are not actually dead before being skinned and brutally butchered.  A former USDA meat inspector also vouches for this same point: “Cattle dragged and choked… knocking ’em four, five, ten times.  Every now and then when they’re stunned they come back to life, and they’re up there agonizing.  They’re supposed to be re-stunned but sometimes they aren’t and they’ll go through the skinning process alive.  I’ve worked in four large [slaughterhouses] and a bunch of small ones.  They’re all the same.  If people were to see this, they’d probably feel really bad about it.  But in a packing house everybody gets so used to it that it doesn’t mean anything.”  Elizabeth Colbert also added that this is generally customary of only large plants.  Certified organic and/or locally-raised animals are normally fed properly and stunned/butchered in better, more humane ways.

Vegetarianism is not just fruits, vegetables, and grains; it envelopes far more concepts.  Given the human body’s attributes, it is more adept to the vegetarian diet.  Furthermore, following a vegetarian diet can lower and even prevent the chances of certain diseases.  Lastly, the treatment of animals in the meat industry today is far from being humane and ethical.  Being a humanist and a vegetarian for the latter part of his life, Einstein would have more than likely concurred to nothing other than what has been said here.  On a different note, have you ever tried vegetarian or vegan foods?  They are surprisingly wonderful.  Vegetarianism: yea.

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