Solutions in Sight: Health

What's For Dinner?
Why It Makes Sense To Be A Vegetarian

June 1999

by Jennifer Prather, Teen Editorial Board Member

There are many reasons people become vegetarians, but for Jennifer Prather, it is a combination of health concerns and doing what's right. After being omnivorous for the first 12 years of her life, Jen decided that she no longer wanted to eat food that "had a face." In this essay she talks about how she came to her decision, what reactions she got, and what have been the benefits.

Making my decision. I made the decision to become a vegetarian in the 6th grade. At first I was influenced by a celebrity, Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I adored him, and every time I read something about him, it mentioned the fact that he was a vegetarian. This made me respect him more, and I thought I would give vegetarianism a try.

I made a personal decision not to eat meat any more. My parents didn't take it very well. So I had to convince them that as a vegetarian I would still get all the nutrients I needed to grow and stay healthy. I had to show them information I had collected, and to prove to them that I could be completely nourished in a healthy way without eating meat.

I can't eat anything with a face! The thing that influenced me the most in my decision to become a strict vegetarian was an information packet I received from PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals). That's when I realized how horribly certain animals were treated, just because people like the way they taste! I liked the way they tasted too, but whenever I found it really hard to resist my cravings for meat, I always went back to my belief that it wasn't okay to eat, "Food that has a Face."

I can't eat anything with a face!

Gradually becoming a vegetarian. I don't want anyone to think that I made my decision and immediately cut out all meat from my diet entirely. Actually I started slowly, cutting down on the kind and amount of meat I ate, a little at a time. I began by eliminating red meat. It took me 3 years to become a strict vegetarian, which means I don't eat meat or fish at all.

Humans aren't carnivores. The jaws of carnivores (meat eating animals) only go up and down and their teeth are sharp and curved. This enables them to tear flesh very well, but when it comes to chewing fruits and vegetables, forget it! But carnivores don't need vegetables because they rely only on protein for energy.

Human jaws can go almost every direction and we have flat teeth, which only herbivores (plant eating animals) have. Our molars are designed for chewing vegetables and grinding nuts. In terms of our DNA, brains, skeletons and other internal organs we are most like apes. Apes are vegetarians, which makes you wonder, what is the "most natural" diet for humans? I believe it's the vegetarian diet, which makes sense because humans rely on carbohydrates (plants and grains) to give us energy.

... we [humans] have flat teeth, which only herbivores (plant eating animals) have...

Avoiding meat for food safety reasons. Many people become vegetarians because of they don't trust the safety of the meat they buy. All unpreserved and unfrozen food decays (even food in your refrigerator is decaying, but at a slower rate than food at room temperature.) Meat can become contaminated with bacteria. Many animals are routinely drugged with antibiotics to keep them "infection free." 90% of the drugs used to treat animals have not been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for human consumption. But when we eat animals with these drugs in their systems, we get the drugs in our bodies too! The same is true for hormones which are injected into 2 out of 3 cows to achieve leaner, cheaper meat.

And the safety factor is not just a problem with beef. Chicken can be contaminated with a powerful bacteria called salmonella. (If you've ever had food poisoning, this bacteria might have been the cause.) Fish can contain PCB, a cancer causing component, and mercury, which harms the nervous system.

Avoiding meat for ethical reasons. Every year over six billion animals are killed for food. While they are alive, these animals go through lots of pain and suffering. Many people switch to vegetarianism because they don't like the idea of supporting animal abuse of any kind.

Over 90% of animals raised for food grow up in confinement. Chickens, especially, are raised in very tight quarters. They have approximately two square feet to live in and lay eggs. Sometimes they are "debeaked" so that they don't peck each other to death. When hen's cannot produce eggs anymore, they are used for their meat.

Over 90% of animals raised for food grow up in confinement.

Because they not very meaty and cannot cannot lay eggs, male chicks are literally thrown away or gassed. Turkeys are injected with hormones so that they become larger. When the hormones take effect, the skeletons' of the turkey becomes disfigured because their bodies cannot hold the extra weight.

Pig farmers impregnate animals so they are faster at reproducing. They also remove the pig's teeth to keep them from biting. Pigs are naturally peaceful animals, but when put under so much stress they panic. Over crowding causes two-hundred and fifty pigs to die everyday.

Many people believe that fish cannot feel pain. This is untrue. They actually have a central nervous system and they feel all pain (including being hooked or netted). Fish are often suffocated because they get their oxygen from water and when they are caught, they can no longer breathe. Many fish are raised but most die in captivity.

Cattle also suffer. Most cows are branded, dehorned, and castrated without anesthetics. Dairy cattle only produce milk when they are nursing their young, so farmers give them hormones to make the milk last longer. They produce 10% more milk than naturally possible. They take way the young only a few days after birth. Dairy cows are milked by machines. Cow's udders are usually bruised, swollen and diseased. When dairy cattle can no longer produce milk, they use it for meat.

Veal calves come from dairy cows. They are taken away when they are only days old. They are put into confined cages in which they are unable to move. Farmers do not want the muscles to be developed or toughened. They are fed a gruel that makes them anemic.

A downer is a term that farmers call cattle that are diseased or badly injured. They are unable to walk. Even though they are in need of veterinarian care, they receive none and they are still sold for human consumption! From the day they are born they do not receive adequate food, water, or health care. Because downers are unable to move and they weigh so much, they are lifted by forklifts, tractors, or dragged to a pile of other downers.

Every year millions of food animals are abandoned, neglected, and starved to death because they fell off a truck to the slaughterhouse. The trucks are overcrowded. And legally, these animals can be transported without food or water for 36 hours. At the slaughterhouse, animals are hit, kicked and choked to herd them. They go through so much, too much pain and suffering just because we like the taste of their flesh.

All of this animal abuse is considered normal animal agriculture practice by law. Therefore they aren't protected by anticruelty laws.

All of this animal abuse is considered normal animal agriculture practice...they [the animals] aren't protected by anticruelty laws.

Avoiding meat for ecological reasons. Being a vegetarian is not only good for your health and the animals health, but for the environment.

  • Meat production uses a lot of land. One-third of the land in the continental U.S. (does not include Alaska and Hawaii) is used for meat production. Meat production gobbles up grain. Forty percent of the world's grain (70% of the grain grown in the U.S.) is fed to livestock (think about how that could be used to feed hungry people, instead!)

  • Meat production uses a lot of water. One-half of all water in the U.S. is used for meat production. Seventy percent of the water is actually consumed by animals. It takes over 100 gallons of water to feed one person with meat, milk and eggs for one day. It takes 5200 gallons of water to produce one pound of Californian beef. In contrast, it takes just 23 gallons to produce one pound of tomatoes and 25 gallons to produce one pound of wheat.

  • Meat production uses a lot of energy. It takes over three times as much fossil fuels to have a meat-eater diet than a vegetarian diet. It takes lots of gas to run farm equipment used to plant and harvest grain to feed the animals. Plus it takes more gas to transport the animals to the slaughter house and afterwards to the market.

  • Meat production causes lots of pollution. Livestock farms have millions of tons of animal waste (manure). The nitrate that comes from the manure, pollutes the ground water. Nitrates are linked to cancer and nervous system problems in people. Many of the gases from the manure escape and contribute to acid rain. (That creates problems for plants, animals, and people!)

  • Meat production causes loss of rain forests. One-third of the land (forests) in Central America has been cleared for raising cattle. Species are lost when the forests are cut for the meat industry. Fifteen separate plant species currently found only in the rain forest are expected to be extinct by the year 2000. Many life saving drugs are derived from rain forest plants...when we lose parts of the rain forest, we lose opportunities to find cures for diseases.

  • Meat production causes world hunger problems. Every year 20 million people worldwide die of malnutrition. One child dies of malnutrition every 2.3 seconds. Livestock pasture needs cut drastically into land which could be otherwise be used to grow crops to feed these people. If AMERICANS reduced their intake of meat by a mere 10%, one hundred million people could be adequately fed using land no longer used to grown grain for food animals.

    If AMERICANS reduced their intake of meat by...10%, one hundred million people could be adequately fed...

So many vegetarian choices. There are many styles of vegetarianism. A vegan is a person who eats no food derived from animals (that means no eggs, milk, cheese or ice cream), only plant based foods. Lacto-Vegetarian excludes meat but includes dairy products. Ovo-Vegetarian excludes meat but includes eggs. Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian includes both milk and eggs, but excludes meat. A Pollo-Vegetarian includes poultry, milk, eggs, but excludes all other types of meat. A Pesco-Vegetarian includes fish and seafood, but excludes all other types of meat. A Sometimes-Vegetarian eats animal products occasionally.

Being a healthy vegetarian. The Vegetable Group. Vegetarians should have at least 3 servings from this group daily. This provides vitamins, minerals and fiber.

There should be 2-4 servings a day from the Fruits group daily. This group provides vitamin A and C.

The Milk and Milk Substitute Group should be used regularly. Vegans avoid milk at all costs, so they can use green leafy vegetables, soy and rice milk products.

The Meat, Fish, Poultry Substitutes Group include dry beans, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, tofu, and eggs. There should be 2-3 servings a day.


For more complete information about vegetarianism check out:

The Vegetarian Youth Network - The Vegetarian Youth Network is a grassroots, web-based organization run entirely by, and for, youth who support compassionate, healthy, globally-aware, vegetarian/vegan living. The Network is committed to providing support and encouragement to vegetarian youth through programs that emphasize interpersonal communication and peer support.

Vegetarian Pages - An internet guide for vegetarians and vegans with lots of great pages on vegetarianism and lots of links, including a World Guide to Vegetarianism.

Meat Stinks - This site is for the animals, the environment and human health. They state that raising animals on factory farms is cruel and ecologically devasting; that eating animals is bad for your health leading directly to many diseases and illnesses. They also ask the question: " Think you can be a meat-eating environmentalist? Think again."

As you can see, there are many reasons why vegetarianism is the way to live, the way we were made to live. If you cause pain to something just by eating, which is something you do several times a day, then you should try to prevent that.

Whenever I look at a hamburger being eaten I think, "This food once had a face! If only they really knew what goes on, what happens to those animals…" Now you do, and I hope you make the most wisest and informed decision.

If you cause pain to something [living] just by eating, which is something you do several times a day, then you should try to prevent that.

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