Albert Einstein once said, ‘I think the changes and purifying effects that a vegetarian diet has on a human being’s disposition are quite beneficial to mankind. Therefore, it is both auspicious and peaceful for people to choose vegetarianism.’ The aforementioned quote aligns with the assertion that vegetarianism is a better alternative and should become universal for the good of animals, human health, and the environment. This dietary practice has important philosophical grounds related to killing animals and the fact that all life on earth should be respected and protected. Supporters of vegetarianism derive from one simple belief – that slaughtering animals is wrong and that animals have the same right to live. However, there are more objective arguments in favor of vegetarianism, and such arguments hinge on the nutritional benefits of a vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian diet eliminates all meat and fish, and sometimes, in the case of vegans, all animal products from one’s diet. While this is a fair definition of the vegetarian diet, the actual practice of vegetarianism is somewhat less clear-cut. There are several subcategories of vegetarianism including ovolactarian, who eat dairy products and eggs but abstain from meat, and lactarians, who eat dairy products but abstain from meat and eggs, while pescatarians include fish in their diet but still consider themselves vegetarians. Vegans are the strictest subcategory of the vegetarian campaign, refraining from all animal-based products. While vegetarians and vegans often avoid eating animal products for similar reasons, the largest difference is the degree to which they deem animal products acceptable. For example, vegans and vegetarians may exclude meat from their diets for health or environmental reasons. However, vegans additionally choose to avoid all animal by-products because they believe these have the largest impact on their health and the environment.
The earliest records of vegetarianism as a practice amongst a significant number of people are from ancient India and the ancient Greek civilizations in southern Italy and Greece. In both origins, the diet was in close connection with the idea of nonviolence concerning animals and was encouraged by religious organizations and philosophers. While religion sometimes orders for a vegetarian diet, over the years we have seen an increasing number of individuals choosing not to consume animal products based on their own personal beliefs. In more recent history, many noteworthy individuals throughout history have practiced vegetarianism during their lives, including Benjamin Franklin. While employed as a printer at the young age of 16, he was motivated by the vegetarian philosophy discussed in a piece of writing he read. After adopting a vegetarian diet, Franklin found that it had its economic advantages and that his food expenses were decreased by half, allowing him the opportunity to buy more books for his collection. Franklin soon thereafter became an advocate of animal rights, which seamlessly fit with his anti-slavery and political rights agenda.
Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to not contribute to the negative environmental impact of meat production. Livestock as a whole is estimated to be responsible for around 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Technological advances in agriculture have secured increased production and output but have meant devastating environmental impacts, including climate change (Clarke 106). As a result, a significant reduction in meat consumption has been advocated by, among others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their 2019 special report. Other than climate change, environmental concerns about the production of animal products may also relate to pollution, deforestation, unsustainability and the overuse of water and land. The agriculture system expends fossil fuel, water, and topsoil at unsustainable rates. It contributes to numerous forms of environmental degradation, including air and water pollution, soil depletion, and diminishing biodiversity. Meat production contributes heavily to these problems, in part because feeding grain to livestock to produce meat—instead of feeding it directly to humans—involves a significant energy loss, making animal agriculture more resource-intensive than other kinds of food production. Billions of people worldwide do not have access to clean water while abhorrent amount of water is instead going to livestock, which are later slaughtered for their flesh. Producing plant foods require fewer natural resources than producing animal products, making plant-based diets are more sustainable and less demanding on the environment
Traditionally, research on vegetarianism focused primarily on probable nutritional deficiencies, but in recent years, the focus has shifted, and studies are confirming the health benefits of meat-free diets. Although vegetarians were once viewed in primarily negative terms, public attitude has shifted considerably, such that they are now viewed as good and principled (Ruby 147). Today, plant-based eating is recognized as not only nutritionally sufficient but also as a way to reduce the risk for many chronic illnesses. Scientific evidence points to the positive association between a vegetarian diet and reduced risk for several chronic diseases and conditions such as obesity, coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer (Rajaram and Sabaté 531). Vegetarian diets have low intakes of total fat, saturated fatty acids, and cholesterol. Since the vegetarian diet is lower in cholesterol and fats the chances for hypertension are decreased. Hypertension is just one cause that can lead to heart disease; the main cause of heart disease is due to having high levels of cholesterol. High cholesterol is an indicator that a person is consuming a high amount of animal products that contain cholesterol and saturated fat. The vegetarian diet contains high amounts of soy, nuts, oats, and vegetables, all of which have been found to reduce cholesterol. In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, another reason why vegetarian diet reduces heart disease lies in the fact that it contains high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants include essential nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotenes which all help to minimize the damage that could occur in cells. Population studies on vegetarians have shown an inverse relationship between vegetarian diet practices and incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and total mortality (Rajaram and Sabaté 532). However, these benefits will not immediately follow a decision to stop eating meat. Like any diet, a vegetarian diet should be part of an overall healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise and excludes unhealthy choices, such as smoking and drinking excess alcohol.
Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally sufficient, and may provide health benefits towards the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. ‘Appropriately planned’ is the operative term. In fact, To set the record straight, protein needs can be met solely from plant sources when a variety of plant foods are consumed and energy needs are met. Furthermore, plant foods have generally more than 10% of calories from protein. In fact, the percentage of calories from protein for vegetables (not root vegetables) is 20% to 40%, for legumes it is 20% to 37%, and for grains, nuts, and seeds it is 10% to 17%. The exception is fruits, starchy vegetables, and rice, which have less than 10% of calories from protein. (Panebianco 55) However, unless the recommended guidelines on nutrition, fat consumption, and weight control, are followed, becoming a vegetarian won’t necessarily be beneficial. To get the most out of a vegetarian diet, choose a variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, and whole grains. It’s also essential to replace saturated and trans fats with good fats, like those found in nuts and oils. At the same time, cut back on less healthy choices, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and refined grain. When in doubt, a registered dietitian can create a vegetarian plan that’s right for a given individual.
Becoming a vegetarian has become more appealing and accessible, as a result of year-round availability of fresh produce, more vegetarian dining options, and the growing culinary influence of cultures with plant-based diet. Shopping for vegetarian foods today is much easier than it was twenty years ago. Veggie burgers, “not dogs,” and tofu can be found in most grocery stores, even in remote areas. Most communities have at least one local health food store, and many support a food co-operative (or co-op), making it easy to find vegetarian foods, organic produce, and bulk goods such as grains and nuts (Maurer 131). In addition to some individuals fearing the convenience of a meat-free diet, to many, a vegetarian lifestyle may provoke overwhelming thoughts and fear of a drastic change in diet. For a majority, it’s loving the taste of meat, but it might come as a surprise to learn that veggie alternatives can actually be made to taste like real meat. As for meat substitutes, often times vegetarians will swap out meat for soy. Soy can be made into many different forms, such as tofu, tempeh, milk, and cheese, which makes it a great source of protein. Actually, it can be rather difficult to tell the difference between coloring, texture, and taste of meat versus a meat-free option. Due to the rise in vegetarians, many businesses offer meatless menu options for consumers. In fact, companies today make vegetarian alternatives to dishes that traditionally contain meat. Tofu is a great source of protein and common meat alternative that is soft, white, and flavorless but it can be cooked in pairing with almost anything and it will take on the taste of that food. A more meat-like alternative is tempeh, made from fermented soybeans that is denser than tofu and also has a taste and texture similar to meat products. A wider availability of vegetarian products has made vegetarianism easier to adopt, more now than ever before.
Apart from health considerations, people become vegetarian for a range of reasons. Many people stop eating meat for ideological, ethical, or religious reasons, but often, the focus is on health. Producing vegetarian food is more ecologically sustainable, and it reduces damage to the environment.