I wouldn’t know a Lady Gaga tune if you paid me but couldn’t escape the news awhile back that she’d worn a meat dress to a function. Didn’t do much for me, but I gather she was making a statement. What it did do was get me thinking about vegetarianism.
My sister Linda’s a vegetarian and so is my Scottish Deerhound Lilly. Unlike most dogs Lilly’s diet is based on Tykie’s veggie dog food with snacks of bananas, carrots and fruit, plus licorice All Sorts) Linda’s is a bit more complex and not based on what I feed her and what she can poach from the counter-top. Me, I’m a flexitarian, veggie mostly save the occasional lamb kibbee or rare piece of meat. Nearly every day, it’s egg whites, fruit and whatever veggies and grains abound.
As you know, vegetarianism is the practice of following a diet that includes vegetables, cereal grains and nuts and seeds, with or without dairy products or eggs, and no meat or fish, of course, although there are various diet varieties.
The ranks of practitioners are growing. In 2000 2.3 percent of Americans were vegetarians, rising to 2.8 percent four years later. These days, according to a study by Vegetarians in America, 3.2 percent of U.S. residents — 7.3 million folks — follow that diet, including the likes of Chelsea Clinton and Deepak Chopra. Gandhi and Greek philosophers Epicurus and Diogenes thrived on plant-based nutrition, as did Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein.
It’s no wonder, really. Studies have long shown that a high consumption of animal-based foods is linked to more chronic disease, while those who employed a vegetarian diet are healthier overall.
But we’ve been slow to come around. When I was growing up meals were always a meat, a starch and a veggie. It went without saying. If you removed the meat – egads! – what the heck would go in that space?
In those days, vegetarians were “out there,” crazy hippies or something. But we soon learned that when we consume more protein – meat – than we need, we are at risk of heart disease, higher blood cholesterol and other problems.
Last summer, a federal panel issued a major report suggesting that people who are on a plant-based diet have lower blood pressure and weigh less. Other studies have concluded that, compared to non-vegetarians, mortality from heart disease is 30 percent lower among men and 20 percent for women. Vegetarians also tend to have a lower body mass index and fewer incidences of diabetes, renal disease, osteoporosis and dementia. The ongoing Cornell Oxford China Project , begun in 1983, is studying the statistical relationship between diet and disease, and gives important support for vegetarian diets, which are relatively inexpensive and better for the planet, by the way. The green diet.
A common misperception is that veggie meals are complicated or boring, or that they require obscure ingredients. Vegetarianism is now mainstream, so many grocery stores, including ours, carry a wide variety of meat alternatives, plus a bounty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes and spices. And it’s easy to find recipes and meal ideas. You can do healthful nachos, for instance, using organic or blue corn chips (and skipping the ground beef ), layering with canned kidney beans (instead of the refried stuff) and canned sliced jalapenos with grated organic soy cheese over everything. Pop the platter in the microwave for a minute and garnish with salsa. Some great quick stuff.
Of course, you need to replace the protein you lose with the meat. Essential amino acids can be had by consuming a spectrum of complementary plant sources like brown rice, beans, hummus, tofu, legumes, nuts, tempeh (a soy product) and seitan.
Got all that?
And now, a little “Be Healthy” by the group Dead Prez:
“I don’t eat meat, dairy or sweets
Only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat
I’m from the old school, my household smells like whole food, bro
Curried falafel, barbecued tofu
Lentil soup is mental fruit
And ginger root is good for the youth
Fresh veg-e-table with the ital stew
Sweet yam fries with the green calalloo
They say you are what you eat, so I strive to be healthy
My goal in life is not be rich or wealthy
‘Cause true wealth comes from good health and wise ways
We gotta start taking better care of ourselves, okay?”