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Diet For A New America by John Robbins is considered “one of the most important documents of the 20th century? A deeply felt and nobly worded book, which is also richly researched, its distinguishing virtue is that it adopts not the usual sentimental/emotional approach to vegetarianism, but a factual, rational, hard-headed and thoroughly scientific approach.

Kick The Meat Habit

In the book Diet For A New America, John Robbins devotes an entire chapter to one of the lesser-known causes of environmental degradation ?that is, the meat-eating habit. While the author confines his researches to America, his conclusions are valid for other countries as well.

Agriculture designed to feed America’s meat habit is the main cause of the productivity of the nation’s cropland going as low as 70 per cent, with much of it on the brink of becoming barren land. Says the author: “As long as we require our agriculture to feed our meat habit, this is no doubt true. But with a change in diet-style, we would need far less from our land. We would not have to force it artificially to supply the hyped-up demands we require to feed huge numbers of livestock. With a change in diet-style, halting soil-erosion would cost us nothing. It would occur naturally, as part of sound soil management practices.?/font>

Pure vegetarian food choices make less than 5 per cent of the demand on the soil compared to meat-oriented choices. By drastically reducing the demands on American soil, a new direction for America’s diet-style would enable the country to break its addiction to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which have done nothing to stop the erosion of America’s topsoil. In fact, they have made it worse.

In trying to replace the soil lost by erosion, another major ecological catastrophe of destroying America’s forests has been spawned. In fact, according to John Robbins, the United States has converted approximately 260 million acres of forest into land which is now needed to produce the wasteful diet-style most Americans take for granted. Indeed, so direct is the relationship between meat production and deforestation, that economist David Fields and his associate Robin Hur estimate that for every person who switches to a pure vegetarian diet, an acre of trees is spared every year!

Water resources suffer too. In fact they are traced directly to the meat-eating habit: “Over half the total amount of water consumed in the United States goes to irrigate land growing feed and fodder for livestock. Enormous additional quantities of water must also be used to wash away the animals?excrement. It would be hard to design a less water-efficient diet-style than the one we have to think of as normal.

“To produce a single pound of meat,?Robbins argues, takes an average of 2,500 gallons of water ?as much as a typical family uses for all its combined household purposes in a month.

“To produce a day’s food for one meat-eater takes over 4,000 gallons; for a lacto-ovo vegetarian, only 1,200 gallons; for a pure vegetarian, only 300 gallons. It takes less water to produce a year’s food for a pure vegetarian than to produce a month’s food for a meat-eater.

“Livestock producers also deplete the state’s electrical power capacities through siphoning off water that would otherwise generate power. They use enormous amounts of electricity to pump the water from the rivers to point-of-use. All in all, economists calculate that the three-state area loses 17 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year to the gluttonous water use of livestock production. That’s enough to light every house in the entire nation for a month-and-a-half!?/font>

The standard American diet of today not only wastes prodigious amounts of water, it pollutes much of what is left: “Fifty years ago, most of the manure from livestock returned to enrich the soil. But today, with huge numbers of animals concentrated in feedlots, confinement buildings, and other factory farm locations, there is no economically feasible way to return their wastes to the soil. As a result, there is a continuing decline in soil humus and soil fertility, an increasing dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and an accelerating loss of topsoil. It is far removed indeed from the natural ecological cycle, in which animal wastes return to the soil and provide the nutrients for next year’s crops. Sadly, instead of being returned to the soil, the wastes from today’s animals often end up in our water.?/font>

The quantity of waste from animals being raised for meats, dairy products and eggs is immense: “Every 24 hours, the animals destined for America’s dinner tables produce 20 billion pounds of waste. That is 2,50,000 pounds of excrement a second. The livestock of the United States produce twenty times as much excrement as the entire human population of the country!

“Astoundingly, the meat industry single-handedly accounts for more than three times as much harmful organic waste water pollution as the rest of the nation’s industries combined!?/font>

The same study reveals an equally startling fact that the production of meats, dairy products and eggs accounts for one-third of the total amount of all raw materials used for all purposes in the United States: “Agricultural engineers at Ohio State University compared the energy costs of producing poultry, pork and other meats with the energy costs of producing soybeans, corn and other plant foods. They found that even the least efficient plant food is nearly ten times as efficient as the most energy efficient animal food.

“A new direction to America’s diet-style would save an immense amount of energy. If we kicked the meat habit there would be no need for nuclear power plants.?br> Besides, there would be substantial increases in personal savings accruing from reduced expenditures for food, prescription drugs, medical care and insurance. And within a short time, even more personal savings accruing from savings on housing, energy, transportation and clothing. Think about it!


On Dining Healthily

There’s a beautiful plant kingdom out there, and we certainly could dine healthily on this botanical bounty. But ordinary people like us may not have the full knowledge on how to keep an eye on our nutritive intake.

Vegetarians manifest themselves in many forms.

Sproutarianism: A diet built around sprouts supplemented with other raw foods.

Veganism: No meat, dairy products, eggs. Some even avoid wearing leather.

Lacto Vegetarianism: Vegetables and dairy products, but no meat or eggs. This forms a major chunk of the vegetarian faction.

Semi Vegetarianism: Eggs, fish and poultry are eaten, but strict no-no to lamb, beef or pork. This may be a healthier diet but is not “vegetarian?in common parlance.

For people graduating towards becoming vegetarians, chicken and fish can be considered transitional food, but they are not vegetarian foods. A vegetarian is one who eats no fish, meat or poultry.

We know that fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts are healthy. Eating these reduces the risk of contracting chronic ailments such as diabetes, coronary diseases, obesity ?We also know that on average, we eat few fruits and vegetables, and too much saturated fat. Studies suggest that a predominantly vegetarian diet may have beneficial effects on the kidneys and reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. Eating more fruits and vegetables may slow down or perhaps reverse age-related declines in brain function or motor skills. Vegetarian seniors have a lower death rate, and use less medication than their meat-eating counterparts.

It often happens that people who consume more breads, cheese and bakery products have a saturated fat intake as high as red meat-eaters! Though vegetarians have a healthier intake of total fats and cholesterol, they have a less than healthy intake of fatty acids (for example, heart protecting fatty acids found in fish oil). Their low protein diet reduces calcium absorption. Also, risks of suffering from prostate cancer and hip fractures are higher as compared to meat-eaters. A strict avoidance of meat, eggs and dairy products can lead to deficiencies in iron, calcium, iodine and Vitamin B12. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia, calcium deficiency can lead to low bone mass and osteoporosis, and deficiency in iodine can lead to goitre. One may overcome these deficiencies by taking supplements. However, this approach has its risks. Special care needs to be taken by nursing mothers (babies will not develop adequately without the right nutrients in mother’s milk) as research shows that children nursed by vegetarian moms have lower levels of Vitamin B12 and fatty acids essential for vision and growth.

One can safely conclude that for the average sedentary adult, living in an urban society, a vegetarian diet meets his/her dietary needs and prevents chronic ailments better than a non-vegetarian diet. A balanced vegetarian diet is high in fibre and low on fat, but for most people meat still tastes good!

Khushnuman P. Muncherji,
Catering Services