I'M not as daring as those sexy sirens wearing lettuce (and only lettuce) while advocating vegetarianism. Nor am I as extreme as those dye-dousers preying on fur-clad supermodels. You won't even see me hugging centuries-old trees in defiance of chainsaw-lugging loggers.
But what I do, and have been espousing for over a decade now, probably takes as much guts as those much-publicized environmental stunts. That's because I, an average Filipino citizen making ends meet on an average urban salary, have taken the dietary course less taken. This course has no fauna and only flora in it, and that's precisely the reason I sleep well at night. Of course I've also had to explain myself to other people throughout my entire waking day. Why do you prefer to eat something that can be bland, hard to find, sometimes expensive, and not readily available in a fast food joint, they ask, offering me a big, juicy burger.
Once and for all and for the record, I henceforth convey this answer: I have become a vegetarian to help end the following:
1. Animal genocide, or the endless cycle of violence and pain inflicted by humans upon millions, even billions, of cruelly treated livestock. Spend just one minute inside a slaughterhouse during a killing spree, and try not to flinch as you hear pigs crying in fear and pain. Try and look at a dying cow's eyes, and it's impossible not to see terror in their final gasps for breath. Pity the chickens: after being crammed mercilessly into wire mesh transports, their beaks are cut off just before their throats are slit. Utter heartlessness.
"On today's factory farms, animals are crammed by the thousands into filthy windowless sheds, wire cages, gestation crates, and other confinement systems. These animals will never get to feel the warmth of the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they are loaded onto trucks bound for slaughter," Bruce Friedrich writes in his "Top Ten Reasons to go Vegetarian."
2. Animal revenge. There is a reason doctors ask us to go easy on meat when we're diagnosed with chronic lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, stroke and cancer. When you gorge yourself on animal products, there's no telling what chemical cocktails come with it.
"Most commercial meats now are from animals injected with hormones and antibiotics -hormones to increase the animal's weight and body mass, and antibiotics as prophylaxis against infections. Plus animal feeds have been contaminated with dioxin and melamine, etc. And that's aside from the bad cholesterol and uric acid from meat dumped on our kidneys, liver, heart and blood vessels," explains former health secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan.
Galvez-Tan, still physically active at 60, gave up pork 30 years ago; beef 25 years ago; chicken 20 years ago and shellfish 15 years ago. His complete meal includes fresh raw and cooked vegetables and fruits, all kinds of nuts and lentils and complex carbohydrates like brown rice, brown bread, corn, sweet potato, gabi, ube and deep sea fishes.
In the book "The China Study," author T. Collin Cambell, a Jacob Gould Schurman professor emeritus of nutrition biochemistry at Cornell University in New York, and co-author Thomas Campbell state: "Animal protein increases the levels of the hormone IGF-1 which is a risk factor for cancer, and high casein (the main protein of cow's milk) diets allow more carcinogens into cells, which allow more dangerous carcinogen products to bind to DNA. This in turn allow more mutagenic reactions that give rise to cancer cells, that then allow more rapid growth of tumors once they are initially formed."
3. Poverty on a global scale. Yes, believe it or not, as more humans eat more flesh, more humans will actually be the poorer for it. Food experts have observed that the meat-eating habits of the wealthy around the world support a world food system that diverts food resources from the hungry. About one third of the world's total grain harvest is fed to cattle and other livestock, while as many as a billion people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition, according to Jeremy Rifkin in his book "Beyond Beef," quoting data from the United States Department of Agriculture and the World Bank.
Walden Bello, a leading expert on global food realities, was quoted by John Robbins in his book "Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World":
"Every time you eat a hamburger, you are having a relationship with thousands of people you never met. Not just people at the supermarket or fast food restaurant but possibly World Bank officials in Washington DC, and peasants from Central and South America. And many of these people are hungry. The fact is that there is enough food in the world for everyone. But tragically, much of the world's food and land resources are tied up in producing beef and other livestock-food for the well-off, while millions of children and adults suffer from malnutrition and starvation..."
Bello continues: "In Central America, staple crop production has been replaced by cattle ranching, which now occupies two thirds of the arable land. The World Bank encouraged this switch-over with an eye toward expanding US fast food and frozen dinner markets. The resulting expansion of cattle ranching has deprived peasants of access to the land they depend on for growing food. And because of ranching's limited ability to create jobs (cattle ranching creates 13 times fewer jobs per acre than coffee production), rural hunger has soared... What does all this have to do with our hamburgers? The American fast-food diet and the meat-eating habits of the wealthy around the world support a world food system that diverts food resources from the hungry."
Physicist Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize Winner, probably had a spark of inspiration for a Theory of Relativity of the dietary kind when he said: "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
4. Environmental destruction and wastage caused by livestock and slaughterhouses.
The production system that generates our grain-fed meat diet not only wastes our resources but helps destroy them, cited Frances Moore Lappe in "Diet for a Small Planet." Some facts that threaten our long-term food security include water costs, soil erosion, energy costs, and import dependency.
Producing just one pound of steak uses 2,500 gallons of water. To produce a pound of steak, which provides us with 500 calories of food energy, takes 20,000 calories of fossil fuel, expended mainly in producing the crops fed to livestock.
Peter R. Cheeke, professor of animal agriculture at Oregon University, explains: "There can be no dispute that corn and soybean meal are used with more efficiency, and can provide food for more people when they are eaten directly by people rather than being fed to swine or poultry to be converted to pork, chicken meat, or eggs for human consumption."
Worldwide meat production (beef, chicken and pork) emits more atmospheric greenhouse gases than do all forms of global transportation or industrial processes. This study ("The Greenhouse hamburger: Producing beef for the table has a surprising environmental cost: it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases"), published in the February 2009 issue of the Scientific American, was written by Nathan Fiala, a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of California, Irvine.
Rajendra Pachauri, chair the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, agrees with Fiala's findings, telling BBC News: "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for about 18 percent of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions...So I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider."
These four reasons have been my "other daily Bible" the past 10 years that I have shunned meat, fish, dairy, poultry, and cheese. I have not allowed advertising or any mass-market hoopla to sway my choices.
Lucky are those omnivores who are now contemplating a change of diet and going full-time vegetarians (or at least becoming pescatarians - vegetarians who also eat fish and seafood). There are now a number of food outlets, restaurants and food products that will help you decide on becoming one. Just browse happycow.com for vegetarian restaurants all over the Philippines. Also, many other restaurants (albeit the pricier ones) have now become more "discerning" of vegetarian fare and have integrated this into their menu.
If you prefer to prepare some vegetarian meals in the comfort of your own home, try logging on to Pinoyveg.com or goveg.com for recipes.
Friedrich stressed during World Vegetarian Week (May 19 to 25): "Gone are the days when vegetarians were served up a plate of iceberg lettuce and a dull-as-dishwater baked potato. With the growing variety of vegetarian faux meats like bacon and sausages - along with an ever-expanding variety of vegetarian cookbooks and restaurants -vegetarianism has taken the world by storm."
Now isn't that something to chew on?