We are what we eat and what we eat is always in question. What is healthy and what is not healthy is constantly debated on the news, online, and within families. Do you, your mother, or your doctor know best? Nutrition is slightly different for everyone, but a major crossroads appears with the topic of animal products. Some people oppose meat consumption for ethical, spiritual, environmental, or health reasons, and other people stand behind meat as an essential part of our diets. The debate is far from over, with many studies supporting both sides, but the purpose of this research paper is to analyze what we really know at this point about animal products in relation to our diets. Through the analyses I will reach a conclusion on whether we need animal products or not, but the reader should use the presented evidence to decide for his or herself.
The word vegetarian conjures up various imageries. A hippie may come to mind, or maybe a health nut, a bunch of vegetables, or a cow. There are various stigmas behind the word, but it is not foreign to human culture. The word appears everywhere: on restaurant menus, as a meal option on airplanes, in grocery stores, on the news, etc. Most people can go through their daily life without even acknowledging the word, but the number of people identifying with the word is growing. “In 2006, based on a nationwide poll, approximately 2.3% of the US adult population (4.9 million people) consistently followed a vegetarian diet, stating that they never ate meat, fish, or poultry” (Position 2). What exactly is this dietary choice and does it have any adverse effects on human bodies?
In this paper I will define vegetarians to include lacto-ovo (milk and egg products are consumed) and lacto-vegetarians (milk, but not egg products are consumed). Vegetarians in general consume no meat, poultry, seafood, or fish. A more exclusive form of vegetarianism is veganism or total vegetarianism. Vegans consume absolutely no animal products, but do eat grains; they also try not to use animal products in any way, shape, or form. Another popular branch of veganism is raw veganism, where the person only consumes raw, uncooked fruits, vegetables, and nuts. True fruitarians have the most exclusive diet, consisting all or mostly of fruits. Many of the typical food groups are challenged with these diets. The people following these diets defy what was previously thought to be scientific fact in nutrition.
The old food pyramids and the new plate diagram from the United States Department of Agriculture are well known, taught throughout U.S. schools, and assumed to be the pinnacle of how to nourish oneself, but why do we accept that these guidelines will bring sufficient nutrition to everyone? The department of agriculture is seen as an authority on nutrition because it is a government subdivision; it is assumed the government and their scientists know the correct way to eat, with the most cutting edge information and research. These nutritional guidelines may also be the most education people receive on nutrition, especially if they have no further interest in the subject. Most of the U.S. population grows up on this omnivorous style diet because it is how the generations before them were taught to eat as well. Eating animal products, like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs, has long been the norm for humanity, but current research suggests we are consuming too much and that it may be hurting us.
How we nourish our bodies should be important to everyone. Without proper awareness of what we need to eat as humans, the body and the mind will not thrive. It is often said that having your health is one of the happiest things in life. What we eat directly affects our health and wellbeing. People can feed themselves and be satiated, but they can still be malnourished. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is one of those diets that leave people malnourished. There is plenty of food in here in the U.S., but people are unaware and addicted to empty calories. Without all the nutrients from a healthy diet, the body does not have the proper fuel to fight diseases and maintain itself. Awareness of proper nutrition is essential for having a pain-free, active, and worthwhile life. We need to combat marketing strategies for unhealthy addictive foods, with knowledge of what the body really needs. This may be a reason why these vegetarian and vegan diets are rising so strongly in our time. They combat unnatural foods, including the modified, unhealthy meat from our meat industry, to help keep the human race from turning into the completely sedentary, morbidly obese humans depicted in the movie Wall-E.
The current stance on vegetarian and vegan diets is mixed. Many studies come out saying that meat consumption is related to diseases and that a predominantly vegetarian diet helps prevent disease. There is a push for more vegetable and fruit consumption, particularly in the U.S., but the meat industry and many people are still firm in their stance that meat is essential for humans. It is difficult to decipher an unbiased answer because both sides, anti and pro-meat, both promote their positions so intensely. The meat industry funds studies that find positives behind meat consumption to keep up sales, and vegetarians and vegans will find any hints of positives behind plant consumption because most are fighting for the wellbeing of animals. The media then spreads all this information in many interpretations, which stirs even more controversy.
So far I believe there is a middle ground that can be reached between meat eaters and vegetarians/vegans. If the quality of meat increases and meat consumption and demand decreases, fewer animals will have to be brutally killed, and the incidence of the “‘diseases of civilization’—which include atherosclerosis, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, hearing loss, dental caries, alcohol related diseases, and obesity” will decrease (Sapontzis 40). There will be less alienation between meat eaters and vegetarians if people become aware of how important plant foods are and if the meat industry works more ethically.