Vegetarianism Pros and Cons*

This subject could easily fill a book, and quite a lot has been written on it by others. What follows will be a brief summary of some of the pertinent concepts.

There is much physiological evidence that the natural diet of humans should consist mainly of fruits, berries, leaves, nuts, and seeds. This assertion is borne out by the length of our digestive tract, the pattern of our teeth, the shape, strength, and chewing action of our jaw, the inability of our digestive secretions to digest bone, and the fact that we have fingernails instead of claws. Study of the remains of our primitive ancestors reveals that fruits and berries were probably the main constituents of their diet.

Often, those who stop eating animal flesh for any substantial length of time and then resume eating it experience negative effects that did not occur during their vegetarian period.

About thirty years ago I visited the cattle feed lots in Texas with a girlfriend. As soon as we were about ten miles away, we smelled the stench of decomposing animal excrement and urine. The smell increased as we got closer.

The feed lots were essentially devoid of people. Cud-chewing cattle were seen lying on huge mounds, which, on closer inspection, turned out to be their own excrement. It was winter, and the cattle needed the warmth provided by the bacterial decomposition. I was later informed that not providing shelter was less of a financial risk than the possible death of animals due to freezing.

Feed was stored in huge silos. Computers were used to determine the formulation of feed, growth hormone, and medicine mix for each lot of cattle. We saw a single truck, driven by the only human worker within miles, delivering feed in metered amounts.

After this experience, my girlfriend and I could not think of eating meat and became vegetarians without even intending to do so.

A few months later, I had a sudden craving for meat in the form of a burger. I decided to go to a local fast-food burger franchise. As soon as I walked inside, the smell of the feed lots overwhelmed me. I promptly lost my taste for food and left.

After about a year, I began eating animal flesh again, “hypnotizing” myself not to notice the offensive smell and aftereffects.

Whereas I still eat some animal flesh, I increasingly feel that doing so is bad—bad for me and worse for the animals. However, spending a substantial fraction of life as a flesh-eater probably causes one’s body chemistry to become adapted to it. Therefore, it is not a good idea to cut out meat suddenly but phase it out gradually.

Becoming a vegetarian has certain hazards. It is hard to get Vitamin-B12 from purely vegetable sources. Also, some vegetarians (who don’t know better) tend to rely primarily on protein sources of low biological value such as peanut butter and beans. The highest-quality protein is contained in soybeans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains—not legumes. Of course, eggs and cheese have very high-quality protein if you are willing to include them.

I have met a number of people who claim to be vegetarians but who eat fish. Perhaps they regard fish as a vegetable!

Ethical Vegetarianism

Have you ever heard someone say, “Why is killing an animal worse than killing a plant? How do you know that plants don’t have feelings or suffer pain?”

A few decades ago, there were “scientific” studies supposedly showing that plants screamed when they were harmed. The screaming was made audible by amplifying electrical impulses from the plants and then routing them to a loudspeaker. Just because these impulses resembled screaming sounds after conversion to audible signals did not necessarily mean that the plants were experiencing pain.

It seems unlikely that life forms lacking both a nervous system and any ability to protect themselves by locomotion would experience pain. The purpose of pain is to rouse us to take action against the threat to our well-being that is causing the pain. If anything, the welfare and very survival of many plants is actually furthered by being eaten. Consider the ecological relationship of seeds, berries, and fruits to the propagation of plants. Many plants owe their ability to propagate widely to the fact that animals eat them. When fruits and berries are eaten by animals, a portion of the seeds are swallowed and pass through the digestive system uninjured. They are then “planted” when the animal later excretes in a distant spot. Moreover, the accompanying excrement acts as fertilizer to help the new plant grow.

Nuts have hard shells, and some nuts have bitter, poisonous material that must be removed before the nuts are eaten. This feature ensures that only animals with hands, fingers, and fingernails will be capable of removing the shell and poisonous parts. An animal possessing hands (such as a squirrel or human being) can carry the nuts to a distant location, hide them, and (as is often the case) lose track of them. Thus, that botanical species can be efficiently and widely propagated. Consider what would happen if, say, a horse tried to eat nuts from a tree. Not having hands, the horse would not be able to separate the edible and inedible portions and would not be able to carry them off and store them. These nuts could never propagate anywhere, let alone far away.

Moreover, fruits, berries, nuts, and seeds naturally fall off the plant. The portion edible by humans would only rot anyway. The same holds for the leaves and roots of many vegetables once their seeds have reached maturity. If plants can experience pain, they must naturally be in a lot of pain even without animal intervention.

Eating animals is a different matter. Eating them causes them to lose their very lives. Anyone having a pet knows that animals experience pain and cry with real tears when sad. Animals such as pigs are very intelligent. They cry as they are being led to the slaughter.

My personal reaction is that right now I can feel the pain of an animal but not that of a plant. When I reach the point where I feel plants’ pain, that will be a reason for giving up eating them. By then, I probably will have evolved to a stage where I do not need to eat anything.

Ecological Considerations

The use of animals for food is not only abusive to the animals, it also damages the earth. Animal farming requires tremendously large tracts of land which, along with their surrounding areas, become polluted with the resulting excrement and urine. Other much larger tracts must be defoliated to grow soybeans, corn, and other grains used as animal feed. As a result, these regions are being turned into desert. If, instead, we were to rely on nuts for our protein food, the trees thus cultivated would help the soil rather than denude it.

Health Considerations

With few exceptions, animals grown for food are kept in unhygienic conditions and are treated without regard to their welfare as living creatures. They are sometimes fed food made of ground newspapers, left-over parts of slaughtered animals, reprocessed garbage, used vegetable oil from fast-food restuarants, and even their own excrement or that of other animals. The flesh of most farm-raised animals contains artificially introduced growth hormones and antibiotics. Even some farm-grown salmon is said to be fed red dye to make it more “appetizing.” It may be possible to make a case for eating wild animals or ethically farmed animals that are grown, fed, and slaughtered under the best conditions. However, it is hard to justify eating the animal products now typically present in the marketplace.

The recent use of irradiation of chickens and possibly other animal and fish products may be harmless, or it may unpredictably produce molecules harmful to humans.

Animal Hormones

The yogis say, “When you eat food, you absorb some of its consciousness.” You can imagine my disbelief when I read this statement decades ago. Since then, not only have I experienced something along these lines, but I feel that there is a scientific explanation for it.

When we eat the flesh, organs, and milk of animals, we are ingesting hormones. Some of these are residues of growth and other hormones given to farmed animals. However, we also ingest hormones produced by the animal itself.

Animals have hormonal systems similar to those of humans, and some animal hormones are indistinguishable from those of humans. That is why thyroid produced by cows can be used to remedy a human insufficiency. If a certain hormone produced by a cow is introduced into the blood stream of a human, that hormone will have the same effect as a naturally secreted human hormone.

Every emotion we have is accompanied by corresponding blood levels of various hormones. Therefore, eating animal flesh and organs can affect our emotions. The predominant hormones ingested would be those of fear while the animal is being led to slaughter. Of course, this effect may not be noticed by the average person, but it can be consciously experienced by those sufficiently sensitive. It may just be that when small quantities of animal hormones are added to your own, the effects pass a certain threshold that otherwise would not be reached by your own hormones alone.

You may wonder how the hormone of an animal can be absorbed in its original state after the digestive process. The answer is that hormones are amino acids, which are impossible to digest. They pass directly into the blood stream just as do amino acids resulting from the digestion of proteins.

A month or so after visiting the feed lots and then greatly reducing our consumption of meat and fish, my girlfriend (at the time) and I had similar and unusual nightmares on the same night. We both dreamed that we were being attacked by knife-wielding assailants. That morning, we marveled at the coincidence. A few weeks later, we again had parallel nightmares. Each of us dreamt of being crushed into an extremely restricted place. Having recently read the yoga concept that food contains consciousness, I reviewed what we had eaten the night before each episode of nightmares. The first time, we had both eaten chicken. The second time, we had both eaten fish. Just imagine how a chicken feels when it hangs from its feet awaiting having its throat slit. Think of what a fish experiences as it struggles in a net, is then dumped into the hold of a boat, and finally smothers under tons of other fish!

The hormones produced by these creatures as they die are present when we eat them. Freezing, cooking, and digesting their remains has little or no effect on these hormones. Is it unreasonable to speculate that ingesting these hormones produces a small but detectable emotional effect? Any possible effect would likely involve experiencing, to a lessened degree, the same emotion the animal experienced as it died. If a person is accustomed to eating animal flesh, his hormonal system would be expected to adjust to the periodic intake of these hormones. Thus, he would probably not notice the effect. However, if a vegetarian suddenly were to eat meat, the effect might be noticeable.

It is possible that some of the aggressiveness displayed by meat-eating animals is a backlash caused by the adjustment of their hormonal systems to the ingested hormones of panic and fear. Could this concept affect the overall behavior of human meat eaters throughout the world? Could part of the aggressive behavior credited to “human nature” result from meat eating?

*From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

More Articles on Nutrition and Health

Book on Optimal Nutrition and Weight-Loss

Home Page