Friday, March 10, 2006
LIVE WRITE COLUMN for next week
It’s Canada Nutrition Month and messages about healthy eating are all around us. Follow a healthy balanced diet, be active, and practice moderation in all things - that’s the core message. Doing so should benefit my heart, my brain, and my ability to remain active. It should also help me stay at a healthy and comfortable weight (I like to keep a cushion of fat, just in case I hit lean times).
When it comes to eating habits, it would be hard not to notice the rising number of vegetarians grazing side by side with the rest of our human herd. The term vegetarian means different things to different people. If you’re a vegan, you eat no animal products whatsoever (and perhaps you steer clear of leather products, too). If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you avoid meat, fish, and poultry, but include milk and eggs. If you’re a lacto-vegetarian, you skip the eggs, but go for the dairy. And if you’re semi-vegetarian, maybe you include some animal products such as chicken and fish. My daughter demonstrated another form of vegetarianism some years ago when she announced at our dinner table, “Starting today I am a vegetarian…except when I eat meat.”
Whatever the category, the point is that a growing number of people eat little or no animal products in their diet. Several polls suggest that somewhere between three and 10 per cent of North Americans consider themselves vegetarian. And a walk up and down the aisles of any supermarket suggests there's a strong market for vegetarian products.
I made the mistake of becoming a vegetarian at the wrong time in culinary history. I was meatless, fishless and egg-less for 10 years during the 1970’s and early 1980’s. This meant ordering grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup in cafes and restaurants across North America. When I was in parts of Europe and India, the menu opened up greatly. Today, international cuisine is available in small towns and even the most humble café usually offers meatless choices – (I can still order grilled cheese, of course).
There are many reasons people choose a vegetarian style of eating. They may be ethically opposed to eating animals. They may believe it is a healthier way to eat. Many are aware that raising animals for consumption takes a huge toll on natural resources and global food energy. Sometimes religious beliefs underlie the choice. A child I know simply dislikes the taste of meat.
But vegetarians still need protein and other essential nutrients – such as calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin D – which non-vegetarians get from animal products. All of these nutrients are particularly important for growing children and pregnant and nursing women. Health Canada advises vegetarians to follow Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, choosing foods from all four groups. Choose meat alternatives such as dried peas, beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters and, if acceptable, eggs. If you prefer not to use dairy products, choose soy beverages fortified with calcium, folic acid, and other nutrients. For more information about vegetarian sources of key nutrients, contact your local community nutritionist or call Dial-A-Dietitian at 1-800-667-3438.
Why did I go from being a full vegetarian to a semi-vegetarian? Well, I was invited to my friend Michael’s mother’s home for Thanksgiving dinner in 1983. I arrived to the intoxicating smell of turkey, dressing and gravy – and the less intoxicating smell of some sort of tofu soufflé arranged nicely for me. Once at the table, before I could check myself, I found myself pointing and saying, “I want some of that!” In a single, delicious meal, I found myself a “semi”. (Michael’s mother is proud of herself to this day.)
I'm a semie-veggie because of compassion for living animals but I do eat fish sometimes so I guess that makes me somewhat inconsequent and opportunistic.
The fact is; it's never completely black or white. Why should it be anyway.
There's quality of life too. Live with compassion and acknowledge the grey areas!
And plants for that matter, come to think of it. There's so much mindless, apathetic violence done to our food before it reaches us.
Something that I read in Carla Emery's encyclopedia was that culturally, the further north a people lives, the more it relies on meat as a dietary staple, and that certainly makes sense. I was talking to someone who was discussing vegetarianism during his stint in the Yukon. He was a vegetarian on the principle of eating "lower", and he realized shortly after he got there that having tofu shipped up to the top of the world was definitely not part of his system of ethics.
And there, the world goes round and round.... the spirituality of meat-eating, the spirituality of plant-eating... I don't do a lot of outward religious practices anymore, but I won't give up grace before meals, whoever or whatever it's addressed to. That seems so earthy and humble, to acknowledge the food and our relationship to it.
But not to take away from the topic... a large number of vegetarians have survived in India and lived full nutrition filled lives. :) It's funny, but I used to get asked what I ate when I told people (in Canada) that I was a vegetarian. Then I'd introduce them to the world of Indian foods and they would be surprised by the variety and our source or nutrients. I guess, whatever works for people. As long as it isn't always junk food. (or coffee). :)
I like the idea of a cushion of fat, as I think we can be overly concerned about weight but you might like to mention what's your considered acceptable cushion, say being within 10% of prescribed median weights!
The other point about vegetarians (I am not one although I eat far less animal products food these days) is the contribution their choice makes to enhancing sustainability of our planet earth. What’s grown generally only uses up about 10% of Food resources compared to animal production! Except for say beef farming that relies on natural grazing.
Grain fed animal production however uses up to 14 times the food inputs compared to what's grown. That's important when considering the sustainability of planet earth. Jared Diamond conceded this point in his lecture in Australia last year, although he also remarked he is not totally giving up eating meat!! Everyone has some sins and he enjoys the odd steak too much to give it up entirely !!
Another aspect is the fast feeding of animals, eg our highly intelligent pigs enclosed in confined Piggeries.
The danger is also on the reliance on packaged ingredients; with additives and high salt contents to enhance taste. It’s safer and usually healthier to buy raw and cook. Cooking something we do a lot less of these days, but there is no substitute for healthy eating.
According to Nutritionist Australian Rosemary Stanton there are about 14,000 items on the supermarket shelves these days!! That compares to only 400 at the time of our grandparents.
I prefer turkey to either chicken or beef. A turkey is a much cleaner animal, and less susceptible to disease. Better protein-to-calorie ratio, too.
I was semi-vegetarian for 4 yrs. Some dishes, like eggplant parmagiana, I still love.
Worth noting that there are several sports drinks with high protein. I used to drink the Muscle Milk from CytoSport. Soy protein supplements tend to give me gas (though I suppose that would be material for another column).
Good post, as always!
Lindsay - choosing fresh foods, produced as near to home as possible, with as little drug or chemical input... makes sense (and makes a good meal too).
I must say, I do love to eat (it's more than sustenance, that's for sure). Good pizza, grilled tuna, fresh coffee, good red wine, softy gooey cheese - even a nice piece of bread. Hey, I'm going to go make lunch now!
There's too little love in this world, it seems, especially for humanity in general.
The word verification this time sounds like it should have come from Londsey's outback. taroowua
PT says he likes turkey. One thing about it, veggies do not pursue you about the chicken enclosure trying to flog you and rake you with their toenails. But any time a Family member threatens to have roast turkey, daughter Jo acts as if one of her children was threatened. Ofcourse old Tom is just doing what comes naturally - protecting his flock and territory against intruders. That's very comforting when he nails you.
I don't really miss meat - except at Christmas, and I did have some then, and my digestive system didn't like it. So I got back on veggies the day after.
I don't like the meat industry and don't want to support it. Also I have a growing respect for all living beings, and I've become more aware of this feeling after becoming buddhist.
I know that not all pregnant vegetarians are like this... but my Hubby's bro's wife is currently pregnant and she is a vegan. She just received hell from her OB/GYN b/c he is NOT happy with her teeney-tiny weight gain and b/c the ultrasound has indicated a VERY small baby with limited growth. I've never personally seen her eat more than a salad and a fresh fruit plate, so I am not shocked.
But I'm fairly certain neither of us will ever eat meat again. There was something about that meal that made us both feel like cannibals.
Jane Goodall has a new book on the issue: Harvest for Hope. Meat eaters don't particularly aid in conservationist efforts.
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