Why Isn't Everybody Vegetarian?
- Why Isn't Everybody Vegetarian?
by Mark Warren Reinhardt
(Adapted from his AVS Convention lecture - 7/29/99)
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The American Vegan Society
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It�s really exciting for me to be here. I know everybody said this last night, but I have to say it again: It's great to be surrounded by vegans, my favorite people. I think these conventions are really great. We get to come here and learn all the latest studies; it seems as if every week there's something new that comes out, that further supports a vegan diet. It's great to come to these conventions and hear the experts talk about these things.
But, you know, the last couple of days I've been thinking to myself: suppose we didn't have all this knowledge, suppose we really didn't know. I do think, somehow in our hearts and our minds, we'd still know we're doing the right thing. I certainly think that we are.
Tonight I want to talk about some people who are less fortunate than we are. Polls say that in the United States only about 1% of the population is vegetarian. That's vegetarian. Many fewer are actually vegan. 99% of the people out there are still eating meat, whether from a large animal or from poultry and/or fish. Now that statistic just blows me away. I can't understand it. Here are people who are kind and compassionate and intelligent, and they're still eating meat. They don't see what we here see so very clearly, as to a sensible diet.
And I wonder, why don't they get it? How come we have. this big rift in our society? Vegans are from Venus and meat-eaters are from Mars. (laughter) It just doesn't make sense. Why is this? Well, I think there are about a million answers to that question and tonight I want to talk about just a few of them
I want to examine a few of the barriers that I see that stand between our meat-eating population, and vegetarianism and veganism
Area #1 is what I call the myth of the perfect (conventional) diet. This myth has been perpetuated ad nauseam by both the medical community and the information media. It goes something like this: "If you want to be healthy and happy and live practically forever, here's what you have to do: You have to cut back on red meat, and eat more chicken and fish (Audience chuckles.) We've all heard this stuff about three million times, right?
Where does this come from? It's not only ludicrous from a scientific standpoint, but a big problem is that it takes people away from vegetarianism. They think, "Ah, chicken and fish? I've reached the end of the road, I've attained Nirvana�. So they never get to vegetarianism.
Now take, if you will, two totally mythical meat-eaters with good intentions. On the one hand you have Bill. Bill has signed on to this chicken and fish diet; he thinks it's great. On the other hand you have somebody, let's call her Hillary. (laughter) Hillary for some reason has now gone straight to a vegan diet. What's the difference between these two people's lives? Well it's incredible.
First of all, for Bill we have to ask: what chicken and fish is he talking about? Is he eating grilled chicken sandwiches? Well, they get 40% of their calories from fat. How about tuna fish? It has 45% of its calories from fat. Maybe Bill's sort of trendy and yuppie' and he's eating salmon: up to 52% (of calories) fat. Or maybe Bill goes the other way, and he's kind of like Homer Simpson, and his idea of a chicken meal is ordering a bucket, with extra skin: 55% to 65% fat calories. This is not exactly health food.
Of course Bill could eat a truly low-fat diet and still include some chicken and fish. He could have broiled skinless cod, and broiled skinless chicken breasts served dry, and maybe wash it down with some skim milk. Wow, wouldn't that be exciting? How long do you think Bill' s going to stay on that diet before he runs back across the street to Colonel Sanders? Probably not very long.
But Hillary on the other hand has a choice of about a gazillion vegetable foods that are naturally low in fat. She's never going to get bored.
What are the other differences? Well, if somehow Bill does manage that truly low-fat diet, we all know that meat gets all its calories from protein and fat. If you lower the fat content, you raise the protein content through the roof (to get the equivalent calories in the diet). That big wallop of protein in Bill's diet is going to be very hard on his body, particularly on his kidneys; and it's going to take calcium out of his bones. Hillary's not going to have that problem. What are the other differences?
Bill knows he needs to lower his cholesterol, but he doesn't have a clue how to do it. The info media don't tell him. Little does he know that not only do chicken and fish contain as much cholesterol as beef, but on a calorie per calorie basis they contain a lot more; usually about twice as much.
Hillary on the other hand, with her all vegan diet is getting zero cholesterol in her food, and at least she doesn't have to worry about her cholesterol intake.
Well, this is just the beginning. There are lots of other things too. Toxins. Bill's eating high on the food chain, and chicken and fish are not going to help that. Fish are probably the worst, the oceans being the most polluted places we have.
How about fiber? Bill knows he needs more fiber in his diet. He watches the evening news and the laxative commercials, right? (laughter) He spends an hour every morning in the bathroom. (laughter) Well, chicken and fish aren't going to help him. Just like all other meat and dairy products, they have zero fiber.
On the other hand, with Hillary, just about everything she eats on a total vegetarian diet is going to have tons of fiber.
You know, Bill's not even getting the vitamins he wants. He thinks the meat and dairy products are great vitamin sources, but in actuality it's fruits and vegetables that are the most concentrated sources of vitamins and minerals that we have. Hillary's not only getting that but she's getting the anti-oxidants and phyto-chemicals from fruits and vegetables as well. Such a difference between these two diets. How come people don't know this? It's a shame.
You'd like to think that eventually people are going to find the truth. And I think that's going to be the case, a lot more people going to vegetarianism. But we may have to take a few steps backwards before then. You probably remember a few weeks ago there was a new study that came out that had big headlines in all the papers: BEEF HAS A PLACE IN A LOW-FAT DIET! WOW! You can just see Bill reading those headlines thinking, "Oh, boy! Now I don't have to eat any more of that codfish, I can go back to my Big Macs" But if Bill had read the article that accompanied those headlines more carefully he would have found out that this study didn't say that beef is good for you. Indeed, even on a low-fat diet that included beef, people had negligible changes in their blood cholesterol levels. All that study said was that beef is no worse than chicken and fish. Well, duh! We knew that. (laughter) And if Bill had read the article he would have found out something else too: the study was funded by,
yes, none other than the National Cattlemen's (Beef) Association. (laughter) We could have figured how that one was going to turn out.
It's a shame. This misinformation is keeping people away from vegetarianism. It's something we have to change.
Area #2: addiction. It's a strong word, but I truly believe that the vast majority of Americans are addicted to meat and dairy products. Just look at the facts. Pick any item, on any menu, in any restaurant, at random, in the United States; the odds are absolutely overwhelming that it will contain meat and/or dairy products. It�s phenomenal. We talk about chocolate being addictive, but you don't see chocolate in every dessert.
The vast majority of Americans eat the same four foods: beef, chicken, fish, and pork, over and over again, at least twice a day every single day of their lives. Sounds like addiction to me. Tell a meat-eater to just forgo that meat for just one meal, and see the reaction you get. It's often pretty hostile. People want to know where their next fix is coming from. (laughter)
Last year I was working in the vegetarian society booth on Meat-Out Day. This kid came up to the booth and he was about 16 years old, bleach blond hair sticking out every which way, skateboard under his arm, tattoos, pierced body parts; the typical all-American teenager. (laughter) I was giving him the old hard-sell on vegetarianism. He kept coming up with these excuses, and of course I could easily counter his excuses with the facts. He just got madder and madder. And finally he totally lost it and started screaming in my face, "I eat meat because it's dope; it's dope, man." I thought, "Wow! He's honest!" (laughter)
Imagine you're standing at a bus stop and there's a woman there with her 6-year-old son and she suddenly leans over and puts a cigarette in her son's mouth and lights it. What would your reaction be? I think most Americans would be appalled; they'd say "My God! Keep that woman away from that child" Now imagine that instead of a cigarette, she leans over and she hands the child a big hamburger and an ice cream cone. All those people would smile and nod and say, "Isn't that cute?"
But you could make very strong scientific arguments that the lifetime effects of eating fast-food meat and dairy products could be much worse for that child than even the lifetime effects of smoking cigarettes. And certainly, it's going to be much easier later in life for that child to give up cigarettes than it's going to be for that child to become a vegan.
The good news about addiction is that, as we all know, when you truly make up your mind that these products don't have a place in your diet, it becomes easy to give them up.
Area #3: what I call the image of sacrifice. Most people say, "Oh you poor soul; you're a vegan! Oh my! The things you give up!" They think of veganism in terms of giving up things. Whereas we know it's much more about discovering new things. Discovering new ways to eat. Discovering new lifestyles. It's great. Too bad we can't seem to get that message across.
A few weeks ago I was in a seminar and one of the speakers was a very well-known nutritional doctor, who speaks all over the country. Now, I want you to picture this. There were 12,500 people there, everybody standing up and cheering when this guy comes up on the stage, with rock music blaring on the P.A. system. He gets up on stage and says, "I want to tell you all the ten worst things you can put into your body; and the good news is that beef, butter, and eggs aren't on the list' Well, 12,499 people (everybody except me) got up and cheered-you'd think their team had just won the Super Bowl. People want to hear what they want to hear; they don't necessarily want to hear what they should be hearing.
At this convention we're going to be talking about genetic engineering and the potential dangers of genetic engineering. But I want to go on record right now, that I think there's one place where we need genetic engineering. I strongly advocate that we clone Ron Pickarski (laughter) and send him to every house in America to cook dinner. I think he could dispel this image of sacrifice very quickly. (Applause)
Now suppose somebody gets through these first three barriers. First of all, they aren't lured away by the phony promises of the fish and chicken diet. Second, they somehow realize their addiction and make up their minds that they're really going to deal with it And third, they start to look at vegetarianism and veganism as "maybe not so bad, maybe I can do that" I think there's still one more barrier that may be out there.
I think a lot of people don't realize that they are the ones who are really in control of what goes in their mouths. It doesn't have to be something that's dictated by some magazine or newspaper article. They can follow the dictates of their own minds. It's difficult for people at first, it's difficult to go against the grain, to go against what 99% of the population are doing.
That' s where you and I come in, because we can be examples. As Howard Lyman said last night, "We've got to walk the walk" And you know, we can do it. We can be good examples. I think we're making a good start by coming to a convention like this. We can get enthusiastic. We can pick up some knowledge, and when we go back home we can be better examples to people, to show them that they can be healthy and happy on a vegan diet. I know that as I look at you folks right now I get excited about it; and I think you're doing a great job. I really want to thank you. Keep up the good work.
Denver humorist and activist Mark Warren Reinhardt is the author of The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater's Guide To Vegetarianism. His column, On And Off The Mark, appears in the Vegetarian Society Of Colorado's newsletter.
The primary motive for veganism (full abstention from animal-source food, clothing, etc.) is of course ethical; in this talk the author highlights some major health benefits.
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