I've been thinking a lot on vegetarianism lately.
A lot's been said about how healthy it is to be vegetarian. It lowers your cholesterol, makes your heart healthier, helps you lose weight, and reduces the risk of certain cancers. So the story goes. Though of course for every person who endorses vegetarianism there's another that thinks it's foolish.
Look at our teeth and digestive system, critics say. We have sharp teeth, like carnivores, and our digestive tracts aren't as long as those of herbivores, so we must really be evolved to eat and digest meat.
Others point out that we are a cross between carnivores and herbivores, which is why we can eat and digest both meats and vegetables. The question is not so much whether or not we can eat certain foods or not. It's whether we should. What's the best choice, from a health perspective? Is there some nutrient in meat which we need? Or can we get enough protein from vegetable sources, along with the other nutrients we get from meat?
The thing is, no matter what the health benefits of vegetarianism are, I've usually been wary of vegetables. Salads I thought as dangerous as swordsmen. You had to bribe me to eat brocholli, and I wouldn't eat brussels sprouts for any sum. But slowly that's changed. Vegetables have grown less menacing of late.
Anyway, after thinking about this today I decided I'd try a veggie burrito for lunch at a mexican restaurant. The burrito was made of a flour tortilla and filled with rice, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions, along with a mild sauce. I enjoyed it. I wonered if maybe I'd miss the taste of meat. But I found that the combination of vegetables had a dinstinctive and likeable flavor of their own. They didn't need meat.
I also realized that most of our seasonings-- salt, pepper, cinnamon, sugar, etc-- are plant-based. Oranges, Apples, Pears, Apricots, Peaches, Lemons, Limes, Grapes... the available flavors and textures among vegetables and other edible plants are vast. So there wouldn't necessarily be a lack of good tasting food in a vegetarian diet. That was something I had thought previously to count against vegetarianism: vegetables were too bland. Now I realize you just need the right combination of vegetables and plant-based foods and seasonings. Then blandness won't be a problem.
That covers some of the health and culinary aspects of vegetarianism. But that's not all there is to it. Some have also thought vegetarianism was a moral issue as well. For instance, Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, wrote:
"Vegetarianism is the taproot of humanitarianism." Tolstoy was not the only one to have this sentiment. A number of famous persons, including the playwright George Bernard Shaw and the scientist Albert Einstein, have advocated vegetarianism.
Their argument is that humans cannot foster a humane outlook if they dine on corpses, and raise vast populations of animals which show some level of feeling and awareness for the sole purpose of being our dinners. At first glance this seems fairly obvious. Of course people will be less humane if they eat corpses for dinner. But, for one thing, most Americans do not think of the meat they eat as a corpse, and hardly ever see it in that form. They just see the processed result. Most are divorced from the process. Eating a hamburger is much different from hunting and killing a deer and then tearing raw chunks of meat off the corpse and eating them.
Another issue comes in the form of that world-renowned villain, Adolf Hitler. Hitler was a vegetarian. Critics point out that being vegetarian didn't really make him much of a better or more humane person. So perhaps vegetarianism is not really a cause of humanitarianism. Rather, vegetarianism can sometimes be the result of humanitarian impulses.
Still, vegetarianism needs to be considered in terms of health and economics. It very well can be argued for on those grounds, I think. It's a topic that could use more research.
As for me, I'm going to continue dabbling in it and seeing what comes of it. Though i'm not as rigorous or exact in experimenting as someone in a laboratory setting would be, I think my efforts can still hold weight in my own life. At least until some more definitive study comes along.