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Vegetarian vs. Meat-based diets

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Final Essay:

Vegetarian vs. Meat-based diets

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By: Renuka Boochoon

Professor: Jon Johnson

TA: Kelly Fritsch

Course code: SOSC 1801

Student ID: 210317212

                                                                                                                              Due Date: March 15, 2010


A vegetarian diet is not only beneficial to the human body than a meat-based diet in several ways, but to the environment as well; more specifically in the way meats and vegetables are produced. Meats require raising animals, feeding those animals, going through slaughterhouses, etc. whereas producing vegetables can be as simple as growing them on a farm. The processes a product goes through before it reaches to the market can predominantly determine how sanitary it is; this is what makes meat more prone to contamination- I will be looking at this in my essay. Many argue that a vegetarian diet does not supply a sufficient amount of nutrition. However, the benefits of a plant-based diet outweigh the benefits of a meat-based diet as this essay will show. Furthermore, a plant-based diet is known for its low saturated fat content as opposed to a diet which contains meats; this is another factor which will be addressed in this essay.

         While it is true that vegetarian diets have many benefits, it still remains controversial for many other reasons; for instance, the absence and/or lack of vitamin B12. A number of studies have determined that people who eat a plant-based diet are more at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency, which could result in many neurological problems such as issues with memory loss (Goldstein, p. 221). Although the vitamin B12 exists in eggs and dairy products – which vegetarians do consume – it is not a sufficient amount from just those two sources whereas almost every source of meat contains vitamin B12 (Bender, p. 14). This is mainly why a meat diet is thought of to be more healthful than a vegetarian diet.

            Furthermore, the cleanliness of the processing of vegetables – due to environmental issues – poses health risks to vegetarians as they heavily rely on vegetables as opposed to a person practicing an omnivorous diet. The risk of contracting contamination from vegetables and/or plants is higher than that of contracting contamination from meats. The cleanliness of meat heavily depends on the health of the animals, whereas the cleanliness of vegetables relies on something much bigger - the environment (i.e. soil on farms which could potentially affect all crops that is grown on it). Fruits and vegetables can easily become infected with harmful chemicals (in particular, fertilizers and pesticides) and pathogenic microorganisms that can spread through compost as well as manure fertilizers and unclean surface water via irrigation (Jongen, p. 66).

          In addition, many illnesses have developed through improper growing or farmland; for example, the hepatitis A outbreak was due to the wrong handling of strawberries by workers who were not aware of basic hygiene when harvesting and picking the strawberries (Jongen, p. 67). Farming and harvesting vegetables is a risky process in that there are several variables that can determine a crop's healthiness. This poses a health threat to vegetarians as their diets are mainly composed of vegetables and vegetables are primarily grown on farmland which could become polluted in many ways (such as manure contamination and the vegetables are picked and sorted by hand) so the process can be unsanitary if not handled properly.

          Environmental risks are not the only risks involved with practicing a vegetarian diet - physical liabilities are also involved with the human body. Vegetarians are at much higher risk from suffering from inadequate protein consumption; this is a problem because it can cause the body to burn the dietary intake rather than to use it to make proteins for the body. Because of this, pregnant women should have some sort of protein or meat intake so it does not lead their children to develop PEM (protein-energy malnutrition) - which occurs when insufficient amount of protein is taken and slows both body growth and development (Insel, p. 235). Those who practice a this lifestyle are also likely to practice eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia due to dieting which is almost twice as common in vegetarians as it is in meat-eaters (Goldstein, p. 223). At the same time, a vegetarian diet is likely to contain fatty proportions of food if eaten regularly. Dairy products such as cheese, butter, milk and cream have high levels of saturated fats that can easily outweigh the benefits of a vegetarian diet (Goldstein, p. 218).

         Despite these disadvantages of a vegetarian lifestyle, it is still a better choice of diet than a meat-based diet for multiple other reasons especially when it comes to health. For example, a vegetarian diet has been proven to be more beneficial towards those who have medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, high levels of cholesterol and obesity (Goldstein, p. 218). Studies have also been conducted and according to Margaret Thorogood, the results showed that mortality rates amongst vegetarians are almost half that of the general population. Similarly, there is evidence showing that overall, vegetarians are healthier than non-vegetarians. (Goldstein, p. 216). A vegetarian lifestyle is also more favorable than a meat-based diet in terms of health because it contains a significantly less amount of excess fat as well as cholesterol, hence why vegetarians tend to live longer (Goldstein, p.216). 

        One may argue that a vegetarian does not get a sufficient amount of vitamins (such as iron, zinc and vitamin B) as they solely rely on fruits/vegetables and dairy products. However, there is no evidence that shows these reductions in vitamins harm people (Drummond, p. 64). One may also argue that a vegetarian diet is not a stable diet because of the lack of protein, thus causing growth problems in children. However, researchers have concluded that neither a vegan nor vegetarian diet impairs a child's growth and development (Thorogood, p. 144). Though a vegetarian diet lacks protein from meat, there are other sources of protein that vegetarians can also rely on; cheese and low-fat milk for example. This is why a vegetarian diet will not interfere with a child's development. If anything, a child - if vegetarian - is more likely to grow up to be slimmer and healthier than their meat-eating friends, according to M. Goldstein (p. 222). 

        One may argue that just like a vegetarian diet, there are many benefits to a diet consisting of meat as well. For example, there is a certain amount of protein that your body needs daily and lean beef provides 64% of that (Goldstein, p. 213). It is questionable as to where vegetarians would find a substitute for that much protein since their substitutes are not primary sources of protein; namely meat (ex: tofu).

        Many people avoid meat because of its high fat content, but most meats today – pork, in particular – is leaner and lower fat, cholesterol and calories than it was many years ago (Insel, p. 238).

        Furthermore, studies were conducted on poor children in Africa and the study concluded that when those children were given small portions of meat daily, they grew faster and performed better in school (Goldstein, p. 222). This makes it evident that the nutrient content in meat provides healthful benefits to the human body.

        The lack of iron and zinc in a vegetarian diet is of most concern and according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, with the elimination of meat and an increase consumption of whole grains and legumes containing phytate, the absorption of both the iron and zinc are reduced (Goldstein, p. 220). In other words, when meat is eliminated from a diet, the levels of zinc and iron (essential) will decrease as well. This can be problematic for vegetarians – even more so vegans – because zinc and iron are crucial minerals that are required by the body to maintain its normal function and are responsible for the growth of cells (Zheng, p. 135). In addition, insufficient amounts of zinc and iron can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes (Zheng, p. 136). This puts vegetarians at a greater risk for diabetes unless they consume the right supplements for zinc, iron, and other essentials missing nutrients from meat.

            Unlike a vegetarian diet, however, a diet consisting of meat has a negative impact on the environment. Livestock, for example, has played a significant role in climate change (Goldstein, p. 223). In particular, the digestive systems of all livestock (especially cows) produce large amounts of methane gas which contributes significantly to global warming (Koneswaran et al., 2007). Research by the United Nations also reports that livestock accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions which is more than the entire transportation system (Goldstein, p. 223). A diet with meat can not only be harmful to the body but to the environment as well. Clearly, a vegetarian diet would reduce global warming, also accounting for the fact that raising livestock requires pastureland. This is problematic to the environment because as more forests and land become clear-cut, the more habitats are being destroyed (Soule, p. 242).

        Even worse, a diet containing meat also promotes animal cruelty as there will be a higher demand for meat and animals are treated very poorly when they are being raised for livestock. The way in which all animals are treated before they are slaughtered should be banned, according to Goldstein, (p. 225). The animals lack basic legal protections;

“there is a burning of the eyes and lungs that comes from the ammonia. It is from the bird’s droppings, which are simply allowed to pile up on the floor without being cleaned out, not merely during the sometimes for several years. High ammonia levels give the birds chronic respiratory disease, sores on their feet and hocks, and breast blisters. It makes their eyes water, and when it is really bad, many birds go blind. As for the birds, bred for extremely rapid growth, get heavier, it hurts them to keep standing up, so they spend much of their time sitting on the excrement-filled litter – hence the breast blisters,” as quoted by philosopher Peter Singer, (Goldstein, p. 226).

There are many more examples of how cruel animals are treated. For example, the way turkeys are treated. They are bred to grow so fast and heavy (as to make full use of the turkey for meat) that their bones cannot support their body weight and often have to use their wings as a form of locomotion (Goldstein, p. 226). As long as meat is in demand, animals will continue to be treated in this manner as it is seen as an efficient way of production (in terms of time and cost) by companies.

A meat-based diet could increase chances of developing diseases such as high cholesterol levels, and coronary heart disease. Similarly, a study was done by the Californian Adventist Association and found that mortality amongst men who ate meat was 50% higher than that of men who ate no meat (Thorogood, p. 183).

I would argue that a vegetarian diet is also more beneficial in terms our environment and promoting less animal cruelty. One of my concerns was that a vegetarian diet would not supply enough nutrients for the human body to grow and function properly, but it is found that a vegetarian diet does not impair one’s growth and development (Thorogood, p. 144).

 Evidence shows vegetarians have an overall lower mortality than meat-eaters (Lea, et al., 2001), but this could be based on other factors as well. For example, a possible explanation of this is because vegetarians are also less likely to smoke and/or drink (Thorogood, p.181). More controlled experiments and studies like this should be conducted as to yield more accurate results. For instance, find out not only the reason vegetarians have a lower mortality rate, but the reason. It is an assumption that it is because they are less likely to associate with drugs, but that must also be questioned – why are vegetarians less likely to consume drugs? More in-depth research and/or studies should be done.

There exists a number of reasons why a vegetarian diet may be considered more healthful than a meat diet, and vice-versa – it is just a matter of personal choice. However, having only now weighed both arguments, I conclude that a vegetarian diet provides more benefits over a meat-based diet. Meat contains a lot of nutrients that a vegetarian diet wouldn’t provide but at the same time, it contains a lot of excessive fats which make it high in cholesterol and calories. Vegetarians could always find supplements and/or alternatives for the lack of nutrients in their diets without gaining the unnecessary fats which is primarily my strongest argument.

Bibliography

Bender, A., (1998). Meat and Meat Products in Human Nutrition. Retrieved on January 23, 2010 from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/t0562e/T0562E.htm#Chapter 3 – Meat and Health.

Drummond, D., (2007). Vitamins: Nutrition for Foodservice and Culinary Professionals. Retrieved January 24, 2010 from: http://books.google.ca/books?id=tjvSb1D7xGkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Nutrition+for+Foodservice+and+Culinary+Professionals.&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false.

Goldstein, M., (2009). Food and Nutrition Controversies Today: Greenwood Press, United States of America. Retrieved January 22, 2010.

Koneswaran, G.; Nierenberg, D., (2007). Global Farm Animal Production and Global Warming: Impacting and Mitigating Climate Change: Washington DC, USA. Retrieved on January 24, 2010 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367646/pdf/ehp0116-000578.pdf.  

Jongen, W., (2005). Handling Practices on the Farms. Improving Safety of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables (1 ed., p. 66). Boca Raton: CRC. Retrieved on January 26, 2010.

Lea, E.; Worsley, A., (2001). The Cognitive Contexts of Beliefs about the Healthiness of Meat: Burwood, Australia. Retrieved January 23, 2010 from: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=627392&jid=PHN&volumeId=5&issueId=01&aid=565056.

Soule, D., (2006). The Impact of Sprawl on the Environment, Urban Sprawl, p. 242. Retrieved January 26, 2010.

Thorogood, M., (1995). The Epidemiology of Vegetarianism and Health: London Nutrition Research Views. Retrieved January 23, 2010 from: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayFulltext?type=1&fid=593776&jid=NRR&volumeId=8&issueId=01&aid=593768.

Zheng, Y., (2008). The role of zinc, copper and iron in the pathogenesis of diabetes and diabetic complications: therapeutic effects by chelators: US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved on March 10, 2010 from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18274991.

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