Ascension : On being a Vegetarian by Lorna Cook
Submitted by The Islander (Islander Editors) 08.03.2012 (Article Archived on 22.03.2012)
How many times in my life when I have announced the fact that I am vegetarian, have I heard it stated accusingly “but you must eat fish”,
when replied in the negative it prompts the question “What do you eat then?” Vegetarianism is often misunderstood, even in today’s so called enlightened society.
Many people cannot understand the choice of a vegetarian lifestyle. At best we are humoured and sometimes made to feel slightly awkward when we ask for the (usually only one – if we are lucky) vegetarian ” option”, at worst we are sometimes taunted by others (who think we are struggling with a great temptation to consume the flesh of a dead animal) by having bacon butties wafted under our noses … One thing is for certain, we must dispel the common myth that vegetarians are sandal wearing hippies without a voice. On the contrary, there are many vegetarians and vegans who I know, who are particularly militant animal rights activists who will rarely give carnivores the time of day, and arm themselves (literally) to fight their cause.
The Vegetarian Society of Great Britain defines a vegetarian as: A person who avoids eating red (e.g. cow, sheep, pig) and white (e.g. duck, chicken, turkey) meats, fish and all other water creatures such as prawns and lobsters; and who also avoids slaughter by-products such as gelatine (made from horns, hooves, bones etc), lard and cochineal (crushed insects). A vegetarian may or may not eat dairy products, free range eggs or honey.
Vegans do not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals.
A few interesting facts:
· Research shows that in many ways a vegetarian diet is healthier than that of a typical meat eater.
· Compared with omnivorous diets, a varied vegetarian diet contains less saturated fatty acids, cholesterol and more fibre.
· A vegetarian diet is sometimes recommended for people with chronic conditions such as arthritis and kidney problems.
· Studies have found that vegetarians have a lower incidence of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type II diabetes.
· On swapping to a vegetarian diet for a few months, one will usually be rewarded with a significant loss of weight.
· A balanced vegetarian diet is likely to exceed the recommended intake of 5-a-Day fruit and vegetables which is linked to lower rates of colon and some other cancers.
It often comes as a surprise to people that some cheeses are not vegetarian. Cheese is made by coagulating milk to produce curds (solids) and whey (liquid). The curds are separated from the whey so they can be processed and matured to produce a wide variety of cheeses. The coagulation of milk is achieved by the addition of rennet, the traditional source of rennet is the stomach of slaughtered newly-born calves. Vegetarian cheeses can be manufactured using rennet from either fungal/bacterial sources and are thus labelled as veggie. There are some cheeses which are always made using animal rennet, for example, Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano). In order to be called ‘Parmesan’ this has to be produced according to traditional methods which use calf rennet.
Wine can also be problematic for vegetarians. Most winemakers choose to clarify and stabilise their wines before they are bottled by using a practice known as fining. Among the most prevalent of fining agents are isinglass (fish bladders), gelatin, casein (milk protein) and albumen (egg whites). So unless wines are labelled as vegetarian we go dry!
Most vegetarians would agree that they have chosen this lifestyle as they find the idea of eating meat or any other form of flesh abhorrent. Animal welfare is also an issue, factory farming along with strong evidence from behavioural studies, that farmed animals such as pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, cows, sheep and fish are sentient beings with individual needs and preferences, encourages their choice.
A common argument used by meat-eaters is that because we have canine teeth this is evidence that we have been ‘designed’ to eat meat. Along with sharp claws, all meat-eaters, since they have to kill mainly with their teeth possess powerful jaws and pointed elongated, "canine" teeth to pierce tough skin and to pierce and tear flesh. They do not have flat back teeth like us, which vegetarian animals need for grinding their food. As for our sharp teeth, gorillas are entirely vegetarian – as are almost all primates – and yet have far longer and sharper canine teeth than human beings!
The diet of the ancestors of human beings was largely plant-based, until they began hunting about one-and-a-half million years ago, but even then meat formed just a minor part of their diet. Even if some of our ancestors ate meat to survive, we certainly don’t need to do so today.
If humans excelled in pouncing upon animals, tearing their still-living limbs apart with their teeth, and then feasting on the warm blood, perhaps we’d have to agree that nature provided us with a meat-eating instinct!
Many people buy their meat ready packed in the supermarket fridge – ready killed and butchered, and it bears no resemblance the animal itself. Most of the general public would be sickened if they had to visit an abattoir or do the killing themselves.
Some people might argue that animals have less intelligence than humans but why should we use this rationale to measure them, are more intelligent humans more important than less intelligent humans?
Pigs have been proven to be smarter than dogs, yet many people will happily eat a pig while shuddering at the idea of eating their pet dog. All animals have a value within themselves. They also have the ability to suffer mentally and physically. If we consider ourselves a compassionate human race, we need to reconsider our relationship with all animals, not just the ones we keep in our homes.
Here is a poem to end with …
The Bull Calf
Well, sonny! Come along
Swinging your little tail!
This is the price you have to pay
For being born a male.
Moo, moo, old cow!
And start a hunger-strike,
Lots of us have to do
Things that we don't like.
Lots of us have to suffer
Don't let it spoil your meal,
This is the price you have to pay,
Somebody wants some veal.
Don't take it too hard, old cow
I'm sorry you've got so wild,
But somebody's got an appetite
And wants to eat your child.
Henry Bailey STEVENS (1891-1976)