Celebrate Vegetarian Day for yourself and for the earth

I hope the headline didn’t scare away any readers. I admit there was a time I would have scoffed at the words myself.

So please stay with me through this. I’ll admit; I’m not a total vegetarian. (So now vegans are really annoyed, and meat lovers are still skeptical.) Let’s get through the basics first.

For the purposes of this column, I’m going to mostly refer to vegetarians who don’t eat red meat (such as beef or pork), or poultry. Some exclude seafood (fish, crustaceans) from the “meat” label, while some others include all living animals.

Vegans also include products which come from animals, such as dairy, eggs and honey. They eat only from plant sources. Many conscientious eaters find themselves somewhere in the mix.

World Vegetarian Day has been celebrated on Oct. 1 for 40 years. “It brings awareness to the ethical, environmental, health, and humanitarian benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle,” according to the North American Vegetarian Society.

Most of us are acutely aware of the health benefits of cutting our intake of red meat, as proposed by both the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society. Saturated fats and high cholesterol are definitely bad guys and found especially in meats. Both organizations suggest a diet heavy in vegetables.

The ethical and humanitarian benefits of vegetarianism are evident without the need to bring PETA into the argument. However, many meat eaters also believe that the Big Ag confined warehouses (CAFOs) of animals are wrong on both humanitarian and environmental reasons. They may opt instead for grass-fed and pastured meats. It’s a decent argument in my mind, as it gives the animals a more natural lifestyle and “only one bad day.”

There’s little doubt that the CAFOs are environmental hazards to air and water as well. From an environmental point of view, the grass-fed and pastured movements are also beneficial since they reduce the heavy emphasis on corn feeding which has been shown to be environmentally detrimental.

But all the arguments of grass-fed vs. corn-fed go back to proper management. So best not to totally condone meat eating based strictly on feeding style according to a report by NPR which states, “Weighing carbon sequestration against methane production is a dicey business.”

Grist goes one step further, suggesting eliminating the meats is best for the earth. According to Grist, “That’s because directly eating vegetables and grains, instead of inefficiently funneling them through livestock to produce meat, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide produced by farms and farm machinery. It also cuts back on the amount of climate-changing nitrous oxide released from tilled and fertilized soils, and, of course, it eliminates methane belching and farting by cows and other animals.”

They refer to a 2014 UK research report which lists the following of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) comes from eating meats:

• Heavy meat eaters (American average): 16 pounds of CO2e

• Low meat eaters (less than two ounces per day): 10.3 pounds

• Fish eaters (no other meat): 8.7 pounds

• Vegetarians: 8.5 pounds

• Vegans: 6.5 pounds

It’s apparent that pescatarians (fish eaters), vegetarians and vegans step more gently on the earth than meat eaters.

If you are generally a meat eater, World Vegetarian Day on Oct. 1 may be a good day to modify your habit. You can continue to step into the plant world slowly by observing Meatless Mondays weekly. Try it at your own pace.

About two-thirds of the world’s vegetarians live in India, where much of the country observes the practice. I enjoy my charbroiled hamburger every so often, but have added lots of veggies to my diet which also includes fish. It’s amazing how much better I feel, both physically and emotionally, knowing I am reducing my carbon footprint.

Across the world, famous vegetarian include athletes, entertainers, writers and leaders including Paul McCartney, George Bernard Shaw, Rosa Parks, Thomas Edison, Carl Lewis, Prince, Jane Goodall, Fred (“Mister”) Rogers, Steve Jobs, and Ellen DeGeneres.

It’s a way to show self-care and earth care in one simple act, even if you practice it only occasionally. Who knows, you may decide to change your lifestyle with kale, broccoli and carrots.

Lynn Jenkins lives in rural Zionsville, where she is learning to live green. Email her at LJenks@tds.net.

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