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Veggie Month for a Meat Lover

by Archives April 7, 2009

I had just finished eating wild boar with my friend Jo. For some reason, a pepperoni stick had been in order for the walk to his place. Both meaty experiences were quite delicious, but afterwards, under the influence of my girlfriend, I decided to go vegetarian for a month.
To commemorate our endeavour and monitor any relapses into “meatdom,” we drew each other “meat-o-meters.” Suspiciously, mine had about 30 degrees before it would max out. She obviously didn’t expect much dedication, but I was ready to give it an honest go. That night, the pork chops were moved up to the freezer; bring it on I said.
On my first day as a vegetarian, I stocked up on nuts like a squirrel in October – ammunition against the cold. But while nuts, just like meat, are great sources of protein, they aren’t a single solution. Apparently this is the exact kind of thing many students will do: replace meat with one easy alternative that doesn’t solve the entire problem.
“The hardest part is meeting the dietary requirements,” said Canadian dietician Teresa Schneider about going vegetarian, “a lot of the university students I see come in anemic, with iron or B12 deficiency.”
“Many can’t find an adequate alternative for meat . . . sometimes I have to ask people to give them selves ‘permission’ to eat meat once and a while,” Schneider said.
It ends up that it’s harder for our body to absorb the some nutrients in vegetables then those in meat. In fact, the iron content of a vegetarian diet is higher than that of a non-vegetarian, yet higher incidents of anemia prevail because the iron from plant sources is harder for vegetarians to absorb.
Many dieticians advise the use of vitamin B-12 supplements since plant food are not a reliable source. As for protein, few plants and grains make a full protein. There are eight types of amino acid in a complete protein and to get them all, you have to eat a wide range of produce.
“However, the Canadian food guide does recognize that a vegetarian diet can adequately provide our nutritional needs at every stage of life,” said Schneider.
According to American Natural Cancer Institute, vegetarians have only 40 per cent of the cancer rate of meat-eaters. The study was followed over half a million people aged 50-71 for 10 years. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, mortality from heart disease for lacto-ovo vegetarians (diet includes milk and eggs) was only one third that of meat eating men.
Variety is key, any dietician will tell you that. I say easier said than done: one walk through the isles of a grocery store and the trend can be noted. Vegetables lead to meat section and all paths lead to dairy land. As hard as simulated meat factories try, those anemic little veggie sausages hidden under excessive packaging don’t have the same kind of virility as a juicy strip of beef. As a man, this can be a hard swallow.
“Men are men around the BBQ” goes that old adage. I told my buddies that I went vegetarian on day three. It was like I told them I hate being a man. I think they were worried we were going to become less manly as a group because I flaked out. I told them I’d grow a beard to reaffirm my manliness, but they were worried I wouldn’t have the energy for it.
“We used to get a lot more outcry, verging on outrage,” said David Alexander, president of the Toronto Vegetarian Society, about the very idea of vegetarianism, “but now friends and family seem more curious about it, and less worried about you.”
Alexander made the switch to vegetarianism about 10 years ago with his girlfriend for largely economical and environmental reasons. He said he’s seen a considerable increase in vegetarians with more and more men getting on board.
“A lot of women do it out of compassion, but with the state of the environment and our economy, I think a lot more men are making the switch,” Alexander said.
“Meat still does have a masculine reputation,” he admitted.
So will men ever be men around the salad bar? The Anti-Vegetarian Society of Meat Eaters: a “place for meat-atarians to celebrate the joys of eating meat!” isn’t opposed to eating veggies per se, they just see them as “great sides for big juicy steaks.” Here you can buy your “I didn’t claw my way up the food chain to eat vegetables” T-shirt and share your meaty stories with other guys (one would assume from the fan mail and photos that this site is male-dominated). In this bastion it’s clear: meaty still equals manly.
So as a man who struggles enough with being manly already, I was starting to realize that needed a pretty good reason to maintain my regime. Day four had me lying in bed beside a near-depleted supply of pecans looking for inspiration. On Google, I typed in four letters: PETA.
PETA is rated the 17th most evil organization ever on rateitall.com. The KKK and Al-Qaeda are higher up, but the Illuminati and the NRA are lower down.
Ryan Hulling is the College Campaign Coordinator for PETA International. He made it clear that PETA finds the current mode of meat production abominable.
“It’s like the meatrix,” said Hulling, referring to the cramped in common practice of factory farming.
PETA made it clear they’d prefer we all didn’t eat meat, but they certainly tolerate any cutbacks someone can take, even if they are minor. That doesn’t mean they’ll let you off easy though.
“Changing peoples minds requires tactics,” said Hulling. “Part of our job is to grab people’s attention, even shock them to start a discussion, to start questioning of the status quo, and, of course, to start action.”
PETA’s Superbowl adds made the news when it decreed “vegetarians have better sex” and showed beautiful women swooning over vegetables. According to PETA, this claim is based on studies that show vegetarians are in better shape, having fewer cardio-vascular problems.
But Schneider, the dietician, had told me that more often than not, athletes need meat in their diet for the high amount of energy they require. All of a sudden it seemed as though to be at the pinnacle of health, meat was required.
PETA’s add may have not convinced me that vegetarians make the best lovers, but a movie on factory farming they produced convinced me there’s a problem with the way we produce meat.
Nitrates, methane, growth hormones, cages, cut beaks and piles of miserable animals. The whole operation looks like the holocaust.
A recent United Nations report concluded that the meat industry causes almost 40 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transportation systems. That’s all the cars, trucks, SUVs, planes and ships in the world combined.
“For every pound of meat, it takes six pounds of feed, and it takes eight times more resources for one pound of red meat than it does the dietary equivalent in vegetable products,” Alexander said, “that’s pretty shocking considering the state of things.”
But, the enjoyment of meat makes up a heavy percentage of my long-term memory. I’ve had many hot rods and hot dogs. It feels like Christmas when “lazy maple” bacon is on sale and I once ate a glazed ham that will surely be that last glorious frame when my life finally flashes before my eyes.
Still, the environment may be a reason compelling enough to cut out the meat. To quote one Beatle (Paul McCartney), “The biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle (to fight climate ills) would be to become vegetarian.”
Al Gore’s handbook Live Earth says that not eating meat is the “single most effective thing you can do” to reduce your carbon footprint.
But John Cleese famously said “If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?” And I’d like to add, then why did he make meat so tasty?
World meat consumption is forecast to double by 2050, according to Compassion in World Farming. In 2002, there were about 1.53 Billion cows worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations.
Jonathan Porritt, head of Britain’s Sustainable Development Commission, has concluded in his research that the world’s cattle alone consume the caloric need of 8.7 Billion people. About 1.4 Billion people could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to US cattle alone. In short, we could easily feed the world if the cows weren’t eating it up first.
“Our society eats way too much meat,” says dietitian Nicole Berkowitz. “It’s a whole downward spiral in the way we’re trying to overproduce to feed this demand.” Berkowitz is referring to the environment as well as the health impact of meat.
Berkowitz was a vegetarian from age 11-17, but when she was a student she found it difficult to get the proteins she needed and reverted back to a meat diet. “Many vegetarian diets I see end up being less healthy.” She concluded that for most people, moderation is key.
During my month as a vegetarian, I didn’t feel that moderated. I found myself needing more sleep and no matter what, I was always hungry. I used copious amounts of sugar to cut my appetite.
Veggie month is now three weeks over, and I have put the “eat” back in meat, but not all the time. Four times a week, that’s my goal. According to PETA, if everyone in North America had one less chicken dinner a week, that would be the same as taking one million cars off the road.
Being responsible, that makes me feel manlier than a stake ever can. Besides, meat’s expensive.

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