The term “vegetarian” is one that arose in the 1800s, and its exact definition is still not settled. The ancient vegetarians obviously did not refer to themselves as “vegetarians.” They described themselves as “not eating flesh food” and as “Pythagoreans.” The Roman historian Ovid (43 B.C.-17 A.D.) wrote about Pythagoras (569-470 B.C.), noted physician, musician, mathematician, humanitarian, philosopher, and vegetarian. Pythagoras opposed eating all flesh food, including fish. However, according to Ovid, who lived 500 years later, Pythagoras referred favorably to drinking the milk of sheep. (Metamorphoses, Book 15, line 80, 101, 115.) Likewise, Plato and Socrates, intellectual heirs of Pythagoras, in speaking of the ideal city in The Republic (Great Dialogues of Plato, p. 165 ff.), refer to its inhabitants eating cheese, but they speak against meat, including fish. So far I have found no hint as to whether the ancient vegetarians did or did not eat eggs. Pythagoras was possibly a lacto- or lacto-ovo-vegetarian. I have found no evidence as to whether Jesus, Peter, James, and John the Baptist ate milk and eggs. However, Catholics for several centuries and the Orthodox even today keep to a strictly vegan diet on fast days, not just a vegetarian diet, which would indicate that Jesus and those around him did the same.
Most people use the term “vegetarian” more loosely to mean a diet that includes no meat but can include milk, eggs, and honey.
A minority argues that a “vegetarian” is someone who eats no meat or animal-based foods, no fish, chicken, eggs, milk, or honey. Such a vegetarian will eat anything else, assuming he/she likes it. A vegetarian can eat grains, beans, peas, nuts, bread, beer—and vegetables. A vegan goes further and wears and uses no animal products.
Some use the term “vegetarian” to describe the person who eats no red meat but does eat chicken or fish, however, most vegetarians would disagree with this definition.
There is a need for a general term that includes people who don’t eat meat but who eat or might have eaten eggs or milk, for example, the ancient vegetarians. So in this book I will use the word “vegetarian” to refer generally to those who do not eat meat but who might or might not eat milk and eggs. I will refer to “strict vegetarians” as those who eat no meat, milk, or eggs.
We can trace vegetarian societies back to Pythagoras in the Sixth Century B.C.E., and these were probably descended from the goddess worshiping societies, which populated Old Europe before the invasions of the Indo-European speaking Aryans beginning around 4300 B.C.E. Some tribes might have been vegetarian, but there is evidence that meat was a part of the diet of most, although a smaller part than after the Aryan invasions, and so I would refer to the goddess societies as relative-vegetarians. I hypothesize that at least the pious were vegetarians or part time vegetarians like the Pharisees, Judeo-Christians, and the Orthodox Church today.
Up until the invention of refrigeration, most people did not eat meat three times a day as we do. Most did not even eat it daily. Most did not drink animal milk regularly until the development of refrigeration. People ate a lot of vegetables, nuts, roots, fruit, eggs, and a modest amount of animal protein. The typical diet was relatively vegetarian compared to the 50 percent fat diet we eat today.
Most vegetarians first become so for health reasons. It happened for me when I was in law school back in 1977. I developed moderately high blood pressure—130 over 90. My doctor proposed to put me on a life long course of drugs. He wanted me to walk a half-mile across campus every day to have my blood pressure tested. “Well, Doc, can’t I take my own blood pressure?” I asked. “No, taking your own blood pressure will raise your blood pressure even more,” he said. Bad advice!
Being a take-charge guy, I ignored his advice and bought a blood pressure cuff. I sat on the sofa with my legs crossed, meditated, and tested my pressure. I learned what high blood pressure felt like, and I lowered it through informal biofeedback. I cut down on meat, milk, and egg consumption for health reasons.
In 1979 I met Paul, a young man just back from working with the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. He spoke of vegetarian health issues, but for him the ethical and environmental issues were more significant. He spoke of how badly factory farm animals are treated. He made me ponder the significance of what I was eating. I completely quit eating meat. Later I gave up milk and eggs, including bread, cakes, candies, and chocolates that contain milk and eggs. The punch line of my story is: “And now I don’t have any blood pressure at all.” Today my blood pressure tests out today at 115 over 72. My pipes are clean. My total cholesterol level is a low 139. I had the obligatory colonoscopy at 50—with no anesthetic—and my colon was totally smooth.
Others become vegetarians for ethical reasons. Cows, pigs, and chickens live horrid lives in “animal penitentiaries.” Ethical vegetarians refuse to participate in a system they disagree with. Their not eating animal-based foods is a protest against an industry that does ghoulish things to other species in its blind pursuit of profits.
Environmental vegetarians follow the vegetarian path because modern animal husbandry is profoundly destructive to the animal and plant kingdoms. Every burger, omelet, or glass of milk you consume destroys part of a rain forest, grassland, or river somewhere. Each adds fecal and urinary pollution from stockyards, dairies, and pig and chicken ranches to ground water, rivers, and estuaries.
A lacto-ovo vegetarian eats no meat but does eat eggs and milk products. Some people would call such a person simply a “vegetarian.”
Becoming a lacto-ovo vegetarian is a practical, first step on the way to a strictly plant-based diet. It is easy to find a broad selection of food that is lacto-ovo vegetarian. However, such a change is not a significant improvement over the standard omnivorous diet in terms of health, ethics, or the environment.
A diet heavy in milk and eggs is high in the saturated fats and calories we do not need and low in the essential fats we do need, the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. In the good old days of the family farm, milk and eggs produced in the barnyard were clean, and the fat and nutrient composition of these foods was more healthy than the eggs and milk that come from today’s factory farms. (Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, p. 233.)
Further, the production of milk and eggs is intimately linked with meat, leather, and glue production. Dairy cows and laying hens are sent quickly to the slaughterhouse when production drops. Cows must bear a calf each year to continue to lactate heavily, and almost all the innocent calves they bear go into the brutal veal industry for 100 days of hell. (See the Veal section of this book, p. 290.)
Nevertheless, lacto-ovo vegetarianism is where most vegetarians are today. In reality, there are very few strict vegetarians. Most vegetarians will eat a little milk or eggs, particularly if it is imbedded in cake, cookies, pies, pastas, or breads. As I will point out below, there are excellent replacements for eggs and milk.
An ovo-vegetarian would eat eggs but would not eat milk products. In many sections of this book I have ranted about how unhealthy, unethical, and harmful to the environmental milk is and how milk is not the last thing that a vegetarian should give up but the first thing that anyone should give up. If you still eat meat; quit milk. If you still eat eggs; quit milk.
Some of India’s Hindu population is lacto-vegetarian. High caste Brahmans tend to be strict lacto-vegetarians, whereas members of lower castes add fish, chicken, and lamb to their diets; they eat whatever they can afford, except for beef. Mohandas Gandhi influenced millions of Hindus to renounce the eating of all meat. Except for Moslems and Christians, hardly any Indians eat beef. McDonalds serves lamb burgers in India. Indian vegetarians generally eat milk but not eggs. Cattle provide milk and fertilizing manure, and they are used to pull plows and carts. Most cattle owned by Hindus are not slaughtered when they grow too old to work as draft animals; instead they are allowed to roam the farms and countryside, trimming the grass and providing manure for fertilization and cooking fires. Hindus revere and worship the cow as the natural partner of humankind; hence the term “holy cow.” To some extent, Hindu lacto-vegetarianism is grounded more in a taboo against harming or eating cattle than in a general respect for all lower forms of life.
Sometimes Hindus sell old cows and oxen to Moslems or Christians, who then slaughter them. And some less-observant Hindus will tether a cow to a post until it starves.
Indians generally use unhomogenized, unpasteurized milk, which they boil. It is often buffalo milk instead of cow milk, and it comes from healthy animals that roam free eating grass, animals which are not confined in sealed buildings or fed the unnatural diet of their counterparts in the United States. Boiling the milk breaks down the hard-to-digest casein protein, and it neutralizes many of the hormones and kills the bacteria. Pasteurization, on the other hand, does not increase the temperature of milk sufficiently to destroy hormones and kill all viruses—including paratuberculosis, which may cause Crohn’s disease.
In recent years Western style dairies have been set up in India, which produce the same pasteurized and homogenized milk sold in the West. Homogenization breaks milk into microscopic globules of protein and fat which can pass directly through the lining of the stomach and intestines into the blood, bypassing digestion, and which thus contribute directly to arteriosclerosis. Indians consume small quantities of milk compared to Americans. (Amadea Morningstar and Urmila Desai, The Ayurvedic Cookbook, p. 260-261.) Milk is a much less healthy substance in the United States than the boiled, unpasteurized and unhomogenized milk of India, and Hindus in this country who can’t find a source of organic, raw milk which they can boil should give up milk and become strict vegetarians. It is true that organic milk is now available in this country, however, it is homogenized and pasteurized, and the cows which produce it still live in many cases in buildings and feedlots instead of pastures. (See the sections of this book entitled Dairy Products, Osteoporosis, and Animal-Based Foods, p. 261, and Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, p. 284.)
A vegan (it rhymes with “be fun” with the accent is on the first syllable) is a strict vegetarian, who eats no milk, meat, or eggs, and who in addition makes no unavoidable use of animal products.
The word vegan … was originally derived from “vegetarian” in 1944 when Elsie Shrigley and Donald Watson, frustrated that the term “vegetarianism” had come to include the eating of dairy products, founded the UK Vegan Society. … They combined the first three and last two letters of vegetarian to form “vegan,” which they saw as “the beginning and end of vegetarian.” (“Vegan,”
All vegans are vegetarians. Not all vegetarians are vegans. Vegans go further than vegetarians. A vegan would not wear leather shoes, but a vegetarian might.
Because animal products are imbedded in so many products we buy, it is impossible to be a perfect vegan. For example, the glue holding your sofa together is probably made of rendered animal bones. Some other products containing animal products are: adhesive tapes, air filters, antifreeze, asphalt, ball bearings, bone china, brake fluid, buttons, candles, cardboard, cellophane, cement, ceramics, chalk, chewing gum, clothing, crayons, deodorant, electrical bushings, emery boards, explosives, galvanized steel, gold, ink, hair brushes, insecticides, lipsticks, paper matches, paint, photographic film, plastics, records, rubber, sandpaper, shampoo, shaving cream, shoes, soap, steel (including metal for pots and pans), sugar, tires, toothpaste, upholstery material, and varnish. (List compiled from C. David Coats’ Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm, p. 173, and Jeremy Rifkin’s Beyond Beef, p. 274 ff.)
A tendency has arisen for the term “vegan” to be used to describe one who eats no meat, milk, or eggs without also including the vegan’s non-use of leather and other animal products. The term “vegan” has slid out from under its original meaning and become less rigorous.
Likewise, the word “vegetarian” is being used—too broadly—to mean lacto-ovo vegetarian. If the word “vegetarian” means lacto-ovo vegetarian, why do we have the expression “lacto-ovo vegetarian”?
Nevertheless, in this book I use the term “vegetarian” in its most common sense to describe the broader group that includes the person who is a strict vegetarian and the person who eats no meat but might eat milk or eggs. There is a need for such a general word, because it is sometime not clear just how strict a vegetarian one is, particularly when it comes to the ancient vegetarians, who may have consumed milk and eggs.
In order to avoid confusion, I use the term “strict vegetarian” to mean one who eats a diet that contains no meat, fish, milk, or eggs. A strict vegetarian is not necessarily also a vegan and might still wear leather shoes.
I use the term “vegan” to mean one who eats no meat, fish, milk, or eggs, and who in addition, makes no unavoidable use of animal products.
A raw foods vegan eats fruit, raw vegetables, nuts, sprouted seeds and sprouted grains. For breakfast such a person might eat fruit and nuts. For lunch she might eat a huge salad, with a dressing made of the essential oils. For dinner she might eat a meal of sprouted lentils, sprouted adzuki beans, sprouted wheat or barley berries, and raw vegetables. She might add juice made from veggies which are too hard to eat raw, such as broccoli stalks. Or she might lightly steam hard veggies which are not otherwise edible—a slight compromise in a raw foods regimen. Virtually all row foods vegans eat some of their food cooked. One does not have to eat a 100 percent raw diet to be considered a raw foodist. Such a diet would be very high in vitamins and plant phytochemicals. This would be an excellent diet for one trying to prevent or defeat cancer, lessen symptoms of endometriosis, lose weight, strengthen bones, and/or extend life-span.
Oddly enough, vegetarians tend to eat too few “vegetables.” Most vegetarians eat mostly grains and breads, and most of what they eat is cooked.
Modern-day Essene prophet Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, who died in 1979, divided foods into four categories, biogenic, bioactive, biostatic, and biocidic. (The Biogenic Revolution, p. 54.) Biogenic foods are young, sprouted seeds and sprouted grains. He says they are brimming with healing power at this stage. Bioactive foods are raw vegetables and nuts. They are healthy, but they do not contain the enormous healing power of biogenic foods. Biostatic foods are vegetarian foods which are cooked; they are not harmful to the body, but they have even fewer healing powers. Their vitamin content has been reduced. Biocidic foods are animal-based foods. Dr. Szekely recommended that one’s diet be at least 25 percent biogenic foods, 50 percent bioactive foods, 25 percent biostatic foods, and zero percent biocidic foods. Unfortunately, Szekely advocated drinking goat milk.
When one eats raw foods, one should chew them thoroughly. Flow of saliva is stimulated, and the digestive process is begun. We don’t have cuds like cows, and we don’t get a second chance at it. Thorough chewing helps with gas problems.
Most of us open our mouths and shovel everything in all together, foods of all different sorts. Some vegetarians suggest that we should instead avoid eating this kind of food with that kind. Friend and poet Mark says:
Those who observe the strictest food-combining laws sometimes simplify the number of daily meals to two: one of fruit, the other of vegetables…?. Fresh fruits eaten with seeds or nuts are good, but eaten alone are better; fresh vegetables eaten alone are good, but eaten with nuts or seeds are better; fruits and vegetables are never to be eaten together; and best of all are those days when we eat nothing at all. (Mark Mathew Braunstein, Radical Vegetarianism, p. 24, 29-30.)
“Plant-based” is a good way to describe the diet of a strict vegetarian. John Robbins may have coined this phrase; he certainly popularized it. The term “plant-based food” is not as equivocal as “vegetarian food.”
I eat plant-based food, which makes me a strict vegetarian. What do I do if the physician gives me medicine in a gelatin capsule? If I cannot find a vegetarian replacement, I open the capsules, pour the contents into water or fruit juice, and drink it down. I see it as an opportunity to educate the doctor, or pharmacist. I write the manufacturer and ask him to switch to vegicaps or vegan soft gels. It is absurd to be packaging medicine or vitamins in something as filthy and cruel as gelatin.
A “green diet” is a plant-based diet. I use the term because it is so common today to talk about “green homes,” “green buildings,” “green energy,” green this, and green that.
Organic food is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers made out of petrochemicals. Before World War II, most agriculture was organic. As a part of the war effort, DDT and many other chemicals were developed which could kill insects that spread disease and eat crops. Their use continues to grow because petrochemical companies profit enormously from their sale.
These chemicals indiscriminately kill both good and bad insects, bacteria, and birds, impoverishing the soil. It is important that root crops such as potatoes and carrots be organic—because strong chemicals are applied to the soil before planting non-organic potatoes and carrots; every real or imagined threat—insect, microbe, or worm—is wiped out. Commercial root crops are grown in dead soil.
According to one source, 700 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on crops and fed to farm animals yearly in the United States. Ninety percent of non-organic tomatoes contain pesticide residues as do 60 percent of non-organic apples. Worst are non-organic strawberries, celery and lettuce: 70 percent show residues, with up to 70 different chemicals being found in strawberries and celery and up to 30 different chemicals in lettuce.
Agricultural chemicals not only kill animals and plants; they also kill people. Farm workers inevitably breathe the pesticides and chemicals they work with and absorb them through their skin.
I know a little about this from personal experience: When I lived in Canada in my 20s, I took a part-time job driving a tractor and applying a foul-smelling, green poison to spring peas. Despite the breathing filter, rubber gloves, and rubber coat and boots, I got the stuff on my face and even in my eyes. I had nowhere to wash off. By the end of the day I was as green as a pea myself. That’s why I’m in solidarity with the Farm Workers Union: My brothers and sisters die young from such chemicals. The difference is that I was able to quit after one sickening day, while their exposure to poison continues for years. Farm workers have a shortened life expectancy.
Important aside: Farm workers are the only sector of American labor that has no right to bargain collectively. Even if a majority of farm workers working for a company vote to form a union, their employers are not required by law to recognize their union or negotiate in good faith with them, which is contrary to the situation with every other class of workers. This dates back to passage of the Wagner Act in 1937: FDR was pushing for a law to give all workers the right to bargain collectively. However, he needed the votes of Southern senators to get his bill passed, and so he sold out the farm workers. The Wagner Act instituted collective bargaining rights for all workers except farm workers. Farm workers are our last slaves.
In many cases farm workers have no place to wash the pesticides off or to relieve themselves. When they do have health care insurance, they typically have to pay 30 percent of the cost. The doctor provided is usually a company doctor, and he is usually under pressure to minimize the significance of chemical poisoning and injuries in order to protect farm owners.
Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains do cost more, but buying them is a moral obligation we owe to our farm worker brothers and sisters. If we buy organic produce, more of it will be grown; the health and productivity of the soil will be improved; more farmers will turn to organic farming; and the price of organic foods will drop. Sometimes organic produce is sold for a lower price than regular produce. Once an organic farmer has built healthy soil, he or she can produce massive quantities of beautiful, healthy vegetables without wasting money on chemicals.
Because pesticides contain chlorine radicals and often fluoride, they tend to be carcinogenic. The Surgeon General has issued warnings to women that if they want to avoid breast cancer, they should eat organic fruits and vegetables. Men who want to avoid prostate cancer should do the same. The breast is a vulnerable point in the female anatomy. The prostate is a vulnerable point in the male.
How do you get your grocer to stock organic foods? Encourage her to start with organic grains, frozen organic vegetables, and frozen, organic fruit juices. They have a long shelf life, and so she will be taking little financial risk in stocking them. She is taking a bigger risk stocking fresh organic fruits and fresh organic vegetables, because if they do not sell right away, she will be left holding the wilted bag.
If you must eat non-organic fruits and vegetables, wash them with soap and water. If they can be peeled, peel them.
Farmers have found that insects are getting twice as much of the crop as they did before we started using chemicals after World War II, so more and more of them are turning to organic farming. (Udo Erasmus, Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, p. 391.) Farmers are tired of poisoning their soil, their workers, and themselves. Yields can be better without chemicals. In the long run the soil and those who work it will be healthier.
Even big food companies are seeing the light: Welch’s recently bought out Cascadian Farm, the finest organic producer in the Northwest. We can still rely on Cascadian Farm to put out an organic product because there is state inspection and certification. They may be seeing the light only because it is more profitable. But, hey, if someone does the right thing for the wrong reason, it’s still better than doing the wrong thing.
I hope that the farmers of my home state of Arkansas will someday see the organic light. I used to return there to visit my parents. I would avoid visiting during the growing season. In cotton and rice country, the smell of pesticides is constant and sickening. Drinking water comes from deep, artesian wells, which are becoming contaminated. It’s tragic, because there are ways to grow cotton and rice organically.
While it is important to eat organic vegetables, it is important to put this in perspective. Non-organic meat, eggs, and dairy products are almost always many times more laden with chemical residues than common, non-organic vegetables. Factory farm animals are fed corn and soybeans which are grown with heavy applications of chemicals. Cattle must eat 16 pounds of corn and soybeans to produce one pound of meat, and 61 percent of all pesticides used in this country are applied to corn and soybeans. (Michael Fox and Nancy Wiswall, The Hidden Costs of Beef, p. 25-26.) “The major source of pesticide residues in the Western diet is meat, poultry, and dairy products.” (Lewis Regenstein, How to Survive in America the Poisoned, p. 173; cited in Our Food Our World: The Realities of an Animal-Based Diet, p. 15.)
Atrazine is banned in much of Europe, but it is used in cornfields in the United States to kill weeds. Studies show it can damage DNA. Atrazine is sometimes present in American corn, beef, and milk. It is as damaging as DDT in its effect on estrogen metabolism. In the Midwest it is now showing up in 60 percent of streams. It is also in Scot’s Weed & Feed, meaning it’s in your or your neighbor’s yard. The federal government does not test such chemicals before they are used; the producers do their own testing. (Dan Fagin and Marianne Lavelle, Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health, 1997; cited by Bob Herbert, “Dangerous Deception,” New York Times, February 17, 1997, p. 23.)
These chemicals are concentrated in the tissues of factory farm animals because they are fed the ground-up remains of other factory farm animals. Likewise, these animals are fed a great variety of drugs. Animal and human bodies did not evolve to excrete these pollutants, so many of them remain in their tissues and organs, and when we eat them, they remain in ours, where they may cause DNA damage and cancer.
Most of the fish that people eat live at the top of the food chain, and so heavy metals and chemicals such as DDT accumulate in their tissues and organs. According to Howard Lyman, the milk of mothers who eat fish is so polluted with these contaminants that if it were cow’s milk it would fail government tests. (Interview, Seattle, November 14, 1996.)
So again, put this in perspective: The first way to “go organic” is to stop eating animal-based foods. Non-organic vegetables at their worst are much less toxic than animal-based foods.
One last word about organic vegetables. Regulations pertaining to organic growing allow growers to apply cow manure, blood meal, fish meal, and bone meal to their land. There are frequent reports of spinach and lettuce being contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Clueless journalists express puzzlement as to how E. coli is infecting these veggies. It is very simple: Insufficiently composted manure is being used to fertilize the plants. Or raw manure is flowing from nearby feedlots to vegetable farms. Or birds or pigs or the other wild animals are bringing the manure from feedlots into the fields. Organic veggies should be grown without the addition of animal products, veganically.
I asked Dana Lyons, singer of “Cows With Guns” and other songs with environmentalist lyrics, if he were a vegan. He said he used to be vegan and still was vegan except that he perceived the need for meat, and so he eats fish, but only fish raised in the wild.