Letter to the Editor

I was disappointed to read the article “Vegetarians struggle with a difficult diet”, in the March 15th edition of The Flyer. It contained a number of inaccurate facts. The first is that humans need animal protein to be healthy. Both the U.S. government and the American Dietetic Association have for many years reported that a vegan diet is nutritionally adequate, and provides health benefits because it is instrumental in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases, such as heart attacks and cancer. The largest statistical study ever conducted on diet, The China Study, found that the best way to avoid the major disease of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and osteoporosis was to adopt a vegan diet.

Second, it is a misconception to believe that it is difficult for a vegan to get enough protein. Since protein is found in all foods except fruits, fats and sugars, it’s practically impossible not to meet or exceed the U.S. recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein (50 to 60 grams a day). Any vegetarian with a decent appetite will not find it hard to consume enough vegetables, grains, beans, seeds and nuts to exceed the recommend amount. According to Marion Nestle, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University,“ protein deficiency simply is not a concern for anyone in the developed world. “

The more important question about protein that needs to be addressed is what happens to the body when a person get too much protein, a common problem for those on the typical American diet. The answer is: it leads to calcium loss and osteoporosis. The China Study shows that populations that eat the most protein suffer more from osteoporosis, a disease in which calcium is leached from the bones, leaving them weakened. This is true even among populations that consume plenty of calcium. (When protein intake is very high, about 142 g. per day, it becomes impossible to maintain the body’s calcium balance.) Americans are a high-protein intake/high calcium-loss population. In countries where protein intake is low and where most of the protein consumed is plant-derived, osteoporosis is rare. Soy protein, for example, when eaten in the same quantities as animal protein, causes only half the calcium loss.

It is also a mistaken belief that animal protein is superior to vegetable sources. That was popularized when Frances Lappe wrote Diet for a Small Planet (1971) in which she argued that plant protein is “incomplete” compared to meat protein, and must be carefully combined to make a “complete” protein. The need to combine proteins was based on a misconception about protein metabolism in humans. It was retracted by Lappe in the 1991 edition of the book and abandoned around the same time by the American Dietetic Association as a unnecessary idea.

Third, it isn’t true that vegans have vitamins and mineral deficiencies not found in meat eaters. Studies show that when compared to meat eaters vegetarians get larger amounts of fiber, and iron, Studies also show that vegans rate higher on: essential fatty acids, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D. The only concern for vegans is vitamin B12, which must be supplemented in the diet.

Studies of Seven Day Adventists in California have shown that it is much healthier to be a vegetarian. For example they have documented that being vegetarian can reduce a person’s risk from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and other problems that are common among meat eaters.

Fourth, it is hard to believe that anyone would argue that a vegan diet is not practical from an environmental standpoint. It is the meat-based diet that is not sustainable or practical. It is the meat industry that is largely responsible for the degradation of the rainforests, topsoil, and fresh water supply in the world. It is also the major cause of global warming. According to a 2006 UN-sponsored report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” factory farming plays a major role in every aspect of environmental collapse, from ozone depletion to ocean dead zones. Factory farms, which hold tens of thousands of animals per facility in windowless warehouses throughout the country, are responsible for more than 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is much greater than the carbon footprint created by the transportation industry.

I am not sure at all what the author of the article was trying to say about the plight of animals and meat eating when she said “no meat at all may not be practical for…any animal.” Suffice it to say, that there are more than 8 billion animals slaughtered every year in the U.S. for food. If a person makes the ethical decision not to take part in this carnage he is saving the lives of at least hundreds of these animals and possibly thousands, if he or she continues to be vegetarian throughout one’s life.

Finally, I would take issue with the fact that it is difficult to lead a vegan (cruelty-free) lifestyle because most items in stores and offerings in restaurants are not vegan. While it is true that most items in the store, or the typical restaurants, are not vegan it doesn’t mean that vegan items are not to be found there. Most stores have many vegan items. If you shop at Jewel or Dominick’s in the Chicago area one can find vegan bread, milk, yogurt, artificial meat products, as well as all the staples needed for a healthy diet. I have purchased the items mentioned in the article (pie crusts and noodles) at Jewel. It is easy to find these food products in vegan form. One just needs to be careful and read the labels. If you are willing to venture to more specialty stores such as Whole Foods, and Trader Joes’ one can find many prepared items, such as vegan mayonnaise, cream cheese, and whip cream. In restaurants, if you ask them, they can make many items vegan. For example, I can go to many Italian restaurants and get a vegan pizza.

It is also easy enough to not purchase personal care items and clothes that are vegan. I don’t wear any leather or fur and I don’t purchase items such as toothpaste, soap, deodorant, and shampoo that are tested on animals or have animal ingredients in them. It is not hard, I have been doing it half of my adult life. You just have to read the labels and be selective in your purchasing practices.

I would end by saying that I agree with the author on one point. We all need to be careful in the selection of what to eat. A vegan who makes the choice to eat potato chips and Coke for lunch is not eating healthy, but that is not responsible vegan eating.

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