One Person’s Meat Is Another Person’s Poison Despite the daily deluge of health messages and warnings that Americans receive about their eating habits, a meal of hamburgers and French fries continues to rank as the top choice among diners. According to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans “ate an average of 30 pounds per person of the crispy potato sticks in 1995”⎯ more than three times the amount ingested in 1965 (“Surprise,” 1996, p. C3). Moreover, among patrons of restaurants and fast food eateries, “One out of five diners ordered a burger, for a total of 5.2 billion burgers” in 1995, claims the National Restaurant Association (“Surprise,” 1996, p. C3). Americans might, therefore, find it difficult to believe that, in fact, “Most people throughout the world have eaten primarily vegetarian foods until recently. It is still the way that most of the world eats” (Ornish, 1982, p. 144). Although most Americans clearly continue to relish their animal products and “junk foods,” over 12.4 million of them⎯which amounts to nearly 7 percent of the population⎯now identify themselves as vegetarians, concluded a 1992 survey conducted by the research firm Yankelovich, Clancy, Shulman (as cited in Krizmanic, 1992). Thus vegetarians, until recently thought to be faddish, marginal, countercultural, or simply strange, have now become almost mainstream in America. The nutrition myths that used to prevail about vegetarians⎯that they could not possibly get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12 from plant foods⎯have been satisfactorily debunked, and a vegetarian diet has achieved the status of a safe, wholesome, even normal, choice. The vegetarian diet has been defined in a number of ways, but, for the purposes of this paper, vegetarianism means the custom of eating foods exclusively from plants and abstaining from all meat, fowl, fish and, for some, dairy products (Dupler & Frey, 2003). Lately, Americans summary
One Person’s Meat
have embraced a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons: a commitment to ecological or environmental causes (4%), religious convictions and/or ethical principles (5%), the influence of family and friends (12%), and concerns about animal rights (15%) are among the popular motivations (Krizmanic, 1992). But those factors that have sparked the most compelling rationale for becoming vegetarian are the dangers associated with a meat-based diet; according to the Yankelovich study, 48 percent of those surveyed listed a concern about their health as “the single most important reason for becoming vegetarian” (as cited in Krizmanic, 1992, p. 74). Most of these survey participants chose a meat-free diet as a means to lowering cholesterol and losing weight (Krizmanic, 1992). But a vegetarian diet offers even more significant health benefits: recent studies have demonstrated that a plant-based diet has the power to reverse⎯ and possibly to prevent⎯coronary heart disease. Plant-based foods are also lower in cholesterol and saturated fats which may account for their many health benefits (Dewell, Weidner, Sumner, Chi & Ornish, 2008, p.347). Heart disease is the number one killer in industrialized nations. In fact, recently released statistics shed light on an alarming trend in the United States: cardiovascular diseases claim 1.4 million American lives annually – one life lost every 36 seconds (Centers for Disease Control [CDC], 2007, para. 1). Twenty-five years ago, Dean Ornish, M.D., head of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, recognized that conventional approaches to heart disease were failing miserably because they tended to offer only temporary relief: the symptoms were treated, but the causes of the disease remained unaddressed (Ornish, 1993). “With only drugs and surgery,” Ornish (1982) argues, “the best we can hope for is symptomatic relief,
a truce, a forestalling of further disease and death” (p. 10). As described in his revolutionary book,...
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