There is . . . but one categorical imperative: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.Vegetarianism, as a way of life, has been around for millennia - with relatively few adherents. Recently, however, reports in the news media, have suggested that a vegetarian way of life is healthier. Not surprisingly The Vegetarian Society has capitalised on these reports using them to persuade members of the lay public that their way is better for the animals, the environment, and, not least, for human health - and numbers are growing.
~ Immanuel Kant (The Categorical Imperative)
Forms of vegetarianism
Vegetarianism has evolved several forms. Generally the person who calls himself a vegetarian does not believe in killing animals and so does not eat meat and, sometimes, fish. He does, however, eat eggs and dairy produce. This form of vegetarianism, known more correctly as lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, is the most common form. There are also more extreme and restricted diets: the vegan diet whose followers exclude all animal products, but otherwise eat anything from the plant world. More restricted again are the Zen macrobiotic diets which consist almost exclusively of cereals and there are several variations on raw food - vegetarian - diets.
Vegans do not eat or use animal products, animal by-products, or products tested on animals. The term vegan, formed from first three and last two letters of the word veg etari an , was coined in London in 1944 by seven vegetarians who founded the Vegan Society.
There are three main reasons why people become Vegans:
- Concern for animals. Many people turn to vegetarianism because they do not want to kill animals. Vegans take it one step further. Concerned about animal husbandry today, which they say are inhumane, vegans and avoid animal products completely.
- Health. They believe that eating meat and dairy is bad for human health.
- Environmental concerns. They believe that animal farming damages the environment. For example they aver that "Methane from cow flatulence is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions leading to global warming".
Raw Fooder - one whose diet is raw foods. In theory this could include meat. However, it is usually a vegan diet and can also be lacto-vegetarian, so long as the dairy foods eaten are raw.
Essenes are followers of Jesus Christ, in that they believe that Jesus was a member of the Essene sect, and a raw food vegetarian. The Essene diet is a raw food diet of raw sprouts, wheatgrass, vegetables, and fruit. Use of raw dairy is explicitly authorized by the Essene gospels, so the diet is often lacto-vegetarian rather than vegan. Many Essenes use fermented dairy products, specifically yogurt.
After these vegetarian, but varied diets where many different foodstuffs are combined to provide a 'balanced' diet, come others which which are both more extreme and more harmful to health - even though those who espouse them usually do so because they believe they are healthier. They get progressively more dangerous in the order I have listed them
Zen-macrobiotic is a diet that limits intake to just cereals.
Living Fooder - a version of sproutarianism. It also includes raw fermented foods and raw blended foods.
Sproutarian - one whose diet is predominantly sprouted seeds.
Fruitarian - A fruitarian is one whose diet is at least 75% fruit. The rest is made up of sprouts or green leafed vegetables.
Breatharian - This is more a non-diet as breatharians believe they can survive without eating at all, getting the nutrients and energy their bodies need from the air they breathe.
And then there are many subgroups who do eat some forms of animal life, while spurning others: Pollo-vegetarians and Pollo-vegans who include chicken; Pesco-vegetarians and Pesco-vegans who include fish, are examples. I would call them all omnivores.
There is at present a growing trend towards vegetarianism. One of the results of the introduction of the 'healthy' or 'prudent' diet's recommendation to eat less red meat has been the increasing numbers of people who are turning to a vegetarian diet. Polls carried out in 1988 (1) and 1989 (2) indicated that some three percent of British subjects called themselves vegetarian or vegan - a slight increase on figures obtained during the previous four years. Motivations given included disapproval of intensive animal farming methods, rejection of animal slaughter, dislike of the taste or texture of meat, and about half of those polled mentioned health concerns (3) . One can sympathise with the moral argument, as food animals are kept indoors unnaturally, while their natural outdoor environment is turned into golf courses. And it may seem difficult at first to answer the question: 'How can you justify slaughtering an innocent animal for food?'
The road to vegetarianism often starts in college. Most professed vegetarians are in the twenty-six to thirty-five age group with comparatively few under twenty or over forty. The young impressionable student learns a little about ecology. He reads that animals are brought up in unnatural surroundings and fed hormones and chemical supplements to make them grow faster or leaner, and that those substances remain in the meat which we eat. He also learns that pollutants, pesticides and other toxic substances drain into our waterways and seas, are eaten by fish which again we eat.
He knows that the protein he got from meat and fish is necessary for his health, but he learns that many vegetables such as cereals, beans, nuts, seeds and tubers contain protein. Besides, he can ensure adequate protein if he supplements his diet from indirect animal sources such as milk, cheese and eggs - without having to kill anything. On top of this, he has been subjected to a great deal of propaganda telling him that a diet lower in meat and higher in vegetables is more healthy. And, lastly, if he buys organically grown vegetables, he will avoid the pollutants. They will cost a little more, but he is saving the price of the meat and, anyway, it would be a small price to pay.
Then he is told that meat production is a waste of the earth's resources. The high quality grain which is fed to animals which are then fed to us, would be used more efficiently if we did without the animals and ate the grain ourselves. Not only would that grain feed more of us, the land presently used to rear animals, he is assured, could itself be used to grow even more grain to feed the starving. It soon seems clear to him that in our modern world, where a third of the population is starving, meat production by any country must constitute waste of criminal proportions.
So he becomes a vegetarian. True, he has had to sacrifice the pleasure of eating meat, which he had found to be very palatable, but his conscience is clear and he is assured of a healthier life.
Unfortunately, it isn't as simple as that. The student knows a little, but the adage that 'a little learning is a dangerous thing' was never truer than in this context.
Animal farming is an efficient use of land
The human population of this planet is now approaching six billion and, even if every country on Earth enforced a strict and effective birth-control policy today, it is estimated that the total population will climb to fifteen billion before stabilising. The Earth's total land area is 179,941,270 square kilometres (69,479,518 square miles). A little simple mathematics tells us that at present, on average, one square kilometre has to support just over thirty-three people. If all of it were cultivated, that would certainly be possible.
The argument fails, however, because not all of it is available for arable cultivation. The main environmental factors which determine plant development and distribution are climate and soil type. We can discount the whole of the unproductive continent of Antarctica, so that reduces the total by 13,335,740 square kilometres immediately. We can also discount, at least as far as arable farming is concerned, all other ice-covered areas, tundra, mountains, deserts, heath and moor land, areas covered by rivers, salt marshes and lakes, cities, roads, and railways; and to a large extent semi-deserts, savannah, rain forest, low-lying meadow land and areas liable to regular flooding. We have now discounted most of the Earth's surface. In fact, only eleven percent of the land surface is farmed.
Almost all of the land we have just discounted does support grass or other plant life which we cannot utilise directly. We need a system which converts that grass into a form of food that we can eat. And we have one: much of the land we have discounted for arable use can be, and is, used for the raising of food animals. Take New Zealand, for example. Here we have a country of 269,000 square kilometres - larger than Great Britain - with a human population of 3 million, a sheep population of 42 million (see figure 1) and many cattle. When I was in New Zealand for three months in Spring 1999, I didn't see one field of grain. It wasn't surprising: as the ground is rarely flat and the volcanic rock on which New Zealand is built is very close to the surface, that country is quite unsuitable for the cultivation of grain (see figure 2). And the same applies to many other parts of the world.
At present one-third of the world's population is starving. If we all became vegetarians, we would have no use for, and would stop farming, all the land that will support only food animals. But taking all the land that supports food animals, but cannot support arable farming, out of production is hardly likely to ease the problem. In many areas where animals are farmed, they are the only things which can be farmed. In these areas, therefore, animal farming is the most efficient use of the land.
The vegetarian may argue that land that is not cultivable at present can be made so, but it is an argument which has already been shown to be false. The situation with respect to land use is not static. As the population has increased this century, so the amount of land available for cultivation has decreased. Where deforestation has taken place to make way for cultivation, soils have been exposed to higher precipitation and temperatures (4) . These processes deplete the soil's organic matter, the soils harden and turn to desert. In 1882, desert or wasteland covered an estimated 9.4 percent of the Earth's surface. By 1952 that area had increased to nearly twenty-five percent. It is a growing trend and one which, once it has happened, is very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.
In many areas with naturally low productive capability, irrigation is used to increase agricultural productivity. But irrigation carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. Semi-arid soils are characteristically salty. The irrigation water, from essentially the same area, is also usually saline. Without adequate drainage, the irrigation water seeps into the soil and raises the water table. This brings the underlying water nearer the surface where it evaporates more freely, leaving behind the salty chemicals. In time, the salts of sodium, magnesium and calcium clog the pores in the soil and leave a whitish bloom on the surface. This process not only destroys the soil structure so that yields fall, it leads eventually to a level of salinity where no plant can grow. Kovda estimates that between sixty and eighty percent of all irrigated land, that is millions of acres, is being transformed into deserts in this way.
Most of the world's surface is not covered by land, but by the oceans and seas. At present, millions of tonnes of fish are caught or farmed each year. As well as not eating meat, many vegetarians don't eat fish. If vegetarianism really caught on and everybody on the planet stopped eating fish, the two-thirds of the population who are not starving at present would soon join the third who are.
The British situation
The prosperous, well-fed United Kingdom has a total land area of some 88,736 square miles (229,827 sq km) and a population of 57,537,000 ( 1991 Census ). Arable and orchard farming occupy thirty percent while permanent meadow and pasture, which support food animals, covers fifty percent of the total area. But all of that is woefully insufficient - we still have to import one-third of the food that we need.
The UK's major livestock production is sheep, which are reared in almost every part of the kingdom. If we all became vegetarians, the mountains of Wales and Scotland would become largely unproductive, as would the moorlands of central and northern England. We would not eat the 720,000 tonnes of fish caught each year - over 12.7kg (28 lbs) per head. If we all became vegetarians, how much more food would we have to import? and where would it come from? The USA and Canada, who are net exporters of grain, might seem to be the answer to the latter question, although our food import bill - already £6 billion per annum - would rise alarmingly. If they too became vegetarian, however, they too would need to import. No: if we all became vegetarians, make no mistake, we would starve.
A fishy problem
For many lacto-ovo-vegetarians, the killing of animals is a problem. On moral grounds some are tending to change to eating fish - although the logic whereby the killing of fish is considered correct if the killing of land animals is not, escapes me. They are encouraged in this change by the belief that the eating of fish is what has allowed the Japanese to live longer and that it is good for them. Wanting to be healthy themselves, they buy sea fish like cod, sea bass, red snapper and haddock. But these are not the 'healthy', omega-3-oil bearing fish that doctors are advising us to eat.
Fish stocks are declining. Cod used to be a cheap fish. It is presently £7.70 per kilogramme, - over £2 more than farmed salmon. As prices reflect the laws of supply and demand, this can mean only one thing: there is a shortage of cod. Cod is not the only fish that is scarce around Britain, so are haddock, wild salmon and monkfish. It is the same story world-wide. The one fish which is plentiful now is the North-Sea herring. This does contain omega-3 oils and, with the mackerel, is good for us. It is also the cheapest fish on the market, yet the British have almost stopped eating it.
The fish for which we have rejected herring is tuna from the Pacific and other exotic species: tiger prawns from India and sailfish from the Caribbean. This change reflects a growing and disturbing trend. With the North Sea almost fished out and now highly regulated, third-world fishermen, hungry for foreign currency, are plundering their own declining stocks in other unregulated oceans.
With fish becoming increasingly difficult to catch in quantity, modern fishermen and their equipment are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Cornish fishermen are using four-mile-long drift nets to catch tuna in the northern Atlantic. The nets are called 'walls of death' because of the numbers of dolphins and other unwanted fish they catch. The Japanese fish for tuna with lines up to sixty-five miles long with thousands of baited hooks. In the North Sea, trawling does more damage than pollution.
Fish are very good at renewing themselves - if they are allowed to do so. But few will let them. Despite international agreements and quotas, in the northern seas, no-one, with the possible exception of Iceland, is managing their fish stocks properly and the problem of over-fishing is spiralling out of control.
Fishermen's methods have been likened to farming. But they are centuries behind: where the farmer sows and reaps, the fisherman, like the primitive hunter-gatherer, only reaps. He does not use his resources nearly as efficiently as the land farmer. Without fish, we would be hard pressed in this island for sufficient high-quality food. We need fish, but we will only exacerbate the problem of over-fishing if we switch from meat to fish - from efficient animal farming to inefficient and wasteful fishing.
The killing of animals for food is not morally wrong
A question frequently posed by vegetarians is: how can you justify killing an innocent animal for food? This question may seem difficult to answer at first but really it is not. Would it be reasonable to ask a lion to justify his killing of an innocent gazelle? Of course not: it is natural for the lion to kill the gazelle and that is justification enough. And what of a gazelle's right not to be eaten? Put this way, you can see that such questions are really meaningless. The same is true for us, for we are not a vegetarian species.
But, if the desire not to kill animals is a vegetarian's reason for his stance, then he should know that,when land is farmed for food crops, more animals are killed. The following e-mail I received illustrates this well:
Dear Dr Groves,We are not a vegetarian species
I agree with most of your points concerning the poor reasoning of most vegetarians. As a fairly observant zoologist, pathologist and sometimes farmer I can add even more.
As you and I know, most vegetarians are motivated, at least in part, by their view of the immorality of exploiting animals. Most of them, of course, are city dwellers who have never had the opportunity to till, plant and harvest a field with a vegetable crop.
Crop agriculture, even if inveterbrates are excluded, is devastating to small amphibians, reptiles, nesting birds and mammals. Even the occasional larger mammal is injured during the cropping process. Unavoidably, the plow destroys burrows and young. Harvest machines kill some animals directly and expose others to the tender mercies of predators. Many times, I have watched as coyotes and hawks follow my tractor feasting on the victims of the plow and reaper [hey, but it is nice for these predators].
Really, how could it be otherwise? Vegetables and cereals are the foods of many animals. For rodents, crops are a real bonanza in terms of food and shelter. They multiply rapidly which only increases the tally during field preparation and harvest.
To my thinking, there is little question that raising animals for meat, especially if they are not fattened with agricultural products, is far less devastating to animal life than is agriculture. If one acre of land produces one sheep a year for slaughter, one life is taken. If one acre of land is put into cereal production the cost in just mammalian life can be measured in the dozens or more.
Of course, animal death due to cropping is "invisible" and therefore doesn't happen. Lamb chops in the market are visible and vegetarians weep for the victim. I know that these realities have no impact on animal-rights types - - they are not nearly so concerned with animal death and suffering as they are with animal death and suffering due to deliberate human actions. Their emphasis is, in fact, not on animal welfare but on the control of other human beings.
Vegetarianism is unnatural. This is not a modern finding. The Bible gives us evidence of this, and clues that vegetarianism was not regarded with favour. In Genesis , Chapter Four, Eve bears Cain and Abel. 'And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.' That 'but' in the middle of the sentence is the first clue to disapproval. This disapproval is confirmed by verses three to five. Abel and Cain bring offerings to God: Abel of his sheep and Cain, the fruits of the ground. God, we are told, had respect for Abel's carnivorous offering, but He had no respect for Cain's vegetarian one.
The answer to that question lies in our past. But not the immediate past. The way we live now is based on advanced agriculture and the domestication of plants and animals. This is a very recent invention: we cannot have adapted to it yet. To determine what foods are likely to make up an ideal diet for us as a species, we must look further back, at our evolutionary history. For the food we have adapted to and should eat now is not a matter for current dietary fads, it is determined by what we have adapted to over millions of years and is coded in our genes.
We can trace Man's evolution from remains found in Africa and other parts of the world of early hominids dated as long ago as five and a half million years (5) . We have fossilised bone records of both man and animals. We have found stone tools and implements that must have been used for killing and cutting flesh or for grinding plants. We even have found hominid faeces. These findings have led to a great deal of speculation. Are we a carnivorous, omnivorous or a herbivorous species?
We call our ancestors and the various modern primitive tribes, 'hunter-gatherers'. In the world today, some tribes live exclusively on meat and fish. Others live largely on fruit, nuts and roots, although meat is also highly prized. It is obvious, therefore, that we can survive on a wide variety of foods. But which, if any, is our natural diet as a species?
There are three possible combinations of diet we can consider:
- that we were wholly carnivorous, hunting and killing animals;
- or that we were omnivorous, eating a mixed diet of both animal and plant origin;
- or that we were herbivorous, i.e. vegetarians.
The first evidence lies in the fossil sites. Where hominid remains are found, so also are animal bones - at times in their thousands. If we were not meat-eaters, why is that?
Secondly, although modern hunting tribes do eat plants, they have fire. Without it, there are very few plant foods with sufficient calorific value that we could have digested. There were fruits, of course, but there is not one prehistoric site in all Africa that indicates forests extensive enough to have supplied sufficient fruit to meet the needs of its inhabitants. Indeed, there is agreement that our ancestors did not dwell in forests at all but on the savannahs where there were vast plains of grass. However, grass is of no value to our digestive system. Even to live off fleshier leaves would require the much more highly specialised digestive systems of other primates. Compare the shape of the gorilla against that of the man in Figure 3. The area between the chest and the legs of the gorilla is much greater than the same part of the man. This is because the gorilla, a herbivore, needs a much larger digestive system. The walls of all plant cells are made of cellulose, a form of dietary fibre. There is no enzyme in the human digestive system that will break it down. And with the cell walls intact, the nutrients in the cells cannot be digested. Passing unaffected straight through the gut, therefore, all the nutrients in the plant would be ejected as waste.
Before fire was harnessed, the only means by which the seeds could have been rendered digestible would have been by pounding them and breaking down the plant cell walls, but no archaeologist has ever found a Stone Age tool for this job. If chewing were the method used to do the job, a very large proportion of the seeds would escape and, passing through the body undigested, end up in the faeces. Hominid faeces, or coprolites as they are called, have been found and studied in detail (7) . Older coprolites from Africa contain no plant material. Relatively recent ones from north America have included just about everything that could remotely be called edible: from eggshells and feathers to seeds and vegetable fibres. But these remains occur only after the Paleoindians had mastered fire, and even then, seeds had passed through undigested and unharmed. Thus there is no doubt that seeds cannot have been a natural part of their diet.
Homo erectus began to appreciate the value of fire around 350,000 years ago (8) . It is true that if our ancestors had started cooking grain then, we could have evolved and adapted to it by now. However, cooking grain is not as easy as cooking meat. You cannot hang it in a chunk over the fire or lie it in the embers. To cook grain and other seeds, you need a container of some sort. The oldest known pot is only 6,800 years old. In evolutionary terms, that was only yesterday.
For any reliance on cooking, you also need a controlled fire. Although hearths have been discovered that are 100,000 years old, these are relatively rare. European Neanderthal coprolites from around 50,000 years ago, before the use of fire, contain no plant material whatsoever. It was not until Cro-Magnon's colonisation of Europe, some 35,000 years ago, that hearths became universal. However, even then they were used merely for warmth, not for cooking plants. At the time, Europe was in the grip of a succession of ice-ages. For some 70,000 years there were long, cold winters and short, cool summers. Cro-Magnon and his Eurasian ancestors cannot have eaten plants - for most of the year there weren't any! He ate meat or he died. And he ate that meat raw.
Fats and brain size
The evidence was already overwhelming that we could not be a vegetarian species. However, in 1972 the publication of two independent investigations really nailed the lid on the vegetarian hypothesis's coffin. The first concerned fats (9) .
About half our brain and nervous system is composed of complicated, long-chain, fatty acid molecules. The walls of our blood vessels also need them. Without them we cannot develop normally. These fatty acids do not occur in plants. Fatty acids in a simpler form do but they must be converted into the long-chain molecules by animals - which is a slow, time-consuming process. This is where the herbivores come in. Over the year, they convert the simple fatty acids found in grasses and seeds into intermediate, more complicated forms that we can convert into the ones that we need.
Our brain is considerably larger than that of any ape. Looking back at the fossil record from early hominids to modern man, we see a quite remarkable increase in brain size. This expansion needed large quantities of the right fatty acids before it could have occurred. It could never have occurred if our ancestors had not eaten meat. Human milk contains the fatty acids needed for large brain development - cow's milk does not. It is no coincidence that in relative terms, our brain is some fifty times the size of a cow's.
The vegetarian will be dismayed to learn that while soya bean is rich in complete protein, and grains and nuts also combine to provide complete proteins, none contains the fats that are essential for proper brain development.
Although the eating of fats today is believed by some to be a cause of heart disease (erroneously, see The Cholesterol Myth ), we know that our ancestors ate large amounts of fat. Animal skulls are broken open and the brains scooped out; long bones likewise are broken for their marrow content. Both brain and marrow are very rich in fat.
Toxicity of raw vegetables
The second investigation (10) concerned the inedibility of many of today's plant foods in the raw state which contain many anti-nutrients that can damage a wide variety of human physiological systems. These antinutrients include alkylrescorcinols, alpha-amylase inhitors, protease inhibitors, etc. These must be broken down by cooking, and cooking for a long time, before they can be eaten safely. Beans and other legumes although rich in both carbohydrate and protein, also contain protease inhibitors. Starchy roots - yams and cassava - are common staples today, but if not well cooked are very toxic indeed. The cassava even contains cyanide which must be oxidised by heat to make it safe to eat. And apart from the anti-nutrients above, the starch in cereals - wheat, rice, barley, oats, and rye - are also inedible in quantity if not cooked first. Cooking causes the starch granules in the flour to swell and be disrupted by a process called gelatinization Without this the starch much less accessible to digestion by pancreatic amylase. (11) (See also soybeans below.) Unlike meat, which can be easily digested in its raw state, vegetables should really never be eaten raw and cereals should be fermented and then cooked for a very long time before being eaten to neutralise the phytic acid and other toxic anti-nutrients. That fact that we don't do these things is the reason for so much atopic disease - asthma, eczema, and so on - around today.
There is no doubt whatsoever that we cannot be a vegetarian species. From at least the time that Homo erectus appeared in the cold Eurasian continent some 500,000 years ago, we must have lived on and adapted to a diet almost exclusively of meat.
All this evidence points to our being pure carnivores, as are the big cats. However, we are a remarkably successful species. It is unlikely that we would have been quite so successful if we had been forced to rely on only one source of food. It is obvious from archaeological remains that we tended to be more opportunist eaters. We hunted and ate meat primarily but, if meat was in short supply, we would eat almost anything - so long as it did not require cooking. This still precluded some of the roots and most of the legumes and cereals that we eat today. When meat was in short supply, we got our protein from nuts and ate fruits and berries. During our evolution, therefore, when we lived well, our diet was high in protein and fat: during lean times it was richer in carbohydrates.
So, our ideal diet, the one we evolved and adapted to, must also be one which is high in proteins and fats, and low in carbohydrates.
There is one further piece of evidence that really confirms this. That is the design of our digestive organs and digestive enzymes, which are exactly like those of the great carnivores - and nothing at all like those of a herbivore. Click here for that comparison.
The diet revolutions (12)
About 9,000 years ago our ancestors started to domesticate wild grasses. From these we get the cereals we know today: wheat, barley, maize, rice. We could not eat them directly as the starch molecule is too large for our digestive process to cope with. It had to be broken down first by cooking. This development began a dramatic change in Man's lifestyle. Once our ancestors produced controlled quantities of higher-energy starches which could be stored, their numbers could grow. And as numbers grew, it became more difficult to maintain their supplies through hunting. Thus their basic diet changed from a high protein/fat diet to one largely of carbohydrate.
This radical change of diet brought with it radical changes to our ancestors, both in physique and in health.
- As vegetable foods made up an increasing proportion of our diet and intakes of meat declined, so our height also declined. European, meat-eating Homo erectus erectus of 30,000 years ago was some 150 mm (6 inches) taller than his agricultural descendants. Indeed, even today we are still shorter than they were. We see the same pattern in North America. The Paleoindian hunters of 10,000 years ago were much taller than their farming descendants at the time of European conquests of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries AD.
- There is no evidence of nutritional diseases before the advent of agriculture. After it, there is. The cereal crops that became the modern staples, together with root crops which began to be cultivated, are all relatively deficient in protein and the B vitamins. Additionally, all the cereals contain a substance called phytic acid which binds with a number of minerals and other nutrients and reduces their availability to the digestion. As a consequence, with the coming of agriculture we see the appearance of a number of nutritional diseases such as rickets, pellagra, dental caries, beriberi, obesity, allergies and cancers. We see the emergence of the 'diseases of civilisation'.
Many of the imported foods were unnatural to those eating them. The new fruits, in particular, as well as being novel, tasted nice. As a consequence, we changed from eating what we needed to eating what we liked. And with no previous experience of these foods, our bodies had never learned when to stop. Subsequently, science made possible the production of synthetic foods which had the appearance, texture and taste of the real thing, but with none of the proteins, minerals and vitamins. Sugar, which contains no useful nutrients whatsoever, became easy and cheap to produce, leading to a 30-fold increase in its consumption. The industrial revolution, therefore, was something of a two-edged sword. On the one hand it gave people a wider range of nutritious food than had ever before been possible; on the other hand it brought diabetes, peptic ulcers, heart disease and yet more dental caries, cancers and obesity.
In the late twentieth century the speed at which our diet has become increasingly unnatural has quickened. When a music-hall singer at the beginning of the twentieth century sang that 'a little of what you fancy does you good', there was still an element of truth in it - at least as far as diet was concerned. When hunger signalled that the body needed more nourishment, appetite determined which elements. At one time, we ate what we had an appetite for, and the body's needs were met. Nature told us what to eat and by this means, nature ensured that we ate a balanced diet. Over the last two centuries, and increasingly during the last two decades, however, the situation has changed dramatically.
During the millions of years that we have been evolving, we have been eating our natural food. We had a sense of taste that told us what was good for us and what was poisonous. Like all animals on this planet, we ate what we liked without danger either from nutritional deficiency or from overindulgence. But when food is changed from its natural state that no longer holds true.
At first, all our food, whether from animal or vegetable sources, was eaten raw. Now cooking food has become a way of life. Most people in Western society today would not eat uncooked meat. Indeed, as possible pathogens would not be killed, it may be unwise to eat raw meat. But, while boiling parallels the first stages of digestion, and may be helpful in that process, over-cooking in a way that chars food can present the digestive processes with food which it has great difficulty digesting.
In 1838, in Canada, Dr. William Beaumont performed a remarkable series of experiments on a man named Alexis St. Martin. St. Martin had an opening in the front wall of his stomach from a gunshot wound. Even after the wound had healed, there remained a small opening through which the mucous membrane of his stomach could be seen and, through which, substances could be introduced into the stomach or removed from it. Dr. Beaumont was able to introduce foodstuffs through the opening and observe the rate of digestion. By so doing, he found that raw beef digested in two hours, well done boiled beef in three hours but well done roast beef took four hours. Similarly, raw eggs were digested in one-and-a-half hours but hard-boiled eggs took three-and-a-half hours.
In contrast, the cellulose which envelops cereal grains and which is the major constituent of vegetable cell walls, cannot be broken down by the digestive juices at all. They are ruptured only by the process of cooking. Cooking is also the only means of breaking down the large starch molecules so that we can digest them. As a consequence, cereals and many other vegetables need not only to be cooked, but well cooked, before they can be digested.
That is not to say, however, that cooking presents no other problems. Cooked food, for example, can be damaging to the teeth. We know that sugar is a major cause of cavities in teeth, particularly children's teeth. We also know that the effect is worse if the sugary food is sticky. Dates and toffee are both high in sugars and stick around the teeth. Both, therefore, might be expected to cause cavities. But while toffee does cause dental caries, Arabs who eat sticky, sweet dates have healthy teeth. Why the difference?
All living organisms have immune systems which protect them from invading bacteria. At the time of being eaten, the raw dates are still living organisms and their immune systems are working. The bacteria which would ferment the sugars in the dates and form the acid which attacks teeth, are repelled. That is not the case with cooked and, therefore, dead toffee.
Cooking can also destroy some nutrients: Vitamin C is a good example. Thus nutrients, which might be present when food is 'natural', are lost and their correct balance may also be lost.
Cooking food, therefore, may cause changes to which the body's systems are not entirely adapted and which, as a consequence, may cause us minor problems.
Today, however, food has been changed much more radically and in a shorter time span - a time span much too short for us to have evolved and adapted to it. A large proportion of the food we eat now can no longer be called natural. This is particularly so in the case of carbohydrates - sugars and starches. There is a considerable body of evidence that it this change which is the cause of so many of today's ills.
There are a number of vegetable-based foods which are processed to such a high degree that nothing but pure carbohydrate is left. The obvious example is white, granulated sugar. Sugar cane and sugar beet contain a significant proportion of protein which is lost during processing. Also lost are other nutrients such as vitamins and fibre. The end product is pure, concentrated carbohydrate. It is this concentration that is so unnatural. This has not happened with protein as it is relatively expensive. Neither has it happened with fats as they are already concentrated naturally. The concentration of carbohydrate allowed a dramatic and rapid increase in its consumption. Annual sugar consumption in Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century was less than two kilogrammes (4½ lbs) per person, today it is more than sixty kilogrammes (130 lbs).
The same is true of cereals, albeit to a lesser degree. Many packaged foods today contain what is euphemistically called 'modified starch'. This again is highly concentrated carbohydrate, in this case cereal starch. This concentration of sugars and starches is done to make foods cheaper, more attractive and, of course, to make a bigger profit for the manufacturers. But it has had serious effects in large sections of the population. The body's natural nutrient-requirement signal, the appetite, has not evolved to cope with such unnatural foods. It knows when to stop us eating meat, but not when to stop us eating chocolate bars and cakes. It is also much easier to eat modern white bread than the stodgy, pre-Industrial-Revolution bread.
During the past century there have been dramatic rises in a number of previously rare diseases. These include heart disease, cancers, diabetes, peptic ulcers, tooth decay, constipation and obesity. Although dietary fat is blamed for many of them, a half century of research has failed consistently to provide any convincing evidence in support of this hypothesis (13) . The fat-and-heart disease hypothesis relies on comparisons between disease patterns in 'civilised' countries and more primitive societies, and the amounts of fat in their respective diets. They purport to show that where a lot of fat is eaten there is a high incidence of heart disease, while others who eat less fat have lower incidences of the disease. However, if one makes similar comparisons, replacing fat with sugar, one finds similar patterns. And with sugar the argument is much more compelling.
The food that we eat is made up of many different nutrients. We need energy which we measure in calories. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins all contain energy and so lack of energy is generally not a problem. But we also need a variety of minerals, trace elements and vitamins. Although we need them only in small amounts, they are vital to our health. The diet of the adult lacto-ovo-vegetarian may be more bulky and lower in energy than a mixed diet, but because he is consuming eggs, milk and cheese, his diet generally is nutritionally similar to the mixed diet and there is little problem. However, while it is possible to meet the body's nutritional requirements with the vegan diet if great care is taken, without that care there is a real risk of deficiencies leading to serious ill-health. This risk increases as diets become more restricted. Historical evidence shows that Man can live healthily on diets which vary enormously in their content. However, it also tells us that, generally, the further one gets from a diet which includes animal products, the greater is the risk of ill health.
The meat vitamin: B-12
The most important deficiency for the vegan is of vitamin B-12. By definition vitamin B-12 is essential to human life. It is essential for the synthesis of nucleic acids, the maintenance of the myelin sheath (the insulation around nerves which when damaged causes Multiple Sclerosis); indeed its presence or deficiency affects nearly all body tissues, particularly those with rapidly dividing cells. Without it we suffer from pernicious anaemia which, as its name suggests, is deadly, and a degeneration of the nervous system.
Vitamin B-12 is unique among vitamins in that while it is found universally in foods of animal origin, where it is derived ultimately from bacteria, there is no active vitamin B-12 in anything which grows out of the ground. Where vitamin B-12 is found on plants it is there only fortuitously in bacterial contamination.
Bacteria in the human colon make prodigious amounts of vitamin B-12. Unfortunately, this is useless as it is not absorbed through the colon wall. Dr. Sheila Callender (14) tells of treating vegans who had severe vitamin B-12 deficiency by making water extracts of their stools which she fed to them, thus affecting a cure. An Iranian vegan sect unwittingly also makes use of the fact that human stools contain vitamin B-12. Investigators could not understand how members of this sect remained healthy until their investigations showed that they grew their vegetables in human manure - and then ate the vegetables without being too fussy about washing them first (15) .
To enable vegans to survive, vitamin B-12 is added artificially to breakfast cereals in Britain and may be bought in pill form. This is hardly a natural way to get food and in many cases it is self-defeating. Vitamin B-12 is also unlike all other vitamins in that it occurs as a number of analogues, only one of which, cyanocobalamin , is active for humans. In collecting human stools for analysis Dr. Victor Herbert found that of each one hundred micrograms of vitamin B-12 extracted, only five micrograms was of the cyanocobalamin analogue (16) . Thus even in this most prodigious source of the vitamin ninety-five percent was composed of analogues which were useless.
Several fermented products such as tempeh, a soya bean product, and spirulinas, used by strict vegans as a source of vitamin B-12, either do not contain appreciable amounts of the vitamin or contain analogues of the vitamin which are not active for humans (17) . Vitamin B-12 status was assessed in a group of 110 adults and 42 children from a macrobiotic community in New England. Over half of the adults had low concentrations of vitamin B-12. Children were short in stature and low in weight. The community relied on sea vegetables for the vitamin. However, the researchers say:
"We could not show that individuals who reported more of these sea vegetables had increased vitamin B-12 status..." "Similar null results were obtained with the other sea vegetables, tempeh, and miso, foods considered to contain significant amounts of vitamin B-12 by many individuals in the macrobiotic community. . .On the other hand, it is possible that the vitamin B-12 measured in these sea vegetables has no biological activity for humans....only a small fraction of total corrinoids in Spirulina, a genus of blue-green algae contains cobalamin and that the remainder is in the form of analogues that are not biologically active for humans. In these cases the analogues can block metabolism by the body of the ones that are of use ."Dr Herbert suspects that vegans taking the spirulinas as a source of vitamin B-12 actually bring on the symptoms of deficiency quicker. Yeast is also believed by vegetarians to contain vitamin B-12 - and it does. But even if the yeast is grown on a medium rich in vitamin B-12, unless some of the growing medium is mixed with the yeast, it is unlikely to contain the cyanocobalamin analogue that is the active form for humans.
The amount of vitamin B-12 we need is very small: about five micrograms per day. Eating more than is needed results in a reserve being built up in the body. When a person becomes a vegan, those stores are depleted - but only gradually. Thus it is possible to live for several years on such a diet before the onset of symptoms of deficiency. In England a carefully conducted study (18) carried out on vegans showed that they all got vitamin B-12 deficiency eventually.
The first manifestation of vitamin B-12 deficiency is usually mental disturbances. These range from abnormal mood swings, mental slowness and memory problems, through hallucinations and depression to severe psychosis. Physical symptoms include: rapid heartbeat, cardiac pain, facial swellings, jaundice, weakness and fatigue and loss of weight. While a dose of active vitamin B-12 given by injection can cure symptoms very quickly, there is a hidden danger. A largely vegetable-based diet provides large quantities of folic acid, which works in conjunction with vitamin B-12. In a diet which contains folic acid but is devoid of vitamin B-12 the folic acid can disguise the vitamin's deficiency. In such a case, irreparable damage to nerves and the spinal cord can take place such that by the time symptoms become apparent, death is inevitable.
Vegetarianism and militancy
These days, it seems that there are more and more reasons to protest against the way our society is being run. There are voices of disseat everywhere. (It is the reason for this website!) but there is a much more worrying trend - violent protest.
Have you noticed the increasing numbers of occasions when small groups of very militant people demonstrate against all sorts of things: animal experiments, butchers' shops, new roads, footpaths, nuclear power stations, civil rights, homosexuals' rights or anybody else's rights. The odds are that the majority are vegetarians.
As we know, when it needs food, our body indicates this to us with the feeling of hunger. But there are also other signals if specific nutrients are deficient. Meat is the best source of several nutrients. When our bodies are deficient in these, we become irritable and aggressive. This is a perfectly natural signal built into our genetic make-up over our evolution: our bodies are telling us to go out and kill something to eat. This is why strict vegetarians tend to be so vociferous. It is a trait that was recognised long ago; it was, after all, the vegetarian Cain who killed the carnivorous Abel, not the other way round. The vegan Kikuyu tribe in Kenya were the perpetrators of the murderous Mau Mau in the 1950s, not their wholly carnivorous, but peaceful, neighbours, the Maasai.
The butcher's shop in my village has had its windows smashed so often that it is now boarded up when it is closed. Have you ever heard of a meat eater bombing a greengrocer's shop?
Vegetarianism - a form of child abuse
All the nutrients that the body needs other than vitamin B-12 can be obtained from vegetable sources if extreme care is taken . However, the availability of some of them to the body is often adversely affected by the special characteristics of a strictly vegetarian diet (19) . Nutrients so affected include: energy, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, riboflavin and the fat soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin D. The best sources of these are meats, poultry and seafood, which are not eaten. But not only does the vegan diet consist of foods which are poorer sources of these nutrients, it necessarily contains high levels of fibre, phytic acid and oxalate, all of which are known both to bind with the nutrients in such a way as to inhibit their absorption in the gut and also to deplete the body of the minerals it has. The vegetarian ends up with what is called a negative balance. It is a situation where the more he eats, the worse it gets.
This applies both to adults and to children. In the case of children, however, the situation can be far more serious. Children brought up by vegetarian parents are usually breast fed, often for long periods. Where the mother has a good nutrient-rich diet, this is normally a good thing. But the nutritional condition of the mother affects the nutrients passed in breast milk to the infant. If the mother is deficient in vitamin B-12, for example, this deficiency is passed onto the breast-fed child (20) with unfortunate consequences.
With the more extreme macrobiotic diets the situation is even worse. Serious brain damage is seen in children on macrobiotic diets where it was found that "Vitamin B-12 is sufficiently low as to have psychological consequences that also raise legitimate concerns about neurological development" (21) . Other research confirms the depth of the problem. Mental development of four- to five-year-old children on macrobiotic diets (almost devoid of animal foods and fat) with long-term growth deficits, was studied. In addition food consumption and behavioural style of the children, and family and parent characteristics were assessed. Children had only seventy percent of the energy and forty percent of the calcium intake of that reported for children on conventional diets. Thirty three percent of the children studied failed to finish IQ tests due to an inability to concentrate (22) .
Long standing mild to moderate malnutrition may not affect mental development if the children grow up in a stimulating social environment.
Infants and growing children have relatively small stomachs but large requirements for energy and the proteins and other materials with which to grow. As they can only eat small meals, they, most of all, need a diet high in energy and rich in nutrients - needs that simply cannot be met from a vegetable-based diet. When weaned, children of vegetarian parents receive a diet where their small stomachs are filled with relatively nutrient-poor foods. This can lead to grave nutritional disorders such as suppressed growth and nutritional dwarfing (23) , as well as diseases such as kwashiorkor, a protein-calorie deficiency disease usually seen only in severely malnourished African children (24) , vitamin D deficiency rickets (25) , severe iron deficiency anaemia (26) and learning difficulties (27) .
The children of strict vegetarian parents tend to have lower birth weights which studies have shown increase ill-health later in life (28) . Smaller babies suffer more heart disease (29) , obstructive lung diseases and asthma (30) . Under-nutrition in infancy has also been shown to inhibit brain growth and to have a dramatically adverse effect on intellectual development (31) . This last is a disaster as, not only is it irreversible in those children, studies have shown that their eventual offspring also suffer lower intelligence quotients.
Dr. I.F. Roberts, senior registrar at the Department of Child Health, St George's Hospital in London, and colleagues suggest that these vegetarian type fad diets must be regarded as a form of child abuse 23 . Examples of this, when vegetarianism is taken the the extreme, can be seen in recent news articles about the damage vegans do to their own children.
But isn't vegetarianism healthier?
Many people become vegetarians because they believe that such a lifestyle is healthier, particularly in terms of heart disease and cancer. They believe that an intake of meat, and particularly animal fat, will shorten their lives. As evidence of this, a study of largely vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists is usually quoted (32) despite the fact that its authors conclude: 'We hope that no-one will take data from this report and use it to say "Food A lowers or food B raises mortality risk".' It is certainly true that this religious sect suffers less from heart disease than the general population. However, the use of this argument to show that vegetarianism is healthier is flawed. A similar study of Mormons in Utah, who eat a considerable amount of meat, found similar low levels of the disease. In fact, the diet of both communities had little or no impact on their incidences of heart disease; the incidences of the disease is low because they are both close-knit and supportive communities, a situation which is known to be protective as far as such diseases are concerned (33) .
Comparisons of the health and longevity of cultures with different dietary habits confirms that meat eaters, such as Eskimos, Nagas and Maasai, can expect to live twice as long as primitive vegetarians. It may be said that such a comparison is flawed because the situations in which these peoples live is very different but there are cases throughout the world where meaningful comparisons can be made.
In Kenya two tribes, the Maasai and the Kikuyu, live in the same country, the same climate, the same political system and the same environment. The Maasai, when wholly carnivorous, drinking only the blood and milk of their cattle, were tall, healthy, long-lived and slim. The Kikuyu, when wholly vegetarian, were stunted, diseased, short-lived and pot-bellied. Over the last few decades, the Kikuyu have started to eat meat - and their health has improved. Since 1960 the Maasai diet has also changed, but in the opposite direction. They are now eating less blood, milk and meat, replacing it with maize and beans. Their health has deteriorated (34) .
A study by Drs. W. S. McClellan and E. F. Du Bois (35) found that the Eskimos in Baffin Island and Greenland living on a diet composed almost entirely of meat and fish, and eating no starchy or sugary foods, suffered few diseases. This was not the case with the Labrador Eskimos. They had been 'civilised' and lived on preserved foods, dried potatoes, flour, canned foods and cereals. Among them the diseases of civilisation were rife.
Dr. Sir Robert McCarrison (36) , working in India, similarly compared the northern tribes - Pathans, Sikhs and Hunzas - who ate meat and fresh vegetables, had fine physiques and were healthy and long-lived with the Plains peoples - Madrassis, Bengalis and Kanarese - who ate little meat or milk, living mainly on rice and who were overweight and unhealthy.
Other studies have purported to show that vegetarianism is healthier. In July 1994, the British press carried headlines like 'Vegetarian diet means longer life' as they reported a vegetarian study from the British Medical Journal (37) which said that vegetarians suffered forty percent fewer cancers and heart disease than meat eaters.
But the public were being misled - the study was badly flawed.
- The study's vegetarian cohort was selected through the Vegetarian Society and the meat-eaters were then selected by the vegetarians themselves. This is hardly the way to conduct an unbiased trial - if they want to prove a point, and what vegetarian doesn't, they will pick those who are most likely to be unhealthy. It is human nature.
- The vegetarians were mostly women, while the meat-eating group contained more men. Women live longer than men. In the age range of the subjects studied, men have four times the heart disease of women - enough to confound the figures significantly.
- The vegetarians were younger than the meat-eaters. As younger people have a lower death rate, one would expect more deaths among the meat-eaters regardless of dietary influences.
Vegetarianism and coronary disease
Other evidence refutes the 'vegetarianism is healthier' dogma. London has a high proportion of Asian immigrants. They live in the same environment as the indigenous population and mix freely with them. But the incidence of coronary artery disease is much higher in the Asian population. A study published in 1985 (38) was pretty conclusive evidence that the Asian's diet - high in linoleic acid and predominantly vegetarian - was not protective against the disease.
It is usually better to compare similar populations in the same area as, in the study above, the Asians have a different evolutionary background to northern European Caucasians. One study which did this, compares vegetarians and fresh fish eaters from two neighbouring Bantu villages. (39) This study found that the fish eaters had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, lower blood pressure and lower blood fat levels than the vegetarians. Both blood pressure and lipids increased throughout life in vegetarians but remained fairly constant throughout life in the fish eaters.
The published literature on fruit and vegetables and cardiovascular disease is extensive. In 1997, Drs Ness and Powles reviewed some ten ecological studies, three case-control studies, and sixteen cohort studies reporting measures of association between intake of fruit and vegetables (or intake of nutrients mainly obtained from fruit and vegetables) and coronary heart disease, together with five ecological studies, one case-control study, and eight cohort studies for stroke. (40) They point out that cohorts at 'low risk' have failed to show a protective association between intake of fruit and vegetables and cardiovascular disease (for example, a study of 26 473 Seventh Day Adventists followed up for six years, frequently quoted in support of a vegetarian lifestyle being 'healthy', showed null findings for fruit, and that many uncertainties remain concerning the relations between consumption of fruit and vegetables and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The best evidence, surely, is obtained from looking at actual people who have a proven long life. In 1992 scientists at the Department of Community Health, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, Japan, published a paper which examined the relationship of nutritional status to further life expectancy and health status in the Japanese elderly (41) . It was based on three epidemiological studies.
- In the first, nutrient intakes in ninety-four Japanese centenarians investigated between 1972 and 1973 showed a higher proportion of animal protein to total proteins than in contemporary average Japanese.
- The second demonstrated that high intakes of milk and fats and oils had favourable effects on ten-year survivorship in 422 urban residents aged sixty-nine to seventy-one. The survivors revealed a longitudinal increase in intakes of animal foods such as eggs, milk, fish and meat over the ten years.
- In the third study, nutrient intakes were compared between a sample from Okinawa Prefecture where life expectancies at birth and sixty-five were the longest in Japan, and a sample from Akita Prefecture where the life expectancies were much shorter. It found that the proportion of energy from animalproteins and fats were significantly higher in the former than in the latter.
An analytical study into the relationship between current diet and breast cancer risk was published in 1994. When breast cancer rates and meat and fruit intakes were compared, both were similar in the under-fifties. However, in women over fifty, eating more meat reduced the incidence of breast cancer by 30%, whilst eating more fruit increased breast cancer incidence by 70%. (42)
This may have been because a conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid known to be a powerful anti-cancer agent, is found only in the fat of ruminant animals. (43) (44)
A case control study of over 5000 Italian women was conducted between 1991 and 1994 to assess the influence of high intakes of fat and other macronutrients on breast cancer risk. Dr Franceschi's team found that "The risk of breast cancer decreased with increasing total fat intake . . . whereas the risk increased with increasing intake of available carbohydrates." (45) Foods of vegetable origin tend to have high levels of carbohydrates. That this should be so finds support from Professor Wolfgang Lutz he showed that epidemiological studies failed to support the current belief that fat intake was at the root of coronary disease and cancer and did his own explorations of epidemiological data. His findings show a clear, inverse relationship between diseases of civilisation and the length of time the people of a given region of Europe have had to adapt to the high carbohydrate diet associated with the cultivation of cereal grains that was begun in the Near East, and spread very slowly through Europe. (46)
This is turn confirmed the work of the eminent explorer and anthropologist, Vilhjalmur Stefansson. (47) In it Stefansson points out that Stanislaw Tanchou "....gave the first formula for predicting cancer risk. It was based on grain consumption and was found to accurately calculate cancer rates in major European cities. The more grain consumed, the greater the rate of cancer". Tanchou's paper, delivered to the Paris Medical Society in 1843, postulated that cancer would likewise never be found in hunter-gatherer populations. This began a search among the populations of hunter-gatherers known to missionary doctors and explorers, a search which continued until WWII when the last wild humans in the Arctic and Australia were 'civilized'. No cases of cancer were ever found within these populations - although after they adopted the diet of civilization, it became common.
Vegetarians and tuberculosis
Vegetarianism can also predispose its adherents to other diseases. In south London, Hindu Asians were found to have a significantly increased risk of tuberculosis compared to Muslim Asians. Religion was not a factor - but diet was. There was a trend of increasing risk of tuberculosis as frequency of meat-eating declined. Even lacto-vegetarians had an 8.5-fold risk. The researchers conclude:
"These results indicate that a vegetarian diet is an independent risk factor for tuberculosis in immigrant Asians. The mechanism is unexplained. However, vitamin D deficiency, common among vegetarian Asians in south London, is known to effect immunological competence. Decreased immunocompetence associated with a vegetarian diet might result in increased mycobacterial reactivation among Asians from the Indian subcontinent " (48) .Vegetarians and Alzheimer's disease
The presence of Alzheimer's disease was found to be associated with lower levels of Vitamin B-12 in the blood compared to unaffected family members although the exact nature of the association remains unclear (49) .
Vegetarians and salmonella
Diseases such as salmonella are usually associated in people's minds, with meat, particularly chicken. But vegetarianism doesn't necessarily protect against such bacterial infections. In 1999, Minerva in the British Medical Journal reported that "alfalfa sprouts, the icon of healthy eaters everywhere, are efficient carriers of salmonella ( JAMA 1999;281:158-62). International detective work led investigators of one North American outbreak in 1995 to a single contaminated seed lot from a Dutch distributor. They estimate that over 20 000 people were infected during the prolonged outbreak and warn that alfalfa sprouts should be considered high risk until the commercial sprouting process incorporates an effective 'kill step'."
The truth is that vegetarianism has not been shown to be more healthy, or to allow people to live longer. Indeed, the totality of evidence suggests that the further one goes from a mixed diet, the less healthy one tends to become.
Some years ago, my wife and I joined a sports club for a couple of years. Among the other members was a couple whom we took to be quite old. We learned, however, that they were only in their early sixties. Other members told us that this couple had been active and healthy-looking until their son had married a girl who was a practising vegetarian. She, through him, had converted them, and from that time there had been a noticeable deterioration. Their obvious physical deterioration, however, did not stop the couple from declaring how much better they felt on their vegetarian regime.
That does not mean that they were healthier, however. People are not the most impartial commentators on the happenings of their own lives. It is a well-documented human trait that a person who has made a conscious decision to pursue a course of action which involves some loss or hardship, has to justify it to himself. And the greater the self-imposed voluntary hardship or loss, the more strongly it is defended.
How safe is soybean?
One problem for those on a more strict vegetarian diet, whether by choice or of necessity, focuses around getting the right mix of amino acids from the various vegetable sources to ensure the body has a supply of complete proteins to enable it to function correctly. Much attention has been focused on soybean as an alternative protein source as soybean is about the only vegetable source of complete protein. As such it is invaluable.
Since the end of the Second World War, about sixty-five million tons of soybean have been grown in the USA each year. Yet, with the exception of soy sauce and soy oil, the bean has not caught on yet with the American people. In that country the major use is as animal feed. Not surprisingly, producers are constantly seeking new markets.
Throughout the Third World, protein deficiency is the most important dietary problem. Not surprisingly, therefore, soy is widely distributed. As it is low in fat and devoid of cholesterol soy is also promoted today in the West as being more 'healthy'. This seems to make soy an ideal food - but is it safe?
That may seem a strange question as a large percentage of the world's population relies on soybean as a staple.
The cultivation of soy in the East has been traced back to the time of the Chou Dynasty (1136-246 BC). It appears to have been used then merely as a rotational crop because of its root's capacity to fix nitrogen in the soil. Soy was not used as a food until fermentation techniques had been developed around 700 AD. (50) Did the Chinese know soy was toxic?
Like all seeds, soybeans have phytic acid in their hulls, but soybeans have considerably more. This substance binds with several minerals, notably calcium, zinc and iron in such a way that it prevents the digestion from absorbing them. This can result in deficiencies of these essential minerals.
Soybeans also contain other undesirable chemicals:
- Potent enzyme inhibitors that block the action of trypsin, a digestive enzyme needed to digest proteins. This leads not only to chronic amino acid deficiencies but also to enlargement of the pancreas (in animals) and cancer.
- Hemaglutinin, which promotes the clumping of red blood cells. These clumped cells are less able to take up oxygen and carry it to body tissues. Hemaglutinin is also known to retard growth.
On the other hand bean curd and tofu are made by precipitating soybean with either calcium sulphate or magnesium sulphate. Soy products made by this method are not as safe as the fermented products. Nevertheless, tofu accounts for some ninety percent of processed soybeans eaten in Asia today.
Eating soy with meat reduces its mineral blocking effect but vegetarians who eat tofu, expecting it to act as a protein substitute, risk severe mineral deficiencies. Soy products also contain no vitamin B-12, or the essential fat-soluble vitamins A and D that are needed for the absorption of minerals. Indeed soy increases the need for these vitamins.
World renowned nutritionists, Sally Fallon MA and Mary Enig PhD, say:
"traditional fermented soy products have a long history of use that is generally beneficial when combined with other elements of the Oriental diet including rice, sea foods, fish broth and fermented vegetables. Precipitated (Western) soy products can cause serious problems, especially when they form the major source of protein in the diet ".Soy milk for children
Soy milk is a major concern in infants. In its production, in order to remove as much of the trypsin inhibitor as possible, the beans are soaked in an alkaline solution and heated to 115ºC (239ºF) in a pressure cooker. While this does destroy most of the anti-nutrients, it also denatures the proteins, making the milk very difficult to digest. But there is worse to come: the alkaline processing produces lysinealine , which causes cancer. It also reduces the amount of an amino acid, cystine , without which the protein complex is worthless unless the diet is fortified with meat, eggs or dairy produce - which is not likely in a vegetarian.
The use of soy-based infant formulas has caused zinc deficiency in infants leading to brain damage. The lack of cholesterol in soy-based formulas also has adverse effects on infants' brains, as cholesterol is essential for proper development of the brain and nervous system. Then the aluminium content of soy milk is ten times higher than is found in milk-based formula and one hundred times as high as in breast milk. Apart from vegetarians, infants are sometimes prescribed soy formula in cases of cow's-milk allergy, yet allergies to soy products are as common.
Soybean and cancer
Recently soy products have been promoted for their 'cancer preventing properties'. The Gerson Clinic is a specialist cancer clinic. To cure cancers it bases its treatment regime on a strict vegetarian diet. It would seem reasonable to expect, therefore, that soy would feature frequently on the Gerson Clinic's menu. But Dr Max Gerson, the clinic's founder, has always banned the use soy products in the clinic. Why? Because it is suspected of causing cancer.
The vegetarian's dilemma
For the most part, it is the more extreme forms of vegetarianism that are dangerous. Lacto-ovo-vegetarianism carries little or no health risk for its adult adherents (although there may still be risk for children if a bulky, high-fibre, low-fat/protein diet is fed). In this category are those who have given up meat for moral reasons: those who don't like the thought of the slaughter of food animals, but do continue to eat milk, cheese and eggs. Here we have the situation where people who cannot bear the thought of killing animals for food, rely on the rest of us to carry the burden of guilt for them - as the production of milk, cheese and eggs inevitably involves the birth and the death of animals.
A cow produces milk for about one year. Before she can give milk, however, like any other mammal she has to have a calf. If we are not to eat those calves, what are we to do with them? Some, of course, would be kept to produce milk themselves in the fullness of time, but what of the rest - the bull calves and the excess heifers - indeed the majority? Could we, perhaps, just keep them, unproductive, on pasture for the rest of their natural lives? Well, no, that would be quite impractical. We cannot afford the land to keep unproductive animals in any quantity. We could, of course, kill them at birth, but that surely, makes the whole exercise pointless. The same goes for the other animals.
The vegetarian is in the dilemma that he can't kill animals - yet he cannot afford to let them live. So the vegetarian conveniently puts this out of his mind, carries on his unnatural lifestyle, relying selfishly on the meat eaters to solve his dilemma for him.
Vegetarianism and the environment
One last concern of those who change to such fad diets is for the environment and for the comfort of food animals. Vegetarian diets are almost always based on 'organically' grown produce. This is a system which does not allow the use of special chemical fertilisers and pesticides to increase crop yields, thus, we are told, protecting the environment and the ecological balance. In essence, farming methods are similar to those in use in the nineteenth century and, consequently, crop yields are significantly diminished. In the United States, the demand for organic or 'natural' foods has been growing for many years and farmers here are finding it economic to produce organically-grown produce to meet the demand. This may be another profit-making scheme, since less needs to be spent on chemical treatment while the poorer-quality food produced is sold at a higher price.
The word organic is a nonsense in this context. It is inorganic chemicals that are the food of plants. Plants take inorganic minerals such as nitrates, phosphates, potash and trace elements from the soil. Where organic materials such as manure or composted vegetable matter are used, they must first be broken down into the inorganic form before the plants can utilise them. And there is no evidence whatsoever that food grown 'organically' is superior to that grown inorganically.
Today, there are widespread concerns about the use of pesticides and artificial additives in food. This has made 'natural' seem a desirable attribute. We tend to believe that if anything is as nature made it, it is necessarily better and healthier for us. But scientists are concerned and are calling for more research into plants' natural toxins. The belief that 'natural' means 'healthy' is not backed by research, it is fuelled merely by sophisticated advertising campaigns. Tests on animals have shown that natural toxins may be just as good at causing cancers as man-made ones. If we applied the same standards to the testing of naturally-occurring compounds as we do to artificial ones, many would be banned as dangerous to health.
Most people know that it is unsafe to eat certain naturally-occurring foods - the green parts of potatoes and rhubarb leaves, for example - and so they don't eat them. It may also be said of other plants that as we have been eating them for centuries with, apparently, no ill effects, there cannot be a problem. Two recent developments, however, have changed that.
- Firstly, because more people are demanding that vegetables and fruit are produced without the use of artificial pesticides, plant breeders are genetically modifying and developing strains that contain higher levels of the plants' natural toxins. And these toxins are as dangerous for us as they are to the plants' other predators. Indeed, it seems that the toxins produced and contained within the plants may be more harmful than those that are merely sprayed onto them. Those that are sprayed on can be washed off; the plants' own toxins are locked in.
- The second development is that, as more people turn to vegetarianism, they are eating larger quantities of the very foods - vegetables and cereals - that contain the higher levels of toxins.
Genetic modification for vegetarians
Most people in Britain, indeed throughout Europe, are extremely worried by the rapid spread of genetically modified (GM) vegetable produce and the lack of scientific evidence that such foods are safe either to those who consume them or to the environment. As we saw earlier, it was worries of this nature that turned many vegetarians against meat. Vegetarians, who tend to be more health conscious than the average Brit, are even more likely to be wary of GM products. Yet they are the cause of one proliferation of GM products that affect us all.
In Britain today, it is difficult, if not impossible to find a British cheese that is not 'suitable for vegetarians'. In traditional cheeses, the curdling agent, rennet, is an animal product. So vegetarians don't want it. However, the rennet used in cheeses that are 'suitable for vegetarians' is a product made from genetically modified soy. I wonder how many realise this?
However, some may see the vegetarian as a prophet of a saner age. But, make no mistake, if all farms were cultivated without recourse to high-tech modern growing methods, whether we ate meat or vegetables, we would all starve. We in Britain cannot support ourselves now. If vegetarian ideas on food production were to be implemented universally, our modern urban society would collapse. The irony is that, if we are to feed our rapidly growing population, we will have to pursue intensive farming methods even more rigorously than we do at present.
Animals and the environment
There are environmental advantages to animal farming even on land that could be used for vegetable crops.
- Where animals are farmed in fields they fertilise the ground naturally with little need for the artificial inorganic fertilisers that so worry people. The tonnes of nitrate fertilisers that leach in ever-increasing quantities into our streams and rivers are not used primarily for meat production but for the production of cereals and other vegetable crops.
- With animal farming, fields are usually small and bounded by hedgerows. The good herdsman will also tend to keep trees to shelter his animals from the heat of the summer sun. The field margins, trees and hedges provide a habitat for small animals, insects and wild flowers.
- Arable farming on a large scale, on the other hand, means combine harvesters, and combine harvesters demand large open fields. On such farms hedges and trees are an encumbrance: thousands of miles of hedges have been torn out this century. People bemoan the fact that a large number of animal and plant species are losing their hedgerow homes; they are sad that those species are becoming endangered - and then they espouse vegetarianism which would mean the destruction of even more hedges and trees and accelerate the trend!
Meat eaters must have sympathy for and agree with the animal rights campaigner where animals, which should be grazing in fields, are confined to pens and battery houses while their natural habitat is turned into golf courses and leisure grounds for us.
And paying farmers to let land lie fallow when it could safely support cattle or sheep, particularly while we are importing vast quantities of food, is madness.
It is legitimate to challenge this regime.
The only way to eradicate the forms of intensive farming which are so disliked, is to control and reduce the population and, hence, the need for such a system.
Not only will undertaking unnatural dietary practices not provide a solution, they are much more likely to exacerbate the situation.
The Western vegetarian at the moment is in a very privileged position. So long as not too many join him, he can afford to indulge his naïve dietary fads in a way that is denied to most of the people of this Earth. While he ponders on this fact, he might also apply himself to Kant's Categorical Imperative which may be rewritten:
What would be wrong for all, is wrong for one
1. Social Surveys (Gallup Poll) Ltd. 'The 1988 Survey into Meat Eating and Vegetarianism'. Commissioned by the Realeat Co. Ltd. 1988.
2. MORI/Sunday Times. 'Attitudes to Health and Diet' 1989.
3. Beardsworth A., Keil T.. 'Health-related beliefs and dietary practices among vegetarians and vegans: a qualitative study.' Hlth Educ J 1991; 50 (1): 38.
4. Kovda V. A.. 'Soil Preservation.' In Polunin N. ed, The Environmental Future. Macmillan, London, 1972.
5. Lee R. B.. 'What hunters do for a living, or how to make out on scarce resources.' In: Lee R. B., DeVore I., eds. Man The Hunter. Aldine, Chicago. 1968.
6. Gaulin S. J. C., Konner M.. 'On the natural diet of primates, including humans'. In: Wurtman R. Y., Wurtman J. J., eds. Nutrition and The Brain. Vol 1, Raven Press, New York. 1977.
7. Bryant V. M., Williams-Dean G.. 'The Coprolites of Man.' Scientific American, January 1975.
8. Hawkes J. G.. 'The Hunting Hypothesis' . In: Ardrey R., ed. The Hunting Hypothesis . Collins, London, 1976.
9. Crawford M., Crawford S.. What We Eat Today. Spearman, London, 1972.
10. Leopold A. C, Ardrey R.. 'Toxic Substances in Plants and Food Habits of Early Man.' Science, 1972
11. Stephen A. 'Whole grains - impact of consuming whole grains on physiological effects of dietary fiber and starch.' Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1994; 34: 499-511.
12. Yudkin J.. 'Archaeology and the nutritionist'. In: Ardrey R., ed. The Hunting Hypothesis . Collins, London, 1976.
13. Groves B A. 'The Cholesterol Myth'. A Second Opinion publication, 19th revision, March 1999.
14. Callender S. T., Spray G. H.. 'Latent pernicious anaemia.' Br J Haematol 1962; 8: 230.
15. Halstead J. A., Carroll J., Rubert S.. 'Serum and tissue concentration of vitamin B 12 in certain pathologic states.' N Eng J Med 1959; 260:575.
16. Herbert V.. 'Vitamin B-12: plant sources, requirements and assay'. Am J Clin Nutr 1988; 48: 852.
17. Miller D. R., Specker B. L., Ho M. L., Norman E. J.. 'Vitamin B-12 status in a macrobiotic community.' Am J Clin Nutr 1991; 53: 524-9.
18. Chanarin I., Malkowska V., O'Hea A-M., Rinsler M. G., Price A. B.. 'Megaloblastic anaemia in a vegetarian Indian community.' Lancet 1985; ii: 1168.
19. Freeland-Graves J.. 'Mineral adequacy of vegetarian diets.' Am J Clin Nutr 1988; 48: 859.
20. Sanders T. A. B.. 'Micronutrients: vitamin B-12.' Matern Child Hlth . 1992; 17: 19-20.
21. Dagnelie P. C., et al . 'Increased risk of vitamin B-12 and iron deficiency in infants on macrobiotic diets.' Am J Clin Nutr 1989; 50: 818.
22. Herens M. C., Dagnelie P. C., Kleber R. J., Mol M. C. J., van Staveren W. A.. 'Nutrition and mental development of 4-5 year old children on macrobiotic diets.' J Hum Nutr Diet 1992; 5: 1-9.
23. Lifshitz F., et al . 'Nutritional dwarfing in adolescents.' Semin Adolesc Med 1987; 3 (4): 255.
24. Roberts I. F., West R. J., Ogilvie D., Dillon M. J.. 'Malnutrition in infants receiving cult diets: a form of child abuse.' Br Med J 1979; 1: 296.
25. Kruger D. M., et al . 'Vitamin D deficiency rickets: report on three cases.' Clin Orthop 1987; 224: 277.
26. Bindra G. S., Gibson R. S.. 'Iron status of predominantly lacto-ovo-vegetarian East Indian immigrants to Canada: a model approach.' Am J Clin Nutr. 1986; 44: 643.
27. Galler J. R.. 'Malnutrition - a neglected cause of learning failure.' Postgrad Med 1986; 80 (5): 225-8
28. Bradley P. J.. 'Deprivation in infancy or in adult life.' Lancet 1991; 337: 1043.
29. Barker D. J. P.. 'The intrauterine origins of cardiovascular and obstructive lung disease in adult life.' J R Coll Phys 1991; 25(2): 129.
30. Seidman D. S., Laor A., Gale R., Stevenson D. K., Danon Y. L.. 'Is low birthweight a risk factor for asthma during adolescence?' Arch Dis Child 1991; 66(5): 584.
31. Stock M. B., Smythe P. M.. 'Does undernutrition during infancy inhibit brain growth and subsequent intellectual development?' Arch Dis Child 1963; 38: 546.
32. 'Association between reported diet and all-cause mortality: 21-year follow-up on 27,530 7th Day Adventists'. Am J Epidem 1984; 119 (5): 775.
33. Egold B., Laskar J., Wolf S., Putvin L.. 'The Roseto effect: a 50-year comparison of mortality rates.' Am J Public Health 1992; 82: 1089-92
34. McCormick J., Elmore-Meegan M.. 'Maasai diet.' Lancet 1992; 340: 1042-3.
35. McClellan W. S., Du Bois E. F.. 'Prolonged meat diets with a study of kidney function and ketosis.' J Biol Chem 1930; 87: 651-668.
36. McCarrison, Sir Robert (with Sinclair, Dr. H. M.). 'Nutrition and Health'. Faber & Faber, London, 1953
37. Thorogood M., Mann J., Appleby P., McPherson K.. 'Risk of death from cancer and ischaemic heart disease in meat and non-meat eaters'. Br Med J . 1994; 308: 1667-70.
38. McKeigne P. M., Marmot M. G., Adelstein A. M., et al . 'Diet and risk factors for coronary heart disease in Asians in north-east London.' Lancet 1985; ii: 1086-90.
39. Pauletto P, et al. 'Blood pressure and atherogenic lipoprotein profiles of fish-diet and vegetarian villagers in Tanzania: the Lugalawa Study.' Lancet 1996; 348: 784-8.
40. Ness A R, Powles J W. 'Dietary habits and mortality in vegetarians and health conscious people: Several uncertainties still exist.' Br Med J 1997; 314: 148.
41. Shibata H., Nagai H., Haga H., Yasumura S., Suzuki T., Suyama Y. 'Nutrition for the Japanese elderly.' Nutr Health. 1992; 8(2-3): 165-75.
42. Holmberg L., Ohlander E. M., Byers T., Zack M., Wolk A., Bergstrom R., et al . 'Diet and breast cancer risk.' Arch Intern Med 1994; 154: 1805-11.
43. Shultz T. D., Chew B. P., Seaman W. R.. 'Differential stimulatory and inhibitory responses of human MCF-7 breast cancer cells to linoleic acid and conjugated linoleic acid in culture.' Anticancer Res . 1992; 12: 2143-5
44. Ip C, Scimeca J. A., Thompson H. J.. 'Conjugated linoleic acid. A powerful anticarcinogen from animal fat sources.' Cancer. 1994; 74(3 Suppl): 1050-4
45. Franceschi S, et.al . 'Intake of macronutrients and risk of breast cancer.' Lancet 1996;347:1351-6
46. Lutz W.J. 'The Colonisation of Europe and Our Western Diseases.' Medical Hypotheses 1995; 45: 115-120
47. Vilhjalmur Stefansson. 'Cancer Disease of Civilization'. Hill and Wang, New York, NY, 1960 .
48. Strachan D. P., Powell K. J., Thaker A., Millard F. J. C., Maxwell J. D.. 'Vegetarian diet as a risk factor for tuberculosis in immigrant south London Asians.' Thorax 1995; 50: 175-80
49. McCaddon A., Kelly C. L.. 'Familial Alzheimer's disease and Vitamin B-12 deficiency.' Age and Ageing 1994; 23: 334-7.
50. Fallon S W, Enig M G. Newlife , May 1966.