To be or not to be a vegetarian

The main argument in favour of eating meat is that it is an excellent source of first class protein, which is essential for proper growth and maintenance of the body. This beneficial property of meat is undeniable, but there are other factors not so favourable which should also be considered.

Modern methods of rearing animals for slaughter and human consumption often result in an end product which is contaminated with various chemicals. The use of artificial methods of stimulating an animal's growth is becoming alarmingly prevalent throughout the world. Hormones and other substances are administered to the animals in their food and by injection, along with other antibiotics and vaccines. These remain in the flesh after the animal is slaughtered and are eaten by the usually unsuspecting consumer. Exactly what effect these substances have on the human body will not be discussed here, for they are still the subject of present day research and of the future. But we do feel that these extraneous toxins must have some influence on our body, and are probably detrimental to health and well being.

Apart from all these artificially introduced substances, the flesh of dead animals is a wonderful breeding ground for germs. This can be dangerous if the meat is not cooked properly. Furthermore, meat contains natural waste materials and toxins, a by-product of every animal's normal living. When the meat is eaten, these waste products are taken into the human body and in turn must be expelled. Of course, the body is usually quite capable of doing this, yet at the same time this imposes an extra burden on the kidneys and the other organs of ^Utffi-stilbt vegetarians go as far as to refuse

Another important factor is that animal flesh contains adrenaline. This is a powerful hormone and stimulant, which is released into the blood during times of emergency. In other words, whenever an animal faces a possibly dangerous situation, adrenaline is immediately injected into the bloodstream, which in turn triggers the whole body to a state of tension and readiness for action. It is a necessary safety mechanism that is also an important part of the human body. Now when an animal is killed it is in a state of fear. A large amount of adrenaline is pumped into the blood, prior to death, and is retained in the flesh. As far as we know this adrenaline retains its potency and when the meat is eaten the effects are passed on to the consumer. That is, the adrenaline from meat acts on the human system as though it came from the human adrenal glands under conditions of fear or stress. Whether the potency of adrenaline is destroyed by cooking is uncertain, but we feel it is a valid possibility that consumption of adrenaline in meat can lead to accentuated states of stress, which can only be detrimental to one's health.

The putrefaction of meat is another important consideration, especially in hotter climates. Meat, particularly liver, putrefies very rapidly, far more rapidly than non-flesh foods. This process produces highly noxious poisons formed by the bacteria present. These bacteria invade the large intestine by the billions after consuming meat, which in turn produces more and more toxic substances. This leads to disruption of the digestive processes and poisoning of the system, creating favourable conditions for infection and disease. Vegetarianism reduces this tendency.

Many diseases, particularly heart ailments would seem to be closely associated with heavy meat eating. For example, Eskimos seem to exist quite happily on an exclusive diet of meat. However, what is rarely appreciated is that they do not generally live for more than thirty years. Furthermore, the occurrence of heart ailments and arteriosclerosis is very high among these people.

Constipation has also been closely connected with meat eating. People who have become vegetarians have often noticed a great improvement in their bowel movement. Meat eating (especially over-consumption) has been associated with a wide variety of other ailments.

However, we cannot attribute the cause of these ailments solely to meat eating, for vegetarians also suffer from them. There are many other factors involved. We do feel, however, that a vegetarian diet helps to reduce the likelihood of certain diseases occurring.

So far, we seem to have devoted most of this discussion to pointing out the disadvantages of eating meat. This is necessary, for it is only the disadvantages associated with eating meat that indicate the advantages of vegetarianism. If there are no drawbacks to meat eating then for most of us there would be little reason to become vegetarian. If there were positive benefits to eating meat then it would seem justified to continue. But what are the advantages of eating meat? It is doubtless a reasonably good source of protein, but as we will point out later, there are better vegetarian sources. Meat does contain the vital minerals iron and phosphorus, together with some of the vitamin B complex. However, these can be obtained quite adequately from other vegetarian foods. So while we would like to give a list of the advantages of meat over other forms of food, we feel that there are not many known at present.

At this stage it is worthwhile clearing up a common misconception. Many people believe meat to be an excellent source of energy; without it we will wallow in a state of lethargy. Due to this reason many people eat enormous amounts of meat. Actually meat, like other protein foods, is not the ideal type of food for providing the body's energy demands. The best foods for providing energy are the carbohydrates and fats, such as bread, cereals, butter, etc. The body has a certain protein requirement in order to build up and rejuvenate all worn out cells. If more than this amount is taken into the body through digested food, the body merely utilizes the excess for providing its energy needs. This is not very economical, for protein foods, including meat, generally are far more expensive than foods containing carbohydrates and fats. Also, the proteins that are used in this manner tend to leave certain residues or 'ashes' in the body as a by-product, which have to be eliminated by the kidneys, placing a greater load on these often overworked organs. So, in fact, meat and other high protein foods are not the best foods to obtain your energy requirements. Also, note that your daily protein needs are surprisingly low under normal conditions of health (60 gm) and so it is not necessary to consume large amounts of protein food, whether meat, milk, nuts or any other form of protein source.

What happens if one replaces meat by vegetable substitutes? Of course one will avoid the disadvantages connected with eating meat that we have already described. Furthermore, it is easier for the digestive system to process vegetarian food. There are less waste products for the body to eliminate after digestion compared to meat eating. This is itself a convincing argument for vegetarianism, for if the body can assimilate the food more easily there is less effort involved. The digestive system will be less likely to break down or suffer ailments, and at the same time will be able to resist the onset of disease. Furthermore, the body will be able to conserve more of its energy, utilizing it for other purposes. One will tend to become healthier and have more zest in everyday life.

Throughout history many sages and yogis have advocated vegetarianism as the preferred way of life. This has not only been the case in India; some of the Greek philosophers, such as Archimedes, urged people to become vegetarians. They said this for a good reason, knowing that there is a definite relationship between what we eat and our state of mind. This is not surprising for the mind and body are intimately connected. This is clearly shown when we consider the rapid and direct influence that alcohol has on human behaviour both emotionally and mentally; the same too with various drugs. It is a fair assumption to say that the food we eat also has profound repercussions on our emotional and mental attitudes. Throughout the ages, it has been said that meat eating is conducive to internal tension and disharmony, whereas vegetarian food tends to promote inner calmness.

This doesn't mean that eating certain types of food will automatically make you calm; far from it, for your mental state is mainly dependent on inner conflicts and problems. But eating certain types of food in preference to others is conducive to attaining relaxed states of mind. Deeper relaxation of the mind, however, can only come by cleaning out all the inner dross. So by becoming a vegetarian, we feel that one is laying down a firm foundation for a harmonious and happy life. And this is the stepping stone to higher awareness. This does not mean you cannot attain higher states of awareness if you are non-vegetarian; this cannot be true, for some systems use meat as an integral part of their ritual under specific circumstances and there have been meat eating sadhakas, but vegetarianism is a help, though perhaps a small one, in starting to tread the path to higher awareness.

If you are still not yet convinced that vegetarianism is preferable to non-vegetarianism, there is one more factor that may sway your mind. The cost of meat is generally far more than most vegetarian foods, and so by becoming a vegetarian it is possible to obtain a highly nutritious diet at less expense.

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