Vegetarianism is a controversial subject. Many people consider the possibility of becoming vegetarians, yet they are usually bombarded with conflicting viewpoints tbat take one extreme or another. It is generally discussed dogmatically, emotionally and with too much emphasis on moral aspects. This is a great pity, for many people, who would willingly become vegetarians if presented with a few reasonable and convincing advantages of vegetarianism over non-vegetarianism, are instead frightened away, often with a strong impression that vegetarians are fanatics.
The extreme advocates of vegetarianism urge everyone to immediately abstain from eating meat, in terms that suggest that if we don't we will 'drop into the fire of Hades'. They believe meat is an unnatural food. This, of course, is a matter of opinion, for meat has been eaten by man for countless generations throughout known history and long before. It therefore seems a little presumptuous to consider that meat is an unnatural food. How can it be unnatural if man can live off it and obtain many useful nutrients required by the body?
Other groups suggest that it is immoral to eat meat, for it necessitates destroying life. However, this implies that the law of nature is wrong; that lions, tigers and other carnivorous animals are committing 'sin'. This opinion cannot be correct, for it is a rule of physical existence that certain forms of life sustain themselves by killing and eating other forms of life. It is not immoral when a lion kills and eats a zebra; it is designed to act in this way. It is natural for a lion to kill and totally unnatural for a lion to start eating grass.
All arguments can continue in a circular path and this controversy is no exception, for the extreme follower of vegetarianism will say: "We agree that it is natural for certain animals to kill, but man is a more highly evolved being and it is a sign of this higher evolution that one leaves meat eating." Well maybe, but is a banana plant superior to a lion because it does not eat meat? Of course this is a nonsensical comparison, only meant to illustrate that one can argue in circles while trying to justify vegetarianism from this point of view. Remember also that every form of life from man to plants destroys other forms of life; we are continually destroying small organisms, bacteria, etc. without even knowing it. The destruction of animals for meat eating is merely an obvious example. It is only for this reason that it is controversial. So we feel that any moralistic approach to meat eating is to be discarded as untenable, or at least highly disputable, and certainly is not a valid reason for most people to become vegetarian.
The non-vegetarian extremists assert that meat is an essential part of man's diet, which is needed to supply the body with proteins. They strongly state that without a regular intake of meat a person's health will drastically decline. What is forgotten here is that meat is not the only source of protein. There are many other foods available that can provide the body with its protein requirements.
It is also worthwhile pointing out that if we are able to choose to be vegetarian or non-vegetarian, then we are fortunate. Diet for much of the world's population is often more a matter of eating what is available than being able to choose a particular diet from a wide variety of foods. In some cases, all that is available is meat; for example, Eskimos through absolute necessity eat an exclusive diet of flesh. Are we to accuse the Eskimos of immoral habits because of their situation? On the other hand, people in other parts of the world are too poor to include meat in their diet. Are these people to be praised for being 'moral' or being vegetarians when they are merely following the dictates of necessity? So if you have the good fortune to be able to choose your eating habits, realize that it is a privilege and be sure not to condemn others for not eating the same food as you do.
In this topic we will consider the subject of vegetarianism mainly from the point of view of nutrition and health. Because we are vegetarians, we will of course be biased on the subject. Yet because some of us in the ashram were once non-vegetarians, and have known the trauma of being subjected to and overwhelmed by zealous advocates of vegetarianism, we will try not to 'push vegetarianism down your throats.' We will present a few basic facts to you, the same facts that eventually persuaded us to adopt the vegetarian way of life. We will leave you to decide for yourself if these are valid reasons for seriously adopting vegetarianism.
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