When Friends Ask: Why did you quit meat?

In my youth, I thought that eating meat led to good health and strength. I reasoned that meat was ideal food for my body because my body is made up of meat, just like the body parts of cows, pigs and chickens. I concluded (quite reasonably, I thought) that these foods must therefore contain every nutrient I could possibly require. Logically, could anything be better for building muscle than eating muscle?

This kind of faulty reasoning caused me to suffer problems as ordinary as acne and as rare as a stroke by the time I was 18 years old. I am alive and healthy today at 60 because 35 years ago I switched to a primarily plant-based diet.

My life-threatening illness, as horrible as it was, provided me with a compelling response to the question of “why did you quit meat?” Most likely, you are lucky enough to have escaped a serious illness before you went vegan. If so, good for you; and let me provide you with some powerful answers for your friends and loved ones when they ask why you “quit meat.”

Despite What We Were Taught, Meat is Not Part of a Healthy Diet

According to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), “Red meat plays an important role in a healthful diet by providing more than 10 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for protein, iron, zinc, niacin, Vitamins B6 and B12.”

These types of misleading statements, ingrained in our culture, scare many people into including generous amounts of meat in their daily diet. These statements are accurate, but deceptively incomplete. For example, they leave out the fact that nutritional deficiencies of protein, iron, zinc, niacin and vitamins B6 and B12 essentially are unheard of in people who eat enough of any kind of food. Do you know anyone with deficiency diseases caused from a lack of any of these nutrients? Undoubtedly, you do not. Almost all iron deficiency found in people, for example, is due to bleeding, not their diet.

Worse still, the NCBA fails to mention in its promotional materials the fact that meat does not provide sufficient amounts of calcium, dietary fiber, essential fats and vitamin C to support the health of human beings. Nor does it mention the severe health problems caused by the excesses found in meat. Have you ever heard of illnesses due to too many calories, or too much fat, cholesterol, protein, infectioumicrobes and chemical contaminants? Undoubtedly, you have. The problems associated with meat lie in these excesses and the excess consumption of these foods by most people in the Western world.

Meat Is Cat Food; Plants Are People Food

Every animal has an ideal diet. Meat is an ideal food for my pointy-toothed carnivorous cats and my powerful-jawed omnivorous dog. Cows and cockatoos are herbivores and would soon become ill on a diet of meat. The same happens to people when they consume a meat-centered diet.

People Don’t Actually Crave the Taste of Meat

Advertisements for Pizza Hut’s Meat Lover’s® Pizza, Arby’s Super Roast Beef Sandwich®, Wendy’s Buffalo Crispy Chicken® and McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder® could lead us to believe that the “meat” is the main attraction. And that’s precisely what we have been told to believe in our culture. In truth, however, it’s not the slices of tasteless brown beef hidden in the center of the Arby’s sandwich that people want. Believe it or not, people actually salivate over the special sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions on the sesame seed bun. The human tongue has no taste buds for the protein and fat—the ingredients in the beef. We do have taste buds on our tongue’s tip that are excited by sugar and salt—the ingredients that make up the lettuce, tomato, pickles, sauce and buns, which are added to the meat to make it taste palatable. These are what drive repeat sales. Of course, my cats would enjoy the meat. They actually have taste buds for amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) embedded in their tongue surface; but the garnishes would be wasted on these carnivores.

Eating Meat is a Bandwagon to Poor Health

If people have no palate for appreciating the taste of meat, then why is it so popular? The answer is simple: Meat’s appeal is driven by money and egos. First, the beef industry spends a tremendous amount of money every year to convince us that we need its products in order to thrive. The production and sale of meat is a business and, like all businesses, its mission is to increase profits to the maximum possible, no matter the cost.

There is another reason for meat’s popularity—it is a status symbol. Until relatively recently, the high cost of meat restricted it to the plates of the wealthy. Meat eating historically has enhanced class distinction and made the “have nots” long to “have” and be part of a sought-after group. This is not lost on the meat industry, which uses this knowledge in its advertising. Consider the beef industry’s most famous slogan: Beef—Real Food for Real People. This is known as a bandwagon argument, used to appeal to a person’s desire to be popular, accepted or valued, even if one must ignore evidence and relevant reasoning to do so. The message implies that food other than beef is not real food and that those who do not eat beef are not real people.

Studies confirm that meat is considered a superior masculine food. If the truth were known, however, real men would switch to real plant foods overnight. During a man’s reproductive years, meat eating decreases ejaculate volume, lowers sperm count, shortens sperm life, and causes poor sperm motility, genetic damage and infertility. Meat eaters are likely to become impotent because of damage caused to the artery system that supplies the penis with the blood that causes an erection. Erectile dysfunction is more often seen in men with elevated overall cholesterol levels and high levels of LDL, “bad” cholesterol. Both of these conditions are related to habitual meat eating. Later in life, men who follow a meat-centered diet face prostate enlargement (benign prostatic hypertrophy) and prostate cancer. Perhaps a more accurate slogan would be: Beef—Real Food for Real Sexual Dysfunction.

Meat Eating Destroys the Environment and Causes the Suffering of Countless Animals

There are four well-travelled roads to eating a meatless diet: health, personal appearance, the environment and animal rights. As a medical doctor, I have mostly travelled the roads of health and appearance for the sake of my patients. That journey would not have been possible if I had not changed my personal diet 35 years ago. Ridding my dinner plate of animal foods has allowed me to become sensitive to equally important issues—the environment and animal rights.

Many people would rather die than give up their meat—and that’s OK with me. But I find it unacceptable that some of these same people would be willing to destroy Planet Earth to keep their meat. According to a report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow— Environmental Issues and Options,” released in November of 2006 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock emerges as one of the two or three most significant contributors to every one of the most serious environmental problems. The killing and suffering of animals for human food might be justified if meat were necessary for better human health. But the opposite is the case. Informed people should not remain silent about senseless suffering
of animals for food.

We stand on the brink of life-ending health problems and environmental catastrophes. It is time we shed our hypocrisies. Doctors interested in healing patients of dietary diseases must eat a plant-based diet themselves. People who profess their love for animals must stop eating them. A true environmentalist must no longer contribute to the major source of planetary destruction by feeding herself and her family products from the livestock industry.

Making meat eating a social disgrace in this generation, just like we did with cigarette smoking in the last generation, is a fundamental change that must take place in order to advance our society to the next level and ensure our personal survival.