Another 33 years
would pass before that idea became a priority for me. My wife and
I, both animal lovers (with two horses, two cats, and three dogs)
became members of the Humane Society of the U.S. And, occasionally,
we received literature and pictures which showed the conditions on
modern intensive-confinement animal farms which produce nearly all
of the chickens, pigs, and veal calves that are raised for food in
showed farms that didn't look like farms. They looked more like
filthy concentration camps. And the photos showed that the animals
were simply being warehoused and crammed into tiny spaces, with
little or no consideration being given to their natural impulses,
preferences or needs.
And the more
I learned about modern animal agriculture, the more I thought about
not wanting to support that industry with my food purchases. So,
when my wife mentioned that she had gotten to know a vegetarian
couple, I was eager to borrow some literature from them, and did
so. I did some library research as well, and what I learned amazed
me. I learned that not only is a vegetarian diet better for animals;
it's healthier for people and for the planet, as well. The evidence
The U. S. Surgeon
General and National Academy of Sciences, in the 1980's, each did
independent studies on all of the nutritional research that had
been done in the previous fifty years, and their conclusions were
very similar. They pointed out the connection between the typical
American high fat, high cholesterol diet and cardiovascular diseases,
adult onset diabetes, obesity, kidney disease and several cancers.
According to the Surgeon General, 68% of the deaths in this country
each year are diet related. And, at the top of his list of recommendations
was eat more fruits and vegetables.
By far, the
most common killer in this country, heart disease, as with other
circulatory problems, is clearly understood to be caused by buildups
on the walls of the arteries. These deposits consist of saturated
animal fats and cholesterol. Plant foods, of course, are generally
low in fat, and they contain no cholesterol whatsoever. So it shouldn't
surprise us to see that the world health literature shows that heart
disease is virtually unknown in populations with a plant-centered
diet. But, interestingly enough, we can see a marked increase in
heart disease and other forms of degenerative illness when members
of other cultures adopt the American way of eating.
We have known
for some time that a plant-based diet can prevent heart disease,
but a few years ago, Dr. Dean Ornish's clinical studies showed that
a very low-fat vegetarian diet, consisting of only about 7% fat,
can actually reverse heart disease. His ground-breaking work involved
several groups of heart patients who were placed on a regimen which
also included moderate exercise, smoking cessation, group support,
and instruction in stress reduction techniques, such as meditation
showed that, after a year on the program, the narrowed arteries
of 82% of these patients had actually begun to open. There was also
a control group of heart patients involved, which followed the recommendations
of the American Heart Association (which allow up to 30% of the
calories to be derived from fat). At the end of that same one-year
period, their heart conditions had worsened.
study is the massive Cornell/Oxford/China Health Project. The New
York Times called it "the Grand Prix
the most comprehensive
study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk
of developing disease
tantalizing findings" The research
involved repeatedly monitoring 329 health factors in each of the
6500 participants. Nutritional biochemist from Cornell University,
Dr. T. Colin Campbell, who directed the project, mentioned that
the collected data strongly suggest that there are dietary links
to those diseases already mentioned. And he added others to the
list, most notably osteoporosis (brittle bone disease). And Campbell
sees the consumption of animal protein, rather than total fat, as
the chief culprit in these diseases of affluence.
that the study shows "
that the vast majority, perhaps
80-90% of all cancers, cardiovascular, and other forms of degenerative
illness can be prevented, at least to a very old age, simply by
adopting a plant-based diet." And he further advises that the
fewer animal products we eat, the healthier we will be.
The health and
humanitarian issues were more than enough to convince me of what
I needed to do in my own life, but I found an equally compelling
reason to shift toward a veggie lifestyle when I found out how wasteful
animal farming is. On cattle feedlots, 16 pounds of corn and soybeans
are used to produce one pound of edible flesh. So, in comparing
the resources used to produce meat to those required to grow plants
(grains for human consumption), we see a huge disparity. The meat-centered
diet requires sixteen times the amount of resources. That means
16 times the amount of land, 16 times the amount of water, 16 times
the amount of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, and fuel for farm
machinery, to mention just part of the waste.
The same sized
piece of land that is currently required to feed one person on the
standard American meat-based diet, could feed seven people on a
totally plant-based diet. So you can begin to see the kind of implications
this has for world hunger. A very famous vegetarian by the name
of Albert Einstein said something that might help us to put these
issues into proper perspective: "Nothing will benefit human
health or increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much
as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."
It became very
clear to me that this information was powerful stuff; something
that could make a huge difference for all life on Earth. So I continued
to read and attend lectures and conferences on vegetarian nutrition
and animal agriculture. And I talked; I talked with anyone who was
willing to listen, and to a great many who weren't. And I know now
that I made a nuisance of myself. But I had "seen the light."
discovered (it actually took me about five years) that preaching
to people was not an effective way to spread my message. What I
was doing was not working! My first marriage had recently ended,
and the rest of my life wasn't going all that well, either. So I
decided that it was time to stop focusing on others, and work on
I enrolled in
a series of personal growth seminars, which were really good. I
learned a lot about myself. And one of the best things I learned
was that good communication is a lot more about listening than talking.
And I got more in touch with my emotions, and discovered the value
of listening from the heart, rather than the head. The people we
talk with don't always want solutions; sometimes they just want
to be heard.
Those same classes
also introduced me to meditation and tai chi, which have helped
me to relax my perfectionism and be more patient with myself and
others. I think that Eastern philosophy has much to offer us here.
It teaches us the value of cooperation, which is something of a
new idea for competitive-minded Americans. And as we make new choices
and move toward healthier and more compassionate lifestyles, it's
good to be reminded that we don't need to compare ourselves to others,
and we don't need to make these changes all at once. All we need
to do is to keep noticing, and to return again and again to our
heart's desires. And then our task will simply be to live life more
lovingly, more mindfully, and with greater intention than before.
As I continued
to learn about myself and about life, it became clear to me that
educating and inspiring others about healthier and more compassionate
lifestyles was one of my heart's greatest desires. And I thought
that my musical, writing, and speaking abilities were a good fit,
so I continued to learn about vegetarianism, both on my own, and
by attending some of the national veggie conferences. And, at these
events, I always felt the most in tune with the speakers who represented
EarthSave, such as Dr. Michael Klaper, and EarthSave's founder,
author John Robbins.
for a New America is one of the most inspiring books I've ever read.
In his thorough and extremely well documented Pulitzer nominated
work, he turns our attention to the health, ecological, and humane
problems that stem from the profound turn that our society, and
those developing nations who follow our example, have made toward
dependence on animal products for food. And, with a kind and gentle
voice, he points to a better way for America and for us all.
life is an inspiration to many. He is the son of the co-founder
of the Baskin and Robbins ice cream empire and was being groomed
for leadership there. But his was another calling, and he walked
away from his ice cream cone shaped swimming pool, and the promise
of tremendous wealth in order to pursue his desire to learn how
best to promote good health.
Diet for a New
America, Robbins first book, which was published in 1987, was so
well received that he got 50,000 letters, many of them from people
who wanted to know how they could help spread his important message.
And that is what led Robbins, in 1989, to form the nonprofit, educational
mission is to "promote food choices that are healthy for people
and for the planet. We educate, inspire and empower people to shift
toward a plant-centered diet and take compassionate action for all
life on Earth." There are 29 active chapters across the U.S.,
and several in other countries, including Australia, Canada, England,
and Germany. Most chapters are operated by volunteers, and offer
monthly vegetarian potluck meals, which feature a speaker or video.
chapter, which I started, along with my wife, Ginny Robertson, five
years ago is going strong. We have potluck lectures at our home
in Lutherville on the second Saturday of every month, which usually
attract thirty or more attendees. We ask people to bring a vegan
dish (that means it contains no animal products such as dairy, eggs,
or gelatin). We chose, like many of the other EarthSave chapters,
to make our events vegan because an ever-growing portion of the
vegetarian community aspires to the vegan ethic, which is to cause
as little harm to life as possible. And, with the increasingly mechanized
and corporatized dairy and egg industries, it is becoming harder
and harder to find humanely treated animals.
is far from being a club for vegetarians. We make a special effort
to welcome anyone who would like to learn a healthier way of eating.
Some of our attendees are just looking for another healthy recipe
or two to add to their weekly routine, and that's just fine. In
fact, that's a very worthwhile goal. EarthSave's focus is on a direction,
not perfection. And I think that there's a great lesson in that
for all of us who yearn for a healthier, more compassionate world.
My point is
that the improvement that could be achieved for our world through
the absolute purification, or perfection, of every vegetarian or
near-vegetarian is miniscule compared to the good that would be
served by just a 10% average reduction of meat consumption. In fact,
it is estimated that such a reduction could actually free up enough
land, water, and other resources to feed one hundred million people,
which is the approximate number of those who are threatened by starvation.
So we at EarthSave
Baltimore go on with our work. We welcome many new people to our
events, including many non-vegetarians. Our volunteers notify 200
people by phone, and another 300 by e-mail for all events. The potluck
meetings offer free literature, a bookstore, and a library for members.
Also featured are awards for the favorite dish of the evening. The
lecture topics usually involve either vegetarian nutrition or the
psychology of making lifestyle changes. Those who attend the events
tell us they find them enlightening, inspiring, and fun.
I also enjoy
providing free EarthSave information for attendees at various fairs,
and frequently offer my services without charge as a public speaker.
I really appreciate the opportunity to inform people about the power
of our plates.
As I look back,
I can see that my decision to go vegetarian and, a year later, to
go vegan, were huge steps toward bringing my actions into alignment
with my beliefs. And what it took for me, more than anything else,
was information that served as a reminder, and helped me to get
in touch with what I already knew on a very deep level; vegetarianism
was and is a wonderful way to acknowledge my connection with all
of life. And in so doing, I affirmed for myself that I'm not alone.
I'm not separate as I once thought. We're all in this life together,
connected and supported in ways that we've hardly imagined.
a plant-centered diet is a powerful, powerful way to love this planet
and all those who share it. Perhaps it could be your way.
is the founding director of the Baltimore chapter of EarthSave International.
He recently retired after 30 years in auto assembly with General
Motors, and lives in Baltimore with his wife, Ginny, who plays a
strong supporting role in the EarthSave group. He now plans to devote
more time to building the group, and spreading the EarthSave message
through writing and public speaking. He also enjoys singing and
playing keyboards and guitar, and looks forward to putting together
a folkrock band.
may contact Don Robertson for speaking engagements at 410-252-3043,
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please use the same number
to be placed on the monthly call or email list for potluck lecture
notices. EarthSave's national website is www.earthsave.org.
most useful books for my work on this paper were Diet for a New
America; (1987), and The Food Revolution; (2001), both by EarthSave's
founder, John Robbins. Each covers the relationship between diet
and the three major areas of health, ecology, and humane concerns.
on the plight of farm animals came from those same two very useful
volumes, as well as many other sources. Two helpful books were Old
McDonald's Factory Farm; (1989), by C. David Coats, and Animal Factories;
(1980), by Jim Mason and Peter Singer. One of the most interesting
books in this group is by the former farmer and cattle rancher,
turned vegan, Howard Lyman, who gives us insider's information on
humane conditions as well as the use of chemicals in animal agriculture
in his book, Mad Cowboy; (1998). Mr. Lyman is the man who started
a firestorm when he discussed the risk of Mad Cow disease on the
Oprah show in 1996. Literature from several nonprofit, educational,
animal advocacy groups such as Farm Animal Reform Group, PETA, Animal
Sanctuary, and the Humane Society of the United States was also
single most useful volume on vegetarian nutrition and health that
I found is The Vegetarian Way; (1996), by Virginia Messina, MPH,
RD, and Mark Messina, PhD. A position paper on vegetarian and vegan
diets, from the American Dietetic Association was also useful. John
McDougall, MD, director of a very successful hospital dietary program,
is the author of many very useful, best selling books on the connection
between diet and health, most notably The McDougall Plan; (1983).
Vegan Nutrition: Pure and Simple;(1987), by Michael Klaper MD also
gave me a lot of good solid health information as did, believe it
or not, The Complete Idiot's Guide to being Vegetarian; (1999),
by Sazanne Havala, MS, RD, FADA. One other book that I used in putting
this paper together was Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing
Heart Disease; (1990), by Dean Ornish, MD.