What if one simple action had the power to change our lives and the lives of many others in deep and profound ways... I'm convinced that our food choices have that kind of power.
I believe that all creatures share a desire to experience joy and to be in loving relationships. I think that's why I found it so repugnant when I learned from my mother, at the age of three, that we kill animals for food. I'd always thought of animals as our friends. And of course we don't kill our friends and eat them, do we? That's when my lifelong admiration for vegetarians began.
But I didn't give the veg lifestyle serious attention until the age of 41, when I saw pictures of the cramped, filthy conditions in which today's farmed animals are forced to live. I'd always assumed that we employ humane farming methods, but soon learned that's not the case. Nearly all of the pigs, chickens, veal calves, and laying hens who are raised for food today are entirely removed from their natural environment, and deprived of sunlight, fresh air, green grass, and the ability to move about freely and form friendships of their own choosing.
Early Native Americans used the term "slave animals" for the white man's livestock. Which points to an issue that I find most troubling: To take the life of an animal is one thing, but to take away her freedom from the moment of birth and deprive her of all that makes a life worth living is another thing entirely. It cannot be justified.
As I began to learn more about the veg lifestyle, I was surprised to learn that it's actually healthier for us. Dr. Dean Ornish's ground breaking clinical studies proved that we can reverse even advanced heart disease with diet. And vegan (includes only foods from plant sources) dietary programs, such as those initiated by Dr. Gabriel Cousins, and Dr. Neale Barnard, have proven similarly successful in reversing diabetes.
Perhaps the most impressive scientific evidence on the health benefits of plant-based diets came in the late 80s with the China Study. The project generated massive volumes of detailed data, suggesting that the more animal protein and fat we eat, the greater our risk for developing hypertension, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases.
Moreover, the distinguished researcher who led that study, nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, PhD, has concluded, from a nutrition career spanning more than five decades, that the consumption of animal products, especially dairy protein, causes more cancers than does any chemical carcinogen.
I'd found truly compelling information about diet and health, and about the treatment of animals. But I was shocked to learn how wasteful meat production is. Did you know that 80% of our farmland is used to grow grains, beans, and grasses to feed livestock? Our farms could provide for about 7 times as many people who adhere to a purely plant-based diet.
The Earthsave nonprofit group, for which I volunteer, has said for years that adopting a plant-based diet may be the single most important thing we can do for the environment. The U.N. recently came to a similar conclusion and reported that livestock operations produce more climate changing greenhouse gases than do all forms of transportation combined.
The human appetite for animal flesh is also a driving force behind air & water pollution, soil erosion, deforestation, and fresh water scarcity. Our meat habit poses a significant threat to the future of human life on earth!
The choice is in our hands and I'm hopeful we'll make the right one. I believe that there comes a point at which thinking people accept a new idea, and from there it spreads almost instantly. I can see that beginning to happen with veganism, and think it almost has to happen, just as civil rights had to happen.
The signs are all around: There's a wonderful book on veganism by educator, pianist, and Zen Buddhist Master Dr. Will Tuttle. It's called "The World Peace Diet", and it recently hit number one in sales on Amazon! Veganism also is receiving lots of favorable TV exposure on shows like Oprah, Dr. Oz, and Ellen (who's vegan, herself), among others.
Shifting toward a plant centered diet is one of the most loving things we can do. It's a way of loving ourselves enough to really care about our health and our time left on earth; a way of loving and respecting animals enough to allow them their own place in nature, aside from what they can do for us; and a way of loving our home planet enough to allow its beauty and resources, and its magical healing properties to be here for generations yet to come.
My biggest health benefit came after I stopped eating dairy products. I used to get two or three bad sinus infections every year, and I've had just one in my last 20 (dairy-free) years. But the change I've noticed most is in how much more peaceful and spiritually connected I feel.
Adopting the life affirming vegan lifestyle is a powerful, powerful way to love this planet and all those who share it. And I'm really glad to be part of a organization that helps folks to take their next step in that direction. Let me know how we may serve you!
Don Robertson is founding director of Earthsave Baltimore, an all-volunteer nonprofit which hosts an educational dinner series and vegetarian and vegan Meetup discussion groups. For more info, call 410-252-3043, or see www.EarthsaveBaltimore.org.