"O, taste and see that the Lord is good."  Psalm 34:8

Why Total Vegetarian?

It's been said before, that vegetarians not only eat a plant-based diet, they want to convince everybody else that they should follow their example. And I confess that I'm one of those! We all know it's not good to talk with food in your mouth, but over the past fifteen years, I've learned that in some cases, it's not good to talk about food either. But why wouldn't I want to share the incredible advantages of adopting a total vegetarian diet, that benefits the individual, the planet, and of course, the animals!

Someone recently asked me to explain why I am a vegetarian.  And the probing went further, "Is it to protect the environment . . . for personal health reasons . . . for spiritual reasons?" Of course, I was delighted that to address the question and my answer was, "It is all of these." Time didn't allow for much explanation then, so I'd like to elaborate now, and add two more reasons: ethical concerns and my pocketbook.

All five reasons are valid and important, but none affects us so directly as that of personal health benefits, so that's where I'll begin. And allow me to quickly say that the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle impact both mental and physical health.

Health Benefits

The message has never been more clear. Meat and animal products play a direct role in determining the health we enjoy and the onset of degenerative diseases, including the #1 killer in America, heart disease. The risks of developing other diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and a host of others including obesity, now considered a medical disease, are potentially avoidable when we choose a plant-based diet. A total vegetarian or vegan diet, contrary to popular belief, is interesting, flavorful and usually includes a much wider variety of foods than those consumed by the average omnivore. By adopting a vegetarian diet, not only do we avoid the risks presented by consuming animal products, we enjoy colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes provide an abundance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant packages that go to work to help protect our cells against heart disease and invading cancers. Additionally, plant foods contain more of the nutrients needed to ward off depression and anxiety disorders, a growing problem in our fast-paced society. So, the ideal diet means ideal weight, increased energy, disease prevention and a brighter outlook. What could make more sense than to enjoy these benefits while delving into delicious vegetarian cuisine!

Environmental Conservation

Producing animal protein is costly and places a drain on our natural resources. It takes approximately 50 times as much fossil fuel, and 3 to 15 times as much water to produce animal protein as compared to plant protein. Our agricultural process takes up to 16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce one pound of beef, and about five pounds to produce one pound of turkey or eggs. Bypassing the animal and eating plant foods directly translates into a significant conservation of resources. Even small changes in meat consumption can make a significant global impact on grain stores and food available to feed the poor. Cited in Dr. Neil Nedley's book, Proof Positive, is a calculation from Worldwatch, one of the most respected organizations dealing with environmental issues. They state that the worldwide annual consumption of grain by livestock is 630 million tons. By reducing meat eating by 10%, a corresponding 10% reduction of grain consumption would occur, conserving 63 million tons of grain, which if made available for human consumption, would feed the growth in the world population for more than two years. Unfortunately, as nations become more affluent, meat eating increases and steps up the demand for its production, and they are soon faced with the same health and environmental issues we deal with in our culture. However, if education and awareness accompany this rise in the standard of living, consumers can choose to live responsibly, protecting their health and conserving valuable resources. As you can see even with this brief look at dietary choices and the environment, the best diet for individual health is also the optimal diet from the standpoint of compassion for others and social consciousness.

Ethical Concerns

Okay. Here's a shocking "in your face" figure you may never have considered.  The average meat eater is responsible for the deaths of some 2,400 animals during his or her lifetime. Because meat is something ordered in a restaurant or picked up at the grocery store, no one really thinks about the carnage that occurs in order to make this provision. And if the death of animals is not sobering enough, we must understand that the existence of livestock in factory farms is so miserable that death is a blessing. The conditions often produce hotbeds of disease that endanger the lives of the animals. I realize that seems like a moot point, but the diseases may also be passed on to the consumer. Ten years ago, who could have predicted the far-reaching and deadly effects of mad cow disease (Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans), and the potential likelihood that these effects will escalate in the future? I love to relax when serving guests, resting assured that using no animal products, a meal at my table will not include viruses, antibiotics or prions as ingredients!

The Pocketbook

One objection often raised about a vegetarian diet is that it is expensive. While commercially prepared total vegetarian food items may be somewhat more expensive than similar products that contain animal products, most of these items are unnecessary. In many cases these products are highly refined and high in fat, sugar and/or sodium, and most products lack the quality and flavor of food prepared from scratch.   

That is not to say that some commercial vegan products could not be used in moderation occasionally. Some contain high quality ingredients and make meal preparation more convenient. One of my favorites is SoyCurls, a very economical meat substitute. Made from whole soybeans, when rehydrated these little morsels have a texture similar to chicken and can be used in scores of recipes. Quite a variety of meat substitutes is available in health food stores today, but reading labels to check for excessive sodium is important.

Sometimes, a commercial product may contain all plant-based ingredients, but may offer few health benefits. For an example, take non-dairy ice cream made from soy or rice and a welcomed treat from time to time. One-half cup of many brands contains 15-19 grams of sugar, over 10 grams of fat and costs about 75 cents per serving. For half that price, you could enjoy an entire cup of thick Strawberry Smoothie with all natural sugar, valuable nutrients and virtually no fat.  

When counting the cost of going vegetarian, be sure to consider that meat, cheese and eggs will no longer take up a portion of your grocery bill. You will likely find a surplus in your budget after purchasing the simpler ingredients needed for total vegetarian recipes. Some specialty items are called for in a few of the recipes in Total Vegetarian, but every attempt has been made to keep them to a minimum.

Let's take a look at the product price of protein sources:

Steak Roast Beef Hamburger Ground Round Veal Cutlets Pork Chops Chicken (boned) Tofu SoyCurls
$11.49 $4.99 $2.29 $3.99 $4.99 $4.99 $3.99 $2.44 $1.50

Clearly, when considering your pocketbook, the price of animal protein far exceeds the cost of plant-based protein. Factoring in the potential expense of healthcare costs for lifestyle-related illnesses is something else to consider in this equation as well. Take a look at the bottom line: a low-fat, nutrient-dense vegetarian diet allows you to eat more, weigh less and pay less! Now that makes good financial sense.

Spiritual Considerations

Not only do we need to consider the proper use of personal finances and the earth's resources, the humane treatment of animals and our own health and wellness when making food choices, I believe our spiritual health should be considered, two aspects of which I would like to address.

The first is our call to stewardship. When we realize that we are created beings, designed to reflect the image of God, and called to be faithful stewards of our minds and bodies, a natural result is to desire to live responsibly. Scripture enjoins us in I Corinthians 10:31 that "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (NIV)  Once we become enlightened regarding the optimum diet to promote health, conserve resources and show compassion to animals, how is it Christ-like to serve our flesh with an expensive diet that involves extensive carnage and by design promotes the premature death of God's creatures.

When considering your personal health, what a blessing to enjoy the bounties God has provided in the plant kingdom and reduce the need for medication and the risk of lifestyle related diseases. How awesome to witness the miracle of health and healing when we demonstrate good stewardship of our bodies as well as our planet, and cooperate with God's plan for life and health!

The second consideration I want to discuss is regarding the clarity of thought and mental health that we experience and our availability for communion with our Creator. The health of the brain, the organ through which we communicate with God, is dependent upon what we feed it. While this includes what we see, what we read, as well as what we breathe, our diet plays a significant role in the health of the brain.

The temple of God's Spirit, the human mind is where we invite Him to dwell within us. Preparing a dwelling place that is not burdened by mental dullness because of poor lifestyle choices should be a major consideration for the Christian. Many realize that a high fat diet can decrease alertness and mental acuity, but we have also learned that excessive amounts of sugar can cloud the mind as well. In addition, optimum functioning of the brain is dependent upon the inclusion of many other nutrients including B vitamins, omega-3 essential fatty acid and tryptophan, to name just a few. Physical exercise, adequate water and proper rest are also important habits to establish in order to encourage optimum brain function, in order for our minds to be a ready dwelling place for the Holy Spirit of God.

So, there you have it. My philosophy and convictions regarding diet, health, responsibility and spirituality, and others must be in agreement because vegetarians are cropping up all over! If you are beginning to share this philosophy, but wonder if you really possess the power to live according to it, there's good news. The beauty of God's plan is that He doesn't leave us alone to make difficult lifestyle choices. As we invite God to dwell within us, He makes His power available to us to provide the resolve we need to live by our convictions. Jesus said, "I have come that ye might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly."  Each day it will get easier to take charge of your health as your human efforts are combined with Divine power and new tastes are developed and healthy habits formed. Ask, and you shall receive!

Total Vegetarian Solves Two Common Dilemmas

Upwards of 10 million people have become vegetarians, depending upon whom you ask. It may depend upon when a person is asked as well.  Recently a woman told me that she's a "flexitarian!" I believe people lose their resolve to truly adopt a vegetarian diet for several reasons, but two stand out in my mind. First, people find they lack enjoyable food choices. And second, they do not have the resources to easily learn the necessary techniques to prepare delicious, healthful meals. No one would argue that we need to enjoy our food! For the StepFast Lifestyle Series and now for The Total Vegetarian Cookbook, I have designed and collected recipes that solve these two dilemmas: they are incredibly delicious, are easy to prepare and can be made with readily available ingredients. These vegan recipes have been developed in response to palates hungering for favorite and familiar food without animal products. They have been tested with vegetarians as well as die-hard meat eaters and both have responded with a cook's favorite comment, "May I have more please?"  You will find that Total Vegetarian contains a broad variety of over 150 superb recipes, with easy and concise preparation instructions and flavors and textures bold enough to suppress anyone's desire to look back! I now invite you to "taste and see" that the Lord wants you to eat well and live well.

So, Happy Cooking and Bon Appetit!

by Barbara Watson
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