"You are what you eat", goes a famous saying. And if that is truly the
case, then a lot of Americans would appear to be unhealthy, chemically treated,
commercially raised slabs of animal flesh. And while that is not a particularly
pleasant thought, it is nonetheless an description of the typical American
omnivore who survives on the consumption of Big Macs and steak fajitas. But
there are individuals who do not follow this American norm and have altered
their diets so that they do not consume any meat. These people are vegetarians,
and they are the new breed of healthy Americans who refuse to poison themselves
with fats, cholesterol, and the other harmful additives that come from meat. And
while once thought to be a movement that would never gain much momentum, it has
nonetheless moved itself to the forefront of Americansí healthy diets. The
word vegetarian, used to describe the diets of people who do not consume animal
flesh, was not used until around the mid-1800s. The concept of vegetarianism,
however, dates back much further. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, considered
by many to be the father of vegetarianism, encouraged a non-meat diet among his
followers as a diet that was the most natural and healthful (Messina 3). A
vegetarian diet excludes the consumption of meat, and can be exercised by people
for a number of reasons. The largest majority of individuals chose vegetarianism
for health related reasons. For example, someone with an ulcer might be
prescribed a strict diet of vegetables in order to promote the healing process.

Or someone with a dangerously high level of cholesterol might be advised to
follow a vegetarian diet to lower his or her fat and cholesterol intake. The
immorality of consuming animal flesh is another argument touted by a smaller
group of vegetarians. R.G. Frey describes this moral argument for vegetarianism
and the effect that meat eating might have on the character of humans: Some
people have come to believe and fear that, in the suffering and killing which
occurs in commercial farming, we demean ourselves, coarsen our sensitivities,
dull our feelings of sympathy with our fellow creatures, and so begin the
descent down the slippery slope of torture and death, to a point where it
becomes easier for us to contemplate and carry out the torture and killing of
human beings. (20) This moral argument for vegetarianism is also noted by John

Robbins who states that "the suffering these animals undergo has become so
extreme that to partake of food from these creatures is to partake unknowingly
of the abject misery that has been their lives"(14). But whatever the
reasons behind a personís choice to be a vegetarian, it is important to
understand the different diets that individual vegetarians can choose. In the
widest sense of the word, a vegetarian diet is a diet that is made up of grains,
vegetables and fruit, but does not include any animal flesh, such as fish, pork,
poultry, or beef. But beyond these standards, there are many variations of diet
that occur within the world of vegetarianism. The first, and most prominent,
category of vegetarianism is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Mark Messina describes a
lact-ovo diet as "...a vegetarian diet (that) includes dairy products and
eggs but no animal flesh"(7). This means that there is consumption of
animal byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or honey, but there is no consumption of
animal flesh. Another variation is the lacto-vegetarian diet that allows the
consumption of milk and other milk products, but does not include the
consumption of eggs. And like all vegetarians, these two groups do not consume
fish, poultry, or meat (Messina 7). Another category that vegetarians can fall
into are vegans. The vegan diet is by far the most strict of all the vegetarian
diets. According to Mark Messina, "Vegans avoid meat, fish, poultry, dairy,
and eggs. There are many other foods that may not be acceptable to many vegans,
however. Foods that involve animal processing to any degree are often
avoided"(11). This means that vegans can consume no foods containing animal
byproducts, such as milk, eggs, or honey. Being a vegan often dictates an
"animal friendly" lifestyle that, aside from not eating anything that
came from an animal, also abstains from buying or using products that were
tested on animals or are made from animal hairs or skin, such as leather shoes
or belts (Messina 11). A common misconception of vegetarians is that they are
all a bunch of skinny, malnourished idealists who live on plants and soy milk.

And another, related common misconception is that a diet of meat is a diet that
builds strength. Professor Irving Fisher of Yale designed a series of tests in
which he compared the strength and stamina of meat-eaters against vegetarians,
with three groups of individuals represented: meat-eating athletes, vegetarian
athletes, and sedentary vegetarians. His studies showed that the average score
of the two vegetarian groups was over double the average score of the meat
eaters, even though half of the vegetarians were sedentary people and all of the
meat-eaters were athletes. Fisher concluded that: ....the difference in
endurance between the flesh-eaters and the abstainers (was due) entirely to the
difference in their diet...There is strong evidence that a ... non-flesh ...
diet is conducive to endurance.(206) A comparable study was done in 1968 by a

Danish group of researchers that tested a group of men on a variety of diets,
using a stationary bicycle to measure their strength and endurance. The group
fed their test subjects a diet that was comprised of mixed amounts of vegetables
and meats for a period of time before testing the men on the stationary bicycle.

The average time that they could pedal before muscle failure was 114 minutes.

The very same group of subjects was then fed a diet that was comprised of only
meat, eggs, and milk for an equal amount of time, and then re-tested them on the
bikes. On this diet, their pedaling time before muscle failure dropped
dramatically to an average of only 57 minutes. That same group of men was again
fed a diet that this time was comprised entirely of grains, vegetables, and
fruits before once again testing them on the bikes. The lack of animal
byproducts didnít seem to hamper their performance, as many people would have
thought, and the men were able to pedal an average of 167 minutes before muscle
failure (Robbins 156). But vegetarians are still often criticized by people who
feel that vegetarians do not get enough minerals and vitamins as a result of
their limited diet. But vegetarian food is among some of the healthiest foods
available to mankind, and while there is no easy way to determine the extent to
which a vegetarian diet can influence the health of those that follow its
guidelines, the evidence is very indicative that it may be an important
contributing factor. Registered dietitian Johanna Dwyer, of Tufts University

Medical School and the New England Medical Center Hospital, Boston, summarizes
these benefits: ... data are strong that vegetarians are at lesser risk for
obesity, atonic [reduced muscle tone] constipation, lung cancer, and alcoholism.

Evidence is good that risks for hypertension, coronary artery disease, type II
diabetes, and gallstones are lower. Data are only fair to poor that risks of
breast cancer, diverticular disease of the colon, colonic cancer, calcium kidney
stones, osteporosis, dental erosion, and dental caries are lower among
vegetarians.(53) Vegetarian diets contain less total fat and less saturated fat,
which are linked to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and
cancer. In comparing the diets of vegetarians to omnivores, Mark Messina
indicates that "American omnivores eat a diet that is 34% to 36% fat,
lacto-ovo vegetarians eat a 30% to 36% fat diet, and vegans eat a diet that is
about 30% fat" (59).This means that vegetarians also consume less
cholesterol, which has been linked to an increase in the risk of heart disease
and possibly even cancer. The amount of cholesterol of a lacto-ovo vegetarian is
about 150 to 300 mg of cholesterol per day compared to the 400 mg of cholesterol
that an omnivore consumes (Messina 59). Vegans, who exclude the intake of any
food that contains animal byproducts, do not consume foods that contain
significant amounts of cholesterol. The US Department of Agriculture and Health
and Human Services have created a Food Guide to better advise Americans on how
to eat healthier, more balanced meals, and which "advises using fats, oils,
and sweets sparingly" (Farley 52). Vegetarians as a group also consume
higher amounts of fiber. Fiber, found mainly in grain products, is essential to
healthy bowels and colons, lowers the risk for diabetes, helps control blood
glucose levels, and also lowers the risk for cancer and heart disease (Messina

59). And it is grain products that form the base of the U.S. Department of

Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Servicesí Food Guide Pyramid,
which recommends servings of bread, rice, cereal, and pasta 6 to 11 times per
day. (Farley 52) The typical intake of fiber for an average omnivore is
"about 12g of fiber each day,", with vegetarians eating "50% to

100% more fiber than nonvegetarians" (Messina 59). A vegetarian diet also
includes consumption of more antioxidants, which are believed to reduce the risk
of cancer, heart disease, and possibly arthritis and cataracts. Dietary
antioxidants include such vitamins as vitamin E, vitamin C- of which the typical
vegetarian diet includes 50%, 100%, or even higher- and carotenoids as well as
the many phytochemicals that are found in plants (Messina 59). They also consume
less animal protein, with omnivores consuming 14% to 18%, lacto-ovo vegetarians
consuming 12% to 14%, and vegans consuming only 10% to 12% (Messina 59). While
vegetarians consume less total protein, they do consume adequate amounts to
maintain a healthy balance, as demonstrated by modern nutritional science.

Excess protein, and in particular excess animal protein, is linked to the
increased risk for osteoporosis, kidney stone formation, kidney disease, and an
increase in blood cholesterol levels (Messina 59). The nutritional benefits of a
vegetarian diet very clearly appear to be beneficial to human health. But a
vegetarian diet can also be healthy to the lives of our planetís other
inhabitants, the very animals that are being eaten. Due to the increased demand
for food, livestock farmers have had to keep up by devising new and more
efficient ways to raise more animals, giving way to the industrialization of
meat farming. As John Robbins accurately writes, "the raising of chickens
in the United States today is not, however, a process which overflows with
compassion for these animals" (52). Chickens, as we grew up believing, were
farmyard animals that would root around in the soil for their food, and were
deeply attuned to the cycles of nature, as evidenced by the rooster crowing at
the break of day. But the industrialization of chicken farming in the past forty
years has changed all this, and the days of the barnyard chicken are over,
replaced instead with what Robbins refers to as "the assembly-line
chicken" (52). But the poultry farmers are not alone in its
industrialization. The beef, turkey, pork and other meat industries have also
had to adapt their methods of "production" in order to keep up with
the demands of omnivores. This includes the use of growth hormones in the
animals to produce more eggs and fatter animals, which are then passed on to
their human consumers. John Robbins describes some of the products used in
todayís pork industry in his book Diet For A New America: ... will also be
given products like the new feed additive from Shell Oil Company. Called XLP-30,
it is designed to "boost pigs per litter," though it has a name that
sounds like it should be added to motor oil instead of animal food. Incredibly,
a Shell official acknowledges- "we donít know why it works." This is
just one example of the chemical tampering that the meat industry is forced to
do with its animals in order to fight off the diseases that the animalsí
cramped, unsanitary living conditions bring with them. As discussed by R.G.

Frey, this poses the most serious of threats to the health of Americans because
"...the liberal use of antibiotics in animal feed may, in time, build
immunity in animals and, through them, in us, to these drugs, some of which may
play a role in the treatment of human diseases" (10). Leonardo Da Vinci
said "the time will come when men such as I will look on the murder of
animals as they now look on the murder of men" (Robbins 148). While the
cruelty of murdering other animals for their flesh is a moral argument in favor
of vegetariansim, it seems rather unlikely that amny Americans could ever be
swayed by its message. However, many Americans are interested in preserving
their own health and well-being, and that should lead many people towards a
vegetarian lifestyle since a vegetarian diet includes the necessary vitamins and
minerals to sustain human life, with out any of the negative byproducts of
animal consumption, such as cholesterol, excessive fat, and excessive protein. A
healthy lifestyle is something benefits us all, and yet most people are
unwilling to give up the meat-filled diets. If the phrase "You are what you
eat" has any amount of truth to it, then Americans need to realize what
they are ingesting every time they enjoy a Big Mac, some Whoppers, or a filet
mignon. There are healthier alternatives to the meat eating that nearly every
member of our society has been weaned on, and those alternatives all include the
consumption of more vegetables and the absence of meats. It is now up to them to
realize this and make the necessary adjustments.


1. Farley, Dixie. "More People Trying Vegetarian Diets." FDA

Consumer October 1995: 52-55. 2. Fisher, Irving. "The Influence of Flesh

Eating on Endurance." Yale Medical Journal 13.5 (1907): 205-221 3. Frey,

R.G. Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publisher Limited,

1983 4. Messina, Mark, and Messina, Virginia. The Dietianís Guide to

Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications. Gaithersburg: Aspen Publishers, Inc.,

1996 5. Robbins, John. Diet For A New America. Walpole: Stillpoint Publishing,

1987 Works Consulted 1. Farley, Dixie. "More People Trying Vegetarian

Diets." FDA Consumer October 1995: 52-55. 2. Fisher, Irving. "The

Influence of Flesh Eating on Endurance." Yale Medical Journal 13.5 (1907):

205-221 3. Frey, R.G. Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Publisher Limited, 1983 4. Kleiner, Susan M. "Vegetarian Vitality: Striking

The Right Balance." The Physician and Sports Medicine August 1992: 15-16

5.Messina, Mark, and Messina, Virginia. The Dietianís Guide to Vegetarian

Diets: Issues and Applications. Gaithersburg: Aspen Publishers, Inc., 1996 6.

Robbins, John. Diet For A New America. Walpole: Stillpoint Publishing, 1987