1: It costs less
My very first attempts at going vegetarian in 1971 were motivated largely by the cost of British beef and the fact that, living on my student grant, I had to stretch every pound of spending money three ways. So I became vegetarian until I got tired of living on cheese on toast, for I simply didn't know what vegetarians eat! Today, with grass-fed beef going for $8 per lb at Whole Foods and antibiotic-free chicken at $5 per lb, beans sound like a pretty good option. A vegetarian diet or even some meatless days could potentially reduce your food budget while still allowing you enough cash to get your five-a-day of fruits and veggies.
2: It's good for your health
That's right--health can be a reason to go vegetarian or vegan. Despite the popularity of diets like the Paleo diet that emphasize meat, many of my patients have been advised by doctors to follow a vegetarian or low-meat diet. Some of them are following Dr Esselstyn's plant based diet for heart healing, others want to manage diabetes with a low-carb vegetarian diet and still others have been advised to follow the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes plant foods. Vegetarians are at lower risk for developing heart disease, colo-rectal, breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, obesity and hypertension, in large part because a vegetarian diet is typically higher in fibre and lower in fat than a meat-based diet.
3: It supports social justice
I became vegetarian permanently in 1974 after spending two months in Tanzania, working on a children's ward. Every child I admitted died, usually from measles complicated by malnutrition. Then I came home to my London teaching hospital, where most of my patients were sick from excess consumption. After reading Diet for a Small Planet, I was deeply impressed by the argument that seven pounds of grain goes to produce one pound of beef rather than going to feed hungry people directly. So for reasons of social justice, I chose to become vegetarian.
4: It protects the environment.
As early as 1971, Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappé was calling for environmental vegetarianism. Since then, the argument has only grown stronger and more urgent. From the 2000s, cattle ranching has been the main reason for destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. More compelling still, meat eating is a major contributor to climate change. Researchers at Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen in the UK have pointed out that livestock production accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, an amount equal to that produced by all the world's cars, trucks, trains and shipping. Two thirds of all agricultural land is used to grow feed for livestock, whereas only eight per cent is used to grow food directly for human consumption. And meat production puts pressure on our dwindling freshwater supplies as well. "The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat," said Professor Gidon Eshel, at Bard College in New York. Researchers suggest cutting red meat consumption to a maximum of two portions a week to help tackle climate change.
As a girl, I couldn't understand why we loved some animals--like our Siamese cat, Victoria--as family members, but ate others. Cows and sheep seemed just as loveable as cats and dogs. The violence inherent in killing farm animals for food becomes even greater when we think about the conditions many of these animals endure on factory farms. The documentary Food Inc makes this only too clear. The great Buddhist teacher, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, was born into the meat-eating culture of Tibet, but became vegetarian--and a strong advocate of vegetarianism because of the suffering endured by millions of animals who are killed for food. Personally, after becoming vegetarian for reasons of social justice, I was stunned by the renewed relationship I experienced with animals of all species. Animals began to seek me out with new confidence and intimacy--and still do. Although compassion for animals wasn't the original reason I became vegetarian, it's a major reason I have chosen to remain so for these past forty years.
Some years ago, when we were in Assisi, Italy, doing yoga on a roof terrace, a former Olympic gymnast who lived in the neighbourhood came to congratulate us on our excellent gymnastics! But the truth is, yoga is not a form of gymnastics or athletics, but a spiritual discipline. The Hatha Yoga texts, Gerhanda Samhita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika prescribe a building diet of strictly lacto-vegetarian foods for practitioners of yoga. Omitting this fundamental step could result in your yoga practice doing more harm than good in the long term. The Bhagavad Gita develops the theme of diet in terms of three gunas or modes of nature--sattva, rajas and tamas, or purity, passion and ignorance. Flesh foods have a strong component of rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) and so are deemed unsuitable for practitioners of any form of yoga or meditation. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy products are considered sattvik or enhancing purity and clarity of mind and are the recommended diet for spiritual practitioners.
Considering these six good reasons, perhaps you might decide vegetarianism is for you. If so, take your time to transition, to avoid shocking your system. This blog contains many great vegetarian recipes, so you won't have to struggle the way I did when I first tried vegetarianism!
Alakananda Ma M.B., B.S. (Lond.) is an Ayurvedic Doctor (NAMA) and graduate of a top London medical school. She is co-founder of Alandi Ayurveda Clinic and Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula in Boulder Colorado, as well as a spiritual mother, teacher, flower essence maker and storyteller. Alakananda is a well known and highly respected practitioner in the Ayurveda community both nationally and internationally.
Enliven your holistic health! Visit Alakananda Ma in Alandi Ashram’s ayurvedic clinic to support the overall rejuvenation of your body, mind, and spirit. In-person and virtual appointments available. Book now!
Cattle on Shotley Peninsula, Suffolk, UK.
Going Green (massageenvy.com)
Live longer? Save the planet? Better diet could nail both (eurekalert.org)
France develops taste for vegetarian cuisine (telegraph.co.uk)
Climate Change: Why meat is a bigger threat than cars (theweek.co.uk)
UN urges global move to vegan diet (guardian.co.uk)