Is Vegetarianism Just Trendy Or Is It A New Way Of Life?

By Sonny Saggar, M.D.


Depending on whom you ask, and how you design your poll, there are between 2 and 20 million vegetarians in America. What is not disputed is that that number is increasing. Why?

Our increasing knowledge of nutrition and disease, and our urgent environmental concerns, results in an inevitable gravitation towards changing to a vegetarian diet. There are many who still wonder whether it will result in better health, whether it really is more ethical and whether it is environmentally friendly and supporting a healthier planet. Pondering these questions is a bit like asking whether the abolition of slavery was a good thing, whether we should consider diplomacy before combat or whether we should instill kindness and good virtues in our children.

Is vegetarianism just trendy or is it a new way of life? It’s not just the young educated professionals who are adopting a plant-based diet. There is a radical shift in sentiment as society becomes more aware and more ethical. Quoting Mary Tyler Moore: “it may take a while, but there will probably come a time when we look back and say, ‘good lord, do you believe that in the 20th century and early part of the 21st, people were still eating animals?'”

As a physician, I could give you a detailed list or discussion of all the meat-related diseases and health disorders here, but I won’t. I do feel that almost every major illness and disorder is related to meat in some way, whether it is hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer, or dementia and even simple things like a propensity to frequent viral infections.

In America, where obesity is the highest in the known galaxy, the urgency to increasing plant-based diets is very high. The average sedentary adult living in the USA would have his dietary needs met by a veggie diet much better than an omnivorous one. It would also prevent much chronic disease, as well as lose the weight!

“If animals weren’t meant to be eaten, then why are they made out of meat?” is a telling attempt at humor by the anti-vegetarian types. I don’t think it’s useful to analyze this.

In terms of simple calories, the grain consumed by U.S. livestock would be sufficient to feed 800 million people, and if exported, would boost the U.S. trade balance by over $80 billion annually.

Grain-fed animals consume 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of ‘meat’ they produce, compared with one-fiftieth of that quantity for every kilogram of food produced from soybeans. Does the world need to conserve clean drinking water?

The average omnivore diet burns an energy equivalent of a gallon of gas daily. That’s twice what it takes to produce a vegan diet. So the carbon footprint is lower, the health benefits are greater and the world is a happier place, the more it becomes an herbivorous world.

When I talk with my patients (many of whom are vegetarians, but most are not) about a plant-based diet, I don’t think it’s helpful to ban meat with religious fervor, at least initially. If you don’t want to be “that annoying vegetarian” making your mother-in-law prepare a special meal for you for Thanksgiving and so on, you don’t have to be. If you’d prefer to eat a dead animal for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or eating your boss’ wife’s prepared dinner, that’s fine. Being veggie for the other 99% of the year is akin to imbibing an occasional wine, instead of every night. Moderation is the key, and you will have peace of mind, a healthy mind and body, and you’ll be doing your bit for a HEALTHY PLANET.

Sonny Saggar, MD is the Medical Director of Downtown Medical (Primary Care) & Downtown Urgent Care (Many of my patients are vegetarian). www.downtownurgentcarestl.com