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Vegetarian? Vegan? Omnivore?

August 13, 2010

Tags: food, anemia, ants, beef, butterflies, carnivore, cat, caterpillar, cattle, cleansing, dementia, dog, Earth, eggs, fats - animal, fish, game, grain, greens, herbivore, horses, insect, lamb, lion, lobster, mouse, omnivore, photosynthesis, pig, prayer, predator, rabbit, scavenger, sheep, shrimp, slaughterhouse, sun, turkey, vegan, vegetal, vegetarian, Vegetarian? Vegan? Omnivore?, vitamin B12

We had this before: I am not a vegetarian. Not because I don’t like animals or because I don’t care for the Earth. No, because I am a pragmatic person. I eat what my body needs.

If you ask me what my body needs, my standard answer is: vegetables, vegetables, vegetables. But we need more than vegetables. We need some fish, and occasionally even some meat. Some eggs will do, too.

Vegan or vegetarian food is a great way to cleanse the body after too many years of bad nutrition. People who have switched to vegetal food often remember how wonderful they felt that first month after the change - and therefore are reluctant ever to go back to meats. But after a month or two, deficiencies slowly set in.

As a doctor, I am familiar with vitamin B12 deficiency in vegetarians and vegans. It is a big problem. Because without vitamin B12 one gets anemia (low count of red blood cells) and dementia. The brain needs vitamin B12 to function. The sad fact is: If you are vitamin B12 deficient and replenish with that little red pill (or shots from your doctor), your anemia will vanish – but the brain damage is done: The marbles you have lost, you will not recover because dead brain cells don’t come back.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is a pretty good argument for a doctor not to be a rigid vegetarian. But for people who have not seen the effects of a tiny vitamin lacking, it means nothing.

So, here is another argument: We all know that the animal world is divided into two groups: herbivores and carnivores. The first eat greens exclusively, and the others are carnivores – predators that feast on other animals. And, sure enough, there is a third group, the omnivores; they eat everything that comes near their snouts, and pigs and humans are their most notorious members.

Come to think about it: A cow in the pasture munches on grass, solely, right? Wrong! A cow eats tons of insects, caterpillars, ants and butterflies - creeping, crawling creatures that land in their stomachs by accident – and are put to good use. I heard this story (first-hand!): A young, inexperienced farmer kept horses and sheep in one meadow together. After lambs were born in the spring, she found – to her horror – that a horse had smashed a baby lamb’s skull and licked up the brains. This happened not once but twice. She talked with an older farmer, who looked at her with pity and gave this piece of advice: “That’s why you don’t put out horses and sheep together in the pasture.”

Conversely, when a carnivore catches its prey – let’s say a cat a mouse – they eat it whole, including the stomach contents which contain grains. Lions are known for seeking out especially the stomachs of their victims.

This means that the concepts of strict herbivorism or carnivorism are myths: All creatures need both sources of nutrition (albeit in different proportions) – and seek out what they lack.

On our planet Earth, we get our energy from the sun, and from the plants that convert sun energy into sugar and starches – that is how we are nourished, by photosynthesis. Interestingly, carnivores usually don’t hunt other carnivores; they prefer herbivores. Why? Because the meat of herbivores has been grown on an herbal diet. Even carnivores cannot get too far away from the power of the sun in plant materials. And that, by the way, is the reason we usually don’t eat carnivorous cats and dogs but prefer rabbit, cows, game, lambs. And it might be one of the reasons in Jewish traditions for “forbidden” foods: pigs, shrimp, lobsters, and so on – animals that are carnivores or scavengers (eating dead meats). They are too far away from the green source of vitality. And so, by the way, are cattle that are fed corn: No greens strengthening their meat.

One last thought: So, which are the healthiest meats around? Americans seem to think that chicken and turkey are the best – as if chickens and turkey are not animals. From a nutritional standpoint, poultry are only marginally better than beef, for instance; they also contain unsavory animal fats, especially if they are grain-fed and from a commercial source. In a normal supermarket, the healthiest meat actually might be lamb. Lambs are born out in the meadows; they eat grass all their lives, they are not fed grains and are not treated with antibiotics, and so on. Then they are harvested.

Rule of thumb: Eat vegetarian three days a week, fish or eggs three days, meats one day. No deli – ever.

Sorry, if this is a bit graphic. But even if you close your eyes to not see it - the fact is that animals die so that we can eat; meat is not concocted in factories and comes shrink-wrapped and cooled. Let's make sure that the whole operation - from raising animals, keeping them, to slaughterhouses - is run as humanely as possible.

For every animal I prepare in my kitchen – including fish – I say a prayer. To thank this being that died so that my family can be fed.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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