Rashmi Uday Singh

Vegetarian Food .. Well Balanced Diet

Give up ! You are surrounded!

You are gheraoed not just by religious, ethical, karmic, spiritual reasons, but even by the more fundamental justifications of environment, economy, physiology and health!

It And as though all that is not enough, there is yet another reason, the fashionable one. What an" A list" of Vegetarians there is ... Amitabh Bachan and Brooke Shields, Paul McCartney and Ruby Bhatia, Richard Gere too!

The list goes on and we haven't even gone into the past and included the vocal veggies like Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw .. " A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses "..., Leonardo Da Vinci, Pythagoras, Gautama Buddha.

The Mahabharata, the Rig Vedas .. were all unequivocal supporters of vegetarianism.

Quite clearly, " Vegetarians " come in all shapes and sizes. Literally too. The large, long-lived elephant has a very large brain and an excellent memory. Ever admired shining flanks with muscles rippling such as that magnificent horse striding ahead with coordinated ease and speed boasts of ? The Vegetarian elephant and horse demolish any apprehension about veggies being mental or physical weaklings. Other muscular and intelligent animals .. the cow, giraffe, zebra, rhinoceros, the apes, and more .. are Vegetarians too.

Many nutritionists, biologists and physiologists offer convincing evidence that humans are in fact not meant to eat flesh.

Are we built like the carnivores or like the herbivores ?  Do we stick out our tongue and seat when we are hot ? Do we use our tonges to lap liquids ? Do we have long teeth and claws for holding our prey ? Do our stomachs secrete huge quantities of hydrochloric acid needed to digest flesh ? And, most importantly, are our intestines short enough to allow quick elimination of flesh which putrifies quickly ? Since the answer to all the above is 'no' for us and 'yes' for carnivores, nature has given her verdict, without saying a word!

Don't trust Mother Nature ? Medical studies prove that a Vegetarian diet is easier to digest, provides a wider range of nutrients and imposes fewer burdens and impurities on the body. Plenty of studies .. e.g., a report  by the World Cancer Research Fund, 1997, recommends lowering cancer risks by choosing largely plant-based diets .. document the increase in the rise of risk of cancer and heart disease due to an excessively non- Vegetarian Diet. Of course, critics are quick to point out that it's not all that cut-and-dried and pure Vegetarianism could lead to severe nutritional deficiencies .. like vitamin B12, calcium, iron, protein and more .. too.

I had the good fortune of meeting Or Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a 20 year old non-profit organisation based in the US and supported by over 3,000 physicians and 50,000 lay people.

Dr. Barnard addressed plenty of my nutritional concerns head on, pointing out that it is very easy to have a well balanced diet with Vegetarian foods, including a protein-rich one .. beans, whole grains and vegetables.

Calcium is present in dark green leafy vegetables and beans, while iron is plentiful in whole grains, beans and fruits.

PCRM advises fortified cereals and soymilk to dispel the misconception that sufficient vitamin B 12 is not possible without eating meat. Concerns for the diet of pregnant women and growing children are also similarly addressed.

Anyway, it's not just about our health but even ecological, global health. In large measure, the destruction of ancient rain forests, loss of top soils and the consequent increase of water impurities have all been traced to the single fact of creating pasture lands for livestock being reared for meat.

Here's the nub of the economic reason : to produce one pound of meat, it requires over 16 pounds of grain and many gallons of water.  Millions of animals are bred for meat production. If they were not bred and the vegetation was used to feed people, there would be no poverty in the world.

If you've noticed, till now I haven't even touched upon the karmic and the religious reasons or those of compassion and non-violence!

I have tried to tread the coldly rational path, even though I have grown up in a maternal home of many staunch Vegetarians and believers in 'ahimsa '.

My grandma's voice, warning me about carrying a ' shamshan ' in my stomach, echoes in my ears even now! I still went on to become a food critic and travel continents on invitation of governments to eat everything from kangaroo to crocodile.

But the childhood grounding remains in my daily diet at home. I have eaten in and researched Australia extensively for a detailed report on ‘ Vegetarian Australia ’, ditto for Italy, and zoomed into the hundred year old pure Veggie Hotel in Zurich.

Vegetarianism is definitely getting popular, having made its first impact on history in 500 BC in India and Greece at around the same time, within the lifetimes of Buddha and Pythagoras. Interestingly, the word ‘ vegetarianism ’ was not coined until the 1840s and now it is accepted all over to denote a diet, which excluded meat and seafood .. veganism excludes dairy products too.

When I travelled the world researching 'Around the World in 80 Plates' I was not surprised to find that many a culinary superstar practices vegetarianism whenever he can. It's not about being a fanatic or condemning the other half·· depending on which half you belong to.

It's about becoming aware, having an open mind and adding power to your plate!

( Source :  Sunday Times 13th June, 2005)

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