Vegetarian eaters are no longer a minority in North America. There’s as many as 8 million of us here, according to a Harris Interactive poll.
The carnivore’s question is: Why?
Idealistic vegetarians might say it’s for the environment, a research-based assertion. The University of Michigan published a study in 2018 determining one-fifth of Americans are responsible for about half — 46 percent — of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions. And those Michigan researchers concluded that’s mainly because that fifth of the population eats more meat, specifically beef.
Anyone who has spent time around cows knows they are constantly expelling methane — so much methane, in fact, that the United Nations determined farmed livestock, chiefly bovines, are responsible for roughly 15 percent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Now none of our large-scale farm operations are emission-free — even fertilizing soil has adverse effects for the climate. Too much nitrogen in fertilized soil can spike nitrous oxide, which is 300 times worse for climate change than carbon dioxide, according to those Michigan researchers.
But cutting out farmed meat, or even reducing one’s meat intake, is smarter for planet health than the alternative, cutting out the fruits and veggies.
What about human health?
Before vegetarianism was widespread in the U.S., researchers focused on nutrition in meat that vegetarians would not be eating. Meat is a significant source of protein, and also has healthy vitamins and minerals.
Now researchers understand that the vegetarian diet is nutritious on its own, and in a different way. But whether that’s better for humans isn’t scientifically proven, especially since vegetarians tend to be healthier in other, research-confounding ways as well — they’re less likely to smoke or excessively drink, and are more likely to exercise.
But Harvard research says vegetarians eat less saturated fat and cholesterol, and more vitamins, dietary fiber, folic acid, potassium, magnesium and plant chemicals, all associated with lower LDL cholesterol, the bad kind, lower blood pressure, which is good and a lower body mass index, also good — and all traits of longevity and lower disease risk.
Because of that, vegetarians may be significantly less likely to die from heart disease or suffer type 2 diabetes, and they may be slightly less likely to develop a form of cancer as well.
As one considers trying a vegetarian lifestyle, note there are several kinds of vegetarians. Vegans are the extreme — they don’t eat anything produced by another creature. Lacto-ovo vegeterians do eat dairy products and eggs. Lacto vegetarians eat only dairy products on top of vegetables and fruits, while ovo vegetarians eat only eggs on top of vegetables and fruits.
Regardless of which lifestyle looks right for you, the path to implementing a vegetarian existence is the same. One can go “cold turkey,” something one will not eat again as a vegetarian, or gradually adopt the lifestyle, the difference between jumping into a pool or slowly sinking in, starting in the shallow water.
The difficult part of the transition will probably be the social aspect. Oh, sure, people might scoff, express confusion, ask what a vegetable is, but the real challenge is adapting one’s social habits.
The entrees list at your favorite restaurant might seem significantly slimmer. Remind yourself you may be as well.
Finding the right meal after an endless day’s work may take longer than popping in the chicken Lean Cuisine. Remind yourself you have the time to spend — you may still be kicking while your TV dinner-consuming pals are six feet under.
No more reaching for the barbecue chicken during NFL season. Remember that while your friends may be in danger of a cholesterol-related event from their game-related excitement, you can jump, kick, howl and cheer without fear. Of that, anyway. Try not to trip and fall through the hors d’oeuvre table like last year.
One social area vegetarianism may instantly improve is dating. If your date orders, say, an appetizer of nachos littered with beef, politely decline and explain why.
If your date adjusts the order accordingly, proceed.
If your date chuckles and shakes their head, remember the above-mentioned life expectancy.
If your date says, “I’m so sorry,” and, as they decry your “symptoms,” you realize they’ve confused your diet with the fictitious disease lycanthropy, best you politely leave.
Mastering these social situations simply takes time. Vegetarianism is a rhythm, and like any rhythm, learned through practice.
And there’s no time better to practice than the start of a new year.