Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Vegetarian, Vegan, None of the Above

By Jessica English

MAY 11, 1998:  Ten years ago, if you walked into your typical American-fare restaurant and asked to have a vegetarian meal prepared for you, your waiter would have muttered under his breath, calling you a pain in the ass who should stay home and eat your veggies. Nowadays, a restaurant--even a steakhouse--that doesn't have at least something for our vegetarian brothers and sisters would be embarrassed. More than 20 million Americans are vegetarians in varying degrees and millions more are at least watching their meat and dairy intake.

To put it simply, vegetarians are herbivores: people who live on a diet of fruits vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and, in some cases, dairy products. The term vegetarian also covers the hardcore vegetarians--properly known as fruitarians, who eat only fruit and nuts, and vegans, who consume no meat, dairy, eggs or any other animal products. Even though it has become quite fashionable, every person who passes on the plate of flesh has valid reasons.

The stigma associated with vegetarians, although diminishing, is that they are all "Save the Animals" types. While there are individuals who forgo animal products because they believe the commercial meat industry is cruel to animals, this is not a cut-and-dry reason for vegetarianism. The number one reason that people become vegetarians is for their health--whether it's because of the proven risk of heart disease and cancer suffered by meat-eaters, or because they want to stay clear of the chemicals, hormones and steroids that most animals are exposed to before and after the slaughter.

Vegans forgo dairy products and eggs for the same reasons, plus the fact that milk is not designed for human ingestion. Think about it: If you told somebody you drank a big, frothy glass of human breast milk each day, they'd lose their breakfast, yet many Americans feel safe guzzling gallons of some heifer's milk meant for an animal that has four stomachs. Milk consumption has been linked to chronic ear, nose and throat problems, deficiencies in natural antibodies, asthma, childhood diabetes, other food allergies and even leukemia.

Still others are vegetarians for ecological reasons: The livestock industry is responsible in part for the depletion of the rainforests and overgrazing, which has a devastating effect on topsoil. Others argue that being a vegetarian is necessary to feed the growing population of the planet because livestock consumes more food than it provides. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), commercial livestock eat enough grain and soybeans to feed five times the American population. And while many claim that meat-eating is natural, many others, including some doctors, contend that human teeth and digestive system are designed for eating fruits and vegetables only.

For a comprehensive rundown on vegetarianism, check out PETA's Web site at www.peta-online.org.

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