Thinking about turning over a new leaf? Or maybe eating one? Here are some things you may not know: Research has shown that you smell better when you don’t eat red meat; that a love of veggies contributes to sharp memory and great intelligence; and that Chinese people (eating mostly a vegetarian diet) consume 20 percent more calories than Americans, but Americans are 20 percent fatter. Also, vegetables are sexy! Though the science is not definitive, aphrodisiacs from the vegetable kingdom include chilies, asparagus, celery, fennel, garlic and Andean mustard.
Recent headlines on the unhealthy impact of red meat and that President Bill Clinton has gone from omnivore to vegan has a lot of individuals thinking about whether this might be the time to make some serious changes to their diet. At UCLA, meanwhile, adopting healthful habits is becoming de rigueur.
The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center has adopted Meatless Mondays, a national campaign to encourage people to forgo meat for one day each week. The campus dining halls for students promote Beefless Thursday. And in 2010, PETA named UCLA the most vegan-friendly large campus in America.
We talked to UCLA experts to learn more about the science behind the lifestyle and how choosing a meat-free diet can be a good thing in many ways — for the environment, for animal welfare, for physical health and even for spiritual balance.
Eating Your Spinach Can Help Save the Planet
Daniel Blumstein, professor and chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a professor in the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability writes a well-read blog called Eating Our Way to Civility that is focused on the environment and sustainability. “Livestock production produces a healthy percentage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas,” he says. “If you are concerned about climate change — you should eat less meat.” According to sources such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the websites GreenLivingIdeas.com and Switch2Veggies.com, the cattle industry produces methane that contributes to the global warming effect about 23 times faster than CO2 from cars. Although trading in your gas guzzler for a Toyota Prius is great for reducing our carbon footprint, switching to a vegetarian diet actually has an even greater impact. It takes 11 times more fuel to produce a calorie of food from cattle for a meat-based diet than it does to produce a calorie of food for a vegetarian diet.
The livestock industry takes up 26 percent of the real estate on this planet, and that includes the removal of entire forests for cattle space expansion and farmland for crops to feed the livestock. Furthermore, the pesticides used to raise crops at an accelerated rate for cattle feed leads to more chemicals in our soil. In turn, since there is no grass in this topsoil to hold it down, more of the pesticides and wastes run into our water. Since vegetarians don’t eat the animals that graze on the land, vegetarians don’t contribute to deforestation of new areas that will be used for grazing.
And then there’s the malign consequence of catching all those fish that going vegan could ameliorate. Overfishing is a global problem — National Geographic reports that “a study of catch data published in 2006 in the journal Science grimly predicted that if fishing rates continue apace, all the world’s fisheries will have collapsed by the year 2048.”
On his blog, Blumstein writes that “by eating fish, you’re also creating a huge ecological crisis — we’re eating our way down the food chains in the ocean. Think you can solve the wild-caught fish problem by growing them? Aquaculture creates large-scale marine and estuarine pollution. And, when you’re growing carnivorous fish, you’re catching wild fish to feed your captive fish. Now, that doesn’t make much sense. However, fish eating will be self-limiting as we fish down the seas (got any good jellyfish recipes to share?) and as fish-eaters poison themselves with mercury and other toxins. As long as it remains ethical to poison yourself, it’s ethical to eat fish.” Another way that vegetarians help the Earth is by conserving the water supply. Forty percent of the water used in the U.S. is for agriculture, and again, since vegetarians don’t eat meat, they are conserving water that would have been used to produce more water-intensive meat products.
“There is a whole other issue that usually isn’t even discussed, and that is the true cost of meat,” offers Blumstein. “Because of subsidies provided by the government, consumers don’t actually see the true cost of the meat they are eating. Until that happens, there isn’t a real economic incentive to change eating habits. At my dinner parties and in conversation with colleagues and students, I always caution, ‘Be aware of your food decisions, because they do make a difference.’”
Animals Are People, Too
In 2004, television personality Bob Barker donated $1 million to the UCLA School of Law to create the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law. The endowment fund supports teaching, research, seminars and lectures in the emerging field of animal rights law. Said Barker when making his gift: “Animals need all the protection we can give them. We intend to introduce a growing number of law students to this area of the law in hopes that they will ultimately lead a national effort to make it illegal to brutalize and exploit these helpless creatures.”
Law Professor Taimie Bryant M.A. ’78, Ph.D. ’84 is an expert in the field of animal rights law and leads the efforts at the UCLA School of Law. Her focus is the legislative and other legal regulation ensuring the humane treatment of animals. She points out that while there are animal cruelty statutes in all states, there are many exemptions for common animal husbandry practices. Also, the only federal laws concern slaughter practices and the transportation of animals to slaughter, but they do not cover most food animals, and enforcement of these laws tends to be limited.
“Studying animal law prompted me to make changes to my diet,” says Bryant, who is now vegan. “I have also found that in the course of teaching animal law, many of my students are completely unaware of animal cruelty in raising animals for consumption and stop eating animals as well.”
It’s estimated that 10 billion animals are killed by the meat industry each year, not including fish. Modern agriculture commonly keeps cows, calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other animals in overcrowded stalls, cages, crates or sheds where they are often unable to turn around or take even a single step. At the end of their lives, they are often crowded into trailers and hauled hundreds of miles where they are slaughtered without any relief from pain or fear.
Trying to change the laws is difficult, Bryant says. “Agribusiness is a very powerful lobby, and most ideas for laws don’t get out of committee,” she says. “Animals are seen as property or resources and owners can do what they want with resources.” Voters in California, however, have shown an interest in changing the law. In 2008, 63 percent of Golden State voters supported Proposition 2 — the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. The proposition prohibits the confinement of certain animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs.
Eat, Pray, Live
Robert Buswell, director of UCLA’s Center for Buddhist Studies, provides a historical and religious context for vegetarianism. “Vegetarianism can trace its roots all the way back to the 6th century, B.C. Jainism, which had its beginnings in India, believes all living creatures are sacred — human, insects and animals — and strictly prohibits injuring any living creature,” he says. “Later on, Hinduism and some strands of Buddhism were both influenced by the Jains to adopt vegetarianism.”
Buswell adds, “A lot of this belief is due to karma. In some strands of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, all creatures are thought to have an infinite number of past lifetimes and any creature alive today could have been your relative. In the Nirvana Sutra, it is stated that ‘one who eats meat kills the seed of great compassion.’”
The religions also add a health angle to the vegetarian proposition. In Taoism, there is a doctrine of physical immortality which is directly tied to diet. And Korean Buddhist monks, who eat a traditional vegan diet, rarely seem to suffer from heart disease and most forms of cancer. No surprise there — the number one reason that individuals adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet is health. Recent health scares such as salmonella and the human form of mad cow disease (CJD) are also making people rethink their health choices.
Wearing one of his famous vegetable-themed neck ties, Professor William Mc-Carthy of the UCLA Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health talks about making smart food choices.
“It’s important to know that adopting a vegetarian diet isn’t as easy as taking the meat out of your burger and just eating the bun,” says McCarthy. “Vegetarians must take extra steps to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need. … A vegetarian diet that includes seeds/nuts/ legumes (beans) and grains (corn/wheat/ oatmeal) is the best way to get the complete protein you need and you can do it easily anywhere. For example, in Mexico, it means pinto beans (refritos) and corn tortillas; in Japan, it is soy beans (tofu) and rice; in Egypt, it is garbanzos (hummus) and Arabic bread; and in India, it is lentils (dal) and chapatti.”
To optimize vitamin intake, eat a variety of colorful, minimally processed fruits and vegetables, he suggests.
Even the government agrees. People who follow a well-balanced diet of minimally processed vegetables and seek out non-meat sources of protein, calcium and vitamin B12 are eating in line with current nutritional recommendations for healthy eating. Medical studies have shown that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from heart disease, some cancers, diet-related diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Sure, some people take the idea of a life without Whoppers with a grain of salt. Former Saturday Night Live cast member A. Whitney Brown, for example, admits, “I am not a vegetarian because I love animals. I am a vegetarian because I hate plants.”
Still, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that vegetarianism offers some serious benefits for individuals, society, the planet and, of course, animals.
So balance your life. Smell better. Get smarter. And consider eating more leaves.
VBQ Beef Sandwich With Coleslaw
Mix all ingredients and keep chilled until ready to serve.
1/8 cup Coleslaw Blend
2 tsp. minced Red Onion
1 tsp. finely chopped Fresh Dill
2 Tbsp. Vegan Mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste
4 oz. Beef Analog
2 oz. Barbecue Sauce
Crusty bun such as a Kaiser roll or Baguette (about 4”)
2 tsp. Olive Oil
Heat beef analog in barbecue sauce. Split bun in half, drizzle with olive oil and grill, cut sides down, until golden brown.
Heap warmed beef on bun. Top with coleslaw and top half of the bun. Serve immediately.
Victoria McBride’s Warm Lentil and Kale Salad
1 cup of Lentils, dried
1 bunch of Organic Kale
1 Cucumber, chopped
1 Avocado, cut into chunks
1 Orange, cut into chunks
3–4 sprigs of Parsley, chopped
Pinch of salt
Handful of Almonds
1 Shallot, chopped
1–2 Tbsp. Balsamic or Red Wine Vinegar
1.5 tsp Dijon Mustard
Salt and Pepper
Mix shallot and mustard in a small mixing bowl. Add vinegar and dash of salt and pepper. Add 3–4 tbsp of olive oil. Adjust to taste.
Rinse lentils, put in sauce pan, and cover liberally with water. Bring water to boil and simmer over medium heat until cooked (about 20 min). Wash kale, remove stalks and chop, combine with cucumber, avocado, and orange in a big salad bowl. Toss lentils with parsley and salt, add to the salad. Add dressing and toss. Toast almonds and sprinkle on top.
Mayim Bialik’s Mango Quinoa
Combine the following:
6 Basil leaves, torn, and 3 Cilantro sprigs, torn
1/3 cup minced Red Onion
1/2–1 firm Mango cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
3/4 tsp. Sea Salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. Lime Juice
Cashews (or Peanuts)
Add 1 1/2 cups Quinoa that’s been cooked in 3 cups water or broth (rinse the Quinoa before you cook it).