Myth or Fact
All right, let's deal with this myth just one more time, so we can move on to other things. It's by far the most widespread myth about vegetarians. The proper response is: Yes, vegetarians get enough protein. What vegetarians don't get -- unless they pack in the cheese and eggs -- is the excess protein of the traditional American diet, an excess that leads to kidney overload and mineral deficiency diseases, such as osteoporosis.
Your non-vegetarian friends are really worried about this one; after all, if your teeth fall out because you're not drinking milk, they won't want to be seen with you. But vegetarians and vegans not only get enough calcium, they also absorb more calcium than people on the standard high-protein diet. That's because excess protein inhibits the absorption of calcium.
For many people who are working to become vegetarians, chicken and fish may be transitional foods, but they are not vegetarian foods. Before you charge us with being holier-than-thou, understand that this is basically a matter of definition. Many a sticky situation will be avoided if everyone understands that the word "vegetarian" means someone who eats no meat, fish or chicken. You know, it's dinner at the boss's house, and she has fixed a special red snapper florentine just for you -- that type of sticky situation.
According to our research, most people become vegetarians for health reasons; the second-most-common reason is for animal rights. We may not all be out there marching against fur, but every one of us still saves a lot of hides.
As a high-ranking general said to a Navy pilot after he learned the pilot was a vegetarian: "Isn't that against regulations?" The general signed an official complaint against the pilot, who had to submit to physical tests. The inquiry was dismissed after the doctors called in to examine the pilot angrily said the whole affair was "wasting our time." America has a meat-and-potatoes mind frame, no doubt about it.
Well, some are leftovers. Some meditate in full otus every day. But others are commodities traders fresh from business school who love every capitalist minute of it. There are a hefty number of vegetarians who've chosen the military (gasp!) for a career. Some live in Mr. Roger's Neighborhood (including Mr. Rogers, himself a vegetarian). The point is, the patchwork of vegetarians has more varieties of people than Heinz has ketchup. Sure, many of us would like to go back to the land, but it might ruin our sculptured nails.
Okay, this statement is true: The majority of vegetarians are women. But let's face it, in our society it just ain't macho for a man to be vegetarian. Meat eating is equated with masculinity and virility (oh, if only it were so); values such as nonviolence and kindness to animals are perceived as feminine. But I wouldn't mention these perceptions to bodybuilder Andreas Cahlng or the few million other male vegetarians.
The Ayatollah Khomeini, a vegetarian, was hardly left wing. On the other hand, you have Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy, a vegetarian who is a self-proclaimed leftist and anarchist. Truth is, vegetarians are spread all over the political spectrum.
Some vegetarians do take vitamin supplements; other can't remember the last time they had supplements in the house. Most of us have eaten tofu, granola or seaweed at one time or another, and have seen the inside of a few natural food stores. Then there are thos of us for whom Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and a Coke mean a good meal. Again, it depends on the individual.
A recent study shows that on any given day, the average American doesn't eat a single vegetable. What's worse, of those Americans who do eat at least one vegetable, the majority eat potatoes (fried, of course, and probably the french variety). There's nothing wrong with potatoes, but these findings indicate that most Americans eat little more than meat and potatoes. Now, who's telling whom they don't eat a balanced diet?
Protein complementing went out with swallowing goldfish (and made about as much sense). And preparing a veggie meal takes no more time than a meat meal, and often much less -- just ask anyone who's cooked a roast or a whole turkey.
Although there are some people you can't take anywhere, vegetarians are not in that category. Hey, this is America. We serve pasta with marinara sauce, Mexican rice and beans, falafel and vegetable fried rice in our restaurants. If all else fails, there's hardly a restaurant that won't whip up a plate of steamed vegetables. Okay, you can't take a vegetarian to Burger King, because they even but lard in their burger buns, but inviting vegetarians over for dinner shouldn't pose a problem. For centuries, whole cultures have been vegetarian; surely there's one dish in all that history you could cook for a vegetarian friend.
No they don't. And children don't need eggs or dairy products either. Numerous studies prove it.
The first vegetarian I knew was of the sickly variety; I just knew she'd be find if only she'd eat a steak once in a while. It was years before I learned her problems were unrelated to diet. Like meat eaters, some vegetarians are sickly while others never fall ill. In general, though, vegetarians are much less prone to the diseases of excess -- heart attacks, breast cancer, osteoporosis -- that plague our culture, because those diseases are the products of a high-protein, high-fat diet. Most vegetarians do, however, fall victim to the occasional cold.
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