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People tip-toe around that subject a lot. There probably aren't many health care providers who say "Don't eat meat," especially in Omaha, an historical stronghold of carnivorous proclivity. But it is ironic that last week saw the closing of the Stockyards Exchange Building and the cessation of official market announcements on the price of bull ... er, beef, in Omaha. Unfortunately, the closings don't signify a trend toward meatless eating here but only the shift in the industry away from what once appeared as the romantic lifestyle of the independent rancher and cowboy of the plains. Now slaughter food is veritably manufactured at mega-industrial complexes where thousands of hogs or cattle are raised from manger to charnel house at a single location.
Before looking at the health advantages of a vegetarian diet, consider what a cow eats. Cows eat grass, right? Wrong. Cows are supposed to eat grass.
I'll never forget my first morning waking up in Glastonbury in southwest England's Devonshire county. (It's the countryside town where King Arthur's buried.) I ambled down the cobblestone mainstreet and stopped in a small store. I asked for some milk because I didn't see any in the tiny cooler. The shopkeeper pointed to some small glass bottles in a case by the door. "Here?" I asked. "Why isn't it refrigerated?" "What for?" he replied. "It was in the cow a couple hours ago?" I thought about shying away from this strange, room-temperature white stuff, but I was aware of then looking like an American spoiled by his own culture; exactly what I feared the milk was. I bought a bottle and walked outside, following the keeper's admonition to shake it up, ("Cream's on top, y'know.") When I tentatively put it to my lips and drank, it was like no milk I had ever tasted. Sweet, creamy. I was certain it must have been sweetened or flavored. It wasn't. I went in and bought another. Later my friend Mimi explained. "Devon," she said "is famous for dairy. And the milk is sweet because that's what cows eat. Grass. And grass is sweet."
AND NOW THE GOOD NEWS
While acknowledging the obvious fact that one can become a vegetarian and still eat poorly if you eat "junk" food, even though it may not have meat products in it, Lyman just repeats what common sense and modern research has been telling us for some time: vegetables are good for you. That also is not news, but it is being explained by a man whose family for generations had depended on people eating meat. As a Montana native, he knew that not eating meat was a little off the beaten path. But also as a Montanan, he and his neighbors were concerned about the damage cattle raising does to their state. When he expanded to a global view on becoming a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., he saw what a meat diet was doing to the planet.
PLANET EARTH: IT'S WHAT'S FOR DINNER
Anyone who has seen any mainstream publication over the past few years has seen enough articles about this and that of vegetables being so good for you. Hardly a day goes by without something being brought to light about it. Lyman doesn't go into all the health benefits for individuals so much, but he does put things in a global perspective in a rather personable way of writing. He reminds us that not only is meat poisoning our bodies but our eating habits are leading to ecological disaster that may be too late too avoid.
Eating meat is not cost effective, planetarily. Period. Lyman cites Frances Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet as a way of noting it. For example, it takes 32 pounds of grain to create a pound of beef. One-half pound of grain is a subsistence daily ration for a human. That means 32 people can live on the grain needed for one pound of beef if they ate the grain instead of the beef.
Even worse is the havoc that cattle ranching is wreaking on the ecology. Around the world, 27,000 square miles of land are turned into desert each year. Over time, that is the usual result of clearing forest land for grazing. 70 % of the water used in the already water-short eleven western states goes to livestock production. The water to raise just ten pounds of beef would be enough for a household of four for a year! 90% of the open federal rangeland is used for cattle grazing in those states. And, the beef raised accounts for only three per cent of the beef eaten in the USA. If we gave the range back to nature, we wouldn't even notice the dent at McDonald's! Most of the grain grown in the midwest goes to cattle feed. That grain is produced by irrigating and taxing the great Ogallala Aquifer beyond its limits. Already farmers from South Dakota to Kansas and Texas, from Missouri to Colorado have had to stop farming because of dry wells. On the fringe of the aquifer, the supply is already out. At current usage the underground water table will be dry in a few short decades. It took millions of years to fill it. It will never fill up again while humans are using this planet. The list of ecological doom goes on.
Lyman sums it up in a simple statement. "Humanity is rich in folly, but it's hard to think of a folly more mind-bogglingly stupendous than that of transforming infinitely rich, diverse, dense jungle into desert in a few years' time for the sake of a few more hamburgers." He is astounded that we actually need to support the razing of the tropical rainforests to bring more beef to our country. "It's humbling to think that, even after turning over the greater share of our public land to cattle ranchers, and in spite of the massive feedlot operations fouling our country, we Americans still need to import beef to satisfy our collective demand for heart attacks."
Lyman paints a persuasive picture. Meat isn't good for you. It harms the planet the way we are satisfying our craving. And we don't have much choice anyway. Very soon the resources we have simply won't support the "plague of cattle." He does suggest going vegetarian and mentions that you would be in good company. "Some people may say you're a fool. Don't worry about it," Lyman writes. "Other vegetarian fools include Plato, Socrates, Einstein, Tolstoy, Thoreau, Emerson, Franklin, Pope, Newton, Pythagoras, Ghandi, DaVinci, Voltaire, Milton, Darwin, Schweitzer, Shelley, Shaw, the Dalai Lama, and, last but not least, Madonna."
Perhaps the most convincing argument to me is not that those people are vegetarian but the disgusting news that cows aren't!
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Michael Braunstein is Executive Director of Heartland Healing and certified by the American Council of Hypnotist Examiners in clinical hypnotherapy. He graduated from the Los Angeles Hypnotism Training Institute and was an instructor at the UCLA Extension University for 11 years.
Heartland Healing is devoted to the examination of various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information and not as medical advice. It is not meant as an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or by Heartland Healing Center, Inc.