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The Real Cost of Food: Is Vegetarianism the Only Answer?

20/01/2014 14:22 GMT | Updated 21/03/2014 09:59 GMT

What do Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Socrates, St Francis of Assissi, Benjamin Franklin, Buddha, George Bernard Shaw and the great footballer, Sir Stanley Matthews all have in common? They were vegetarians. No doubt they would have endorsed the view that 2014 could be the Year of the Vegan.

Indeed Einstein commented that "the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind."

As every New Year begins a diet fad arrives. If Beyonce and Jay Z can give veganism a go, then maybe we should also or at least vegetarianism? Well I did 20 years ago, after my favourite chicken soup began to taste foul - sorry! I am fit, have good health and don't take vitamins or antibiotics. This is also partly because I made the best investment decision of my life just before going vegan - to meditate - the second beneficial fad being touted around and now endorsed by Harvard scientists.

The Huge Cost of NOT Being Vegetarian

On the health front, according to WHO, 1.7 million deaths each year are caused by low consumption of fruit and vegetables. EPIC-Oxford studies showed vegetarians have 30% less chance of heart and diverticular diseases and 40% less chance of cataracts. Meanwhile in an Adventist Health study, twice as many meat eaters had diabetes and high blood pressure than vegetarians.

Scaremongers say we need to eat meat, chicken or fish for protein. Really? Many centenarians are vegetarians and Lorreen Dinwiddie, a 108 year old vegan no longer alive, would have put the botox peddlars out of business. Meanwhile the longest living dog in the Guinness book of records was also vegan!

On the economic front, I was shocked to read on Saving the Planet how much water is required to produce just 1kg of food:

Potatoes need 500 litres; Wheat 900 litres; Soy 2,000 litres; Chicken 3,500 litres and Beef, wait for it: 100,000 litres!

Are you ready for the second shock? To produce just 1kg of 'food' animals are fed the following amounts of grain:

Fish 2kg; Chicken 3kg; Pork 5.5kg; Beef 10kg

So we don't need to be economists to realise that unless our eating habits change radically we are in for a rude awakening. If it takes 10 times the amount of water to be a meat eater than a vegetarian then with less water and increasing populations this cannot continue.

Animal Sacrifice For Food

'Civilised' society has decided that some animals are bred for eating and others are lucky enough to be our pets. There was a furore a year ago when horsemeat found its way into British beefburgers. We seem averse to eating horses - probably because we can ride them and bet on them! Meanwhile the poor cow, seen in some religions as being the most sattvic (pure) animal on the planet, which feeds us through milk, yoghurt and cheese is deemed fair game for mass consumption.

The harsh reality is that according to Fishcount, mankind is killing around 140 billion animals, birds and fish each year to feed us. This horrific statistic is exacerbated by the NRDC in the USA - we waste 40% of our food per annum - which means 56 billion living creatures are killed unnecessarily every year. This hardly makes us worthy keepers of the planet.

Meanwhile bees, vital for our crops, through harmful man-made fertilisers are disappearing at unprecedented levels. One third have died in the past three years. When does a crisis become a crisis?

Leonardo da Vinci commented: "Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds them. We live by the death of others. He who does not value life does not deserve it."

I wonder how many of us would continue to eat meat if we lived next door to an abattoir? Seeing and hearing the agony of an animal being slaughtered through glass walls would soon change our diet. Take a look at Sir Paul McCartney's video 'glass walls' - which is not based on the greatest hit 'Imagine'. We might also conclude that we are eating FEAR as well as the poor animal's exposure to disease, hormones and other chemicals.

Closing our eyes to the truth is everyone's right especially when the truth is ugly. Yet surely we should give our children the opportunity to make their own educated choice by showing them 'slaughter' videos as part of each school's curriculum. Instead through clever marketing, most kids and some adults think beef comes from Mcdonalds in a bun; chicken from a box at KFC and tomato ketchup is a vegetable.

We would do well to take note of George Bernard Shaw who was mocked for being a vegetarian. He replied that "my stomach is not a graveyard for dead animals."

Religious and Yogic Views On Diet

If I was a betting man I would have put my house on the Dalai Lama being vegetarian. Well surprisingly he's not and I genuinely don't mean that as a criticism as he cites health reasons for eating meat. However, it must be difficult to credibly teach the cornerstone of Buddhism - compassion to all living beings, without following it yourself. Maybe the admirable Pope Francis and other religious leaders will take the lead of St Francis of Assissi, everyone's favourite saint to quote, and truly follow him by showing true compassion to animals by not eating them!

Having said that, the Great Master from India who taught me how to meditate, Paramahamsa Hariharananda was vegetarian and advocated vegetarianism but not rigidly. He also promoted prayer and gratefulness before each meal and pointed out that "Your food is your food. Don't look at what is on the plate of others." Of course this has more than one meaning. He also remarked that if spirituality was about being vegetarian then all the cows would have realised the truth of life as they are vegetarian!

Change Only Comes After A Crisis

In spite of many warnings of impending disasters regarding health, financial or otherwise, we turn a blind eye until a crisis arrives that directly affects us.

It is clear that our eco system is under severe threat. By becoming more conscious of what we are really eating, we could make small changes individually to benefit our health, our environment and the animals around us. This includes refusing to buy food with additives that require a physics degree to decipher.

I fully accept that diet is a personal choice as is wasting our hard earned cash on food we throw away, but with less waste and even becoming part time vegetarians for at least three days per week, we can help preserve three of the planets most valuable assets:

Our Conscience, The Dignity of All Living Beings and Our Water.

David Green is the author of The Invisible Hand: Business, Success & Spirituality which reveals how meditation and a yogic lifestyle relieve stress and increase our health, success and happiness.