Gone are the days when vegetarians were served up lumpy lentil stews and dull-as-dishwater veggie dahls. Veggie faux meats such as bacon and sausages - along with an ever-expanding variety of fresh fruit and veggies - mean the vegetarian diet has taken the world by storm.
With World Vegetarian Day coming up on 1 October, here without further ado are PETA's Top 10 Reasons Not to Eat Meat:
1. Helping Animals Also Helps the Global Poor
The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people - more than the entire human population on Earth. Meanwhile, more than 1 billion people worldwide are undernourished. By feeding grain currently funnelled to farmed animals to starving people instead, everyone would have enough to eat. Care about global poverty? Time to ditch animal products.
2. Eating Meat Supports Cruelty to Animals
Green pastures and idyllic barnyard scenes are not the reality for more than 95% of animals raised for food. On today's factory farms, animals are crammed into filthy wire cages, gestation crates and other confinement systems. These animals will never raise families, forage for food or do anything else that is natural and important to them. They won't even get to feel the warmth of the sun on their backs or breathe fresh air until the day they are loaded onto trucks bound for slaughter.
3. Eating Meat Is Bad for the Environment
A recent United Nations (UN) report titled Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options concludes that eating meat is "one of the ... most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global". Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy and water. Earlier this year, scientists warned that we will have to cut meat consumption in half in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
4. Avoid SARS and Other Deadly Pathogens
Keeping thousands of animals crowded together in sheds, living amid mountains of accumulated waste, while feeding them enormous quantities of drugs creates a breeding ground for new, ever-mutating strains of potentially lethal viruses. Hans-Gerhard Wagner, a senior officer with the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, calls industrial livestock farming an "opportunity for emerging disease". It shouldn't have to take a pandemic to stop us from eating meat.
5. If You Wouldn't Eat a Dog, You Shouldn't Eat a Chicken
Several recent studies have shown that chickens are bright animals who are able to solve complex problems, demonstrate self-control and worry about the future. Chickens are smarter than cats and dogs and even do some things that have not yet been seen in mammals other than primates. Dr Chris Evans, who studies animal behaviour and communication at Macquarie University in Australia, says, "As a trick at conferences, I sometimes list these attributes, without mentioning chickens, and people think I'm talking about monkeys".
6. Heart Disease: The UK's Number-One Killer
Healthy vegetarian diets support a lifetime of good health and offer protection against numerous diseases, including the UK's three biggest killers: heart disease, cancer and strokes. Drs Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn have used a vegan diet to achieve 100 per cent success in preventing and reversing heart disease, as chronicled most recently in Dr Esslesytn's Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, which documents his success in unclogging people's arteries.
7. Cancer: The UK's Number-Two Killer
Dr T Colin Campbell is one of the world's foremost epidemiological scientists. His bestselling book, The China Study, is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about cancer. The book, based on a study that The New York Times called "the most comprehensive large study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease", states, "[N]o chemical carcinogen is nearly so important in causing human cancer as animal protein".
8. Fitting Into That Little Black Dress
A vegetarian diet is also the ultimate weight-loss diet, and vegetarians are one-third as likely to be obese as meat-eaters are, and vegans are about one-tenth as likely to be obese. Of course, there are overweight vegans, just as there are skinny meat-eaters. But on average, vegans are 10 to 20 per cent lighter than meat-eaters. A vegetarian diet is the only diet that has passed peer review and taken weight off and kept it off.
9. Global Peace
Leo Tolstoy claimed that "vegetarianism is the taproot of humanitarianism". His point? People who wish to sow the seeds of peace should be eating as peaceful a diet as possible. Eating meat supports killing animals, for no reason other than humans' acquired taste for animals' flesh. Great humanitarians, from Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi to Thich Nhat Hanh, have argued that a vegetarian diet is the only diet for people who want to make the world a kinder place.
10. The Joy of Veggies
People report that when they adopt a vegetarian diet, their range of foods explodes from a centre-of-the-plate meat item to a range of grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables that they didn't even know existed.
Paul McCartney sums it all up: "If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That's the single most important thing you could do. It's staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty".
So are you ready to give it a try?
Check out PETA.org.uk for recipes and meal plans and to order your free vegetarian/vegan starter kit.