Plant power! | Daily News

Plant power!

A case for vegetarianism

Vegetarianism is a growing trend across the globe – especially in the West - with many consumers turning to plant based diets, abstaining from animal products. Vegetarian and Vegan alternative products are gaining momentum in every category, from non-dairy milks and cheeses, to plant-based meat substitutes. UK’s supermarket giant Waitrose recently added a dedicated vegan section in 134 of its stores nationwide, having taken into consideration the rising demand for vegan food among vegan consumers. The number of vegetarians in many top meat consuming countries including the USA and Australia has been steadily increasing, according to latest reports.

One may choose to be a vegetarian for a variety of reasons ranging from health concerns/ religious reasons to animal rights advocacy. Of late we have witnessed many international animal rights organisations such as PETA taking to the streets to protest against appalling animal welfare violations and barbaric methods of animal slaughter either for food or extremist religious purposes.

As recently revealed by Dr. Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard Medical School at least one-third of early deaths could be prevented if everyone moved to a vegetarian diet. At least 200,000 lives in the UK could be saved each year if people cut meat from their diets, the study revealed.

“We have just been doing some calculations looking at the question of how much could we reduce mortality shifting towards a healthy, more plant based diet, not necessarily totally vegan, and our estimates are about one third of deaths could be prevented,” The Telegraph.UK quotes him as saying. “But the benefits of a plant-based diet had been vastly underestimated.”

Dr. Neal Barnard, President of the Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit research and advocacy organisation based in Washington, D.C, also highlights the need to wake up to the health benefits of vegetarianism and veganism.

“I think we’re underestimating the effect,” he opined at the 2018 Unite to Cure Fourth International Vatican Conference in Vatican City. “I think people imagine that a healthy diet has only a modest effect and a vegetarian diet might help you lose a little bit of weight. But when these diets are properly constructed I think they are enormously powerful. A low-fat vegan diet is better than any other diet I have ever seen for improving diabetes.” The Telegraph quotes him saying.

Sri Lankan situation

Speaking at the Second Annual Asian Buddhist Animal Rights Conference at the Buddhist Cultural Center in Colombo late last year Speaker Karu Jayasuriya expressed his concern that meat consumption in Sri Lanka was on the increase though many western countries were turning to vegetarianism.

The Speaker Jayasuriya has opted for vegetarianism as a tribute to his late daughter who was a vegan.

“She always wanted me to be a vegetarian. I used to eat prawns and chicken in the past. But one of the requests of my late daughter was for me to be a vegetarian. She was a vegan. So after her sickness [death], I switched to vegetarianism.” he told the Daily News during a recent interview.

As well- known nutritionist and researcher Dr. Damayanthi Perera noted even though for many decades western medical and nutrition authorities have been promoting foods of animal origin such as meat and milk as healthy food, now many informed western consumers are turning to vegetarianism, “Many informed consumers such as UK, USA, Germany, in general consumers from all the industrially developed nations are turning to vegetarianism.”

Dr. Perera cited an interesting personal experience to elaborate her point. “The research topic of one of my British PhD colleagues was on vegetarianism. I was surprised and I asked her why she chose such a well-researched subject because the majority of Indians are vegetarian and the benefits of the vegetarian diet were known by then! She then explained to me that she was researching why many British consumers were becoming vegetarian. That was around 1990–more than two and a half decades ago. I am not citing from her thesis, but to my knowledge, the three key reasons for British consumers to adopt vegetarianism were due to health, ethical and environmental reasons. With regard to ethical reasons there were concerns regarding battery farming practices etc. at that time,” she said.


“Currently, many children and young adults from industrially developed countries are becoming vegetarian or vegan. Vegans shun all animal products including milk. Veganism is developing as a silent protest against the unimaginable cruelty meted out to farm animals and dairy cows, in industrial farms. A couple of decades ago, the majority of Western consumers were unaware of what was happening in industrial farms. Animal rights activists, undercover reporters /journalists and food researchers have investigated what was happening in the Animal Agriculture Industry and exposed the wrong doings. Therefore, currently consumers are making informed choices about meat and milk consumption,” she explained.

Milk Mustache and Milk Myths

As Dr. Perera further noted there is an over production of milk in Western countries and the consumers are now aware that the nutritional benefits of milk have been hyped up by the Western milk industry simply to boost sales. “The Tag Line ‘Got Milk’ and the ‘Milk Mustache Campaign’ of the US is an example. Milk was promoted as an essential food for adults!”

“Currently many Western medical doctors, naturopathic doctors and consumers are questioning about the physiological need for cow / animal milk consumption by humans. Logically thinking, we are the only species that drink milk from another species! This is highly un-physiological. There are many facets to the milk issue such as allergies, and other illnesses associated with milk consumption,” Dr. Perera noted.

“Due to health, environmental and ethical reasons Western consumers are rejecting foods of animal origin. There is a silent Tsunami growing against meat and milk. As researchers we observe the under-currents long before the Tsunami hits the shore!” she emphasized.

Go Green

With so many great vegan options, eating green has never been more delicious. Whether you go vegan for the environment, for your health, or for animals, you have the power to change the world, simply by changing what’s on your plate, notes Jason Baker, Vice-President of International Campaigns, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Asia.

He too agrees that a vegan diet is as good for humans’ health as it is for animal welfare.

“There is no nutritional need for humans to eat any animal product; all our dietary needs, even as infants and children, are best supplied by a meatless diet. The American Dietetic Association notes that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of many chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes,” he added.

Baker noted that in addition to causing heart disease and cancer, animal products contain harmful contaminants—including bacteria, arsenic, dioxins, and mercury—that can affect our health both in the short and long terms.

“The overuse of antibiotics on factory farms has caused many of the bacteria found on animal flesh to become antibiotic-resistant,” he said.

Pain gone through by animals

As Baker explained animals are much more intelligent and complex than most people realize, and scientists are providing more and more evidence of this all the time. They are sensitive to what they encounter; a horrific death in front of other helpless animals.

“Most animals raised for food today spend their lives in factory farms. These animals, who feel pain and fear just as the dogs and cats who share our homes do, are separated from their families and crammed by the thousands into filthy warehouses. They are mutilated without the use of painkillers and deprived of everything that is natural and important to them—they won’t be permitted to see the sun or breathe fresh air until the day when they are forced onto trucks bound for the slaughterhouse. On the killing floor, many animals are completely conscious and struggling to escape while their throats are cut—and some are still conscious while their bodies are hacked apart or when they are dunked into tanks of scalding-hot water,” Baker revealed the sad and horrific truth behind meat and dairy industry.

“The amount of pain suffered by animals before being killed could be reduced if alternative food practices are adhered to,” Baker emphasized.

Buddhist view

Venerable Sathindriya Thera of Dhamma Voice for Animals (DVA) who jointly organised last year’s Asian Buddhist Animal Rights Conference said that the Buddha’s view on meat consumption is clearly stated in Jeevaka Sutta in the Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha.

“In Jeevaka Sutta the Buddha says, “I say there are three occasions in which meat should not be eaten; when it is seen, heard or suspected that the living being has been killed for sake of a bhikkhu. I say: Meat should not be eaten on these three occasions.”

However the common argument raised by those who are in favour of meat consumption is that “the Buddha did not prohibit meat consumption, he only imposed three conditions.”

The Thera explained why it is high time we dispelled such myths. “Can anyone eat meat by passing all these conditions? If someone passes these conditions the food chosen defiantly would not include meat. But Buddhist way is not arguing with the unwise. Buddhism is for the wise people to practise and benefit from. Unwise people argue to prove that they are correct. Therefore, we have to think wisely. The Buddha did not force anyone to do anything, even monks. But he has clearly mentioned what is a virtue and what is not,” he noted.

The Thera promotes vegetarianism because as Buddhist Monks they have to promote virtuousness, not malevolence.

“The Buddha asked monks to go on in all directions and spread the wisdom and compassionate life style to overcome human ignorance. That is the duty of monks. So I don’t just promote vegetarianism! I promote non-violent Buddhist life style. Someone can see my non-violent activism as Vegetarian promotion. But if someone eats animal flesh they indirectly promote Killing of another being. You don’t have to be Buddhist to understand the malevolence in that action. Also we don’t need the Buddha to explain such a simple thing; this is common sense. Buddhism is for advanced thinkers,” the Thera added.

DVA’s role

DVA Sri Lanka Project’s Director Keshinie Bandaranaike said that the sole mission of the DVA Sri Lanka Chapter is to enlighten the masses on suffering faced by the animals due to the meat and dairy industry in the world and appeal to the people to turn to a vegetarian diet with the noble intention of putting an end to animal suffering.

“It is our stand that the consumption of meat directly results in immense suffering and pain for animals when they are being killed for our consumption. If you accept that animals have rights, raising and killing animals for food is morally wrong. An animal raised for food is being used by others rather than being respected for itself. It is being treated as a means to human ends and not as an end in itself and this is a clear violation of the animal’s rights,” she said.

No matter how humanely an animal is treated in the process, DVA believes that raising and killing it for food remains morally wrong.

“There is clear evidence of the link between heavy consumption of meat and adverse environmental and health impacts. Worldwide, livestock and meat production have also been identified as major contributors to intensive water use, high phosphorus use, land degradation and threats to food yields and loss of biodiversity.”

Just as PETA, the DVA too intends to show that there are adequate nutrients that can be derived from a vegetarian diet. “A nutritious and tasty meal can be made with pure vegetarian ingredients. Due to much awareness in the world of the benefits of vegetarianism, there are enough restaurants serving varied vegetarian dishes, specialty vegetarian restaurants and various food items made available in the market,” Bandaranaike added.

Plant food vs. Animal food

Is there enough scientific evidence to prove that plant based food products are healthier than animal based food? The Daily News asked Dr. Damayanthi Perera.

“Chronic, degenerative diseases/ Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) have become a major health problem in the world. The latest and emerging scientific information demonstrate the benefits of plant based foods i.e. fruits, vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds etc. for preventing chronic diseases such as: overweight and obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cataracts, immune system disorders etc. A plant based diet will also prevent hormone -dependent cancers such as: breast, ovary, prostrate and colon cancer,” Dr. Perera said.

On the contrary, the latest scientific evidence demonstrates that in addition to the processed meat products, red meat and chicken are also strongly associated with certain types of cancer.

“Abstinence or reduced meat consumption will prevent cancer and many chronic disease and also environmental pollution caused by industrial animal farms. In industrialized nations a large portion of cereals are fed to farm animals which is a very wasteful process. As such, there are plenty of benefits to man and the eco-system,” she added.

Growth, Health, NCDs and Premature Death

According to Dr. Perera, as per conventional knowledge, it is believed that animal proteins are superior to plant proteins, but it is important to understand that the early research was based only on the impact of animal foods on growth.

“New, robust, large scale scientific research data on health demonstrates that meat and milk are strongly associated with cancer and other chronic, degenerative diseases. Therefore, there is a burning question. Is it ethical to promote foods that are causing such terrible illnesses as healthy food? This is something the professionals ought to consider seriously. Knowledge brings an obligation to change,” she added.

As the world is going through a NCD epidemic and consumers are dying prematurely, the relevant professionals and policymakers have a professional obligation to update their knowledge and provide the latest information to the consumers, the well- experienced researcher emphasized.

“It is then up to the consumers to make an informed choice about consumption of foods of animal origin. This will help parents to safeguard the health of their children. To ignore or withhold truthful information is unprofessional and unethical,” she noted.

Healthy diet

A question that many people would ask is whether a vegetarian diet is healthy. The scientific consensus is that a carefully planned vegetarian diet is healthy.

“A vegetarian diet that combines cereals and pulses can meet the protein requirement. This method is called ‘mutual supplementation or complementation,” she said.

However Dr. Perera emphasized that a ‘carefully planned vegetarian diet’ excludes the poverty based vegetarian diets followed by poor people due to economic reasons. “Obviously such a diet would be deficient in many nutrients,” she noted.

“For generations Indian vegetarians have known how to thrive on a vegetarian diet. They never consumed any special dietary supplements or complementary proteins. However, in addition to the mutual supplementation process, they also used beneficial processes such as fermentation and germination of food that enhanced vitamin B1 2 and Vitamin C etc. We have to look at the epidemiological data and the total picture. What better scientific proof is needed to prove that a vegetarian diet is healthy? A vegetarian diet is healthy, sustainable, ethical and eco-friendly,” she concluded.

Can people survive entirely on a vegetarian diet?

Human requirement for protein is about 10% of energy intake.

*Pulses average over 25%

*Cereals, nuts and seeds over 12%

Therefore, even on a vegetarian diet, it is not difficult to obtain an adequate amount of protein if energy requirements are fulfilled. A child over one year is supposed to eat from the family pot. In other words they share the same food cooked for the family. A growing child needs more protein per kg body weight compared to an adult but as noted afore, the most crucial matter is to ensure that first and foremost the child’s energy requirements are met. If the energy requirements are not met, it is a futile exercise to worry about protein because the protein will be burnt to provide energy! Children can be given cashew nuts, peanuts, sesame seed sweets (Thala Guli), Green gram sweet (Moong Guli) etc. as snacks in place of biscuits, cakes and other unhealthy short-eats. The above foods are high in protein and liked by children.

60 + Diet

One may recall that in a normal family set up, though children may receive some milk as an extra food, other family members were never fed according to their age group. i.e. as a young person or as an over 60 person! Ironically, this is a wrong message inculcated via the mass media by dietary supplement marketers. Our parents and grandparents never consumed a special diet or any special dietary supplements based on their age.

In place of non-vegetarian food, vegetarians can include dhal / lentils (pulses), millets, nuts, seeds, mushrooms etc. Vegetarians may also consume milk and milk products. What the latest data demonstrates is that whether an individual is a vegetarian or not it is important to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables for a number of health reasons. In addition to vitamins, minerals and fibre, fruits and vegetables also provide thousands of beneficial phytochemicals (plant chemicals). It is also beneficial to consume part of the vegetables in the raw form as salads or snacks to obtain the benefits of heat labile enzymes and Vitamin C.


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