A Dietary Perversion
|No-one ruins a shared meal like a vegetarian who expects fellow diners to consume less than their fair share of greens and grains on the grounds that they can eat "dead animals", while she cannot. She won't eat a balanced meal, therefore no-one else can. Of course, such people don't get invited to dinner a second time, but one ruined meal is one too many.
Why do some people refuse to eat meat? A minority of Buddhists are vegetarian, because they believe it is wrong to kill a being with a soul (an animal that dies in an accident is OK). Among Westerners, especially women in Anglo-Saxon countries, vegetarianism appears to be more of a political or fashion statement, popular among the self-consciously radical or left-wing. The most common reason appears to be anthropomorphism – born and raised in cities, it came as a shock to these people as children when they realized that friendly furry moo cows and baa lambs are killed for food. As adults, they attempt to rationalize this by citing health, environmental or ethical concerns.
It is impossible to make yourself healthier by denying yourself the nutrients we obtain from moderate quantities of meat and fish; vegetarians' reliance on vitamin and other supplements is proof of the unnatural nature of their diet. The environmental arguments rest on Malthusian concerns about land-use and population growth and are related to the anti-capitalist, anti-science arguments of groups like Greenpeace. The ethical reasons for vegetarianism echo the debates on abortion or capital punishment in that they spring from personal conviction. But can there be an ethical case for something that is fundamentally unnatural? Humans are naturally-occurring life forms on this planet, and their bodies are designed for the consumption of other animals as part of their diet. The human stomach produces hydrochloric acid to break down meat. Teeth are designed to deal with meat as part of the diet. Meat-eating is no more immoral than breathing or sleeping. Self-righteousness probably plays an important role. You can't be a closet vegetarian – everyone has to know. And you can display your moral superiority three times a day, compared with just once or a twice a week if you are anti-Israel or anti-nukes.
While plain vegetarians are just a nuisance at dinner parties, vegans, who eat no animal products at all (no eggs, butter, milk, etc), are a menace to their own health. Bizarrely, some try to put their pet cats and dogs on vegetarian diets – suggesting that in some cases this is a mental health issue. Unforgivably, some commit child abuse by denying their babies a proper diet (not even breast-feeding them). Prosecutions have taken place in the US and New Zealand.
A vegan diet deprives the body of vitamin B12, leading to anemia. (A few non-animal foods have B12, but the body can't absorb or use it. Traditional vegans in India avoid anemia, but probably because they eat insect lava with their veggies without realizing it.) Devout informed vegans take artificial B12 supplements in their determination to buck mother nature. A vegan diet also lacks lenolenic acid and other omega-3 fatty acids, which you can only get in usable quantities from eggs or fish (certain algae also contain some of what you need). The amounts needed are tiny, but without them the immune system and brain might not work properly. A vegan diet can also deprive the body of vitamin A, essential for the use of many minerals and proteins. The plentiful vitamin A in vegetables can't be absorbed without certain other substances, which are found in animal fat, especially butter (a source of vitamin A in its own right).
Vegetarians' behaviour is irrational. Many have a curious obsession with soybeans and soy products, which prevent the human body from absorbing proteins, zinc and iron. There's nothing wrong with some soy (where would Cantonese cuisine be without tofu?), but it's not a substitute for anything. Some vegetarians actually eat junk. Many of the weird fake-meat products found in the UK and other parts of the culinary third world (veggie-burgers, veggie-sausages, etc) are little more than fat – chicken or fish would be far healthier.
Indeed, vegetarianism is a culinary perversion as well as a dietary one. Eating good food is one of most pleasurable activities known to the human race. Arbitrarily depriving yourself of certain foods is like using only the missionary position for sex or refusing to listen to any works by Bach. It is a variety of mortification of the flesh, as is evident from the tone of some vegetarian publicity materials, offering support and urging endurance. It is surely not a coincidence that vegetarianism in the developed world is most popular in the English-speaking countries, where the joy of eating has never been as appreciated as elsewhere, and the standard diet rarely goes beyond pre-packaged, processed junk, seasoned with ketchup. In the UK, many children are repulsed by any seafood apart from the boxed "fish fingers" in the freezer; in some northern cities, fast food outlets sell deep-fried pizza. In the US, people compare different brands of Baco-bits, processed cheese or cola drinks as if they were fine foods or wines. After a typical grease, sugar and cholesterol-laden, anglo-american breakfast, a vegan diet is probably a relief.
For a rational person, there is no "either or". Someone who refuses to eat any animal products is as stupid as someone who refuses to eat any fresh fruit and vegetables. To be healthy, you need a mixed diet. You need fresh greens and fresh fruit. But you also need a bit of fish, egg, butter and meat. People who want to be morally superior would be better off giving time or money to charity. People wanting a healthy diet could do worse than avoiding junk food, sugar and processed foods generally. Refusing to touch meat and fish, let alone dairy produce and eggs, is irrational, pretentious, tiresome to others, and potentially dangerous.
See The Myths of Vegetarianism by Stephen Byrnes, from which the above information on the inadequcy of a vegan diet was plundered.