What and how you eat
    The Food Pyramid
    Counting calories: a key to diet literacy
    Your activity level
    The best form of exercise
    Chart your weight
    Sustainable agriculture
    Medical condition
    On hunger
    On eating out
    On cooking
    On addiction
    Food as love
    Spiritual Vegetarianism
    On temptation and resolve
    Six months report
    Dieting as meditation
 Grapevine Revisited
 Christmas Letter

This website is now published on my mobileme account. Any opinions expressed, however, are totally my responsibility.

The original website was published through the courtesy of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Jim Andris, Sept. 17, 2003.

Spiritual Vegetarianism

There are many kinds of vegetarians, and many reasons for becoming a vegetarian. Threre are also many resources which explain this approach to diet, so I will not go into the matter in any depth here. However, I do want to explain my relationship to vegetarianism. I consider myself to be a spiritual vegetarian. What I mean by this is that I am spiritually aligned with those who restrict or entirely curtail their consumption of animal protein.

I actually was a vegetarian from 1978 to 1982, one of the variety called "ovo-lacto vegetarian." This means that the only kind of animal protein that I consumed was basically dairy products. Since that time, I have not strictly followed a vegetarian diet in any form. You might ask how someone who regularly consumes modest amounts of animal protein, including animal flesh, could have the audacity to call themselves a "spiritual vegetarian." But, you might equally ask how someone can call themselves a Christian who can unilaterally start a war against the will of most of the nations in the world and, indirectly through this action, kill thousands of people, including hundreds of our own military. More to the point, and poignant for all of us who are the least bit honest, you might ask how any of us—given our tendency to fall short of even the moral marks we set for ourselves—can claim to be practicing a religion of any sort.

And the answer is, of course, that sinners can call themselves Christians and flesh eaters can call themselves spiritual vegetarians. In my case, it simply means that I understand several of the purposes of dedicating oneself to a vegetarian diet, and that I basically think that it's a good idea and would like to incorporate it into my life. I am in solidarity with the vegetarians of the world.

Do we need animal protein to be healthy?

Many people will claim that we do need animal protein to be healthy, and point to dire consequences of not eating it, including anemia, general poor health, vitamin B12 deficiencies, stunted growth in children, and even death. However, I am not convinced that this is true. Too many healthy people are vegetarians of various sorts. Check it out and that is what you will find.

What is true is that if you are going to be a vegetarian, you have to plan your diet carefully so that you will get adequate protein. This has been discussed at length. First of all, most of the flesh eaters in a rich country like this one get entirely more protein than they really need, and they suffer heart attacks and strokes as a consequence of this. Probably 2 - 4 oz. a day is enough for most people. Second, what we need is 2 - 4 oz. of 8 different amino acids in the right combinations. Go to a good website for some of this information, such as The Veggie Table. The same thing for the B12. You can eat Brewer's yeast.

But can we get tasty food without animal protein?

"I love my hamburgers." Right. Well, just know that all diet involves acquired taste. Many cultures grow up eating a basically vegetarian diet, and they don't miss the meat. In fact, as the Japanese added beef to their diet, their incidence of heart disease rose almost in direct proportion. Sure they liked the taste of beef. But did they like the agony of a heart attack? So, two points.

I can assure you that vegetarian food can be tasty. That's why there are vegetarian cookbooks. I have at least ten of them, and I could never have the time to even cook all the recipies. What I found after I began cooking this way was that I and my family began to return again and again to certain favorite dishes. It would be the same for any family, except the dishes would vary. In fact, I never knew vegetables could be so delicious until I became a vegetarian. You learn to cook them to enhance their flavor, and to use various dips and sauces.

But why SHOULD we evern worry about this!

I can think of many reasons, none of them very original with me. For starters, and I'll keep it brief and to the point, the fact that we are and/or should be stewards for the Earth's creatures does not imply that we should eat them. We have, in fact, been terrible stewards of Earth's creatures to this point. Tens of thousands of species of plants and animals have gone to extinction by our careless "dominion" over them. Animals have been raised and killed under the most inhumane of conditions, although this has changed to some extent.

Many cultures, notably Native American ones, at least had great respect for the animals they ate. When Americans lived more on farms, they made a connection between the steer that was slaughtered and the steak that they ate. Now a burger is just something between two slabs of refined flour. We never even think about the cow or bull, let alone give thanks to the animal that it gave its life to feed us. Most Americans have never been inside a slaughter house or even behind the butcher counter at the supermarket. Out of sight, out of mind.

Nor do I buy the idea that humans are superior to animals. Elephants, great apes, chimpanzees, parrots, have their own amazing form of intelligence or at least mental functioning. And, I believe, there is almost certainly other intelligent life in the Universe. They may try to eat us one day, unless they give some thought to the moral issues involved. We in this culture also live a schizophrenic relationship to animals: pets, zoos, endangered species on the one side, and slaughtered beef, pork and chicken on the other. Think about it: meat cases and funeral homes, how are they different?

Oh, I'm not through yet. I think it is at least arguable that eating meat makes us more prone to be violent. Think about it. To eat meat, we have to at least have somewhere in our consciousness, no matter how dimly, that it must be ok for someone to kill animals so that others can eat them. No, it isn't against the law to eat meat. But I am raising an interesting moral question: what kind of person do you become through engaging in this practice? What if you had to kill your own meat? Would you still want to eat it? Well, many people would, of course. They carry guns and shoot animals during hunting season. Now most of the great spiritual leaders of the world have taught non-violence as a worthy goal to be striven for. Isn't this matter at least worthy of careful reflection?

Ok, so you have a point.
My friends will harrass me if I try it.

And you have a point there. Some of your friends will lecture you on the dangers of a vegetarian diet. Some will laugh at you and say that the rest of the world proves you wrong. Some will waive a Bible in your face and remind you that chosen people of God, the Jews, in the Hebrew Scriptures were clearly meat eaters, par excellance. Some will just grin and belch burger steam into your face. Once a philosopher friend of mind almost jeeringly said, "Jim, surely you don't mean to assert that animals have the same quality of consciousness that humans have."

Yes, and they harrassed Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Troy Perry. Some of them will harrass you. Others will feign polite interest. Others will remain silent.

You will make new friends. Some will be vegetarians.

Won't it be awfully inconvenient.

Yes, it will. But you will get over it. You will learn that you can have a very satisfying baked potato at Wendy's. You'll begin to eat at a lot of Chinese and Thai and Italian and Mexican restaurants. Middle Eastern is good, too. But gradually you will learn. For example, resist the steak order at Bonanza and just go with the excellent, and less expensive salad bar. Still more than anyone could or should eat at one sitting.

And, you'll begin to cook the most delicious meals. I have a cauliflower, cheese and almond quiche that's to die for. Diet for a Small Planet had a meatless moussaka that I still love. And on and on. It will be ok.

The best reason of all to be a vegetarian.

It's because I love my body. I will live longer and be healthier if I eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, a few nuts and seeds, less dairy products, and have an infrequent hit of animal flesh when I just can't resist it. Do the math. You will find this is true.

Bonus for everyone being vegetarian.

There'd be more food for everyone. Animals are basically digested plants. To raise cows and chickens, you have to raise grass and grain. Why not just raise the grain and grass and eat it? You just wouldn't believe the energy that is expended in raising cattle.

But I just like meat, and no one can stop me.

Well, this is a democracy. I was just telling you about my philosophy. Thanks for listening.