Meat-Eating, Health, and the Poor
To the Editor:
Dennis Avery asks, "Are meat eaters starving the poor?" (October 2002). While it may be a stretch to claim a causal relationship between the inefficiency of raising animals for food and global starvation, that does not negate the many other advantages of vegetarianism. To comment on some of his assertions:
"There has never been a voluntarily vegetarian society in all history." I assume that he believes that no society would voluntarily exclude a food source. When there are alternatives, however, many groups of thoughtful people do and have done so, throughout history. This includes groups such as Essenes, Buddhists, Hindus, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jains, as well as many others who, whether for religious or moral reasons, think before they eat. . . .
"Our Stone Age ancestors stole wild birds' eggs, gathered clams, and hunted any creature they could club, trap, or spear-to get the vital amino acids and micronutrients that humans need and can't get from plants." There is no nutrient in animal flesh or product that one cannot get from plants. . . .
Mr. Avery contrasts the diet of hunters and gatherers with those who settled down and developed stationary agriculture. He quotes an expert in Stone Age diets as saying "The agriculturalists have bad teeth, bone lesions, small and underdeveloped skeletons and small craniums, compared to the hunter-gatherers." One can say that these "agriculturalists" obviously were lacking something in their diets, but one cannot say that what they were lacking was animal flesh. . . .
He claims that "Modern crop yields are not only the highest in history, but also the most sustainable." This is completely false. The studies I've read show that organic farming, which is sustainable, has comparable yields. In addition, commercial farming mines the soil of minerals and cannot continue for very much longer because the only thing put back is nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. . . .
To the Editor:
Dennis Avery makes the excellent point that vegetarianism will not solve the world's food problems. He is mistaken, however, that massive crop yields due to superphosphate fertilizers and pesticides are the answer.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pesticides, mainly used on farms, are the worst environmental problem in the nation. They contaminate water supplies, pollute the air, and sicken animals and humans that happen to eat or drink the residues.
According to the EPA, up to 85 percent of human cancers are caused by toxic chemical exposure, much of which comes from farming. The cost of these cancers and many other toxin-related conditions must be considered in evaluating the wisdom of toxic agriculture. They contribute significantly to the spiraling health-care costs in our nation and others. Granted, figuring these costs is not easy. Unless it is done, however, the benefits of toxic agriculture are greatly overstated, as in this article.
In my medical experience of over 20 years, the answer to food shortages-and to many illnesses-is what is called the organic agriculture movement. It uses some of the new hybrid crop technology and all the mechanization and other modern methods, but not toxic chemicals. This is the fastest growing segment of the agricultural industry, increasing about 20 percent per year as thousands more Americans choose to pay more for clean food.
Organic agriculture is a better example of a pure free-market phenomenon than agriculture as a whole. It is not driven by government subsidies or special favors. The people want it and farmers respond. It also saves many small farms as it is a niche market in which smaller farmers can make a living.
The author is correct, but does not emphasize, that so much of the food Americans consume has been refined and is nutritionally worthless. …