To kick off a new series on being "green" and the great effects it has had on my life, I lead with the first step that occurred in my own life several months ago: my wife and I became vegetarians.
Vegetarianism was actually not our original goal, and she was actually just my girlfriend at the time. She had done extensive research on detoxification or cleanse diets to find a natural and cost-effective way to clean out her system. She had almost settled on Colonix for a colon-cleanse when she found a number of converts to the "Lemonade Diet." This supposed lemonade diet is actually the Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs, a rather natural liquid diet. The more she researched it, the more interested we both became in the diet due to peculiar results found throughout various message boards online. People were claiming enhanced sensory acuity (especially smell), a lack of craving for previous addictions, a renewed desire for fruits and vegetables, and even some repulsion at the sight of sugary foods. All of these are obviously nice benefits and after doing a pretty thorough bit of research into the health consequences of a 10-day liquid diet (there are no adverse affects for your health unless you are already heavily addicted to something), I decided to do the purge with her.
Purge is the correct word, as a great deal of unpleasant substances were removed from my body during that week and a half. I will omit the graphic details, but it was not an enjoyable experience for us. Some people say that they grow to love the taste of the "lemonade" concoction (which is actually organic Grade B maple syrup, organic squeezed lemon juice, and cayenne pepper; each ingredient has a very good nutritional reason for its inclusion, all explained in the book) so much that they drink it for breakfast every morning since the diet. I personally think they must have gone insane during the diet or forgot to stop taking hallucinogens for the detox, as we were both growing violently opposed to the stuff by the time it was over. Overall, it was a great thing to do, and we definitely don't regret it, but it's definitely not a walk in the park.
Returning to the main topic of vegetarianism, Stanley Burroughs strongly advocates veganism in the book. In case you didn't open that vegan link, a vegan is much more thorough than a vegetarian and refrains from any prooducts (food or otherwise, including clothing) that involve animal parts or other usage. He lists reasons to cut back on dairy products and repeatedly bashes meat-eating. Whether we had any interest or not, we had to refrain from meat for a while to follow the diet anyway, because chunks of beef would be pretty harsh on our stomachs after such a long liquid diet. During this whole time period we researched vegetarianism and its various health benefits/concerns. Based on what we found, we decided to try it out and see how it went. We've been doing well for 4-5 months now and are very glad we made the switch.
The topic has been covered many times before, including a recent how-to from one of the best bloggers around, Leo of Zen Habits, so I will try not to rehash the same information. However, it still shocks me how meat-obsessed our society is here in America. I can say this with full clarity since I was eating at least a pound of meat a day just 6 months ago. One of the most disturbing circumstances I encounter all the time is the automatic first reaction from a meat-eater when I mention being a vegetarian:
"But how do you get protein?" or "Just be careful, you need to get protein and iron."
I try not to be paranoid, but the robot-like immediate response that so many people have given me about protein and iron truly scares me sometimes. What subliminal messaging brainwashed the entire country to think that only red meat has protein and iron in it? Do you realize that ounce for ounce, nearly any soy-based product has roughly as much protein and iron as beef, with dramatically fewer fat calories, grams of fat (especially saturated fat, beef's commonly known poison), and bad carbohydrates? For a quick soy comparison, see this Boca Burger comparison or soy nutritional data sheets. Soy protein is also more natural for your body to digest. You can also read about the basic sources and types of protein. On another note, inorganic red meat is extremely hard on the environment; make sure to do your research, not even going into the whole cruelty to animals subject yet, while legumes are easily grown and found all over the world. Let me step back for a second and explain why I am scared and disturbed when 99% of Americans warn me about iron deficiency when I mention vegetarianism:
Up to this point I have only mentioned a small subset of the whole issue, namely red meat vs. soy. White meat and/or fish (some people can't make up their minds about considering fish as actual meat for some reason) is just one more from a pile of dozens of [hot debates]( http://www.mindfully.org/Farm/2004/Arsenic-Chicken-Roxarsone4jan04.htm) on the topic. I could go on and on after only a few months as a vegetarian (that ate a ton of meat not too long ago), but I am probably already a broken record at this point. All I can do is urge you to consider that a great deal of the commonly accepted beliefs about meat's nutrional benefits are very misguided. If I could leave you with one notion from reading this article, I would like it to be this: it is at least as easy for vegetarians to meet their nutritional needs as carnivores.