|photo by jalb||via PhotoRee|
Good evening, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests… I would like for you to close your eyes and imagine yourself seated at a dinner table. It’s Thanksgiving and the entire family is gathered around. You have just said grace and are about to dig into your first bite of tender, juicy, perfectly cooked… Tofurky.
With Portobello gravy.
And mushroom and sourdough stuffing.
And mashed cauliflower on the side.
For between 5 and 10% of Americans, this is how holidays are celebrated. Traditional? It depends upon how you look at it. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I want to persuade you of the many benefits of vegetarianism – some of which you may find surprising.
First, let’s get a few definitions out of the way. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the words “vegetarian” and “vegan” and there is a difference.
To be a vegetarian means that you do not eat meat. Plain and simple.
Vegetarians come in three varieties:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume dairy and eggs.
- Lacto vegetarians consume dairy but not eggs. This may be due to a variety of reasons ranging from animal rights to health reasons. For example, I have a relative who is so allergic to eggs that the one time she got a flu shot she ended up in the ER.
- Ovo vegetarians are the opposite: the consume eggs, but not dairy. The reasons are similar to lacto vegetarians. I’m lactose intolerant and, while I consume a little bit of dairy, I try to limit myself. In some ways, I am a part-time ovo vegetarian.
To describe yourself as a vegan is a whole other ballgame. If you are a true vegan, you not only don’t eat meat, but you abstain from consuming any animal based products. This includes not only not consuming dairy and eggs but such things as wearing silk and wool. The only problem with veganism is that it’s almost impossible to be completely, 100% vegan. Not only are foods like honey derived from animals, but so is the galvanized rubber used in car tires, and the pink or red coloring used in many cosmetics, for example.
For my speech, I will concentrate on lacto-ovo vegetarianism. Many omnivores are wary of a vegetarian diet. There are many concerns people would have about giving up meat. I will respond to these concerns, one by one.
Now, when most omnivores hear that I am vegetarian or that my 8-year-old is vegetarian or that my husband is mostly vegetarian, the person usually asks me one of a few different questions:
- Why don’t you eat meat?
- How do you get enough protein/other nutrients?
- What DO you eat?
I was at a dinner party on Saturday night when question number one came up. My hostess asked me “Exactly why don’t you eat meat?”
For me, the reasons were varied. I didn’t like the taste of meat; it grossed me out. I was concerned for the way animals were raised and treated. I figured I’d lose weight without it. Later, I took a college class which described for me in great detail how factory farming works and the environmental impact of raising cattle and chicken – particularly that it takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef or that – and I am so sorry to mention this – beef cattle are fed chicken manure.
Other reasons that one may go vegetarian include concern over chemicals and hormones in meat, concern over illnesses such as mad cow disease and salmonella, religious reasons, or in order to help reduce hunger worldwide.
Research has shown that a vegetarian diet has measurable health benefits. Vegetarians have a lower overall incidence or obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and early death. Why would you be vegetarian? Why not?
The next most common question I hear is “How do you get enough protein (or some other nutrient)?”
Would it surprise you to know that protein is no big deal to get in a plant-based diet? Protein can be found in not only eggs and dairy, but nuts and legumes (beans), rice and other grains and even mushrooms.
A vegetarian diet can also provide you with numerous vitamins and minerals – Vitamins A, C and D, for example. Other nutrients, like iron, zinc, Vitamin B12 and omega-3s can be found in foods such as spinach, eggs and walnuts. According to the latest research, it’s a poorly planned vegetarian diet which is poor in nutrients. Then again, isn’t that true for any diet?
The last question I always hear is “What do you eat?” I hear this question a lot, and I’m always happy to answer.
So… what do I eat? Some examples:
Milk products (almond, rice or soy)
Burgers (veggie, chik’n, or Quorn)
Bacon (veggie bacon)
And so on, and so forth… Notice how I didn’t say “salad” once?
The only food I don’t eat… is meat! If you’re looking for a great diet which is easy to follow and has the possibility to open the doors to a variety of foods to you, I say “veg out”.