By David Alexander
Here are five reasons for a veggie new year.
1. Protect your health
A whole foods plant-based diet can help to prevent heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. Optimal health was the motivating factor for former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who moved to a plant-based diet after heart troubles led to surgical procedures in 2004 and 2010. Since making that change, the former president has spoken at length about how good he feels since adopting his new diet.
Plant-based foods are rich in anti-oxidants, fibre and other much-needed vitamins. A balanced vegetarian diet includes daily servings of fruits, veggies (including leafy greens), legumes (beans, tofu, nuts and seeds) and whole grains.
2. Save the planet
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 per cent of global climate change. The study also concluded that animal production is a major contributor to soil erosion, water contamination and air pollution – largely as a result of intensification efforts designed to meet the growing demand for cheap meat and other animal products.
Here’s another way of looking at the problem of our current food system: 30 per cent of the Earth’s usable surface is currently used for animal agriculture – that’s the size of Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Brazil combined. Plant-based diets require fewer resources, especially those that cut out beef and dairy products.
3. Save some cash
Researchers at the University of Guelph are predicting the price of meat could rise by as much as 10 per cent in 2013, due largely to a spike in feed prices in 2012. Why would the price of meat rise more than, say the price of wheat and other grains? One reason is that 77 per cent of cereal grains produced in Canada are used to feed livestock.
4. Choose compassion for animals
Here are some little-known facts about pigs: they’re social communicators, they love to swim, they savour their food in a most unpig-like way, they play joystick-controlled video games and they’ve been called more sophisticated than dogs and human toddlers.
Many city dwellers have no direct experience with pigs, cows, chickens and other animals raised for human consumption. The truth is the animals Canadians eat are not so different from the animals we keep as pets. That they are capable of suffering is well-established by research in animal cognition.
The situation for pigs in factory farms, as documented by a Mercy for Animals Canada investigation in December, is both disturbing and unnatural. Undercover video shows pregnant sows crammed into small metal gestation crates without room to turn around, and documents pigs bleeding from open wounds, sows with distended, inflamed bellies and piglets being slammed on the floor by staff.
Luckily, we don’t need to eat pigs to survive - by boycotting cruelty and choosing plant-based alternatives, people can save 23 land animals and 110 sea animals per year. And these changes add up; Toronto veggies saved at least 14 million animals from being bred, raised and killed for food in 2012.
5. Discover a world of new flavour
With more than 80 veg restaurants across the GTA, locals have plenty of healthy, sustainable, compassionate food options. Toronto’s diversity plays a big role here too – where else on Earth can people find restaurants selling spicy dosas, Jamaican roti, hot and sour soup, jackfruit tacos, Ethiopian injera, vegan barbecue burgers and lots of delicious kale?
For your at home enjoyment, grab a veg cookbook at the Toronto Vegetarian Association Resource Centre and enjoy the many plant-based products available at Toronto health stores and supermarkets.
Interested in learning more? Visit veg.ca/veggiechallenge to sign up to try a veg diet for one week.
David Alexander is the executive director of the Toronto Vegetarian Association. For the latest news and info about All Things Veg, check out the group online at veg.ca, Facebook or twitter.com/TorontoVeg