Becoming a vegetarian takes a lot of dedication. Emily Von Drasek has been a vegetarian for six years. This means, she has excluded meat from her diet. Emily became a vegetarian when she “watched multiple videos showing the unnecessary and painful killing of animals and the horrible living conditions they had before they’re slaughtered”.
Emily could be seen as a “typical” vegetarian because she embraced this lifestyle to avoid killing animals and supporting the meat industry. Others may think a typical stereotype of a vegetarian would be those who protest outside of restaurants, shaking their signs and yelling, “Meat is Murder!” Luckily, Emily doesn’t fall into this category.
Although Emily could be a stereotype of a vegetarian who only pursued the lifestyle for the purpose of saving animals, there are other reasons why someone would want to change to this lifestyle. Vegetarians are a very diverse subculture that pursue this diet for different reasons. According to “Vegan Savvy,” Vera Tweed says vegetarians are motivated by their guilt for slaughtered animals, determination to save the earth, and benefits gained towards their health.
Health benefits are definitely reflected with a vegetarian diet. Emily’s intention for becoming a vegetarian was to help animals, but her health benefits are an added bonus. As a kid, she was a little heavier, and as the years have gone by, she has lost a lot of weight.
In addition to weight loss, Emily has also gained other health benefits like lowered blood cholesterol and blood pressure, which can be found in a Women’s Health Advisor magazine article called “Improve Your Health With a Plant-Based Diet.” Today, Emily is a very skinny woman who has improved her health by losing 80 pounds and has great numbers with her blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Many other vegetarians also see these improvements in their health, like Flora Hawkins*. Flora is a beautiful average-height woman with long, dark brown hair and a smile that shows her sparkling white teeth. She graduated from Carroll University and currently is employed with Landmark Credit Union. She loves spending time with friends and has many strong relationships with her family members.
Flora Hawkins has been a vegetarian for about a year now, and although she has improved her health by changing to this lifestyle, she chose this for a different reason other than her concern for killing animals or the state of the planet.
Flora became a vegetarian about a year ago when it came to her attention that meat can be dangerous. Her grandparents were diagnosed with cancer – her mother’s mom was diagnosed with ovarian and cervical cancer, and her father’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Flora did some research and found that animal proteins and cancer have a high correlation with each other. She decided that becoming a vegetarian would be a step to proactively take care of her body and decrease her risks of cancer.
What people don’t realize, though, is how meat negatively impacts our health. Through Flora’s own research, she was able to find lots of information on the correlation between animal proteins and cancer, which is found online. In an article on Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), “Meat Consumption and Cancer Risks” goes into depth on the link between the two, including how specific cancers, like breast cancer, have higher correlations than others.
Flora’s grandmother on her mother’s side was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is one of the cancers that is described to have a particular link with meat consumption. Fatty foods boost hormones, and breast cancer is developed from these hormone boosts. This link is also shown among Japanese women. Typically, countries with a higher intake of fat from animal products have higher incidence of breast cancer. For instance, this intake is rare in Japan, but when Japanese women are raised with westernized diets (consuming more meat), the rate of breast cancer increases dramatically.
After her discoveries, Flora changed her lifestyle. Today, she is a 26 year old woman who works for a great company and eats very healthy. Flora wakes up every day, eats oatmeal or cereal with cashew milk for breakfast, goes to work, brings a salad or organic soup/chili for lunch, and after work goes home to create her own vegetarian dinner.
Flora’s overall diet consists of “anything that grows or can be found in nature…including vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, etc.” Without meat, it seems it would be difficult to come up with different meals. Surprisingly, Flora has quite a list of what she makes to eat. She says, “I’ve learned to adapt many recipes to be vegetarian, such as sloppy joes, fajitas, lasagna, and burgers.” By adapting to these recipes, she is able to avoid meat.
Think about how meat is served – hot, sizzling, meat juice dripping from the side, sometimes burnt. Believe it or not, flipping a burger or a tender steak to the customer’s preferred temperature is one of the ways meat is turned into a cancerous monster.
When meat is cooked, it may form carcinogenic compounds. The two carcinogenic compounds that are most commonly found in meat are Heterocyclic amines (HCA) and Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These compounds are believed to increase the risk of cancer in meat-consumers.
HCA compounds are mostly formed from cooking conditions such as grilling, frying, and oven-broiling. So, if a burger is requested to be made well-done, no pink in the center of the burger at all, the burger is going to be cooked for a long time. The longer the meat is cooked, more HCA compounds form on the burger. Actually, say you want a grilled chicken sandwich. In order to get the chicken cooked enough to eat, it would have to be grilled much longer, and the chances of HCA compounds in grilled chicken increases.
It is very similar with PAH compounds, except they are formed from cooking conditions like grilling or broiling over a direct flame. Burgers and steaks can also be cooked over a direct flame. Again, if you wanted your burger or steak more well-done, it would have more of an intense flame to be cooked, and the more intense the heat is, the more PAH compounds are present in the meat. By avoiding the consumption of meat, Flora is reducing her exposure to these carcinogenic compounds and decreasing her risk of cancer.
All of these correlations found between meat and cancer are quite extraordinary. Even though it is assumed that people become vegetarians because of their concern for animals, the state of the planet, and their own health, choosing a vegetarian diet can decrease future outcomes.
Most people don’t realize how meat is linked to other things, such as medical conditions. Meat-consumers tend to have a higher-risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. According to “Improve Your Health With a Plant-Based Diet,” there is a decrease in all of these things, just by revolving their diet around meatless foods. Flora is not only protecting herself from cancer, but also from all of these health problems as well.
Flora’s lifestyle is greatly impacting her overall risk of cancer compared to those who eat meat. In the article on PCRM that confirms the correlation between meat and cancer, it also gives some great statistics. Vegetarians are 40% less likely to develop cancer and have approximately three times less of a risk of developing colon cancer than meat consumers.
The article “Improve Your Health” also says that vegetarians have 12% reduced risk of all-cause mortality when compared with meat-eaters, and cancer is definitely one cause of mortality that can be prevented through a vegetarian diet. So really, Flora is also reducing her risk of dying in other ways besides cancer, just from choosing the vegetarian lifestyle. In addition to that, “Vegan Savvy” says vegetarians, like Flora and Emily, live seven years longer than meat-eaters.
Flora attempted a vegan lifestyle for three months because her research showed there was a stronger reduction in cancer cell growth with a vegan diet as opposed to a vegetarian diet. Although she is considered a vegetarian, she doesn’t eat a lot of meat products now, like eggs, milk, sour cream, yogurt, butter, cottage cheese, and other meat-related foods. The only meat products that Flora still eats on a regular basis are limited dairy products, like cheese and occasionally ice cream, because “living in Wisconsin [makes it] too difficult to give up cheese and ice cream.”
Giving up meat can be hard, but there are lots of people that encourage it. In an article called the “21-Day Vegan Challenge,” Beth Janes talks about how people should take this “challenge,” and even goes into detail on what kinds of foods can provide certain nutrients that are essential for overall health and how much of those foods should be consumed every day.
Flora also suggested that everyone should try a vegetarian diet for at least three months. She encourages to “see how you feel and consider the health benefits of making the switch.” Although she does admit that a vegetarian diet isn’t for everyone, she strongly recommends it to “anyone who struggles with health…as an alternate to more extreme measures.”
*Name was changed upon request