As a vegetarian, people often ask me: How do you only live on salad?! Does that make you a hippie? How many supplements do you have to take? Nevertheless, times have changed. As the amount of research correlating a vegetarian diet with a healthy lifestyle increases, the herbivore population is no longer limited to “hippies.” Although taking meat out of your diet has many benefits, it isn’t for everyone. It is important to consider the dedication this alternate lifestyle requires, in addition to education on nutrition before deciding if vegetarianism is a good choice for you. Pros The information below was provided by the Vegetarian Beginner’s Guide by the editors of Vegetarian Times Animal welfare 54% Unfortunately, farm animals—cattle, pigs, chicken, etc—face daily abuse on the majority of factory farms that produce most of America’s meat. For instance, chickens are often in wire cages so small that they cannot walk until ready for slaughter and cattle are typically castrated without any anesthetic. Environmental concerns 47% Land: 64% of all land used to grow grain and soybeans will go to feed industrial farm animals—not humans. In addition, the large amounts of land used for grazing slaughter house animals have washed away topsoil, depleting nutrients that could have been used for food growing. Water: In 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the largest non-point (not from a water origin) source of water pollution in the United States was from livestock manure. With more than two billion tons per year, the livestock waste—filled with ammonia, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals—is equal to the waste of almost half the world’s population. Not only does this alter water supply, but the contaminated water also hinders what we and other animals drink. Improve overall health 53% From a stronger immune system to a 40% lower risk of developing cancer than omnivores, research shows vegetarian diets rich in vitamins and minerals promote good health and ward off a variety of diseases (heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc). According to Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition and Harvard University’s School of Public Health, half of all illnesses could be eliminated or greatly delayed through diet changes. Food safety concerns 31% Botulism? Salmonella? Staph? Do these sound familiar? They are all diseases stemmed from contaminated animal products. Unfortunately, the commonly occurring pathogens are becoming increasingly common as more food passes through plants. In addition, all the animals are fed antibiotics and other drugs in order to counter diseases promoted by overcrowded conditions. Therefore, these products potentially contaminate the consumer. You are what you eat. Weight loss 25% A well balanced vegetarian diet is generally rich in low fat-fat fibrous food with the necessary nutrition to thrive. This lifestyle can increase your energy, ultimately creating a healthier body inside and out. Cons With new limits, maintaining a healthy vegetarian diet requires an open mind. Without adventurous taste buds, some new vegetarians resort to an abundance of bread and fries. If you generally have difficulty entering a realm of different food (tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other soy products) and prefer to stick to the familiar, creating a well-balanced meatless plan may be difficult. According to the Vegetarian Beginner’s Guide, eating a lot of meat is healthier than a non-colorful vegetarian diet. Therefore, vegetarianism means a lot more planning and sometimes less options at restaurants. For instance, I did not plan well when deciding to go vegetarian. As a result of unsuccessfully constructing a food regimen, I developed a severe case of iron-deficiency anemia within a year. With a lack of dark greens (rich in iron) and fruits rich in vitamin C (which helps the body absorb iron). A few hospital visits and articles on nutrition later, I developed a well-rounded meatless diet and feel better than ever. The same goes for protein and calcium. They are still prominent in vegetarian foods; however, it requires planning and education to gain the benefits. After all, being a vegetarian alone does not guarantee good health. One must eat the right foods, exercise, and avoid the destructive habits of smoking and drinking heavily to fulfill the physical and spiritual benefits food can provide.