Vegetarian Week: Myths about vegetarianism
Myth: Humans are 'meant' to eat meat
The great thing about being a human in the 21st century is that we can make informed choices about our lives, and our technology over time has meant that we don't have to do things just because they are 'natural'. This is why we have gloriously un-natural drugs to cure diseases, anaesthetics, synthetic fabrics and all manner of other manmade wonders.
That said, there isn't any firm evidence that human beings are natural carnivores anyway: our closets relatives, such as monkeys, live on fruit and we are not equipped with the speed or strength to kill our own pray without tools. Our digestive tract is longer than that of a carnivore, meaning meat starts to rot in it before it's digested, and are 'canine' teeth are not sharp like a carnivore's. The advent of tools, along with periods of great need and hunger probably drove us to eat meat and we discovered that it tasted good in the process. It probably led to our survival as a species. But this doesn't mean we HAVE to eat it now we no longer need it for survival.
Myth: Vegetarian food is bland
There is a wealth of delicious food out there that doesn't happen to contain meat or fish. Vegetarian cooking relies on all of the same principles as meat-based cooking in the the flavours and spices can make or break a meal. In other words, it's only as bland as you want to make it! Indian cooking, for example, one of the most famously UN-bland cuisines in the world was entirely vegetarian until its methods were adapted by Western chefs. If a vegetarian you know does not appear to be enjoying his or her food it's probably because they've been made to eat a dreary goat's cheese tartlet for the upmteenth time that month!
Myth: A vegetarian diet can't contain enough protein to be healthy
A vegetarian diet can contain less protein than one that is rich in meat. However, the meat-rich diet is now believed to contain an excessive amount of protein that is surplus to human requirement. Proteins are simply strings of amino acids, and the same amino acids are present in meat and non-meat protein sources. There is plenty of it in nuts, cheese, tofu, soya, eggs and other vegetarian foods, and it doesn't take a nutrition degree to ensure you get enough of those foods in your diet.
Myth: Vegetarians only eat vegetables
We also eat dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt etc), eggs, honey and other non-vegetable foods. It's vegans that do not eat any animal-derived products at all.
Myth: It's harmful to your baby if you're a vegetarian while pregnant
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that being a vegetarian has any negative impact on a developing baby. A healthy vegetarian diet with plenty of protein, iron and other nutrients is ideal for a pregnant woman and is far better than a poor diet that includes low-quality meat. Some women prefer to take iron supplements at this time, but meat-eaters can develop anaemia during pregnancy too.
Myth: Lots of vegetarians refuse to feed meat to their pets
Absolutely untrue. Vegetarians are generally highly responsible pet-owners and feed their carnivorous pets the meaty diet they need to live healthily. Animal charities like the RSPCA do not condone vegetarian diets for carnivorous pets.
Myth: It's hard work being vegetarian
In some countries vegetarianism is rare, and anyone who has ever visited France or Spain will no doubt have tales of having to explain that bacon is not a flavouring and fish is not a vegetable. But this is not true in many other parts of the Western and Eastern world. Furthermore, vegetarian food is almost universally cheaper to buy, whether in restaurants or at the supermarket.
Myth: Vegetarians are offended by people eating meat around them
This one varies but by and large vegetarians don't consider themselves to be 'morally superior' and get along just fine with meat-eating types. Some even marry a meat eater! The stereotypical joyless veggie preacher is thankfully just a figment of some people's imaginations.
Among veggies, it's generally agreed that we 'do what we can' and that simply being vegetarian is not going to solve all the world's problems. Many of us would ideally like to be vegan but don't feel the world supports a diet that's completely free of animal protein at present - so we don't feel entitled to judge others on their attachment to meat! And let's not forget that not all vegetarians avoid meat for moral reasons anyway - the most common reason for giving up meat is actually health. Diet is all about personal choice, and that includes respecting other people's choices.Myth: All vegetarians are skinny
Ha ha. If only!