Steaks, sausages, schnitzel, burgers…..the list is endless, particularly if you are born and raised on a dairy farm in rural New Zealand. Often the focus of many debates in our household between my father and his sister-in-law when visiting, who has been a staunch vegetarian for the past 20 odd years following her conversion to the Hari Krishna religion. As witness to these debates it sparked myself and my siblings to often question each other whether we could imagine shifting to a meat-free diet, my elder brother would instantly dismiss the thought as ludicrous stating that we are farmers, it is our job to sponsor the consumption of meat, my younger sister was a little more open-minded and would evaluate both options and the pros and cons of both (she still eats meat by the way). This is a conversation that frequently crops up at dinner parties or at work and particularly when a vegetarian is present. People are intrigued by it, like my brother, some people will immediately say its ridiculous, you need meat in your diet, you will experience all sorts of illnesses if you don’t, others like my sister will offer that they would be able to give up beef, but definitely not chicken or fish! There are also many reasons people choose to eliminate meat from their diet, quite simply they just don’t like the taste. Following the 200 Hour Teachers Training Course and learnings regarding diet, it made me reassess where I stood on the argument, my research showed some interesting findings, it was normally either pro-vegetarianism or pro-meat eating, there weren’t a lot of articles that were neutral; there are many factors impacted by the consumption of meat but on the other side of the coin, as a key export for many countries, economies could also suffer.
As we all know meat is high in saturated fat which means those who consume it are at higher risk of developing heart disease and weight problems; studies also show a strong correlation between meat consumption and various strains of cancer, strokes and as a result a shorter life expectancy. However, one study of 544 children, who were an average age of seven years, were given two spoonfuls (about 60 grams) of minced beef each day to supplement their ordinary diet. The other groups were given a cup of milk, an equivalent amount of energy as vegetable oil, or no supplement at all. Over two years, the children kids given food supplements gained an average of 400 grams more than those without, those conducting the study found those given meat showed the biggest benefits. Children in the meat-supplemented group showed up to an 80% greater increase in upper-arm muscle compared with the non-supplemented children; for milk drinkers, this figure was 40%. They also found the children who were fed meat also outperformed their peers in tests of intelligence, problem solving and arithmetic. Additionally, the group that received the meat supplements was more active in the playground, more talkative and playful, and showed more leadership skills.
In contrast, studies found becoming vegetarian means you will be helping reduce waste and air pollution. A farm in the US, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles. Each year, the nation’s factory farms, collectively produce 2 billion tons of manure, a substance that’s rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the country’s top 10 pollutants and that’s not including the methane gas released by cows, pigs and poultry (which contributes to the greenhouse effect); the ammonia gases from urine; poison gases that emanate from manure lagoons; toxic chemicals from pesticides; and exhaust from farm equipment used to raise feed for animals.
Let’s put a Yoga lense on this debate. If most people had to guess whether a Yoga practitioner followed a vegetarian or meat diet, I think we could safely say they would correctly select the former option. This is generally because you associate Yoga with healthy mind and body, though some would incorrectly assume it was because of some religious reason linked to Yoga. The reason is deeper than just healthy mind and body, yes; eliminating meat from the diet naturally aids the body’s muscles to become more flexible, obviously a huge advantage when you practice Yoga. In Yoga philosophy they say “the mind is formed from the subtlest portion or essence of food” – this philosophy sets the tone for how foods are categorised. There are three categories food can fall into – Sattvic, Rajasic or Tamasic. Sattvic foods are those that are free from additives, preservatives, are eaten in their natural or pure state and provide maximum energy for a healthy lifestyle e.g. raw vegetables and fruits. Rajasic foods are those that over stimulate the mind and body and are believed to increase adverse behaviours e.g. coffee and strong spices. Finally, Tamasic foods promote laziness and the body has difficulty breaking these foods down e.g. alcohol and fried foods. Yoga philosophy directs meat straight the Tamasic category, the reason of this designation is also due to Yamas – Ahimsa – non-violence and non-injury.
So how do you decide what diet to raise your child on? Claims your child will benefit from eating meat versus reducing global pollution, makes it a difficult one. It is a debate that will most likely exist forever, though statistics show the rate of those converting to vegetarianism has increased dramatically from 20 years ago. In the Yoga world, the choice is simple, if you wish to live a Yogi life, you must eliminate meat. Me? I’ve removed red meat so far, check with me in a year from now and perhaps chicken and fish will also be off the menu.