Friday, February 4, 2011

Fun with Yahoo! Answers Part I

This week I've been wasting time trolling the vegetarians over at Yahoo! Answers. Well at least that's what some of them probably think. I think I'm just offering broader perspectives. You see, as a former vegetarian I've read lots of the books, thought through many of the ethical dilemmas, and felt all self-righteous about the Truth of the Vegetarian Way. But I've reevaluated the evidence and come to different conclusions in more recent years.

It all started when I visited the home page for one of my groups, which is food-related. At the bottom were links to some of the vegetarian/vegan questions. Since the group concerns grassfed meat and dairy, I found it a bit amusing that these kind of questions would come up. A few hyperlinks later, and I was on a roll, answering questions from the earnest to the ridiculous, and encouraging people to read something other than "Diet for a New America."

Just so you know, Yahoo! Answers has a points-based reward system that can be a bit addictive. You have been warned! Now without further ado, here are some of the questions I found and my off-the-cuff (for me) answers:

Q: What do you think of PETA saying that brain killing beer is healthier than tasty milk?

A: As a blanket statement it is ridiculous, but here is a bit of their rationale from their website:

"By comparing milk and beer, our aim was not to promote beer-drinking. We made a point of stressing that PETA recommends juices, soy milk, and mineral water—even soda—over milk OR beer. We invoked beer simply to make the point that milk is so awful that even a glass of beer—certainly no health food—is a better choice than a glass of milk!"

There is good and bad milk, and good and bad beer. Most commercial beer is less nutritious than the traditional beer of Europe, and commercial milk is highly processed and adulterated. Of course if you are a diabetic with celiac milk is much healthier, but if you have serious milk allergies or intolerance then beer is better! Give me some unprocessed grass-fed milk for breakfast, and a nice rich homebrew for dinner! Most of my milk consumption is actually in the form of home-made yogurt and kefir, which are rich in probiotics and much better tolerated by most people.

I also don't agree with many of the assumptions about fat and cholesterol that are used to argue against dairy products and animal products in general. There is tons of info on the web. There are healthy and sustainable ways to produce animal products, and of course there are unhealthy and unsustainable ways to produce plant products.

Also, I would think PETA is aware that many beers, especially British beers, are clarified with animal products such as gelatin and isinglass, though that is not universal, and all German beer should be vegan by definition (most vegans don't consider consuming yeast, a fungus, to be a problem).
Thumbs (as of this posting): 3 Up; 1 Down

Q: Anyone knows a milk free Indian diet? (further info: wants to give up dairy for ethical reasons)

A: I'm not Indian, but I know that the further south you go in India and SE Asia, the more coconuts take the place of dairy milk. There is, of course, coconut milk, which can also be fermented with yogurt culture, and coconut oil can be a substitute for butter or ghee. Coconut oil is closest to butter fat in having high levels of medium-chain fatty acids, especially lauric acid, which are anti-microbial and boost metabolism.

Another option is to try to find a source of milk where you know the farmer and can approve of how they treat the animals, or even have your own cow.

Thumbs: 0 Up; 1 Down

Q: I'm interested in becoming a vegetarian but my best friend says that I'll be lacking calcium, iron, protein and other nutrients that I would have make up for by taking nutritional supplements. How can I get started the right way and be worry-free?

A: Hey, it probably won't hurt to try it out. Just stay well-informed, and IMO that means reading arguments on both sides. Yes, there are serious dissenters to the veg-is-better dogma, and they are not all paid shills of the meat and dairy industry. In fact most of them are against factory farming of animals and believe that smaller more traditional mixed farms produce better food, both animal and vegetable.

There are no vitamins or minerals in flesh that can't be found in other foods. Regarding iron, if you are an adult male or post-menopausal female, you may actually have too much already. Otherwise, make sure you have plenty of whole eggs, leafy greens, and legumes. Whatever else you may say about dairy, it is a poor source of iron. (Most mammals have alternate means of transmitting iron from mother to fetus, and grazers like cows start eating grass immediately after birth.)

Calcium absorption actually depends on fat-soluble vitamins, which naturally depend on fat, which shows that things aren't as simple as they appear in the nutritional news.

Adults don't actually need very much protein, just a couple ounces per day, so that's really not as big a deal as is often thought. Protein absorption is also mediated by fat-soluble vitamins, and people eating a very low fat high protein diet can actually be protein-deficient for this reason.

Vitamin B-12 is one to be aware of. If you eliminate dairy and eggs as well as meat you should supplement with B-12.

Also, ask yourself why you are interested in going veg. If it is for health reasons, see above about being well-informed and entertaining various viewpoints. If it is for ethical reasons, that's fine, but you should follow through and be consistent. The commercial production of eggs and milk are on par with pork and chicken when it comes to cruelty. You might instead look into ethical sources for animal products.

Thumbs: 0 Up; 0 Down

Q: Vegans; what is wrong with eating honey? Does it hurt the bees to take their honey? I know they work hard for it, but does it disrupt the hive that much?

A: I'm actually interested in keeping bees and harvesting honey and beeswax. From what I've read, the conventional practices of beekeeping encourage the use of pesticides and medications, deterioration of the honeybee gene pool, and a lot of energy consumption. That is why I am interested in top bar hives, which give the bees more control, help them protect themselves from parasites and diseases, and allows harvest with less disruption to the hive.

Thumbs: 1 Up; 1 Down

Q: Should i become a vegetarian? some of my closest friends r vegetarian and i went to the shops with my mum to get food and i said to her ' is there anything without meat?' and she said (in a really mean voice ' what!!?? r u becoming vegetarian' i want to become one but i dont know how to tell my mum or dad!!!
they will think i am being stupid and just copying one of my friends ( because we have become reallyyy close lately :D )

A: Your mom (sorry I'm American; "mum" is a flower ;) needs to get used to the idea and to know you are serious and well-informed. She probably also feels threatened and judged and wonders if you are trying to convert her too. Assure her that it is something important that you want to try for yourself, and that you are gathering as much information as you can on the subject.

Don't just take your friends as authorities. Read materials both pro and con, and come to your own conclusion.

Thumbs: 1 Up; 1 Down

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