Booklet Review Meat And The Vegetarian Concept Part Ii

Article #4: Booklet Review – Meat And The Vegetarian Concept, Part II

—continued from previous issue. Comments by Nat Altman, Bob Pinkus, and H. Jay Dinshah.

VV—On Page 7, the booklet (published by the National Livestock and Meat Board) claims that “the biological quality of protein found in animal foods is superior to that in vegetables” and implies quite strongly that vegetarianism is a major reason for people in developing nations suffering “rampant malnutrition—stunted growth, small brain development, and the disease kwashiorkor….”

NAT—What was omitted was the fact that there is absolutely no connection between “rampant malnutrition” etc., and a Vegetarian diet. The basic factors in malnutrition are either lack of the availability of nutritious vegetarian food or inadequate knowledge of nutrition.

Nutritional studies on the Hunzas, the Otami Indians in Central Mexico, the “old men in Vilcabamba,” Ecuador, certain tribespeople of South Africa, young girls in Appalachia, and other people in various parts of the world, all showed that one doesn’t need meat to ensure an adequate intake pf protein, calories, fat, and essential vitamins and minerals.

The booklet also failed to note the well-known fact that the biological quality of those plant proteins that are low in specific amino acids dramatically improves when combined with other plant-source foods, such as rice and legumes, or/grains and legumes. Most predominantly vegetarian people have been habitually combining these foods for thousands of years, and have enjoyed sound nutrition and excellent health.

The argument that because animal protein is much closer to that of the human body makes it preferable to plant protein is absurd. If this were true, all animals would be carnivorous if such a bizarre criterion needed to be met.

JAY—Worse than that, Nat; it’s a powerful argument for universal cannibalism. What could be closer to human flesh than human flesh?

But this whole scare about protein is pretty much of a red herring. It is most inaccurate to make a blanket statement that animal protein is superior to vegetable protein. They talk about “vegetables” as if vegetarians only ate carrots and turnips. Nuts and seeds generally have protein of roughly equivalent biological value to meat, and in greater proportion than in meats generally. Muscle meat is “deficient” compared to organ meat. And even leafy greens have a moderate proportion of protein of very high biological value. Nor does the term “incomplete” mean a protein is valueless by itself; only that even a single essential amino acid is a percentage point or more less than an arbitrary dividing line of 60% (for adults) or 70% (for children) of what is considered an ideal balance. The difference between a “complete” protein and an “incomplete” protein is not—as some would like us to believe—the difference between 100% and zero: it is often so marginal as to be meaningless for any practical relationship to the actual needs of the human body.

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Nor is it even necessary that all the essential amino acids be present in the same meal (let alone the same food), as the body recycles amino acids from dying cells and maintains, in effect, a pool of amino acids. (See p. 383 of Laurel’s Kitchen.) For further information on vegetable proteins and their complete adequacy, see The Protein Problem, The Happy Truth About Protein, About Protein (in Facts of Vegetarianism), and the Vegetarianism special supplement to Life and Health magazine, all available from NAVS.

As for their view of malnutrition, they seem to just throw in “a deficiency of calories” as if it were a separate problem from the better-publicized protein deficiency. Actually, the former usually accompanies the latter, as it is a matter of just too little food available (see p. 385, Laurel’s Kitchen), a fact the meat people seem understandably anxious to obscure.

This reminds me of old Calvin Coolidge’s sage observation that when a lot of people were out of work, the result was unemployment. The NLSMB wants us all to know that when people are too impoverished to obtain enough vegetarian food, the result is malnutrition and starvation. But as we shall see, their “solutions” to such human difficulties seem more in line with the naive advice given by another historic figure, Marie Antoinette.

VV—On page 6 of the booklet, it is claimed that the conversion ratio is 3:1 for vegetable protein to animal protein in raising animals for food, and that much of the protein for feeding animals is obtained by recycling otherwise inedible “wastes” for feed.

NAT—Actually, the demand for meat in the USA contributes markedly to rampant malnutrition in the developing countries. Despite a world food deficit of over ten million tons, over 580 million tons of grains were fed to livestock in a recent year. In the U.S. alone, approximately 87% of all the corn, oats, barley, and grain sorghum crops are fed to livestock, not directly to people.

In converting this high-protein feed into meat protein, the productivity rate is far different from the 3:1 ratio claimed.

According to the June 6, 1968, issue of Chemical Industry it takes 1250 lbs. of plant protein to produce 75 lbs. of beef protein, an efficiency factor of just 6%, or a ratio of 17:1. The corresponding efficiency factor for lamb is 9% (11:1); for pork, 15% (6 2/3-to-l); while the most “efficient” protein converter is chicken, and even that only yields 2.5 lbs. of protein for every 8 lbs. of plant protein consumed, a factor of 32%, or a little less than 3:1. Something they do not mention is another serious barrier to good nutrition in developing nations. It is a well-known fact that many of the developing countries are utilizing their best land for cattle raising for export to the USA, instead of using this land for growing staple crops which could feed their hungry people.

In Guatemala, for example, where 75% of the children under five years of age are malnourished, nearly 23 million pounds of meat were sent to the USA from January to November 1976 (Foreign Ag. Calendar, USDA, of Dec. 1976). At present, Guatemala has a shortage of low-priced corn and beans, the staple foods of the peasant population.

BOB—The meat people admit that the ratio for protein conversion is “only about 3:1.” Even if true, what would be moral about even that ratio, in a world in which each year millions of humans die of diseases related to malnutrition?

A fact ignored by the booklet is that in a country such as India, the average person can only get about 400 pounds of grain per year, but can live by eating it instead of feeding it to animals. In America, the average meat-eater consumes 2000 lbs. of grain per year, but only 150 lbs. direct and the rest second-hand through animal products.

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