Millions of people worldwide will be celebrating World Vegetarian Day on October 1, for the thirty-sixth consecutive year.  Vegetarianism is now mainstream, and far from the old stereotype of soybeans and sandals.  Nowadays everyone knows a vegetarian or three. The benefits of meat-free diets are now well recognized and it’s a fast growing lifestyle choice. On Worl d Vegetarian Day, vegetarians celebrate that choice and try to raise awareness of why it’s a smart one.

People don’t eat meat for hugely different reasons. For some it’s a religious tenet. Vegetarianism has a long history of association with ritual purity and cleanliness. Some people just can’t stand the taste, and it’s a tribute to our growing enlightenment that kids who hate the stuff aren’t forced to consume it as they would have been in the past. Animal welfare concerns are a big motivator, especially with industrial farming and new awareness of the cruelty it entails. Endless studies prove that vegetarianism has very real benefits for health. In recent years, the negative global environmental impact of farming has boosted vegetarianism’s popularity among people concerned about saving the environment.

Pro-meat eaters like to suggest that we got to where we are by being hunters. The reality is that in most hunter-gatherer societies it was plant foods that were the dietary staples. We aren’t as adapted to meat eating as some think, and we sure aren’t designed to consume meat once or more every day. Until quite recently meat was still a treat in many ordinary households. Some of the most popular dishes in the world were originally peasant foods, with vegetarian ingredients often foraged fresh from the garden and the fields.

A properly planned vegetarian diet helps to cut out most of the saturated fats and cholesterol boosters, and the chemical additives in processed foods. It’s higher in nutrients, fiber, folic acid and antioxidants (though vitamin B12 intake may need supplementing). Vegetarians tend to be thinner and have up to 30% less heart disease. Studies also suggest that a meat free diet helps reduce certain cancers and may even limit mood disorders. With a thriving vegetarian food industry, and meat substitutes, it’s also delicious and easier than ever.

It’s not only better for us, but clearly better for the billions of animals reared in conditions of sometimes horrendous cruelty, in cramped battery conditions, with mega-doses of antibiotics to control infections and brutally stressful cross-country transportation. For animal lovers, refusing to be party to this profiteering is just as important as the health benefits. 

The growth of livestock farming has now thrown up a new challenge, not just to the individual but the whole planet. The UN has documented its negative impact, which ranges from massively increasing carbon emissions to water pollution, environmental damage and loss of biodiversity. It’s unsustainable and reducing meat consumption is becoming absolutely vital for saving the environment. On World Vegetarian Day people with a conscience get together in the knowledge that vegetarianism is the future and that it’s a win-win option.

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