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May 2

Conversations with Ken & Joe: Is there a case for going vegetarian? – Kankakee Daily Journal

Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. Albert Einstein

Joe: What is it going to take to motivate people to make lifestyle changes in their diet? Prevention and reversing a disease or two and extending ones life span just does not seem to be enough.

Ken: Through most of the 4 million years or so of the evolution of Homo sapiens, our ancestors consumed a diet provided by hunting and gathering activities, animal flesh, wild fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds now sometimes called the paleo diet. They were omnivorous, eating anything they could run down or find in nature, and they have evolved an appropriate digestive apparatus.

It wasnt until about 10,000 years ago that settled farming was developed in Mesopotamia that domesticated plant and animal products entered our diet: cereal grains, sheep, goats, dairy. So today we think of the balanced diet that can be pictured as a pyramid. At the base are cereal grains and bread, then as the pyramid tapers fruits and vegetables, then dairy and eggs and meat, and at the peak, foods to eat sparingly, fats, oils, sweets. In the light of our history, is there a solid case to be made for a modern purely vegetarian diet?

Joe: The last time I was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., I posed the question I asked you to a physician who at the time was a vegetarian for over 40 years. I discussed with him The China Study and much of what you have noted. The solid case for a pure vegetarian, plant-based diet was made long ago. It makes no sense to clutter up this column with a lengthy brief. I would like to think that we could agree that it is a given.

It is getting people to make the lifestyle changes in their diet that is the difficulty. The doctors response to my question to you was that educating people on its merits would help and that a step in the right direction would be a massive public health push by both political parties in D.C. along with a nationwide address by the president on the benefits of going meatless.

Other than purely health reasons, what are the benefits? There would be sizable Medicare and medical cost savings. Animal care with more compassion and less cruelty, suffering and killing is another. There are 94 million cattle and 504 million chickens in the USA as I write this. The pandemic exposed the ills of meat-packing plants. Conditions in many plants are worse than what was detailed in Upton Sinclairs book The Jungle.

Another benefit has to do with saving the planet and climate change, a topic that is not a small matter. Cattle and their methane are a major contributor of global greenhouse gases. As measured in CO2 equivalents, they generate more gas than cars, trains, ships and planes. Do you have any disagreements with any of this?

Ken: If the solid case for vegetarianism is a given, why are there so few American vegetarians? According to a 2019 Harris Poll, only 4% of Americans were vegetarian. What are the facts?

Nevertheless, when comparing two distinct and disparate populations regarding diet vis--vis health parameters, as was the procedure of the 2005 book, The China Study, there are any number of uncontrollable variables. Factors like genetics and non-diet-related behaviors make sweeping conclusions suspect. In a written debate with China Study author Campbell in 2008, nutritionist Loren Cordain argued that the fundamental logic underlying Campbells hypothesis (that low [animal] protein diets improve human health) is untenable and inconsistent with the evolution of our own species.

Food derived from animals contains all the necessary nutrients for humans, whereas plant-derived diets can be deficient in vitamins and specific essential amino acids. As for the climate impact, atmospheric methane, CH4, produced by domestic animals digestive processes, oxidizes spontaneously to CO2 and H2O; that CO2, in turn, is recycled by photosynthesis into plant products and is then consumed by those animals. Only when CO2 is released by combustion of sequestered fossil fuels is there a net long-term increase in greenhouse gasses. Incidentally, today I received a mailing from the Humane Society asking me to petition (and contribute) against the upcoming annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China at which thousands of dogs are eaten by famished Chinese dog lovers.

Joe: It is interesting that with Trump gone these conversations are relegated to kicking around the subject of meat. Maybe our next topic can be the best canned tuna? To get to the meat of the matter in the USA, as a country, we live in a state of cooperation and compromise. There is much of what we all have done in the past that is not worthy of preservation and continuation. For example, take the slow demise and decrease in cigarette smoking. Meat eating may end up like that.

Initially the strategy of the cigarette industry was a denialist conspiracy, namely that the claim that cigarettes could cause cancer had not been proven. So, the smoking guns in the 50s and 60s advertised and spent a ton of money sowing doubt by corrupting science and expertise. The same strategy is now being applied (by the meat industry, Cattlemens Beef Association, Tyson, JBS, lobbyists, etc.) to the subjects of industrial animal agriculture, meat, vegetarian diets and even climate change. They obviously do this to keep the public and regulators at bay. And it is working.

You and I cannot even agree that livestock farming and 94 million cows roaming around (pumped, by the way, with 65% of this countrys antibiotics) has a significant impact on global warming. The average American consumes about 222 pounds of meat a year, according to Bloomberg. There is no chance that meat consumption is going to totally end. But if not motivated by health reasons, cutting consumption by 75% would go a long way to assist in reversing global warming and reducing animal suffering.

It looks like capitalism is going to assist. A meatless gold rush and investments in alternative proteins are soaring. In 2020 there was record funding for faux meat start-ups, producing antibiotic-free food using far less land than that used for livestock. We have Beyond Meat with its burger alternatives. McDonalds has tested a vegetable-based patty. Burger King has its meatless Impossible Whopper. Why dont you and I this summer try some meatless burgers on your grill?

Ken: Im cooking a meatloaf for dinner tonight; you are welcome to drop by.

Dr. Ken Johnston has been an ENT surgeon in Kankakee since 1976. He has been on several community boards and has been involved with clubs and organizations. He has lived in Bourbonnais since 1981. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at or directly at

Joe Yurgine is a practicing attorney, Of Counsel with Corboy & Demetrio, Chicago. He can be contacted through the Daily Journal at or directly at

Continued here:
Conversations with Ken & Joe: Is there a case for going vegetarian? - Kankakee Daily Journal

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