Vegetarians invade Asheville

The North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS) recently held its 26th annual Vegetarian Summerfest on the campus of UNCA. Billed as a life-changing experience, Summerfest more than lived up to the expectations of the 600-plus attendees who gathered from around the country and points overseas.

Before the event, Mountain Xpress ran a piece about Summerfest by Steve Shanafelt [“A gardenburger for your thoughts,” June 28]. Shanafelt exhibited great disdain for vegetarianism. As a reporter, he should have made some effort to stick to the subject and get the facts straight.

He discussed the “crisis” at the French Broad Food Co-op, an issue unrelated to vegetarianism (the Co-op sells meat). Shanafelt said that vegetarians don’t have a problem with killing roaches and spiders, because they are “yucky.” But most who choose vegetarianism for ethical reasons are against the needless killing of all beings — whether they be roaches, spiders, cows, pigs or chickens.

And Shanafelt tells us that the Buddha died from eating rancid pork. Not true: The Buddha was a vegetarian and died from eating poisonous mushrooms. And there is absolutely no danger of having a protein deficiency just because you are a vegan, unless you survive on junk food and aren’t maintaining your body weight. I’ve never met a vegan or anyone else with a protein deficiency, yet Shanafelt is still promoting the fallacies of “the great protein myth,” originally brought to us by the meat and dairy industries in an attempt to boost sales of their products. The body of medical evidence now shows overwhelmingly that vegetarianism and veganism are the healthiest of diets. Even such conservative organizations as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Dietetics Association concur.

It is amazing that Shanafelt would direct such animosity toward individuals simply because they choose to eat plants rather than sentient beings. Why the hostility? Perhaps he is not quite comfortable with the violence and death involved in his diet — hence the defensiveness. Shanafelt could have benefited immensely from attending the conference and taking in some of the speakers. Some members of this community would also have benefited if Shanafelt had decided to mention that these great speakers were coming, but he was too busy advancing his own anti-vegetarian agenda.

The speakers at the conference were great. Rynn Berry, author of Food for the Gods: Vegetarianism and the World’s Religions and Famous Vegetarians and Their Favorite Recipes, gave an impressive and insightful historical perspective on vegetarianism. He talked about the vegetarianism of Leonardo da Vinci, St. Francis of Assisi, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, etc. Berry also set the audience straight about the myth that Hitler was a vegetarian: He most certainly was not.

Another highlight was T. Colin Campbell, a world-renowned scientist who is the director of the China Project. The New York Times called the China Project “the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of the relationship between diet and the risk of developing disease.” When Campbell — a former animal-protein researcher — saw his studies indicate that animal foods are unhealthy, he took a giant step in redirecting his career. But this is what good scientists do, he said, noting, “I was just paying attention to what the scientific evidence was showing me.” He concluded, “Quite simply, the more you substitute plant foods for animal foods, the healthier you are likely to be.” He is now a vegan. For more information on Campbell, visit www.newcenturynutrition.com on the Web.

Howard Lyman, a former Montana cattle rancher turned vegan and environmental activist, explained how modern agriculture and a meat-based diet are destroying our planet. Lyman and his co-defendant, Oprah Winfrey, were unsuccessfully sued by Texas cattlemen after a 1996 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, on which Lyman discussed the possibilities of an epidemic of mad-cow disease in America. Lyman, the author of Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat, has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles speaking out against the meat industry. He is now president of EarthSave International. For more information, go to www.earthsave.org or www.madcowboy.com on the Web.

Karen Davis, Ph.D. — the president of United Poultry Concerns and the author of Poisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs — told attendees about the horrific conditions in the modern poultry industry. From intense confinement to bodily mutilations (such as debeaking), to forced “molting” (withholding of food and water to stimulate egg production), chickens are abused and tormented from the moment they leave the shell until the bitter end. At the slaughterhouse, they endure the agony of severe electric shocks, inadequate stunning, badly cut necks, and entering scald tanks alive. Davis said no federal laws govern the raising, transport or slaughter of chickens in the United States. For more information on United Poultry Concerns, see www.upc-online.org.

Robert Cohen, author of Milk, the Deadly Poison, related information about milk that would likely never be heard from the dairy industry. Did you know that 80 percent of milk and cheese protein consists of casein, a tenacious glue? Casein is the glue that is used to hold a label to a bottle of beer. Cohen noted that casein in milk is a primary cause of mucus, congestion and childhood earaches. Cohen also pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration allows 750 million pus cells in every liter of milk produced in America, much higher than the limits allowed in other countries. According to Cohen, research indicates that the hormones in milk are the primary reason puberty starts around age 13 in American girls, as opposed to around age 17 in Indian and Chinese girls. For more information, check www.notmilk.com or call (888) NOTMILK.

Dr. Milton Mills of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine told NAVS attendees about PCRM’s push to rid U.S. government diet guidelines of racial biases. These guidelines embody the official diet policies of the U.S. government — dictating what is served in school lunches and food-assistance programs, and setting the standard for the diet policies of private organizations. The guidelines have ignored the fact that many Americans get sick when they drink milk. Lactose intolerance — the inability to digest the milk sugar lactose — affects about 70 percent of African-Americans and Native Americans, 53 percent of Hispanic-Americans, and 90 percent of Asian-Americans, but only 15 percent of Caucasians. For more information about PCRM, visit the group’s Web site at www.pcrm.org.

These were just a few of the fascinating speakers at this year’s NAVS conference. Excellent food demonstrations, tables of literature from various groups and a bustling bookstore were also highlights of the event. And the food was spectacular, thanks to the great folks at UNCA, under the direction of NAVS staff and Ken Bergeron — International Culinary Olympics gold-medal-winning chef, culinary instructor and author of Professional Vegetarian Cooking.

Whether you are already a vegetarian or are considering vegetarianism because of its health benefits, because you want to become an environmentalist, or because you don’t want to support animal suffering, you’ll find a trip to Vegetarian Summerfest very worthwhile. The event probably won’t return to Asheville next summer, but wherever it takes place, it should be well worth the journey. For more information, contact the North American Vegetarian Society at (518) 568-7970 or go to www.navs-online.org.

Stewart David lives in Buncombe County with his wife and companion dogs, turkey and goats.

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