When I first told my 91 year old dad that I was going 90% vegan and 99% vegetarian, he asked me if it was a religious thing. My answer was, "No, dad, it's a science thing." And it is.
Although my own dad was a scientist himself, with a PhD from Iowa State in the biological sciences, it wasn't germane to his generation to understand the importance of a plant-based diet. And that's understandable for a generation that grew up during the hungry days of the Great Depression and then was sent off to war to fight against some of the most horrendous atrocities known to mankind. That was not a generation prone to giving up its meat and dairy products.
So, while my dad was a scientist in the biological sciences, working first for a large pharmaceutical company and then finishing his career as a college professor in the biological sciences, he is to be forgiven for thinking that a plant-based diet might be a religious thing and not a "science thing." But I on the other should not be forgiven for all the time that I did not recognize it. As a recent retiree and the former laboratory manager for quality assurance at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington State, I should be more attuned to what science has taught us in recent years since my dad retired.
And science has taught us to eat our fruits and vegetables. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has said that "Vegetarians miss out on lots of food...but vegetarians also tend to miss out on major health problems that plague many Americans. They tend to live longer than the rest of us, and they're more likely to bypass heart-related and other ailments." There are possible explanations for this that are not food-related. For example, vegetarians also tend to be more physically active, but then again that added physical activity could come from not being bogged down by excessive cholesterol and saturated fats. We don't know for sure.
Going vegetarian is I believe a good defense against life-threatening diseases that can end us up in the hospital and in an early grave. But even without that, I find that it gives me more energy and makes me feel better overall. And I'm now losing weight at the rate of 5 pounds a week. It's hard to argue with that.
But health isn't the only scientific basis for a vegetarian diet. The environment is another reason. According to the World Population Clock, there are over 7 billion people in the world. This is up from under 1 billion people in 1800. That's right. The world's population has increased sevenfold in the last 200 years. In the 1800s, people could eat beef without worrying about it from a sustainability point of view. But with 7 billion people in the world, it is not a sustainable idea that everyone can enjoy beef on a regular basis. And everyone doesn't.
Yes, the environment suffers from all forms of food production, but I believe, and I think most scientists would agree, that the environment suffers more and is less sustainable from meat production than it does from plant-based food production.
So, in the words of Michael Pollan, from his book In Defense of Food, I have decided to "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."