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What are the best arguments against vegetarianism?

by (78417)
Updated about 18 hours ago
Created May 09, 2011 at 2:08 PM

What do you think are the best (most scientific) arguments against vegetarianism? Links to good studies would be appreciated. If this has already been covered here, please direct me to the discussion.

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227 · May 15, 2011 at 4:21 AM

"the honey badger is so badass...look at him eat that cobra...what a badass"

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13
10502 · May 15, 2011 at 1:02 AM

@wwiniwin @DrK @ThomasSeay -- everyone take it down a notch in terms of acrimony. As in, no acrimony or snark. And don't start pointing fingers at one another. Thanks in advance.

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78417 · May 13, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Here's a funny (sort of) Steve Jobs story for you. Jobs lives in the same town as I do, Palo Alto, which is relatively small. I used to see him from time to time at the Whole Foods on Homer Street. One day there was a woman stalking him there and getting on his nerves. I don't know if he knew here or if she was some random nutjob. Jobs starts yelling out, "Security, Security!" And, of course, there are never security guards at Whole Foods, at least noth here.

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3631 · May 12, 2011 at 5:42 PM

I'd like to add that I was a vegetarian for 20 years until about 3 months ago. The WAPF arguments were definitely a sway factor for me. I agree with Aaron B, about there being a large emotional component; I don't think science alone will often immediately affect a change. The person has to be ready to hear it. And for so many, including me, veg*nism is tied to identity, and that's a tough nut to crack! For me it was some ostensible 'science' that led me away from meat to begin with (vs. animal fetishism; don't bank on the PETA-types coming around), so seeing those initial tenets falsified...

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3631 · May 12, 2011 at 5:32 PM

I'd like to add that I was a vegetarian for 20 years until about 3 months ago. The WAPF arguments were definitely a sway factor for me. I agree with Aaron B, about there being a large emotional component; I don't think science alone will often immediately affect a change. The person has to be ready to hear it. And for so many, including me, veg*nism is tied to identity, and that's a tough nut to crack! For me it was some ostensible 'science' that led me away from meat to begin with (vs. animal fetishism; don't bank on the PETA-types coming around), so seeing that the those tenets falsified..

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78417 · May 11, 2011 at 11:38 PM

Just to be clear, I don't expect anybody to do work for me. We come here to share information. When I have something to share, I do so. I had hoped that Dr. K would point me to some studies. That's the only reason I asked. I don't know why offense was taken at my request. After all, I wasn't ordering anybody to do anything. It was a simple request.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 8:34 PM

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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25467 · May 11, 2011 at 2:17 PM

Again I won't allow you to characterize me with your perception. It is your perception and not mine and I won't allow it to stand. You're perfectly allowed to have your opinion and I imperfectly allowed to disagree with you. Anyone can look up anything they choose. I am not a researcher for you or anyone else. If you read something that intrigues you or strikes you wrong you can look it up and confirm it for yourself. It's pretty easy to do these days.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 4:39 AM

Just to put my remarks to Dr. K in context, I'd like to mention that there was a comment in which Dr. K told Thomas that he "wasn't going to do his work for him" It has since been deleted. That was the one that really got my goat, given the nature of Thomas's OP.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 3:29 AM

I would surely not assume that my perception of my reality would reflect on your perception of reality, whatever that means. Snarky may have not been the optimal word, perhaps flippant is better. Your perception of reality seems to allow room for you to be flippant, as well as dismissive, and even condescending - attitudes which are perceived in many realities as arrogance. And we all know that arrogance is a house of cards.

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25467 · May 11, 2011 at 1:28 AM

you dont have to read it. And last I checked its called a hack site. IF you have something good bad or indifferent to add it counts. And if you find me snarky I think that is your perception of your reality and does not reflect on my perception of reality. I also dont think you should try to usurp anyone else's perception either as you so implied. They have a voting say on this site and if they dont like the hack they vote appropriately. I think that is a very good system. We can please everyone all the time. We do what we think is correct for the situation. Not every response needs RCT

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3631 · May 10, 2011 at 8:30 PM

@ Dr. K - Then why did you even respond to this question?!? Thomas's question is clear. He's asking for evidence. Frankly, I'm getting pretty tired of your thoughtless, snarky answers to *every single* question around here. I can't be the only one. I think you may have made some positive and useful contributions to this forum, but your signal-to-noise ratio is worse than a SAD O3/6. Don't you have some surgery to do or something?

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1837 · May 10, 2011 at 5:35 PM

It is very powerful in places. I liked the observation that in India, the poor own no land, but they CAN own cattle. The cattle supply manure and milk and and a source of meat when it dies. But here is the great bit; the poor and landless let their cattle roam wild and because they are revered, those wealthy individuals whose lands the cattle invade to graze, do not and from a cultural perpsective, cannot, move the cattle on! So in this way, even the poor and landless are not impoverished the way they would otherwise be if forced in to vegetarianism. Their cattle can graze freely.

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19220 · May 10, 2011 at 4:51 PM

It is an excellent book.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · May 10, 2011 at 4:24 PM

There is no GM wheat.

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19220 · May 10, 2011 at 4:03 PM

There is no GM wheat.

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20411 · May 10, 2011 at 1:37 PM

Of all the books frequently recommended around here, this one was the most fun to read AND I learned a lot. She is a great writer - and it stands as a piece of literature in additon to its persuasive arguments.

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25467 · May 10, 2011 at 12:37 AM

and Thomas dont ask me to do your work......if youre in the dark its not my fault.

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25467 · May 10, 2011 at 12:36 AM

Thomas.....plenty. Start reading them. Valkyrie.....not true. That is what they like to blame it on but their worst health metrics are in strict vegetarian sectors. Their rates of celiac and chrohns's have grown exponetially over the last thirty yrs as their wheat has become GM.

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420 · May 09, 2011 at 9:28 PM

I'm finishing this righteous book up now. It is a must read for everyone, not just vegs.

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1065 · May 09, 2011 at 7:17 PM

Vegetarians cook food..... the raw vegan thing is another deal entirely. Although insisting that humans are not omnivores is always a funny tact to see.

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531 · May 09, 2011 at 6:15 PM

Dr. K - that's because Indians are not on a healthy veg diet anymore - but a SAD one. SOOOOO much refined sugar, Mc Donald's now, etc. We'll see what it does to my family.

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1049 · May 09, 2011 at 5:45 PM

thanks for the link. I have read similar things and could no longer find them. For me, especially when it comes to children, brain development can never be overlooked when planning the diet !!!

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78417 · May 09, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Dr. K. Any studies to back that up?

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25467 · May 09, 2011 at 4:04 PM

It's not all about genetics.....its about what we do with our genetics

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25467 · May 09, 2011 at 4:04 PM

I understand.....but the data is pretty clear for longterm veggies....India is dealing with massive diabetes and autoimmune issues now and is overwhelming their system. Personally I love vegetarians......they make it easier for me to be paleo due to lessened competition for the correct resources

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531 · May 09, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I'm not saying you're wrong - I'm just saying I would have ignored that response when I was vegetarian, and having a family that didn't have cancer, serious disease, etc would have justified my thinking.

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3756 · May 09, 2011 at 3:41 PM

I agree with hcantrall. My g-pa was almost 90 when he died, and he smoked since he was 12. All about the genetics.

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4181 · May 09, 2011 at 3:29 PM

I bet good genes play a bigger part in that than anything else. My husbands great grandmother ate bacon and eggs every day for 100 years before she died.

D83e454e794d761ab524814c0ff8f838
531 · May 09, 2011 at 3:15 PM

If people told me that when I was veg, I certainly would have dismissed it as the vegetarian side of my family has lived into their 90's.

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21 Answers

03fa485bfd54734522755f47a5e6597e
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3914 · May 09, 2011 at 3:19 PM

A: Vegetarians.

Oh, you wanted scientific arguments. Seriously, though, I'm not sure how well scientific arguments work to convert people away from what are essentially emotional decisions. But the bibliography in the back of The Vegetarian Myth might be a good place to start, if you want to try.

A968087cc1dd66d480749c02e4619ef4
20411 · May 10, 2011 at 1:37 PM

Of all the books frequently recommended around here, this one was the most fun to read AND I learned a lot. She is a great writer - and it stands as a piece of literature in additon to its persuasive arguments.

2a2da4d6df354c8473706281d61d1850
420 · May 09, 2011 at 9:28 PM

I'm finishing this righteous book up now. It is a must read for everyone, not just vegs.

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20411 · May 09, 2011 at 2:56 PM

I like the argument that meat (and cooking) made us human.

See Richard Wrangham's - Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human

http://www.amazon.com/Catching-Fire-Cooking-Made-Human/dp/0465013627

Also, Dr. Mike Eades has a couple of great posts on why the evolution of the brain requires meat: (the second post is the payoff)

http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/peta-cspi-and-other-menaces/are-we-meat-eaters-or-vegetarians-part-i/

http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-library/are-we-meat-eaters-or-vegetarians-part-ii/

8f4ff12a53a98f3b5814cfe242de0daa
1065 · May 09, 2011 at 7:17 PM

Vegetarians cook food..... the raw vegan thing is another deal entirely. Although insisting that humans are not omnivores is always a funny tact to see.

2f931662684a7747be36255c8b486228
1049 · May 09, 2011 at 5:45 PM

thanks for the link. I have read similar things and could no longer find them. For me, especially when it comes to children, brain development can never be overlooked when planning the diet !!!

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5002 · May 15, 2011 at 8:45 AM

These might not have the scientific references you are looking for, but they provide an articulation of main points or arguments that I've found to have a certain rhetorical bite among even the most articulate vegetarians.

  1. Our knowledge of human evolution is clear and not disputed: our ancestors ate meat - as evidenced by (a) our digestive systems, which are adapted to process meat, and (b) our micro and macro nutritional needs, which are well aligned with meat's nutritional profile.

  2. Everything follows from this evolutionary fact, such as the superior bioavailability of the nutrients in meat, which is enhanced by the macro properties of meat like, e.g., being accompanied by fat (most vitamins are fat soluble).

  3. Look at the supplement aisle next time you visit CVS or WF: the majority of them are products found in animal products: choline, omega 3, taurine, b12, vitamin A, etc. Toward similar ends, go to fitday and compare the nutrient profiles of liver, steak, eggs, and broccoli. Hint: broccoli performs well, but it loses comparatively, and that's without introducing bioavailability issues.

  4. Meat makes you strong and lean; veggies make you weak and puffy. Vegetarianism mistakenly tries to have nutritionally supplementary foods play primary dietary roles, an odd task that requires numerous consequent efforts in order to maintain feasibility, let alone optimal health. This move against simplicity is a simple but clear signal from nature (read: our evolved biology).

  5. While CAFO animals are unethically treated, organic pastured animals live happy lives and their consumers have no reason to morally question their slaughter, which is probably the most humane food-motivated killing in the animal kingdom. When we support the right farming practices, both parties win. This should be embraced as a source of moral or ethical pride.

  6. Most seemingly pro-vegetarian empirical studies suffer from an inability to (or simple failure to) control for confounding predictor variables -- namely, whatever other health promoting behaviors that S's who choose to eat vegetarian also choose bc they perceive them as such. Control for these, and watch the benefits disappear.

  7. Being vegetarian is likely to result in increased consumption of sugar, processed carbohydrate, and soy or soy-based foods. This isnt a necessary consequence, but it is highly likely bc foods containing them ease the burden of maintaining the diet.

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1837 · May 10, 2011 at 3:55 PM

I am tempted to say the best argument is 'a mirror'. ;)

However, one book I really would recommend to anyone who is:

  1. interested in sustainable farming, or,
  2. vegetarian/vegan for ethical reasons

is a book by Simon Fairlie called 'Meat - A Benign Extravagence'. It is profound in its insight although tough going in one or two places, but ultimately worth the effort.

Fairlie shines a light in to the symbiotic relationship between all animals (ourselves included) and farming, and makes a case for 'at least some pastoral farming' in any sustainable model. From this he establishes a 'default' level of meat consumption and the case for using animals as a sustainable source of farm-power.

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1837 · May 10, 2011 at 5:35 PM

It is very powerful in places. I liked the observation that in India, the poor own no land, but they CAN own cattle. The cattle supply manure and milk and and a source of meat when it dies. But here is the great bit; the poor and landless let their cattle roam wild and because they are revered, those wealthy individuals whose lands the cattle invade to graze, do not and from a cultural perpsective, cannot, move the cattle on! So in this way, even the poor and landless are not impoverished the way they would otherwise be if forced in to vegetarianism. Their cattle can graze freely.

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19220 · May 10, 2011 at 4:51 PM

It is an excellent book.

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75 · May 29, 2011 at 5:51 AM

you need to head for Google Scholar. A lot of those articles aren't accessible without paying but many are free. the vegetarian myth is great but it is certainly not peer reviewed and it has a very clear and biased agenda. if you want scientific arguments you need scientific papers from respected journals.

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2246 · May 15, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Meat = Delicious

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9948 · May 14, 2011 at 11:45 PM

Linda McCartney?

First wife of Paul McCartney, Beatle, long time vegan/vegetarian died at age 56 in 1998 from breast cancer and liver cancer. Founded a vegetarian food company that is still in business after being sold twice. Both McCartneys were/are outspoken advocates of vegetarianism and a campaigner for animal rights.

I remember people lamenting she was doing everything right, juicing fresh organic veggies, eating right, and never eating any animal products.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_McCartney#Vegetarianism.2C_activism_and_lifestyle

Now to be fair, can anyone point to any famous paleo meat eater advocate that have met an early demise from cancer or other disease. Or have us paleo folks just not been around that long? Is it going to take another 20 years for paleo to become mainstream?

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1048 · May 13, 2011 at 8:29 PM

The Honey Badger. nuff said

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227 · May 15, 2011 at 4:21 AM

"the honey badger is so badass...look at him eat that cobra...what a badass"

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78417 · September 27, 2012 at 5:21 PM

In a word? Bacon.

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0 · September 27, 2012 at 4:08 PM

So when are 'The best arguments against vegetarianism' going to be posted?

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1639 · May 29, 2011 at 6:23 AM

You can't eat bacon.

But my favorite thing to do? Hand them "the vegetarian myth" by Lierre Keith to read.

A vegetarian being told by me, the bacon eater, to get off their high horse? Ignored. It's harder to ignore a woman who destroyed her health and everything she held dear following a vegetarian and for a while, a vegan diet. Besides, the stuff she's talking about is backed up with facts, personal experimentation, and a lot of research. Stuff I didn't even understand went through a person's mind, so it's nice to have a different perspective on why people are vegetarian or vegan.

Though really, everyone should read that book. Scary stuff about soybeans and other things vegetarians and people on SAD eat. I don't think you could pay me money to eat soybeans after reading all the bad stuff about it.

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11099 · May 29, 2011 at 3:26 AM

Weston A. Price's Nutrition and Physical Degeneration Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth

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340 · May 15, 2011 at 12:23 AM

Think of all the species that would be extinct (much less numerous, anyway) if we didn't eat them.

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1536 · May 14, 2011 at 10:56 PM

Acne. Osteoporosis. Alec Baldwin. Monsanto, DuPont, the World Bank - you couldn't pragmatically have worldwide vegetarianism without genetically modified foods, commercial Big Farms, forest depletion, pesticides, killing of "pests," and forcing subsistence farmers in 3rd World countries to grow commercial crops.

Having a flatter stomach, bigger muscles and more energy than your vegetarian friends and embracing the glory of your animal nature when they give the stinkeye to your meal when you go out for dinner.

As far as scientific arguments go, have your friends check out studies on the Inuit, Masai warriors and the declining health of Native Americans like the Lakota who were once hunter/gatherers and now subsisting on a mostly vegetarian (commodity) diet.

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4283 · May 13, 2011 at 11:49 PM

Most domesticated animals exist as it is my intention to eat them. Thats not cruelty thats symbosis.

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4283 · May 13, 2011 at 11:40 PM

Most domesticated animals exist as it is my intention to eat them. Thats not cruelty thats symbosis.

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863 · May 13, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Ummm, you don't get to eat meat?

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15385 · May 12, 2011 at 1:11 PM

Steve Jobs?

Not to bust on the guy (who I respect, despite him being a bit of a despot, and even if I didn't like him, I wouldn't pick on his illness), but he has been "seriously vegetarian/vegan" his entire life (at one point he was a "fruititarian" and his coworkers begged him to eat a slice of bread). The poor guy got pancreatic cancer.

This is actually predicted by those skeptical of the vegetarian diet, which they believe causes overproduction of insulin and puts too much of a strain on the pancreas.

There was also a study in India that found that cardiovascular disease was 2x as prevalent in the regions that were vegetarian. They are guessing that the cause is low vitamin B intake due to poor diet. For example:

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-05-02/health/29391798_1_omega-3-vegans-fatty-acids

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78417 · May 13, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Here's a funny (sort of) Steve Jobs story for you. Jobs lives in the same town as I do, Palo Alto, which is relatively small. I used to see him from time to time at the Whole Foods on Homer Street. One day there was a woman stalking him there and getting on his nerves. I don't know if he knew here or if she was some random nutjob. Jobs starts yelling out, "Security, Security!" And, of course, there are never security guards at Whole Foods, at least noth here.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 11:01 PM
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3631 · May 12, 2011 at 5:42 PM

I'd like to add that I was a vegetarian for 20 years until about 3 months ago. The WAPF arguments were definitely a sway factor for me. I agree with Aaron B, about there being a large emotional component; I don't think science alone will often immediately affect a change. The person has to be ready to hear it. And for so many, including me, veg*nism is tied to identity, and that's a tough nut to crack! For me it was some ostensible 'science' that led me away from meat to begin with (vs. animal fetishism; don't bank on the PETA-types coming around), so seeing those initial tenets falsified...

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3631 · May 12, 2011 at 5:32 PM

I'd like to add that I was a vegetarian for 20 years until about 3 months ago. The WAPF arguments were definitely a sway factor for me. I agree with Aaron B, about there being a large emotional component; I don't think science alone will often immediately affect a change. The person has to be ready to hear it. And for so many, including me, veg*nism is tied to identity, and that's a tough nut to crack! For me it was some ostensible 'science' that led me away from meat to begin with (vs. animal fetishism; don't bank on the PETA-types coming around), so seeing that the those tenets falsified..

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25467 · May 09, 2011 at 2:56 PM

You'll die earlier gets their attn most.

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10502 · May 15, 2011 at 1:02 AM

@wwiniwin @DrK @ThomasSeay -- everyone take it down a notch in terms of acrimony. As in, no acrimony or snark. And don't start pointing fingers at one another. Thanks in advance.

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78417 · May 11, 2011 at 11:38 PM

Just to be clear, I don't expect anybody to do work for me. We come here to share information. When I have something to share, I do so. I had hoped that Dr. K would point me to some studies. That's the only reason I asked. I don't know why offense was taken at my request. After all, I wasn't ordering anybody to do anything. It was a simple request.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 8:34 PM

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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25467 · May 11, 2011 at 2:17 PM

Again I won't allow you to characterize me with your perception. It is your perception and not mine and I won't allow it to stand. You're perfectly allowed to have your opinion and I imperfectly allowed to disagree with you. Anyone can look up anything they choose. I am not a researcher for you or anyone else. If you read something that intrigues you or strikes you wrong you can look it up and confirm it for yourself. It's pretty easy to do these days.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 4:39 AM

Just to put my remarks to Dr. K in context, I'd like to mention that there was a comment in which Dr. K told Thomas that he "wasn't going to do his work for him" It has since been deleted. That was the one that really got my goat, given the nature of Thomas's OP.

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3631 · May 11, 2011 at 3:29 AM

I would surely not assume that my perception of my reality would reflect on your perception of reality, whatever that means. Snarky may have not been the optimal word, perhaps flippant is better. Your perception of reality seems to allow room for you to be flippant, as well as dismissive, and even condescending - attitudes which are perceived in many realities as arrogance. And we all know that arrogance is a house of cards.

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25467 · May 11, 2011 at 1:28 AM

you dont have to read it. And last I checked its called a hack site. IF you have something good bad or indifferent to add it counts. And if you find me snarky I think that is your perception of your reality and does not reflect on my perception of reality. I also dont think you should try to usurp anyone else's perception either as you so implied. They have a voting say on this site and if they dont like the hack they vote appropriately. I think that is a very good system. We can please everyone all the time. We do what we think is correct for the situation. Not every response needs RCT

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3631 · May 10, 2011 at 8:30 PM

@ Dr. K - Then why did you even respond to this question?!? Thomas's question is clear. He's asking for evidence. Frankly, I'm getting pretty tired of your thoughtless, snarky answers to *every single* question around here. I can't be the only one. I think you may have made some positive and useful contributions to this forum, but your signal-to-noise ratio is worse than a SAD O3/6. Don't you have some surgery to do or something?

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19220 · May 10, 2011 at 4:24 PM

There is no GM wheat.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb
19220 · May 10, 2011 at 4:03 PM

There is no GM wheat.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · May 10, 2011 at 12:37 AM

and Thomas dont ask me to do your work......if youre in the dark its not my fault.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · May 10, 2011 at 12:36 AM

Thomas.....plenty. Start reading them. Valkyrie.....not true. That is what they like to blame it on but their worst health metrics are in strict vegetarian sectors. Their rates of celiac and chrohns's have grown exponetially over the last thirty yrs as their wheat has become GM.

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531 · May 09, 2011 at 6:15 PM

Dr. K - that's because Indians are not on a healthy veg diet anymore - but a SAD one. SOOOOO much refined sugar, Mc Donald's now, etc. We'll see what it does to my family.

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78417 · May 09, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Dr. K. Any studies to back that up?

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · May 09, 2011 at 4:04 PM

It's not all about genetics.....its about what we do with our genetics

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · May 09, 2011 at 4:04 PM

I understand.....but the data is pretty clear for longterm veggies....India is dealing with massive diabetes and autoimmune issues now and is overwhelming their system. Personally I love vegetarians......they make it easier for me to be paleo due to lessened competition for the correct resources

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531 · May 09, 2011 at 3:52 PM

I'm not saying you're wrong - I'm just saying I would have ignored that response when I was vegetarian, and having a family that didn't have cancer, serious disease, etc would have justified my thinking.

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3756 · May 09, 2011 at 3:41 PM

I agree with hcantrall. My g-pa was almost 90 when he died, and he smoked since he was 12. All about the genetics.

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4181 · May 09, 2011 at 3:29 PM

I bet good genes play a bigger part in that than anything else. My husbands great grandmother ate bacon and eggs every day for 100 years before she died.

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531 · May 09, 2011 at 3:15 PM

If people told me that when I was veg, I certainly would have dismissed it as the vegetarian side of my family has lived into their 90's.

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1065 · May 09, 2011 at 2:39 PM

It certain parts, useful crop cultivation is limited. In those situations it is less food efficient overall than including pastured meats.

All the studies I've seen indicate that vegetarians are healthier than other groups on average, and have the lowest chance of mortality (eg. meta study puts it at ~0.86, 0.87 for other omnivores, 1.0 for vegans and high meat groups - none of the differences are all that impressive though).

Your going to have trouble finding studies proving vegetarianism is good, as it usually leads to better health outcomes than the normal diet, and lacks the deficiencies required by vegans.

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