Sunday, April 29, 2012

Published in the Sun April 28, 2012
Vegan:  A strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products

Gary Ranck is probably the last person in the world you would guess is a vegan.  At 70, the ex-marine still works full time as a security guard.  Don’t sneak into his apartment unannounced because he keeps nine handguns in his bedroom closet.  His favorite gun for target practice is a .45 caliber model 1911 automatic pistol.  Gary doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about animal rights or the environmental impact of industrial farming.  But he does listen to his doctors.  Eight years ago when an agonizing blood clot cut off the circulation to his left leg, his doctor told him he had to quit smoking.  Gary threw his last pack of cigarettes in the trash that same day and never smoked again.

When Dr. Allen Mauldin in Leander told Gary that his cholesterol was too high and suggested that he follow a diet free of all meat, eggs, and dairy products, Gary’s first impression was “Yeah, right.”  But Dr. Mauldin himself is a vegan, so Gary reluctantly agreed to try the diet for 90 days.  He was surprised to find that it wasn’t too difficult.  For breakfast he would nuke a frozen Amy’s Tofu Scramble.  He discovered that he genuinely liked grilled Portobello mushrooms on sprouted grain bread.    Before he became a vegan he didn’t even know what lentils were; now he makes his own Lentil Loaf instead of meatloaf.  He is happy to note that the diet allows him to wash down the lentil loaf with a beer.

After his 90 day trial period, Gary’s cholesterol was normal and Dr. Mauldin let him quit taking his cholesterol medication.  Since Gary hates to spend money on medicine, he decided to stick with the plan.  He has followed the diet very carefully for over two years now, only cheating with a bit of turkey at Christmas and Thanksgiving.  He is 27 pounds slimmer and his LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) is down to an absolutely perfect 53.  He doesn’t even miss meat, except when he sees a Burger King commercial on TV.  Then the longing for a double cheeseburger briefly reappears; a conditioned response that says more about the effectiveness of advertising than it does about the qualities of ground beef.

Thinking about the qualities of ground beef brings me to the topic of “pink slime,” otherwise known as lean, finely textured beef (LFTB).  After slaughtering a cow, the tiny scraps of meat left over are processed to separate the lean bits from the fat.  The resulting meat paste is treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill bacteria.  Since the process was developed in 2001, “pink slime” has been added to ground beef at fast food restaurants and school lunch programs to make the meat go further.  This process recovers about 13 extra pounds of meat from each cow.  Iowa governor Terry Branstad said that, in order to keep eating the same number of hamburgers, we will have to slaughter an extra 1.5 million cows a year to make up for the lack of LFTB (over the 35 million head of cattle currently slaughtered annually.)  That sounds like seriously bad news for the cow population.

There is, however, another way to make up for the “loss” of pink slime.  We could eat fewer hamburgers.  Meatless Mondays would benefit both our waistlines and our arteries, as well as granting an eleventh hour pardon for those 1.5 million cattle.

Gary Ranck skips meat to save money on cholesterol medication, which is a perfectly good reason all by itself.  But even if your cholesterol is normal, environmental impact is another huge reason to decrease the amount of meat in your diet.  A United Nations report in 2006 titled Livestock’s Long Shadow concluded that the complete process of feeding and distributing livestock accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a larger percentage than the entire global transportation sector.

As a retired physician, I must add one small caution.  It is possible to go vegetarian and still have a very unhealthy diet – think chips and soda pop.  Meat should be replaced with actual fruits and vegetables.  And some people who completely avoid all animal products risk becoming deficient in vitamin B12, so a small supplement would be in order.  If you are interested in vegetarianism, a little research will help you get it right.  And of course nobody should stop cholesterol medication without consulting his or her physician.



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