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Vegeterian Christmas Is a Gift for the Planet : Evidence grows that deforestation caused by increased livestock raising is causing global environmental damage.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I don’t want to be counted among such creatures as the Grinch That Stole Christmas, but it does seem appropriate to say something about one daring way to celebrate Christmas by making a feast that is better than usual for your personal health--and good for the planet’s health as well.

In her recent book of mouthwatering recipes and photographs titled “Vegetarian Christmas,” Rose Elliot, a leading expert on the subject, says: “Even people who do not do a great deal of cooking during the rest of the year find themselves doing so at Christmas and need good reliable recipes. This is especially true if they find themselves having to cook for one or more of the increasing number of vegetarians.”

A Thousand Oaks-based group, the California Vegetarian Assn., provided me with an explanation of why we should consider experimenting with this approach. Ric LeQuire, the group’s co-president, said, “It’s as simple as ABC: our health, the animal’s health and the environment’s health.”

Writing in the December issue of the group’s newsletter, Cindy Van Dyken, the association’s secretary, points out that there’s even a religious connection, citing what might be the first vegetarian recipe, in the Book of Genesis. She quotes this passage: “Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed, which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

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In the Elliot book, my favorite recipe involves a cashew-based vegetarian loaf, which substitutes nicely for the traditional roast or fowl.

The very earliest Christians, at least the Essene sect, embraced a no-meat diet. Many Eastern and, lately, New Age philosophies promote this as a part of their holistic vision of a stable universe and a sustainable system of productivity that breaks the world’s ties to pollution, famine and strife.

If these philosophical notions don’t move you, there is always the realm of science to be reckoned with. The Consumers Union recently cast its level gaze on the environmental impact of things like our Christmas roast. Consumer Reports, the union’s widely circulated magazine, states: “By eating so much beef, we’re using a lot of natural resources: grain, the land the grain grows on, and water. Cattle are high on the food chain, the living pyramid of plants and animals that feed on those below for energy and the raw materials of growth.” The report then detailed how much grass and grain--with the attendant loss of topsoil and recharge to our aquifers--it takes to make a pound of beef, pork and even poultry. This would be lessened if we just ate the corn, soybean and sorghum products ourselves.

The 9.5 million cows being fed and watered in America daily tax our planet harshly.

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Half the developed water in California is used to support meat-related industries. And in Central America, where two-thirds of the rain forest has been cleared over the last 30 years, one out of three acres of that new tree-free land is used for beef cattle. It’s a little out of place in a holiday column to go into the matter of the toxics that would no longer be produced if we didn’t harbor so many cows, pigs and chickens. See Consumer Reports for those details.

Personal health factors were addressed recently in Vegeta-Bulletin, a newsletter produced locally by a Seventh-day Adventist group. The December Vegeta, in an article titled “Foods You Should Never Eat,” goes after several popular holiday foods by brand name. Citing as its source the Washington, D.C.-based Nutrition Action Health Letter, Vegeta-Bulletin said every cup of Haagen-Dasz ice cream contains the same amount of animal fat as a quarter cup of lard. When set against an environmental backdrop, this figure takes on larger proportion: In California, for example, it takes 100 gallons of fresh water to produce a mere quarter of a pound of edible beef, a source of fat.

I also know that I have developed a taste for fat-free recipes such as those available in the newer vegetarian cookbooks, so my conscience doesn’t bother me at all recommending them to folks at this time of year, when we especially need them.

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* FYI: For tips on vegetarian cuisine call 378-5098, the hot line of the California Vegetarian Assn. For cooking classes or a copy of Vegeta-Bulletin, a Ventura County Vegetarian Newsletter published under the auspices of the Ventura Seventh-day Adventist Church, call 642-5387.

* NOTE: “A Vegetarian Christmas,” by Rose Elliot, is a mouthwatering and lavishly illustrated book published by HarperCollins ($25).


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