Health aspects of vegetarianism or veganism and therefore a more healthy and more compassionate society, were the theme of the second Asian Buddhist animal rights conference held in Colombo yesterday, co-hosted by the Sri Lanka branch of the California based Dharma Voices for Animals (DVA) and the Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Foundation.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, himself a total vegetarian as is his immediate family, was the chief guest, but he expressed concern that meat eating in Sri Lanka was on the increase though many western countries were turning to vegetarianism. The co-hosting movements also appeal to the government to expedite the Animal Welfare Bill which was drawn up years ago but is now probably being eaten by moths.
At the well attended conference, the main speaker was one of Sri Lanka’s most highly qualified and people friendly nutritionist Dr. Damayanthi Perera who spoke on the topic of “Perils of Meat and Milk and the Power of Plant Foods”. According to the nutritionist, for many decades western medical and nutrition authorities have been promoting foods of animal origin such as meat and milk as healthy food. But now many informed western consumers are turning to vegetarianism.
The nutritionist says the modern, western food and agriculture system is killing or maiming the global consumers and polluting the environment. Therefore the people need to have a deeper insight into the complex, interconnected issues between food, nutrition, agriculture, environment, food related economic policies and premature death.
We have been told that animal origin foods are superior to foods of plant origin. However, the latest scientific research and epidemiological data tell another story. Conventional nutrition doctrines have changed inside-out and upside-down.
Dr. Perera says if we are ready to give up meat, it could be not only a game changer but also a life saver.Vegetarianism and veganism are part of a growing revolution. Most western consumers have belatedly realised they have been hoodwinked by the food industry, policy makers and the professional associations. Millions of western consumers are therefore turning to vegetarian or vegan diets and are seeking organic food.
According to Dr. Perera, food, nutrition, agriculture and food based economic policies are inter-connected subjects and have a strong bearing on public health, life expectancy, healthy aging and the environment - in essence the entire eco-system. Every citizen has a fundamental right to receive the correct information about food, agriculture, free trade and health and also a voice in national policy planning.
The reputed nutritionist says there is an epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally and locally. There is a major increase in cancer across all age groups. Aetiology of cancer is multi-factorial and the diet and environment play a major role. It has been known for some time that there is a link between cancer and processed meat, barbecued meat and red meat. Shockingly, scientific research shows that a certain type of fresh, white meat, widely promoted as a healthy and a nutritious food by medical and nutrition authorities and professionals, is also associated with some types of deadly cancers.
Dr. Perera appeals to the people to be informed consumers. All is not doom and gloom. On the bright side, people can learn about the health benefits of plant foods and phyto-chemicals. Available data demonstrate that the western food, nutrition and agriculture models have failed to serve humanity and the world needs a ‘Paradigm Change’. It is time to formulate eco-friendly people and nature friendly, truly sustainable, truly national food, nutrition and agriculture policies.
According to her, truth is a powerful policy tool. Truth is a highly effective, economical and ethical policy tool.However, the truth about harmful meat and meat products, milk and milk products, ultra-processed food products, GM food -- for instance GM salmon and fish berries -- agro-chemicals, unnecessary and unhealthy medicinal drugs are suppressed or distorted due to vested interests. In a market based economy, knowledge is the key to survival.