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International Vegetarian News

Rajbir Grewal
Food heresy and the Spinach Inquisition

By RAJBIR GREWAL
Globe and Mail Update

Omnivores treat vegetarians with enmity because vegetarians refuse to consume. Unlike low-carb diet fanatics or broccoli-haters, vegetarians are not seen as simply having an ordinary diet preference.

Vegetarianism is viewed as a threat, a challenge that omnivores feel at the very moment of eating, a moment that is sacred since it is the inner sanctum of our consumer society.

The reason for the centrality of eating in our culture is that it is the original and essential form of consumption, and therefore, it is the foundational human trait from which our entire consumer society emanates.

In fact, most of our culture's excess energy goes to excess consumption rather than the outlets of the past, such as religious devotion. Consumerism defines the character of our culture, and all consumption, as the word itself suggests, is based on the basic principles of hunger and satisfaction that manifest themselves, first and foremost, in the act of eating.

In choosing to substantially restrict their diet to what is necessary for life and to exclude what many would say is the most pleasurable part of it, vegetarians reject the central tenet of consumerism: excess consumption.

Thus, in relation to consumerism, the vegetarian is a heretic. The inquisition of this heresy - call it the Spinach Inquisition - proceeds at dinner tables across the Western world, where the lone vegetarian sits staring at tofu before a panel of steak-chomping adjudicators.

The Inquisition always proceeds along a predictable path. The inquisitor's first question is one of motive, where the vegetarian has only four possible responses (religious, moral, health, fashion), none of which satisfies the inquisitor, who positions himself as the reasonable party, armed as he is with the wisdom of conformity, in whose eyes all four reasons are fatally irrational.

Next comes a more direct jab at the intelligence of the vegetarian, often employed when the vegetarian's motive is the seemingly rational motive of health: "Where do you get your protein from?"

The question would not be asked unless the inquisitor believed that protein is scarce outside of meat. Protein is, of course, plentiful outside of meat and the list of non-meat protein sources, which every vegetarian is advised to memorize, is a good return blow.

Next comes an argument based on the pleasures of eating meat that suggests that the vegetarian is needlessly denying himself, is unnecessarily ascetic and has an attitude that, taken to its logical conclusion, could result in a kind of pleasure-hating Talibanism (perhaps vegetarians should be invaded by America!). When vegetarianism cannot be ignored - at Thanksgiving dinner, for example, it is ignored wherever possible.

Vegetarianism is never discussed as a solution to grave public-health problems, which it could solve. Modern plagues such as SARS, mad cow, foot-in-mouth, E. coli and avian flu have their origins in meat culture. However, the obvious solution of ending or reducing meat consumption is never proposed. If it were, the proponent would likely be sued by some meat-industry association, as was Oprah Winfrey (who, admittedly, is not a vegetarian but her case is illustrative) when she dissed beef on television. Moving beyond some dinner table unpleasantness, the Oprah incident demonstrates the consequences of vegetarianism and other consumption-limiting choices: They seriously piss people off.

The vegetarian's choice implies that she or he has rejected the foundational principle of our culture (almost as bad as a Communist in that regard), rejecting an industry worth billions and turning her or his back on the millions employed by it.

In the final analysis, it seems that many perceive vegetarianism as an act of resistance, although usually not intended as such by vegetarians themselves, directed against the hegemony of consumerism, and hence against "our way of life." This conception of vegetarianism was likely formed, in part, by the fact that vegetarianism was first brought to the West by its archetypical "others," immigrants from the East who practised religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.

The idea of vegetarianism as a foreign element or virus that threatens to disrupt the "ancient Western code" (to borrow a line from Leonard Cohen) is vividly illustrated by its appropriation by the 1960s counterculture.

Vegetarianism has never been seen as just another dietary choice, it has threatened the order of things and non-vegetarians have reacted to it accordingly.

Ironically, the role of vegetarianism as resistance has taken a new turn at the granddaddy of all consumer/meat-industry icons, McDonald's, where the veggie burger is served alongside the Big Mac. If the McVeggie succeeds, that success will signal the assimilation of vegetarianism, accompanied by a general acceptance of vegetarianism in our consumer culture, happily leading to the end of the "Spinach Inquisition" and the beginning of true pluralism in eating.

Rajbir Grewal is a Vancouver lawyer who hasn't eaten meat since 1990.

Baywatch beauty backs 'Mighty Mo'

National Nine News
21:39 AEST Fri Aug 13 2004

AFP - "Baywatch" actress Pamela Anderson will bring her sculptured looks to the land of goddesses, cheering on American gymnast Mohini Bhardwaj at the Athens Olympics.

Anderson's $US20,000 ($A28,000) support helped 25-year-old "Mighty Mo" achieve her Olympic dream at an age when most of the pixie-like tumblers are retired and Bhardwaj is now captain of the reigning world champion United States team.

"Pam is my mentor. She has funded the whole thing. I'm excited to have her here," Bhardwaj said. "She's just a person who has goals and dreams and wants to do things for other people."

Anderson, a 37-year-old busty blonde pin-up girl whose website describes her racy new book as "The A-list meets the D-cup", backed Bhardwaj's dream after bonding with the fellow vegetarian over tattoos and hopes.

"It was exciting," Bhardwaj said. "I didn't believe it at first. When I heard about it I said, 'I'll believe it when I see it.' Then she came into the gym and said she supports someone sticking to her career."

Anderson, a popular Playboy cover girl who lends voice and inspiration to the cartoon superhero "Striperella", touts her new novel "Star" on her website as a "salacious little book", "page-turning erotica", "toe-curling" and "white-hot sexy".

"I want people really to enjoy themselves with this book - and each other," Anderson wrote, declaring heroine Starr Wood Leigh's name would be her "porn star" name - taken from names of her first pet and first street address.

"We're both women who go for our goals and dreams," said Bhardwaj. "We're both a little crazy. Mine is a lot more settled down. I can't speak about her 'crazy' - and I don't know if I want to (see it)".

But she admits her life has become hectic since Anderson walked into it.

"Everything has been kind of crazy since she decided to fund this whole thing," Bhardwaj said. "It comes with her, the hoopla."

Asked if she would be here without Anderson's aid, the daughter of a Russian mother and a father from India said, "Probably, but I would be in very, very bad debt."

Bhardwaj has worked as a barmaid and waitress to finance her Olympic quest after failing in the 1996 trials and not even trying in 2000. She qualified for the 1997 and 2001 world teams but retired briefly in 2002 after a dislocated elbow.

That cost her the chance to seek money from US Olympic or gymnastics officials. Unlike her younger teammates, she had rent, bills and car payments to make. Her vegetarian diet also requires special supplies.

Her dedication has earned the respect of her teammates, who voted her captain.


"I feel honoured to be captain of such an amazing team," she said. "I'm honoured these women feel I have the experience to lead them."

 

Vegetarian Diet Not Daunting to Adopt

Pak-Tribune

Thursday August 05, 2004 (0300 PST)

ISLAMABAD, August 06 (Online): Contrary to popular belief, it's easy for people to switch from a regular diet to a vegetarian diet that's good for the heart.

So says a study in the summer issue of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation.

"For people battling overweight and heart disease, a vegetarian diet can be a lifesaving prescription," study author Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

"This new study shows that patients transition smoothly to a plant-based diet that allows them to eat to satiety and yet still lose weight. Patients are willing to make major changes in their eating patterns because they get major results such as lower cholesterol and reduced hypertension," Barnard said.

The study included well-educated, postmenopausal, overweight women who were divided into two groups. One group ate a low-fat vegetarian diet while the other group ate a controlled diet.

The women who ate the vegetarian diet lost much more weight than women in the other group. The study also found that 89 percent of the women on the vegetarian diet said they felt mostly or completely used to the diet after 14 weeks, and 86 percent said they could adhere to the vegetarian diet at least most of the time in the future.

A study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that a vegetarian diet emphasizing almonds, soy, and other healthful foods was essentially as effective at lowering cholesterol as a statin drug

Books that can provide some backup for vegetarian diets

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Aug 25, 2004

Making the transition from carnivore to vegetarian is a trend that's picking up momentum and shows no signs of slowing down. As more adolescents choose the vegetarian path, more parents face new mealtime challenges. Here are some books that might help:

"OK, So Now You're a Vegetarian: Advice & 100 Recipes from One Vegetarian to Another" (Broadway Books, 2000, $12.95) was the first cookbook written by a teenage vegetarian for teenage vegetarians. In it author Lauren Butts includes recipes for meat-free alternatives to foods that teenagers crave. Tacos, wraps, lasagna, smoothies, stir-fries, omelets and - naturally - burgers are among the repertoire.

"As You Like It Cookbook: Imaginative Gourmet Dishes With Exciting Vegetarian Options" (SquareOne, 2001, $16.95) is by Ron Pickarski, a vegetarian certified executive chef. He created 200-plus recipes to bridge the gap between vegetarians and nonvegetarians with easy substitutions and variations for both.

"Help! My Child Stopped Eating Meat! An A-Z Guide to Surviving a Conflict in Diets" (Continuum, $16.95) by Carol Adams includes explanations and advice about handling family and emotional issues as well as nutrition information and recipes. The Vegetarian Food Guide for 9-to 18-year olds is one particularly helpful part of the nutrition section.

"The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet" (Broadway, $15.95) by Nava Atlas is the latest of her eight vegetarian cookbooks, including "The Vegetarian Family Cookbook." The 250 recipes range from simple - Chili Dogs and Sloppy Joes - to sophisticated - Gnocchi with Fresh Greens and Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese. - Louis Mahoney

 

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