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We'll have to get used to this idea

The first time I met vegetarians I assumed they were risking their lives in some cockamamie cult. The first vegetarian I got to know well was Anna Thomas, author of the classic cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure. Her husband Greg Nava had been out collecting wild mushrooms for our dinner.

"Wild mushrooms! We'll all die! You eat yours first!"

"Fear not," he advised me, drawing himself up to his imposing shaggy-haired six-feet-plus height. "I am a member of the Los Angeles Mycological Society. I know what I'm doing. Have you never heard the saying, There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters?"

"No" I said unhappily, "but it has the ring of truth. You are still bold and young."

"Roger, Roger, Roger," he said. It was a phrase that became frequent in our friendship. It was a shorthand reference to my ignorance about the many subjects on which he was the world's leading authority. I recalled the three full hours at his house one afternoon in which he hectored me on how no true writer could ever create using anything but a yellow legal pad and a Ticonderoga pencil. His diatribe was interrupted by the delivery of the new Macintosh he had ordered.

"You're cute when you blush," I told him.

Anna called her guests to the table. We began with a green mixed salad, embellished by walnuts and grapes. A freshly-baked loaf of steaming whole wheat bread was centered on the table, and she ladled wild mushroom soup into our bowls. As the main course there was pasta with garlic. Dessert was fresh fruit salad. The beverage was red wine, certified vegetarian. I was satisfied. I could easily consume such a meal at least once a year.

I supply this introduction so you will recognize me as one of you. I do not seek truffles using wild boars (Greg does, I believe, in his capacity as a member of the North American Truffling Society). Yet for the last six years I have been 100% vegetarian by default, because illness has forced me into an exclusively liquid diet, fed to me out of cans. And for most of the previous 10 years, I was "mostly vegetarian," which means "except for when I ate meat."

For whole weeks and even months I would be vegetarian, and then fate might take me to Joe's Stone Crab and Steak House and it was off to the races. My purpose in eating "mostly vegetarian" was to lose weight, lower blood sugar and sodium, and take in more vitamins and fiber. It worked.

It also had a lot to do with cooking, which I love to do. I will not bore you about my book The Pot and How to Use It, except to remind you that it was a semi-bestseller explaining how you can begin with a $39.95 rice cooker and prepare three delicious, healthy and low-cost meals a day. Much of the planet lives on rice, grain and pasta, sometimes with small amounts of meat or seafood mixed in. I loved going to the store or Farmers' Market, filling a basket with fresh produce, and improvising our dinner. I also became expert in bread baking.

All of that is by way of introduction. Now I quote for you from an article by John Vidal in the Guardian:

"Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world's population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.
"Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050...
"There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations," the report by Malik Falkenmark and colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) said.
"There will be just enough water if the proportion of animal-based foods is limited to 5% of total calories and considerable regional water deficits can be met by a ... reliable system of food trade."

So there you have it. This will not be a matter of choice. We will have it forced upon us. It will be particularly onerous for the carnivore societies of North America and Europe, and don't get me started on the restaurants of South America where they carve slices from loins, legs, breasts and thighs directly onto your plate. When you walk between tables you have to hang onto the chairs, because the floor is covered by fat drippings.

When the article says humans derive 20% of our protein from animal-based products, that points directly at the source of the other 80%. There is protein in all sorts of foods--even lettuce. Whole societies have survived for centuries on completely vegetarian diets. The notion that we must have meat to live is a lie.

To be sure, I was never completely free of animal-based products, until the last six years. I used milk, cheese, eggs...but to my surprise, in creating the Perfect Breakfast*, I found that skimmed Silk brand soy milk was delicious.

* Put organic oatmeal and water in rice cooker, add one, two or three fruits, set it to cooking.

The fact is, the animals we eat are eating way more than their share of veggies. The water needed to grow their feed is out of proportion to the calories they produce. If the superpowers carve up the globe in wars over oil, imagine what will happen when they fight over food. Many nations such as India and China are already skilled in the prudent use of grain-based diets. If either of those nations ate anything like the per capita American consumption of meat, there would already be a crisis.

Let me make this clear. I am not advocating a vegetarian diet for ethical or health reasons, although those are relevant. I'm simply saying that the day is coming in the lifetimes of many now alive when it will be unavoidable. And the more converts to Quarter-Pounders that McDonald's makes around the world, the sooner the chicken, so to speak, will come home to roost.

  Go here to read the Guardian article.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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