Science lesson by Max Millard
Written for New College of California, fall 2006

I have not eaten meat, chicken or any other animal flesh except fish and seafood for the past 14 years. In this lesson, I would like to teach the class the wisdom and virtue of vegetarianism.

Today in India, more than 400 million people are vegetarians by choice. There are three main reasons why people become vegetarians:

(1) It's healthy.

(2) It's humane because you don't need to kill animals.

(3) It shortens the food chain and leaves more food for the rest of the world.

To explain these points in detail:

(1) Health. Cholesterol, which constricts the blood vessels and can lead to heart attack in later life, is found only in animal protein. A lot of poultry and meat is pumped with chemicals so that it will look nicer in the display counter. But you can get perfectly good, balanced protein from vegetable matter by combining whole grains with legumes. Grains include whole wheat, brown rice and cornmeal. Legumes include beans, peas, tofu and peanuts. Some healthy combinations are a peanut butter sandwich, beans and rice, and hot soy milk with whole wheat bagels.

(2) Humaneness toward animals. Once when I told someone that I was a vegetarian, he asked me if I'd noticed any changes. I asked what he meant and he said, "Have you seen any more animals around?" He was joking, but unfortunately, we don't see animals and what happens to them when they are made into meat. Every day in the United States, more than 20 million cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, calves are killed, and most of them have lived tortured lives. They've been brought up with just one consideration -- how to make the most profit possible. A high percentage of chickens are pecked to death in their crowded cages. Milk-fed veal is produced by taking the calf away from its mother immediately after birth and keeping it in a little cramped stall by itself, without any straw on the floor so the calf won't eat it and color its flesh.

(3) Food chain. Vegetarians shorten the food chain and leave more food for the rest of the world. You can get 10 pounds of vegetables from the same amount of land that will produce one pound of meat. McDonald's destroys thousands of acres of rain forest each year to make cattle farms, at a great loss of natural resources. According to the SF Environment Education Program, about half of all our water in the nation goes to raising livestock, mostly cattle. The amount of water needed to raise one pound of beef is 2,500 gallons. Compare that to the 125 pounds of water needed to grow a pound of wheat.

Just as when people came out of the caves and formed a civilization, they stopped eating each other, we should stop eating our fellow creatures too.

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For the lesson, I would bring in some vegetarian food items for the class to sample. The class would learn such information as the origin and history of the food, the cost, the preparation, and the nutritional benefits.

Supplies: whole wheat bread, white bread, pure peanut butter, commercial peanut butter, brown rice, white rice, juice squeezer and fresh oranges, commercial orange juice made from concentrate, and some other food products, including junk food and health food. Also: information sheet about the food, small paper plates and recyclable plastic utensils, recyclable plastic cups, microwave oven.

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Procedure: Talk about why people become vegetarians and why it is humane and environmentally responsible.

Distribute a sheet that lists the ingredients on the white bread, the whole wheat bread and the junk food items. Ask all the students to wash their hands. Then direct some students to heat and serve some of the food items. Let them rate how much they like everything, on a scale of 1 to 4. Show them how to use the juice squeezer. Put the fresh-squeezed orange juice and the frozen orange juice in separate cups that are identified on the bottom. Let the students compare which they like better and record the results.

Ask the students to talk about some of their favorite foods that are not vegetarian. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of eating these items, and some possible substitutes. Tap the students' own feelings as much as possible. Come up with some recommendations about how, if they wanted, they could shift their eating habits more toward a vegetarian lifestyle. The teacher should be careful not to preach, but only to provide the students with the information so that they can decide for themselves whether they want to change.

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Scientific question: Which items are the most healthy? How can you tell by reading the ingredients? Make a list of unfamiliar ingredients, including chemicals, additives, preservatives and sweeteners, until you have one ingredient for each student to research later. Plan to have another lesson to share the information, which the students can get from the Internet or the library. For example, commercial peanut butter contains many ingredients, while natural peanut butter has only peanuts and salt. Why is this?

Scientific method: By letting the students taste vegetarian items that are very common, they can try them later and repeat the experiment. The taste buds behave differently from scientific equipment because there is such a thing as an "acquired taste," which means that people sometimes must taste an item many times before they start to like it. It would be worthwhile to make a chart of certain items that students do not like the first time, and to see if they give them a different rating another time. Of course, the teacher should not force anyone to eat what they don't want to. But probably most students would be willing to cooperate.

Learning cycle: For invitation, the teacher can invite the students to look at the food items before tasting them, and make a prediction about which things are healthy and which are not. The teacher can prepare a written explanation about each item -- for example, the history of how brown rice became polished white rice, why it is so popular, and why it is much less healthy than brown rice.

Exploration: They can take turns tasting the items, giving their ratings, and telling how they think these particular items are healthy or unhealthy, and whether the production of these items is helpful or harmful to the environment.

Application: The teacher can give them an information sheet at the end, which compares all the items they have tasted that day. The sheet would have three categories: health, environment, humaneness. All the food items would have information about how they measure up under these categories.

Language component: The teacher could make a list of many foreign words of vegetarian food items that have entered the English language. Among these are tofu (Chinese), kimchi (Korean), pasta (Italian) and nori (Japanese).

To address cultural backgrounds, the teacher could discuss how vegetarianism plays an important role in some of the world's major religions. Many religions take a stance on which types of meat are appropriate to eat in particular circumstances.

In Hinduism, based on the law of karma, the killing of animals is seen as a violation of the concept of ahimsa. Violation or harm to others will lead to bad karma. It is estimated that approximately 30% of all Hindus are vegetarians. As a result, more than 70% of non-meat eaters in the world live in India. Gandhi, a Hindu, stated that vegetarians ate plants instead of animals only because they could not hear the screams of plants being killed.

Mahayana Buddhists also forbid the killing of animals because of the bad karma. However, Theravadin Buddhists may eat meat if it can be determined that the animal was not slaughtered specifically for their consumption.

Both Judaism and Islam forbid the eating of pork. Judaism has severe restrictions on the slaughtering of animals, labeling the approved flesh as kosher. The rest are considered not kosher, or "unfit." As part of the lesson plan, the teacher could bring in some Jewish food items that have a kosher label.

For a further lesson in ethics in values, the teacher could give everyone in the class a copy of the newspaper article "Seafood faces collapse by 2048."

Report: Seafood faces collapse by 2048     <------ Click here to see report below