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The Vegetarian Approach to Food Shortages Associated with Y2K

by Mark Reinhardt

What will the first few hours of the year 2000 bring? No one knows for sure. We may find ourselves dancing 'til dawn to the music of Guy Lombardo, while we sip too much champagne and look out over the millions of lights in the Metropolis skyline. On the other hand, all those lights may suddenly go dark at midnight, the victims of computer gurus of the 1970s and 1980s who never learned to count beyond two digits. Indeed we may spend the first few hours of the year 2000 holed up in our dark houses, trying to fend off looters and pick up any sign of civilization on our transistor radios.

The chances are good, of course, that the reality of January 1, 2000, will lie somewhere between these two visions. All we can say for certain is that, barring events of truly cosmic proportion, Mr. Lombardo won't be there in person, although his band will probably go on forever.

Oh yes, there's one other thing we can say for sure about the year 2000. No matter where you live or what you may choose to be doing when our computer-friends take their momentous actions, you won't have any extra problems if you choose to follow a vegetarian diet. Indeed, in the event of any of those pesky problems we fear from the millennium bug (mass starvation, the end of all civilization, a precipitous drop in your waterbed temperature), you and the members of your household will likely be much better off if you make the personal decision to choose a vegetarian diet. To see why this is true, let's review the advantages of a vegetarian diet generally, and then look at the ways you and your household can follow this diet in times of crisis.


When we talk about a vegetarian diet, what we mean is the elimination of foods of animal origin and the choice of foods of plant origin instead. Sure, there are people who choose to merely cut back, rather than eliminate animal-based foods in their diet, and there are other people who eliminate some animal-based foods (red meat, for example) but not others (fish and/or dairy products, for example). What you should know, though, is that all animal foods have many of the same dietary and ethical problems in common. The more you eliminate these foods from your diet, the more advantages you'll have, and (surprisingly) the easier it will be too! (Meat and dairy products tend to be quite addictive and, just like other addictive substances, it's usually easier for most people to eliminate them entirely rather than just cut back.)

So what are the advantages of a vegetarian diet? There are three benefits that are most important: its healthier, it's the right thing to do for the environment, and it's the right thing to do for your conscience. Let's look briefly at each of these.

A Vegetarian Diet is Healthy

A vegetarian diet is significantly better for you than a diet containing animal products. If you eat this way, you will almost certainly be healthier and live longer. The reasons for this are many, and they tend to get complicated, but here are a few of the highlights that should appeal to your common sense: Most animal-based foods are naturally high in fat (especially saturated fat), while most plant-based foods are naturally low in fat. Only animal-based foods have cholesterol. Foods from plant sources contain no cholesterol. Only plant-based foods have fiber. Meat and dairy products have none. Calorie-for-calorie (the only scientific way to measure the nutritional content of foods) fruits and vegetables are far more concentrated sources of vitamins and minerals than animal-based foods. Only plants are sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals-substances that are being shown in new scientific studies every day to slow the effects of aging and fight disease.

We could go on, but you get the idea. Common sense, backed up by hard science, will tell you that from a health standpoint you and your household will be much better off on a vegetarian diet. The next time anyone tells you that you need to eat animal products to be healthy and fit, challenge them to show you why. (They can't!) Even better, see what economic interest they might have in your decision.

A Vegetarian Diet is Good for the Environment

Animal agriculture is massive in scale and horribly inefficient-using huge amounts of land, water, energy and plant-based foods to produce relatively small amounts of meat, eggs and dairy products. It is by far the largest user and polluter of our water and land, not to mention a significant source of air pollution and a threat to the life of our oceans. It may sound odd, but adhering to a vegetarian diet is probably the single most important thing you and your household can do to help with our earth's environmental problems.

A Vegetarian Diet is Good for Your Conscience

You probably don't have to be reminded of this one. Twenty-two million animals will be killed in U.S. slaughterhouses today. (About 1300 in the time it takes to read this sentence.) Those animals will have lived short, miserable lives before they get there too.

The lives of most of the animals who produce milk and eggs are also very short, and even more miserable. People who don't eat meat and dairy products fight against this cruelty with every meal they eat; others don't. Search your heart, and you'll know if you're on one side or the other.

If we can sum up the discussion above by saying that a vegetarian lifestyle is a truly wonderful way to live (and we certainly can!), we can then ask the question: "How does this lifestyle fare in times of trouble?" The answer, it turns out, is very well. Very well indeed!

When the Millennium Bug Bites, Vegetarian Foods Are Likely to be More Available

Imagine, if you will, the complexities involved in bringing meat and dairy products to your table. Crops have to be grown and harvested and delivered to the cows, pigs and chickens, which in turn have to be fed and cared for. Slaughterhouses and processing plants have to be operated, and their products, in turn, have to be distributed. Alternatively, ships may have to travel thousands of miles to find and kill fish. All of these processes require tactical planning, well-functioning transportation systems, and huge amounts of energy. Since animal products spoil very readily, constant refrigeration is critical. Just imagine how computer failures might interrupt this whole process.

The production and delivery system for plant-based foods, while not simple, is relatively much less complicated, and needs far less energy, water and other resources. Sure, plant foods can spoil too, but they don't need to be treated as carefully as animal products, and the consequences of a mistake aren't nearly as serious.

The upshot of all of this is that any serious disruption of services in the year 2000 is likely to have a bigger impact on getting meat and dairy products to your table than on getting vegetarian staples to your table. (Sure, in the very short run it might seem otherwise-you may have more trouble finding exotic South American fruits than local chickens. But think about sustainability. If the system is there to feed plants to farm animals it will by definition be there to feed plants to humans. The reverse is not necessarily true.)

Vegetarian Foods are Easier to Stockpile than Meat and Dairy Products. Here's a quick guide to the vegetarian foods that you and your household will want to have available to carry you through the toughest of times.

Grains and Legumes

Think of these as the foundation for your vegetarian diet. Your local natural foods store should have dried beans and grains available for purchase in bulk. These foods are inexpensive, and will keep practically forever in your pantry. There is quite a variety available too-chances are you can find lots of beans and grains you've never tried before. More importantly, they'll fill you and the members of your household up with good, wholesome nutrition. Mix and match them in soups and stews, or serve them cold as salads.

Substitutes for Meat and Dairy

If you're an animal eater, you may be a bit apprehensive about the possibility of the year 2000 bringing disruptions to your sources of meat and dairy products. Fortunately, if this happens, there are lots of vegetarian foods to come to the rescue.

There are plenty of vegetarian meat substitutes that will keep on your shelf without refrigeration and be there when you need them. Check out your local natural foods store for a variety of tasty burger mixes, as well as mixes for seitan-a low-fat wheat product that in many uses, from fajitas to roasts, tastes remarkably similar to beef. You'll also find different types of textured vegetable protein-high-tech soy products that are made to taste virtually identical to ground beef or pork.

Tofu, another soybean product, is available in antiseptic packaging that will keep it fresh for months without refrigeration. It's great for hundreds of uses, including stir-fries and as a replacement for cheese in Italian dishes or cheesecake. It also can easily be dried into jerky that everyone loves.

On the dairy side, check out your local natural foods store, where you'll find dozens of different kinds of milk made from soybeans, rice, wheat, almonds, etc. Most of these milks don't require refrigeration, will stay fresh for months on your pantry shelf, and will taste worlds better than any powdered milk. Use them just the way you'd use cow's milk.

If you want to do some baking and you don't have a supply of fresh chicken's eggs, don't worry. You can buy vegetarian egg replacer, a white powder that mixes with water and can do anything (short of an omelet) chicken's eggs can do. This stuff is wonderfully convenient, and you won't even taste a difference in your baked goods. It will make you wonder why you ever cooked with chicken's eggs in the first place.

It goes without saying that all of these meat and dairy substitutes are much, much healthier than the counterparts produced by animals. They are usually much lower in fat (particularly saturated fat), and they of course don't contain cholesterol, but do have fiber.

You'll Need Some Fruits and Vegetables, Too

The good health of you and your household can't depend on dried and processed foods alone. You will have to find a supply of fruits and vegetables, and, depending on how bad things get, that may be more difficult. Don't worry. First, there are always canned fruits and vegetables-no, they aren't very exciting, but they'll do in a pinch. On the fruit side, dried fruits are readily available. Dried vegetables exist in various forms as well (e.g., instant soups), but the real thing is much better. With a little planning, they can be had, even in the toughest of times. The body of this book also contains valuable information on gathering edible plants, gardening, and sprouting, and you should study that for what works best in your region.


If you're worried about the year 2000, think about how it must have been in Denmark during World War I. The country was blockaded, and meat and dairy products were in very short supply because all available grain was reserved for human consumption. What happened? The populace not only survived, but thrived. The involuntary switch to a vegetarian diet reduced mortality by disease to its lowest level in recorded history. By far. The same thing happened in other European countries like Norway, Britain and Switzerland during World War II. Maybe it can happen to you and your household in the year 2000.

If everyone would give up eating animal products by the year 2000, the eased strain on our food production and delivery systems would make the transition to the new millennium a lot easier for everyone. That won't happen. But even if only you and your household plan on a vegetarian existence, the odds are that you'll make life much easier for yourself in a potentially difficult time. You might even find that the new millennium itself will seem much brighter as well!

END-NOTE - Got protein? Are you worried that if you and your household switch to a vegetarian diet - either as a permanent lifestyle, or just for the transition to the new millennium - you may have trouble getting enough protein? Don't give it a second thought. The U.S. Government recommends that we get between 8.3% and 8.8% of our daily calories from protein. While fruits are very low in protein, this is more than made up for by the protein in vegetables and grains, almost all of which have well over the recommended amounts. And legumes, of course, are extremely high in protein.

You'll get all the essential amino acids from your vegetarian diet as well. Of course, your household may not get as much protein on a vegetarian diet as you would eating meat and dairy products, but that's actually good news. Excess protein is very hard on your bones, kidneys and liver. You're much better off without it. Remember this simple fact: There are hundreds of millions of vegetarians on this earth living very healthy lives with no protein problems. Indeed, it's impossible to design a reasonably varied vegetarian diet that won't give you enough protein. It's that simple! If your doctors or others tell you that you should worry about getting enough protein on a vegetarian diet, ask them to back up that statement with scientific evidence. They can't.


Mark Warren Reinhardt is the author of The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater's Guide to Vegetarianism (Continuum, 1998). He has written extensively on vegetarian issues, and for the past 12 years has authored the column "On or Off the Mark," which appears regularly in a number of vegetarian publications. Mark is a former director of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado.

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From "Y2K: You Can Burn This Book" by Thomas F. Potter, available for $16.95 postpaid from or 1-800-851-4905. Used with permission.