Lavanya Sunkara

fueled by books, inspired by nature

Lavanya Sunkara

Lavanya Sunkara
New York, New York, USA
December 31
Freelance Writer/Editor
I'm a writer covering books, charities, conservation, furry friends and world travels. My work has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, GQ India, MSN, Yahoo! Shine, and Time Out among others. I am a regular contributor to NBC's and Jeff Corwin

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Editor’s Pick
APRIL 22, 2011 9:54AM

Earth-Friendly Eating

Rate: 8 Flag

There’s been much talk about Natalie Portman giving up veganism to cater to her pregnant needs. The moment I read the headline, I feared she’d given it up entirely and decided to eat animals again. As a meat-eater turned vegetarian myself, I had a hard time believing someone that outspoken about animal rights would suddenly give up her ideals and start eating hot dogs and chicken wings. To the disappointment of vegans, she has taken up eating eggs and dairy. I can’t say I am completely against her decision, especially since I too consume those products, albeit in very limited amounts. But one thing that I will never ever do is eat meat again.


As a Hindu, I never ate beef or pork in all my 30 years. My mother, who is a lifelong vegetarian, has cooked chicken and lamb occasionally for the rest of the family, but I gave up eating them ten years ago. Relinquishing seafood is still a bit hard for me, but I went from eating once every few months to every six months in the past few years. Starting this Earth Day, I’ve decided to give it up completely.

Some may wonder why a personal eating choice has a global effect. I can say that if we all turned vegetarians, we would have no torture of animals in slaughter houses, no pollution-causing factory farms, and no minimum wages and horrible working conditions for food production employees. Also, the amount of food, water, and energy used to raise 10 billion animals for human consumption would be used to grow food for the hungry in this world. Alas, that's a dream that may never come true. But still, I am making a choice to contribute to a cruelty and pollution-free world.

People sometimes ask me if I am getting a healthy diet based solely on fruits, grains, and greens. I do. So does my mother and millions of vegetarians and vegans on this planet. My grandmother gave birth to six kids and lived healthy well into her late seventies on a strictly vegetarian diet, in a small village in India. She continues to be my source of inspiration and strength. Of course, the meat industry continues the propaganda of animal flesh being healthy for humans, when in fact it’s known for increasing obesity, heart disease, cancer, reproductive disorders, liver and kidney disease among other ailments.

Ardent meat lovers argue that animals are put on earth for us to eat, and thus it is okay to confine and abuse them, inject hormones and antibiotics, and kill them for our satisfaction. Some friends of mine have debated with me that since cavemen hunted animals back in the day and we've climbed to the top of the food chain, meat eating is justified. I have some news for you—this is the 21st century. Today, the modern hunter-gatherer simply drives a few blocks to the supermarket, picks out a packaged meat product, cooks it on an electric stove, and calls it a feast. I would like to know how these people would fare out in the wild, fending for themselves among the beasts. I’ll give more value to their stance if they risked their own lives and hunted food with their own bare hands.

Of course, there are always those who tell me they just can’t give up meat, either because they grew up with it, or they succumb to their bodies’ cravings. I too have experienced it at one point. There was a time I looked forward to going to my aunt’s house for her spicy goat curry. When I gave up meat, I sorely missed the dish. Until one day I read a story of a baby goat that escaped from a farm truck. She was black and white, with light blue eyes and perky ears. She was adorable, almost puppy like, and she deserved to live. I knew then I had made the right decision.

Last year, during a visit to the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary* in upstate New York, I came face to face with these gracious goats. In the sanctuary that is home to more than 200 rescued farm animals, we met with happy cows, rubbed pigs’ bellies, hugged turkeys, and played with the friendly goats. Two young pearly white goats, named Jacob and Edward by a Twilight fan, came near me for some petting. I rubbed their backs and chatted (a habit I formed thanks to my dog), as their golden eyes glimmered. I could tell they were basking in the attention. When I sat next to them, the younger one raised his front leg and patted my thigh a few times, just like my pet dog does, as if trying to communicate with me his gratitude. It was such a simple act, yet so endearing, showing acknowledgment and emotion. At that moment, I knew I made the right decision not just for myself, but also for my fellow animal friends and for the sake of this planet. 

*Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary: To plan your visit, go to Post originally appeared on Novel Adventurers. 

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I admit it: I sometimes, occasionally, slip up and give in to the meat craving... and then I feel badly for it.
I am an omnivore and respect the diets of all human beings struggling for freedom...xox
I'm a vegetarian who eats fish occasionally. But I developed an allergy to eggs. I have since discovered EnerG an egg substitute made from tapioca. I highly recommend it. I recently enjoyed some very delicious matzoh balls made from EnerG. Most meat based foods can be replaced with non-meat choices. I remember when you couldn't get vegetable dumplings in Chinese restaurants. Now, thank God, you can. Chinese dumplings are my favorite food on earth, and I hope to be eating them in heaven too!
I will definitely check out EnerG. I love Chinese veg dumplings! Thanks for reading and commenting. :)
ive been a vegetarian for most of my life -- it was hard in the beginning -- but just looking at those beautiful beings the "animals" makes the decision even more worthwhile -- thanks for the great earth day piece
I applaud your lifestyle choices. However, most people will not become vegetarians. Therefore, we are faced with the question of how to multiply our impact.

Realizing the realities of the largely omnivorous American diet and our deep (and social and cultural) reluctance to eliminating meat from the diet completely, I think we are wise to suggest assimilable alternatives.

Imagine if everyone restricted their meat consumption to only one meal per day. That simple action would be the equivalent of 50% of people suddenly becoming full-0n vegetarians. That would have an amazing impact!

Could most Americans do it? Yes. It's actually not hard at all but the challenge is in "making the sale". Most "three-meals-a-day" Americans could easily envision eating a croissant (or bagel) and coffee for breakfast, a grilled cheese for lunch and a meat meal at dinner. Or having a bowl of kashi or cereal for breakfast, a nice big bowl of udon noodle soup for lunch and some sort of meat meal for dinner. Or what about an omelette for breakfast, a pastrami sandwich at lunch and penne pasta for dinner? Or pizza for lunch and salmon at dinner. Or better: eating only twice a day and making one meal completely vegetarian.

These types of choices are going seem more possible and sustainable for the average American. Very few meat eaters, unless he or she has a "conversion" experience, are going to want to contemplate never ever eating a piece of meat again. But reducing meat consumption, rather than complete elimination of meat from the diet, makes the prospect of choosing the lifestyle easier and much more palatable. It becomes something that doesn't feel restrictive and difficult. And eventually, many will find themselves eating fewer and fewer meat meals altogether, possibly giving it up completely or even moving toward veganism.

Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are always ways to have an impact, whether our choices are grand in scale or minute. Even something as seemingly simple as choosing the meat for one's rare meat meals from ethical and sustainable producers can have a tremendous impact on the mass production meat industry as well. Taking baby steps and presenting easily assimilable choices for the majority: that is what will have the greatest effect.

*side note: I am currently in production on a vegetarian cooking show that espouses the incrementalist approach. So, I'm biased. :) The program will be nationally distributed so my great hope is that we can expose the majority of people to this idea and indeed get 50% of Americans interested in this lifestyle. Ever hopeful.
Maddie, I completely agree. When I quit meat, it took a while for me to give up seafood. That's when I began to eat less and less to the point where I only ate it once every few months, then six months. We can all do it. Besides, eating meat three times a day seems unhealthy and fattening. Americans get way more protein than our bodies need, and that has adverse effects.

I look forward to seeing your show! Thanks for sharing.
You obviously didn't listen that hard to the arguments of your carnivorous friends.

Humans require vitamin B12 to thrive. B12 is found almost exclusively in animal protein. The few non-animal sources are rare in nature, meaning that humans evolved to eat animal protein. This is what the argument about cavemen is saying. Not that eating meat is "justified" but that eating animal protein (ie dairy, if you aren't eating meat) is important for good health for most people.

Just as some peoples have a genetic adaptation allowing them to metabolize lactose, others have adaptations to more efficiently recycle B12. But, not all people do.

People who efficiently recycle B12 can maintain adequate B12 levels for a number of years after stopping eating meat. Fetuses and infants don't have these stores. They need animal protein. This is why Natalie Portman changed her diet.

There are basically no cultures with an entirely vegan diet, because humans don't thrive on it. In the modern era, it may be possible to get all your vitamins artificially, but it's hard to argue that this is a natural solution.

For example, most vegetarian Indian cultures, such as Jainism, which has a quite limited diet, include animal protein in the form of dairy products.

We need to focus on treating food animals humanely, not on exhorting people to give up food that humans have eaten since long before recorded history began.
I have to agree with Malusinka on this one. I do not believe humans were meant to eat plants, alone. There are farms out there who do treat the animals humanely and I believe the focus is to get the rest of the food industry on board. It is the commerical farmers who are abusing these poor animals, pumping them full of hormones and steroids. If you aren't getting your dairy and eggs from a reliable source, you are getting these harmful chemicals, as well. This can, also, go for vegetables, fruits and grains.
Almost 6 months ago; I changed my lifestyle dramatically--no processed foods, whole organic fruits and vegatables, and humanely raised meats. I've looked at many of the "vegetarian" options out there....processed. Soy is one of the worst things a human being can eat, unless it is fermented and in its orginal state of edammame and only in limited amounts. If any of you struggle with hypothyroidism, take a look at the soy in your diet. I challenge you to do the research.
There is a problem with food in the U.S. and it isn't just the inhumane treatment of animals. It includes the government allowing GMOs (geneticially modified organism) into our food sources. Corn and soy are two the biggies.
Malusinka and James,
B12 is something we can get from supplements. Each month, I get a B12 shot, and I've been doing this for more than a year. To me, a little prickle every few weeks is worth it if it means saving a few animals. I don't agree that we are meant to eat meat. I've been so used to not consuming it for the past decade that eating it now seems alien to me. My body probably would even reject it. It's all a matter of habit. I know several, SEVERAL people who live rather healthy or healthier lives on strictly vegetarian diets. Those who can't imagine not having meals that contain animal flesh, maybe they can do their part by eating less, if not for the sake of the animals, but for their own health.
We don't need all that protein the meat industry would like us to believe we need. In fact, our liver and kidneys suffer as a result of having to process the excess amounts of meat protein consumed.
To further explain- in order to process meat, the human body boosts its metabolic rate, and in the process strains the liver. Since protein also does not burn cleanly either, it leaves behind nitrogen waste that the body must eliminate causing the kidneys to function on overdrive. This can't be good long-term. Too much protein is also linked to high cholesterol levels, some cancers and a dozen other ailments.
The human body can get all the protein it needs from plants- beans, lentils, peanuts, spinach, kale, etc. For more information, you can go here-
Thank you for reading and commenting.
thank you all for reading!