25 Years of Vegetarian Food and Nutrition


Over the past quarter-century or so, there have also been changes in what is considered to be a healthful diet. Consider this: In 1979, just three years before VRG was founded, an article in a medical journal described vegetarian diets as "cult diets" and as "a form of child abuse." Oh my, we have come a long way! Today, according to the American Dietetic Association's position on vegetarian diets, "Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." It's safe to say that now most health and nutrition professionals recognize that vegetarian diets are health-promoting.

We've also seen an emphasis on lowfat diets, high protein diets, raw foods, macrobiotic diets, and much more. What will the next 25 years bring in terms of vegetarian diets? It's hard to say, but chances are excellent that a diet based on whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables will still be a healthy way of eating.

Close to 25 years ago, Tom Horton, an environmental writer for the Baltimore Sun , had lunch with Charles Stahler and Debra Wasserman, the organizers of what was then the Baltimore Vegetarians. Horton stated, "[They] are probably doing, in the most basic of ways, as much as anyone in the state about the kind of pollution that is troubling the Chesapeake Bay." A resulting editorial in the Sun pointed out that eating meat and dairy products was a primary cause of ecologically harmful runoffs that damaged important waterways. This certainly seems prescient. Today, organizations as diverse as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are calling for an increased awareness of the impact of what we eat on our environment. I fervently hope that the next 25 years will see greater public awareness of the tremendous environmental consequences of diets based on animal products and a resultant move to the widespread use of diets free of animal products. If I could have one wish come true on VRG's 25 th birthday, it would be that all people would eat mindfully and compassionately for our own health, the well-being of animals, and the survival of our world.

One major focus of VRG has been providing credible, fact-based information about vegetarian diets to both the general public and health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and dietitians. This emphasis on factual information was what impressed me about VRG in the beginning. When VRG started, the American Dietetic Association had just developed its first position paper on vegetarian diets. This position paper is now being revised for the fifth time. Each time the paper has been revised, VRG's dietitians have played a part in making sure that the position paper accurately reflects what is known about vegetarian diets. This has allowed us to have an impact on a tool that is used by media spokespeople, policy makers, and health care professionals.

Vegetarian Journal represents one of the ways that we provide nutrition and health information to our members. A regular feature of Vegetarian Journal is 'Scientific Update,' short reviews of recent articles from medical journals. This has been a part of Vegetarian Journal almost from the beginning. Thousands of medical articles are published each month. From these, I select a half dozen or so to review in each issue. How do I choose articles? Here are some of my considerations:

  • Relevance to vegetarians. Studies of vegetarians are not published that often, but when they are, I try to include them. Some articles show health benefits of vegetarian diets. It's important to be aware of these because they can be used to document the health value of being a vegetarian. Some articles point out nutrients that are lacking in diets of some vegetarians. We want our readers to be aware of these studies as well so that they can fine-tune their diets if they need to.
  • Quality of the study. I look for well-done studies with meaningful results.
  • Variety. If we've had a string of articles showing that fruits and vegetables reduce risk of cancer, I may not submit another one on that topic for a few issues. I also try to vary the age group and condition or disease so that, over time, most ages and topics of interest will be covered.
  • Up to date. I try to choose articles published within the past three months.

All of us at Vegetarian Journal hope that you've enjoyed (and learned from) the articles that we've reviewed in 'Scientific Update.'

No 25th anniversary celebration would be complete without a few thank yous. So many people have worked together to support The Vegetarian Resource Group that it would be impossible to thank them all in the space allotted to this editorial. I'll just recognize a few people for their special contributions. I would never have known about VRG (then Baltimore Vegetarians) if Karen Lazarus, MD, hadn't suggested checking it out. Sue Havala Hobbs, DrPH, MS, RD, has a long history of working with VRG from the earliest days and has set a high standard for accuracy and professionalism. Most of all, I want to thank Charles Stahler and Debra Wasserman. Charles and Debra have been the glue that has held VRG together for so many years. They've truly devoted their lives to this group and have made it the success that it is today. In addition, thank you to all of you who have supported us over the years. Maybe you've made donations to help us carry out our work, maybe you've talked to other people about something you've read in Vegetarian Journal, maybe you've bought books from us or visited our website, or maybe you've done some volunteer work to assist the group. Regardless, we hope that you'll join us in celebrating our first 25 years and continue to support us for the next 25 (or longer)!

Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, is one of The Vegetarian Resource Group’s Nutrition Advisors. She is the co-author of Simply Vegan and has written many articles for dietetic and health journals.

VEGETARIAN JOURNAL Issue Three 2007 < previous