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Vegetarian Journal July/Aug 1998

Vegetarian Action

Sci-Veg--An Internet Discussion of Science and Vegetarianism

By Carl V. Phillips

"But then [I] saw it on the Internet, and I knew it must be true." This quotation, which I have posted on my door (taken out of context from a New York Times article), should provoke a chuckle from anyone familiar with life on the net. The Internet is a storehouse of virtually unlimited information and a meeting-place for countless people. Sometimes this is not an altogether good thing. Unfortunately, sorting out good information from misinformation or finding good discussions on the Internet can be a challenge.

Vegetarians who are looking for information and social interaction have hundreds of options on the Internet. Some of them, like VRG's Web site (, are good sources of carefully compiled information, but most are less reliable. Furthermore, Web sites, good or bad, are basically on-line magazines or pamphlets, and so do not tap into the interactive potential of the Internet. Interactive resources, like bulletin boards and e-mail lists, often present inaccurate information about technical subjects because few scientific experts contribute to the discussion. The result is the persistence of myths in the vegetarian community about everything from calcium needs to food ingredients, and from resource usage to economics.

In early 1996, it was clear that there was a need for an Internet group that rose to the challenge of promoting accurate information and providing a place for lively discussion among those interested in vegetarianism. I founded Sci-Veg along with a half dozen other researchers and activists, including vegetarian author and dietitian Virginia (Ginny) Messina, M.P.H., R.D. Sci-Veg is the only Internet resource devoted to the discussion of vegetarian issues from a scientific perspective.

We created it for two purposes. First, it concentrates many researchers, practitioners, and long-time vegetarians in one place so list members can find good information. Naturally, we have not been able to answer every question from the thousands of posts Sci-Veg has had since its creation. But readers could be assured that incorrect or unsupportable claims, the curse of most Internet discussions, would rarely slip by without response from knowledgeable list members. In addition, Sci-Veg provides a forum for experts in various fields to discuss their work, formulate new ideas, and develop useful collaborations. Advancing the state of knowledge in any field requires people to combine their ideas and knowledge, and the vegetarian community has had limited resources for such exchanges.

Some topics recently discussed on Sci-Veg include:

It is hard to gauge the impact of a project like Sci-Veg, but it is my impression that it has had a substantial impact. I am aware of several productive collaborations that have formed and issues discussed among Sci-Veg s writers and researchers. For many non-expert readers, we have, I believe, provided a better understanding of important issues relating to nutrition, food science, economics, public health, psychology, environmental science, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. A perusal of other Internet discussions turns up frequent references to Sci-Veg, either cited as a source or recommended as a better place to ask a technical question. Several persistent myths that have been challenged on Sci-Veg seem to be fading (although, naturally, the exact role of Sci-Veg discussions cannot be determined). For example, Sci-Veg led the challenge against the mistaken belief that producing a pound of beef uses 2,500 gallons of water, and few people seem to still believe that myth.1

Other recent topics include questions about nutrition and health, the accuracy of various popular books on vegetarianism, and the environmental and economic impacts of your diet. If you are interested in these topics, or would like to bring up one of your own, you are invited to join. Experts in any technical or scientific field (even if it is not directly related to vegetarianism) are especially encouraged to join and contribute their wisdom.

To join Sci-Veg, just send the e-mail message

subscribe sci-veg

in the body of the message to or point your Web browser to to learn more about the list.

1A better estimate, in the range of 400-500 gallons/pound, is given by J.L. Beckett and J.W. Oltjen (J Animal Science, 1993. 71; 818-826). See for further discussion.

Excerpts from the Jul/Aug Issue:

The Vegetarian Journal published here is not the complete issue, but these are excerpts from the published magazine. Anyone wanting to see everything should subscribe to the magazine.

This article was converted to HTML by Jeanie Freeman

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