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Vegetarians Live Longer, But Is It Worth It?

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Umami Burger | Photo: MuyYum/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Fact: Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters.

This, at least, is the finding from a new study by the National Institutes of Health. For the past 10 years, they've been tracking the health stats of 96,000 Seventh-Day Adventists, a religious group that practices a strict vegetarianism diet because of their "belief in the holistic nature of humankind." A side effect of that mindset, apparently, is also being a hell of a lot healthier than everyone else.

Among the findings from the study:

- Vegans, on average, are 30 pounds lighter than meat eaters.
- Vegetarians and vegans are less insulin-resistant than meat eaters.

But possibly the most important finding is the simple cold, hard fact that they live longer than the rest of us: Seventh-Day Adventist men live 9.5 years longer than Californian guys, while women live 6.1 more years. On average, that's nearly 8 more years of life than the rest of us meat-eaters.

Eight. More. Years.

Which brings us to this other shocking finding:

Second Fact: I will still continue to eat meat.

You see, whenever we're talking about about the vaguely moral question of life spans as concerned to specific diets -- be it meat vs. vegan, dairy vs. non, gluten-free or -full, or ingesting any of the things that maybe we shouldn't be allowed to eat at all -- there's an implied taunt at those who do not follow the findings from the study. "Why don't you want to be healthy, you idiot!" is often how it goes. But really, it's much more complex decision than that.

Eating healthy versus not is more of a time-share argument than anything else, with the piece of real estate being the tough-to-define "quality of life."

Now, the time-share metaphor only works in the carnivore vs. vegan realm if the quality of one's life moves in a positive direction because of eating meat. (Quality is a subjective thing; if you're one of those lucky folks whose taste buds have somehow been genetically engineered to actually enjoy foods that are good for you, you can waltz yourself out of this conversation.) And for me, personally, a thing that adds quality to my life is eating meat. I love it. It is delicious. The flavor, the texture, the smell, the sight of a gorgeously-cooked steak, all of it adds to an experience I enjoy. Having a quality steak or massive burger brings me a pleasure that's worth possibly going to a modestly-early grave for.

But the key point in that last phrase is "modestly."

Christopher Hitchens made the following statement on his deathbed as he considered his life of excesses:

A noble sentiment, but one that loses some luster after remembering he died at the relatively young age of 62, after nearly a year and a half of painful cancer eating away at his body.

Me? I don't want to die in that shape at that age. While a life without meat would not be an enjoyable one, I also want to be able to jog around when I'm 65 instead of being hooked to dialysis machines. So only one of those glorious steaks every six months or so for me, please. And a burger a month. Moderation, as I've said before, is key.

But this is certainly a personal decision, one I can't really fault or criticize in either direction. (Even Hitchens'; his path just wasn't mine, except maybe when it comes to trying to drink as much whiskey as possible.) So then, where do you fit in?

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