#108 September 1997
Section 184.108.40.206.108.of the Artemis Data Book
by Louise Rachel (Quigley), L.R.S. - Special to MMM
ASI Editor's Note: This article is included in the on-line edition of Moon Miner's Manifesto for completeness. This should not be construed to imply that either Artemis Society International or the Artemis Project endorses a plant-only diet for human beings or agrees with either the content of this essay or the allegation that this will be necessary for lunar colonists at any stage of the program. Please consult a qualified doctor before adopting a diet deficient in animal proteins and fatty acids.
Stan Love's excellent short concept paper about the near-impossibility of having food animals in near-term space habitats [MMM # 107 JUL '97] cries out for reply. For he has clearly worked out by pure logic the necessity for astronauts to adopt "vegan" (plant-food only i.e. no eggs or dairy products, a stricter regime than the more common "vegetarian" or simply meat-free) diets without actually having any personal acquaintance with such diets himself. [Stan Love Bio in this issue.- Ed.]
We can survive on a vegan diet
If he were a vegan, or well acquainted with some, he would know that with only one tiny exception, 100% of human dietary needs can be easily filled by a plant-foods only diet, not 97% as he believes. The exception is vitamin B-12, which is produced by bacterial fermentation. Animal-product-eaters get some from the B-12 that ruminants have stored, while vegans use supplements derived from non-animal bacterial processes. Other than that, every nutrient needed by humans - including pregnant women, fetuses, and breast fed babies - is readily available from plants.
Complex carbohydrates (and associated fiber) are of course supplied in abundance by every whole grain, bean, pea, vegetable, and fruit you can imagine. Fruits and honey provide simple carbs, if you want them (bees may be needed in colonies to provide yield-increasing pollination).
Proteins and amino acids are present in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and many vegetables (especially dark green leafies, crucifers, and root vegetables); fruits are actually the only low-protein plant food. Each different plant provides a different mix of amino acids; it is now well established that anyone who satisfies caloric needs by eating a variety of different whole plant foods during the course of each day will get all the protein s/he needs. Combining different plant protein sources in a dish is not necessary as long as daily variety is assured and no amino acid will be lacking. The only potential catch is that whole grains have far more protein than refined flours - but astronauts and space colonists would not have leeway to waste the bran and germ by refining their flours anyway!
Fats and oils are of course also available from plants: corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, nuts and seeds and their butters and oils, avocado, etc.
And all minerals and vitamins (except B-12) are present in plants as well; in fact, vegetables and fruits are the primary sources of most of them. Iron is plentiful not only in meats but also in dark green leafy vegetables and many legumes. Calcium, usually associated with dairy, is available to humans from the same place the cow got it: whole grains and leafy greens. And if you're not eating animal foods, you absorb and retain dietary calcium so much better than if you're carnivorous that you will not need nearly as much. Short-term astronauts can take B-12 supplements with them. Long-duration space colonies will have no trouble making B-12 for themselves: the necessary bacteria take up very little space, and using them is an off-the-shelf technology.
In short, all dietary needs for human health can easily be met by growing a well-chosen variety of plants as part of the space habitat life support system. Animal foods are utterly unnecessary.
A vegan diet can be satisfying
The real question for astronauts and space colonists therefore will not be "can we survive on a vegan diet?" but rather, "will such a life be worth living?" It will be hard for some to believe that the answer is and unqualified YES.
Here, let me digress into personal history. In early 1990, when I was an omnivore (eating both plant and animal foods), I met and married a vegan. Within a few months, my 11-year old announced she would never eat anything with a face again. So although I had never formally renounced meat myself, I found myself cooking for and eating with vegetarians, and with most meals vegan, on a permanent basis.
Several results surprised me. First, when my meat-eating dropped below once a week, I started losing my taste for meat: I would order meat in a restaurant and not enjoy it in the way I remembered. After a while, I stopped ordering it. Second, I didn't miss it. By then, I had discovered the many worlds of vegan cuisine: traditional Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and many other traditional peasant foods from all over the Earth to provide inexhaustible variety of dishes and seasonings.
You can eat vegan forever and not get bored, especially since many of the tastes we associate with a given meat food derives in fact from the spices and not the meats: the taste of tomato sauce comes not from the shipmate but from the oregano and basil, for example, and rosemary-roasted potatoes give you the same pleasure as rosemary-roasted lamb.
Third, I discovered only after I had eaten this way for a while that I did not get weak and puny when I ate plant foods only, and gave up trying to balance proteins in each meal. On the contrary, in fact, I get fewer colds and have a lot more energy, and since I've gotten more physically active over the last seven years, I've gotten more muscular and vigorous on the vegetarian diet than I ever was as a carnivore. I don't think average Americans can believe that eating any reasonable variety of whole plant foods, without paying attention to their different amino acids, really can give a person what one needs, unless and until one makes the experiment. It did take me a while to work my way into this regimen and get comfortable with it, but the proof lies in my and my husband's continuing health - he's been eating this way since '82. Proteins are adequately supplied by plants, and without doing a "balancing act".
The other good news is in a sense more recent. After all, some humans have eaten a vegan diet out of necessity or conviction (spiritual or other) for thousands of years. But foods specifically intended as meat substitutes are extremely new arrivals on the food scene, and have been developed only in the last few years as more and more individuals began experimenting with giving up meat for reasons of health or kindness to animals or environmental concern or social justice. Many of these people have chosen not to actually eat animals, yet they did not want to lose the pleasure they associated with animal foods. As a result, a whole meat substitute industry is now also an off-the-shelf technology, and has matured rapidly to the point where some of it is awfully good.
Taste and experimentation do certainly play a part: I myself have not yet found a non-meat hot dog that I like, for example, though I adore a couple of different soy-product burgers. But many substitute meats are absolutely delicious in themselves, and many are difficult or impossible to tell from the real thing. [Most of us, I dare say, have eaten soy-product bacon bits (on salads, baked potatoes, etc.) with satisfaction for years. &emdash; Ed.] Granted that the best results are so far found in dishes such as sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, marinated kabobs, and so on rather than as fake steaks.
The existence of these products means that space colonists will even have meat-substitute choices that are thoroughly palatable and hard to tell from the real meats they have left behind. Some will probably eventually abandon the meat substitutes, while others will depend on them. Both these camps will enjoy their meals.
Stan Love concludes that astronauts (and early space colonists) "will be largely vegetarian, in spite of any personal preferences." That sounds dire, and it doesn't have to be. They surely will probably be vegetarian - vegan, in fact. Yet they will be as well and happily and deliciously and healthily and variously fed as any humans on Earth. <LRQ>
One of the things that has long seemed possible to me is a (moral, if you will) compromise, in which we learn to cultivate real animal tissues (chicken breast, beef liver, beef, pork, etc. etc.) in nutrient-fed vats. The result would be real meat without the animal, without the face, except that of the ancestral donor. How satisfying this would be, or how economical from a food-production point of view, I do not know. But it offers a third choice for those who realize the high costs of meat production but do not want to give up their meat.
Biosphere II required seven acres to provide a sparse vegan diet for a handful of people. A space biosphere that insisted on supplying meat, even from the more efficient sources as chicken, rabbit, cavy (guinea pig,m a Peruvian meat staple) and fish would need to be many times more spacious. We may want meat, but it will be a definite and pricey luxury. <PK>
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto