Healthy Living

Go Semi-Vegetarian! 2 Ways to Ditch Dioxins

hamburger on white background with lettuce and tomatoMy family is not vegan. We’re not even completely vegetarian. I serve the occasional organic, grass-fed hamburger, and I let them order conventional burgers in restaurants, if they want to. But I let my kids know that we eat very little meat—living a semi-vegetarian life—for one important reason: Dioxins.

Now you may not have heard much about this group of roughly 75 related chemicals—unless you were an early adopter of alternative feminine hygiene products that touted their avoidance of the stuff.

But I digress. As a parent, these are a few facts you need to know.

  1. My family is not vegan. We’re not even completely vegetarian. But we eat very little meat—living a semi-vegetarian life—for one important reason: Dioxins. Dioxins are primarily created during manufacturing that involves chlorine.
  2. Nearly all Americans have measurable levels of dioxins in their bodies, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program.
  3. Dioxins are a human carcinogen and endocrine disruptor which can damage the brain and central nervous systems; this fact has been verified by many organizations, most notably the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  4. According to the Institute of Medicine, since dioxins accumulate in the body over a person’s lifetime, efforts to keep exposures low should begin in pregnancy and childhood; this is particularly important for girls, who will pass dioxins in their bodies on to their children.

I’m telling you. This stuff is serious. But dioxin is also fairly easy to avoid. Since 95% of human exposure comes from animal fat, simply:

  1. Eat less meat—go semi-vegetarian!
  2. When you do, remove as much fat as possible before cooking.

And while organic meats are not any less likely to contain dioxins, they may contain fewer pesticides and other hormone disrupting chemicals.

Meanwhile, vote with your wallet: Avoid supporting companies that depend on manufacturing processes that produce dioxin by reducing your purchases of pesticides, chlorinated chemicals and bleached paper and/or cotton products. If we all boycott, sooner or later the companies will have to start manufacturing better.

Then those dirty dioxins will be a thing of the past. As semi-vegetarianism may be the future.


  • Kstats

    Great article! More people are likely to change to a veggie/vegan diet for their own and their children’s own health than they are if you were to tout the tired old vegan rhetoric. This makes sense on a logical un-emotional basis that will reach more people. I am a veterinarian, I’ve been involved with the production of the animal products you are talking about. However eating animal products no longer makes sense. I’m glad to see that people are starting to wake up to problems with adults drinking milk, and other dairy products in addition to dioxins in animal fat. Even though it will eventually put me out of a job I’m glad to see the change for the benefit of everyone, esp out children.

  • michelle

    I’m vegan and I agree with both Rachel and Suzanne.
    While I do believe we shouldn’t eat and use animals I also believe that there are transitions necessary to a vegetarian and vegan diet. It’s not easy, you are challenging society’s belief that meat/eggs/dairy is right and necessary for our nutrition and growth. Although grass-fed and organic meats are often ‘cleaner’ than the mass-produced animal meat I have heard they are often slaughtered at the same plants as non-organic/CAFO animals. You would have to contact the farm itself to find out details if interested. On the other hand, at least some farmed animals had a more ‘normal’ life, etc. and I definitely salute anyone who reduces or gives up meat/dairy/egg consumption because the little steps can have huge impacts on health, environment and the market demand for these products. I think Jeffrey Moussaief Masson said that, “Veganism is an aspiration.” We are all trying to do the right thing and it’s ok if you’re only at 15% and someone else is at 95%.

  • Leigh

    I think it is great that you are reducing your meat consumption to minimum level and using grass feed organic beef. Avoiding dioxins are very important for our overall health. Reducing (or eliminating) meat consumption is equally important to the planet since so much of the world farm land goes toward housing and creating feed for the animals to eat. I think your reduction should be applauded, I am also a part-time vegetarian and it is a choice that works for me right now. Who knows some day you may come back and tell us you have gone vegan but even part-time vegetarianism is going to help the planet and your personal health.

  • Mary-Ellen

    I’d like to add one more comment here as I follow the thread I see the comments that it may not be easy to go right into ‘vegan mode’ or whole foods, plant based nutrition or eating ( I prefer using these words than ‘the word ‘diet’ as this has become synonymous with fast weight loss, depriving one of enjoyment of food) . I would not disagree since my journey was slow at first as well; from lacto-ovo vegetarian, to teetering on the edge vegan to now. The great news is there are a plethora of GREAT cookbooks and online sites devoted to awesome easy cooking. My experience is that once we find value in something/someone we can make this a priority. For me I set aside Sunday as my big cooking day and love being in the kitchen preparing great food for my family and I. There are also some really great vegan slow cooker recipes and general food prep can be quite easy once you get the hang of it. It surely is a journey so be patient and forgiving. It does not have to be all or nothing. This community is growing and it gives me great optimism that those who ‘get it’ will empower a future generation that will feed our planet with no harm to animals and nourish the soils of our organic farms to maybe, just maybe, one day we can look down on this planet with pride that we made a difference in this way. I am happy to have found this site to share with other like-minded people. Namaste.

  • Mary-Ellen

    I could not agree more with the posts here and am encouraged with the increased awareness we are all achieving. Going vegan was mostly an ethical decision but after reading The China Study and watching Forks Over Knives (to name a few) the healthy benefits of a whole foods/plant-based diet and the evidence for it is overwhelming. T. Colin Campbell has a follow up book called Whole that I am just about to dig into.

  • Natalie

    I am also ovo-lacto vegetarian but I realize getting everyone to do pure plant based is not easy and it is much easier if people start slow. I think for the eco system and for their body less meat in general is a step closer to a healthier lifestyle and organic, grass-fed, local meat is also helping the carbon footprint. We can not force people’s to live our lifestyle but we can make give them informed choices.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      I totally agree, Natalie! I know it’s hard for some of us who have gone 100% plant-based to accept those of us who move slower in that direction, but I think that continued encouragement is key. Thank you for commenting!

  • Julie

    There are so many reasons to go Vegan. I have been vegan for over 10 years because I can not in good conscience contribute to the astronomic scale on which animals suffer to become our food. Now that I am a mother I could not imagine feeding animal products to my beautiful baby, knowing how toxic it all is. Please consider going vegan for your health, for the planet and for animals.

  • Napa Valley Vegan

    I agree with Debby Sunshine (and, yes, that is a great name!). I began as an ovo-lacto vegetarian but it did not take me long to realize that going vegan was the healthiest direction to go for myself, the planet and all of the senient beings I used to consume. Consuming organic plant-based food will change your life forever!

  • Debby Sunshine

    Although I advocate any steps one can make towards a plant-based diet, going part of the way is probably not the answer. I would start reading all you can about going completely plant-based! Once educated, you will learn that that is the way to go!

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      Okay first I LOVE your name Debby Sunshine! And thank you for sharing this in such an encouraging way, I appreciate it! Yes, there is always more to learn about plant-based nutrition. Thank you for your comment!

  • Suzanne

    No, semi vegetarianism is not the answer. Vegan living is. The case made here, while it certainly has merits is not the reason to eliminate meat, eggs and dairy from one’s diet, but compassion for all of God’s creatures is. These animals do not want to die. The conditions that most of them endure during their short lives are pure misery. If people would stop consuming animal products, this misery would end.
    This world does not revolve exclusively around humans and our wants and needs. We share this planet with billions of other living, feeling creatures and it would behoove us to remember that their lives are just as important to them as ours are to us.

    • Rachel Sarnoff

      This is a great perspective and one that is shared by many. Thank you so much for sharing it here! Readers, what do you think?

    • screwdestiny

      Couldn’t have said it better myself, Suzanne.

      Regarding this article, I’m glad to know that my vegan diet has yet ANOTHER health benefit that I wasn’t even aware of. But really, even if a vegan diet wasn’t the healthiest diet a person could adopt, after learning what I have learned, I would never enslave and take the life of another just to have a meal.

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