If anything matters in my life besides my family it's this passion to spread this word - the V word - because so many lives depend upon it.
So many people dismiss vegetarianism as if it's some form of mystic cult with no substance behind it, as if veggies are not quite right in the head. Believe me, I know. In the 20 years and more since Paul and I stopped eating animals, I've been called it all; cranky, loony, weirdo. There's not an insult in the book that hasn't been leveled at me because I eat differently from most people. Not that I'm complaining. If you strike out against convention with what is seen to be a new idea you have to expect the catcalls and suspicions, because people enjoy the comfort zone of a status quo, and change is always seen as challenging.
But the catcalls and jibes are lessening these days. Now, more and more people are starting to listen to us "nutty" vegetarians, because science, medicine and economics have finally caught up with our philosophy and the disciples of tradition are realizing that the vegetarians make sense.
How so? Forget the emotional and moral arguments for a moment, and look at the hard facts. Medical studies all around the world are now proving that those who adopt a vegetarian diet are up to 40% less likely to die of cancer, and 30% less at risk to heart disease. The studies show that vegetarians are also less prone to high blood pressure, angina and diabetes.
I'm not making all this up. These are the findings of respected medical authorities. It's not me, but the Framingham Heart Study - the world's longest ongoing investigation into heart disease and diet, which has run since 1949 - that says, that on average, vegetarian men outlive other American men by six years. It's not me, but researchers at Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital who claimed that women who eat meat every day are two and a half times more likely to have had colon cancer than women who ate meat sparingly or not at all.
As I say, the word is now getting through, and throughout America more and more people are realizing that as death is not an option, medically a vegetarian diet makes sense. It is in part the growing realization of this that accounts for the fact that in the past 10 years the numbers of vegetarians in the USA has almost doubled from 6.5 million in 1985 to 12.4 million now.
So there's one good reason for heeding this vegetarian argument - saving your life.
There are other, more altruistic reasons that are now gaining popularity with the one-time skeptics. Besides life-saving, vegetarianism is world-saving. As the people of this planet become more concerned about its potential longevity - and the fact that Greenpeace has had a 500% increase in its global membership, to five million members, over the past 10 years suggests that they are concerned - the methods of meat production are coming increasingly under ecological scrutiny.
For instance, many young people are now finding it unacceptable that, in order to bring beef to the great American plate, a huge acreage of Central and South American rainforest has been razed and cleared to provide grazing land for cattle. At a time when tree cover of this earth is reducing rapidly, our kids need to know that for every "quarterpounder" made from Central or South American beef, six square yards of rainforest is hewn for pasture.
Our kids also need to know that as they will inherit the planet they and their children are doomed to inherit a place where fresh water tables are dropping dramatically because 70% of all fresh American water is used in agriculture, and whereas it takes 25 gallons of that water to produce a pound of wheat, the University of California computed that it takes 5,214 gallons to produce a pound of beef.
Hopefully this new altruism will now extend to the way that we feed the world, because this is the new frontier that needs most to be crossed. According to UNICEF data, every 2.3 seconds a child dies on this planet because of hunger; since you began reading this sentence, and by the time you reach the end of it, four children will have died because they did not have enough to eat.
If there was ever a convincing argument for vegetarianism, it's right there because if we did not squander so much of our agricultural resources on meat production, these children would not die.
We waste so much to gain so little as so many others die with nothing. We waste 16 pounds of grain in livestock feed to produce one single pound of beef. We feed 80% of the corn grown in the USA not to people, but to livestock.
If we are to address this problem of world hunger - and who else is responsible for it except those of us living here? - we need to affect a massive shift in where we feed the foods of our fields. Instead of feeding grain to livestock, we could feed the world by feeding the grain direct to people.
And I'm not asking anyone to suffer here. If, for instance, Americans reduced their intake of meat by just 10% - if just one in every 10 meals was meatless - that would free up enough land, water and energy from growing livestock feed to adequately feed 40 million starving people. And that's official, from the Worldwatch Institute.
The point is that this problem is not going to go away; the problem is going to get worse as the population explodes in the next century like never before. More people are going to have less to eat, and we have to find new ways of feeding them.
It appears to me that as you can grow 40,000 lbs. of potatoes or 10,000 lbs. of beans on an acre of prime land that would produce just 250 lbs of beef, one of these new ways has to be a major shift away from meat-eating.
Of course, to argue for this change is to invite the catcalls again because by asking people to change their eating habits we are asking them to change tradition and people like to cling to tradition.
Tradition, the way it is, is only an idea that has had widespread acceptance for a protracted period of time. But now we have to find new, better ideas. Just because something is a tradition does not, in itself, make it a good idea. It used to be a tradition for women not to have the vote. It used to be a tradition in my husband's home town of Liverpool to ship black people from Africa to America as slaves. These were not good ideas and new, better ideas overcame them.
And I have faith that these new ideas for the way we eat will change the way it is to the way it should be. I have faith because so many people who might once have mocked vegetarianism, are now opening up to these new ideas. The very presence of this magazine in the market proves that minds are opening to the new possibilities.
And that change is coming fast. In England, as I write, newspapers have just reported the findings of a poll of teenage schoolgirls that has found that 57% of those age 14 and under are now claiming to be vegetarian. Of these kids, 82% said they have stopped eating meat because they don't believe that animals should be killed for food.
Such poll findings were unheard of 10 years ago. But then, ten years ago, who would have said that the Berlin Wall would come down, that the Soviet bloc would collapse under pressure for democracy, or that Nelson Mandela would go from a prison to a presidency?
But ten years ago, I'd had laughed if anyone told me I could write a vegetarian cookbook that one person would buy, let alone 360,000 people who bought it worldwide. Ten years ago I'd have scoffed at the very idea that frozen vegetarian food with my face on it would be selling in the supermarkets of California, or that 60 million meals of the same food would have sold in the UK last year. Or that we could create meals from wheat that taste so like meat you wouldn't know the difference.
Ten years ago I wouldn't have believed you if you'd asked me to create ready-made vegetarian meals for Japan, Sweden, Germany, Holland and Australia. There's no demand, I'd have said, people aren't that interested. But they're interested, and are asking me now.
Ten years ago I wouldn't have said, "there's a food revolution going on."
Ten years from now I hope we'll say, "We told you so."
Linda McCartney, 1996