Dr. J. Robert Hatherill is a research scientist and faculty member of the Environmental Studies Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Although most Americans believe that the steady diet of violence in the media is leading to a more violent world, in reality it may be a steady diet of heavy metals and pesticides that is sending teens over the edge.
Perhaps in addition to checking our children for guns and explosives we should be checking their blood for elevated levels of toxic chemicals. In particular we should check out those recent perpetrators of school violence (whether they be dead or alive) to find out if there was a biological link to their behavior.
Human behavior is so easily influenced by toxic chemicals that in the 1980s a new scientific discipline called behavioral toxicology came into existence.The use of pesticides has increased 33 fold since 1942. Recent studies show that trace levels of multiple pesticides cause increased aggression. Trace pesticide mixtures have induced abnormal thyroid hormone levels, which are associated with irritability, aggression and multiple chemical sensitivity. Children are the most vulnerable to pollutants. Because they are growing rapidly and they are smaller, they absorb 40 to 50 percent more toxins than adults.6 Babies fed infant formula rather than breast milk absorb more heavy metals such as manganese. And calcium deficiency in childhood also increases uptake of lead and manganese. An article in a February 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, titled "Chemical Levels and Delinquent Behavior," outlines the association between heavy metals and chemicals in the body and behavior problems such as attention deficit disorder, aggression, and delinquency.
Still more worrisome: At least seven studies have demonstrated that violent criminals have elevated levels of steroids, pesticides, antibiotics and other toxic chemicals in their bodies, compared with prisoners who are not violent.
Added to toxic chemicals and pesticides is the underlying problem of the transformation of our eating habits and food supply. In recent years, developments in food technology in the U.S. and other developed countries have led to sweeping changes in nutritional composition and amount of fiber inthe diet.
Growing and processing food has become a gigantic mechanized industry, and the explosive increase in processing has stripped many essential nutrients and fiber from our food. A diet filled with low-fiber convenience foods leads to a greater uptake of pollutants such as pesticides and PCB. Although PCB was banned in the 1970s, it still persists in the environment. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in September 1996 that children exposed to low levels of PCBs in the womb grow up with poor reading comprehension, low IQs and memory problems. Parents who feed their families typical processed meat and commercial foods may be unwittingly contributing to these problems.
From 1984 to 1994 the number of youths under 18 who were arrested for murder tripled, according to the Department of Justice. It is time to look beyond the sociological roots of this trend to consider the profound changes in our food supply as a possible cause of violent behavior. We need to rethink our dependence on processed foods and animal products filled with toxic chemicals, antibiotics and steroids. Rather than directing all our attention to bitter debates on gun control and the violence in the entertainment industry, let's also consider the pressing need for a cleaner environment and a vegetarian diet. Food should be good for physical as well as moral health. The Indian science considers food to sustain not only the body, but also to maintain the purity of mind and the soul. Just as alcohol affects the state of a person's mind, so does every item of food and drink affects one's psyche. The very tendency to kill an animal or bird for food gives a person the tendency to commit violence. It reduces one's sensitivity, compassion and kindness.
Every vitamin, every mineral and every food has a distinct and specific effect on our bodies and consequently on our mental function, and at a subtler level, on our attitudes. The brain is our most sensitive organ, which reacts to improper nutrition and to the presence of toxins earlier than any other system of the body. Just as no two of us have the same fingerprints, no two persons have the same biochemistry. Yet, we are enough alike for general intake of food for general well-being of both mind and body. One's diet has an effect on one's mind because the soul acts or has an experience of pleasure or pain through the medium of the brain. Dead food causes obstructions in the form of intoxication, excitement, lethargy, sleep, lustfulness and attraction towards sensuality. And the intellect becomes erratic or irresolute by being swayed by the mind and the senses. And when the intellect isn't pure, awake, balanced and righteous, it cannot draw might and bliss from the “Supreme Soul” and cannot distinguish properly between good and evil, true and false.
The act of the butcher begins with the desire of the consumer. Meat eating contributes to a mentality of violence, for with the chemically complex meat ingested, one absorbs the slaughtered creature's fear, pain and terror. These qualities are nourished within the meat-eater, perpetuating the cycle of cruelty and confusion. When the individual's consciousness lifts and expands, he will dislike violence and not be able to even digest the meat, fish, fowl and eggs he was formerly consuming. India's greatest saints have confirmed that one cannot eat meat and live a peaceful, harmonious life. Man's appetite for meat inflicts devastating harm on the earth itself, stripping its precious forests to make way for pastures. My question to omnivorous and carnivorous people is, how can someone practice true compassion when he eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?
In my eleven years of vegetarianism it has become quite evident that vegetarian families have far fewer problems than those who are not vegetarian. If children are raised as vegetarians, every day they are exposed to nonviolence as a principle of peace and compassion. Every day they are growing up they are remembering and being reminded to not kill. They won't even kill another creature to eat, to feed themselves. And if they won't kill another creature to feed themselves, they will be much less likely to do acts of violence against people.
Food is the source of the body's chemistry, and what we ingest affects our consciousness, emotions and expressional patterns. If one wants to live in higher consciousness, in peace and happiness and love for all creatures, then he cannot eat meat or eggs. By ingesting the grosser chemistries of animal foods, one introduces into the body and mind anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, suspicion and a terrible fear of death, all of which are locked into the flesh of butchered creatures. For these reasons, vegetarians live in higher consciousness and meat-eaters abide in lower consciousness.
In a Harvard Study conducted in 1998. There were four groups of rats tested based on diet. It was immediately apparent that the different diets had different effects on behavior in the four groups. The rats receiving natural food and clean water remained attentive and alert. The rats receiving natural food and hotdogs became violent and fought aggressively. The third group of rats subsisting on products containing sugarcoated cereal and fruit punch was nervous, hyperactive and behaved aimlessly. The fourth group subsisting on doughnuts and cola were unable to function as a social unit. They were fearful and had trouble sleeping. When you look at this study it is no surprise that we can solve at lest 75% of our behavior by simply going to a vegetarian diet.
Significant information is already available about violence as related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Vitamin/mineral supplementation may in fact reduce violent tendencies in some cases. However, there is a more profound dietary source of violence, which has not been properly addressed.
Many violent acts can be attributed to mood swings. Modern nutritional studies point to allergic/addictive food reactions and excessive intake of sugar as two major sources of mood swings. Allergic/addictive food reactions can create a constant state of inner tension, which radiates throughout the nervous system. An individual experiencing this high level of tension is like a loaded gun ready to go off at any moment.
Another possible dietary source of violence is our increased reliance on fast foods. Fast foods are almost always cooked and processed; therefore they lack the living enzymes and nutrients that the body needs in order to feel really satisfied. In other words, as the amount of fast food increases, the amount of fresh, raw food usually decreases. Fresh, raw foods are needed to supply the body with essential elements not available in cooked, processed food.
This modern phenomenon produces a physical state, which is described as "cellular starvation."7 No matter how much cooked, processed foods we eat, we still feel severely depleted and dissatisfied. Since our emotional and physical states are closely linked, this physical dissatisfaction communicates itself emotionally through frustration, anger and irritability. People who feel constantly dissatisfied have a low "flash point."7
I believe that most violence stems from anger, and that most anger can be traced to frustration. The most basic, and yet invisible, frustration comes from feeling continuously dissatisfied at the cellular level. Add this to the negative emotional states resulting from allergic/addictive reactions and you have an ongoing potential for violence.
Many mental and emotional problems have been related to dietary intake. Manic depression (bipolar disorder), schizophrenia and some apparently psychotic disorders have responded favorably to dietary intervention. Who knows how many violent acts towards others could have been avoided if the dietary connection had been known.
Individuals suffering from manic depression can become extremely violent, even uncontrollably homicidal, during the manic phase of their cycle. At the other end of the cycle, the depressive phase, they can become equally suicidal.
A toxic person generally has an acid pH level which results from the ingestion of animal proteins, refined sugars and cooked fats. These foods are poorly digested and create toxic residues, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Conversely, the more alkaline the body, the more serene or calm the individual. Increased intake of living foods (fruits and vegetables) helps to create an alkaline pH level.
Animal products do not possess the nutrients needed to satisfy human enzyme requirements. Their increased use results in toxic, devitalized and violence-prone individuals. By increasing the amount of fresh, raw foods in the diet, and reducing the intake of toxic, allergenic and acid-producing foods like meat and dairy products, each person can experience a much more positive, non-violent emotional state.