How to Become a Vegetarian in One Easy Bite


Written by Christine Lepisto

Imagine breaking out in agonizingly painful and itchy red welts, or even anaphylactic shock, with no clear explanation about why it is happening. With careful logging of everything you eat or touch, the picture becomes more clear: eating meat triggers this misery. People with these symptoms are finding themselves faced with a choice: eat meat and suffer; or become vegetarian.

A New Meat Allergy Comes to Light

Fortunately for those inflicted by this mysterious allergy, one of the victims of this strange disease was Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, a reknowned University of Virginia immunologist. Dr. Platts-Mills and his colleagues at UVA have been on a mission to figure out just what is going on. They reported initially in 2009 on what appeared to be a wholly new type of food allergy: cases of anaphylactic shock that were not occurring immediately after a food was eaten as is typical for food allergies, but which had its onset 3-4 hours after consumption of the trigger.

In the spring of 2011, the team of researchers came to an even more surprising conclusion: tick bites are causing meat allergies. The trigger turns out to be an oligosaccharide (a complex sugar, galactose-alpha 1,3-galactose or alpha-gal, if you like scientific names) contained in the cell on non-primate mammals — that means a molecule that is in beef, pork, lamb, and other meats that is not found naturally in human cells. Alpha-gal in the tick’s saliva sensitizes susceptible people when they are bitten; hives or anaphylactic shock result when the person subsequently ingests alpha-gal in meat.

The growing number of cases, as well as celebrity victim John Grisham, have recently raised the public profile of this allergy, which has been receiving reviews in the medical literature for several years already. Known cases largely follow the geographic range of the Amblyomma americanum, or the Lone Star tick, with a focal point in Virginia, but also including North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, the lower half of Missouri and Australia, where doctors have associated another species of tick with meat allergies.

Not yet explained: Neither lone star ticks nor eating beef are new, so why are the reported cases of this allergy suddenly increasing? Have the ticks evolved a new component of their saliva recently? Are people more susceptible due to other confounding factors in their diets or lifestyles? Could changing climate in tick habitats be to blame?

Don’t Stress: Become a Vegetarian

While we do not recommend deliberately allowing white-spotted ticks to feast on you in hopes of finally breaking off your love affair with meat, you might want to look at it this way: if you convert to vegetarianism now, you won’t need to worry about miserably itchy attacks of hives as a consequence of tick bites.

The lone star tick is just one more reason — joining sustainable One Planet living, health benefits, and a warming sense of moral superiority — for adopting a vegetarian lifestyle.

Avoiding Tick Bites

The lone star tick website gives great advice on how to recognize the male and female lone star ticks. True tick experts may note that the tick in the image has dressed up to better imitate the female lone star tick, recognizable by a single white “star” on the dorsal shield, a marking that is not shared by the male of the species.

In the meantime, feel free to provide your feedback on greener options to avoid tick bites in the comments to help those who don’t want to comply with the standard advice to use a DEET-based insect repellent when spending time outdoors. The Purple Prairie Botanicals’ Bug Spray, an all natural alternative with an EWG Skin Deep rating of 0 (no concern) has gotten some good reviews, and it is made in Minnesota, where presumably only tick-tested solutions can survive on the market. Let us know what works for you.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Photo: John Tann/flickr


Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Dale O.

This is hardly 'great news,' since ticks are parasites and can cause a variety of illnesses, such as Lyme disease.

What people eat is their own affair, Nature is not going to make 'designer ticks' just to have people stop eating meat. Be careful of what one wishes for, because if it happens for red meat for example, who is to say that it can happen for lettuce and other food sources.

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you TreeHugger, for Sharing this!

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Larry, most of us who eat "meat" include poultry and eggs in our diet as well. I agree with you that keeping chickens to be "harvested" for that later will benefit us in the meantime by supplying eggs, and will also provide fertilizer for our garden, keep pastures relatively insect-free and more.

The article was meant, of course, to promote a VEGAN lifestyle, which does not include eating eggs nor poultry, period.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

great news, thank you

Patricia H.
Patricia H.5 years ago

thanks for posting

Dale Overall

wchi, sorry to hear about your back problems and pain. Have you tried Tai Chi? I read that you have tried Yoga and many other things.

Yes, so very true that our ancestors were not stuck with eating all the unhealthy elements such as pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and other toxins in veggies, fruits, meat and other food sources. Trying to find organic sources and healthy foods gets more difficult as more factory farms and GMO veggies/fruit make their way into the food chain.

Meat is a good part of the diet in limited amounts, so is fish which I should try and eat more of.

There are a lot of problems with prescription medications and their side effects sometimes one wonders if some of them cause more problems than what they are supposed to assist with. Many drug companies seem more interested in profit than finding solutions.

Dale Overall

Agreed Marilyn, have also seen various vegan sites promoting a vegan diet for cats and dogs. Since a cat is an obligate carnivore meat is required for the best health of a cat. Dogs also need meat but some vegan sites believe that pets should not be fed meat and some vegans state that it feels good not giving meat to one's pet cat. It is one thing for a human to decide to go on a vegan/veggie diet but to impose human values on a carnivore who must eat meat goes too far and harms the animal they have as a companion despite a few dogs kept on a veggie diet that have lived for a long time. Many other pets get ill because of a species inappropriate diet.

Will be interesting to see what a lion and tiger say when an artichoke is presented to them for their next meal in the wild. If feeding meat to one's cat/dog is unnerving one can opt for a rabbit, hamster...turtle.

Dale Overall

Tick tock, tick tock, some of the arguments here are intriguing to say the least. Before eating the tomatoes that are ruthless grown in a beastly organic fashion by refusing to spray pesticides over them or saute the asparagus spears cut from their roots taking them away from their friends and family. We do not mind eating plants of course as humans have no empathy for the lives snuffed out so that we can put legumes, veggies, fruits and other former living entities into our mouths while savouring their flavours.

Alex I. does not approve of my diet reducing me to tears not. The obligate carnivore that owns me has just come into the room heading for the food bowl. Hopefully you don't object while she is fed a meat diet since cats don't do well on a vegan diet. Since you believe that I possess no empathy or responsibility this cat is 16, blind and I am allergic to cats. She stays, not being turfed the way some do when allergic or there is blindness. She gets along fine and nowhere in my country are cats raised in factory farms for consumption.

My mouth more important? Meat is in my diet. So is lettuce which life was ended so my life could continue. If you can wave a wand so we all survive eating rock pate then I will eat that and never eat a plant or animal again.

Since living on an organic farm, did not have to pay anyone. It was never hidden from me. But since you are a self-appointed Judge on those of us eating a bit of meat, you can try existing without eatin

Dale Overall

Continued from the prior comment.

Since living on an organic farm, did not have to pay anyone. It was never hidden from me. But since you are a self-appointed Judge on those of us eating a bit of meat, you can try existing without eating any formerly living entity including plants. Try eating rock pate. See how far you get.

Bullying tactics? It seems to me that more of the vegans/ vegetarians are sarcastic and bullying to people eating meat and the omnivores simply get tired and reply in kind to the bullying and cult like vehemence displayed by some of those who disapprove of our diet.

Ticks also bite vegetarians who can get Lyme Disease but I won't applaud that the way some do if meat eaters get bitten.