Think about it. The human population of the Earth is now over 7 billion. The stress this places on food resources is enormous. Do you feel powerless? Don't. There is something you can do that will ease the burden on the Earth’s resources, help to feed millions of people, dramatically improve your health and save literally billions of animals from pain, terror and death.
It's simple ... Go vegetarian!
Vegetarians are healthier than people who eat meat. It's a fact. Scientific studies show that vegetarians suffer much less from illnesses like cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and other common health problems. A major study of 6,500 people (The China Study) showed that the less animal products eaten, the healthier people were. Another major study reported in the British Medical Journal found that, of 5,000 meat eaters and 6,000 non-meat eaters, vegetarians have 40% less risk of cancer and 30% less risk of heart disease than the meat eaters and were 20% less likely to die of any cause (Oxford Vegetarian Study). A US study of 50,000 vegetarians showed a very low rate of cancer (Seventh Day Adventist Study, Massachusetts). It has been estimated that by following a low-fat vegetarian diet, the risk of food poisoning is decreased by 80%. More evidence of the benefits of a vegetarian diet is being found each year.
More than 60 billion animals are systematically killed in slaughterhouses around the world each year (over seven times the human population!). It is nothing more than an undercover massacre which we, as consumers, contribute to by distancing ourselves from the truth. Animals suffer enormously in the process. Quite apart from the terror of being killed, they undergo pain and fear through routine stock mutilations and during transportation to saleyards and abattoirs.
Most animals eaten in Australia today are intensively raised in dark, sunless sheds where they are fed a diet of processed foods. In most cases antibiotics and growth-promotants are routinely administered. These animals are treated as little more than meat machines. We would be horrified if our pet cat or dog was treated in this way, so why do we subject other animals to such cruelty? The fact that the killing is done by someone else makes it easy to eat meat but, by eating it, we are really condemning the next animal in line to satisfy consumer demand. Have you ever really stopped to think about the cruelty we systematically inflict on other species simply by eating them?
Meat is expensive to produce, both economically and agriculturally. With so many starving people in the world today it is a criminal waste of food to produce it. Meat animals are fed perfectly good plant food which could have been fed directly to starving people. For instance, it takes 17 kilos of corn, beans, grains, etc, to produce one kilo of beef in feedlot cattle. This is like investing $17.00 in a bank term deposit and withdrawing $1.00 at maturity!
Europe imports 70% of its protein for animal feed. This is on top of using large proportions of its own arable land. Much of these imported feedstuffs come from countries suffering from poverty or environmental degradation. 95% of world soybean and one third of world grain production is used for animal feed, utilising massive reserves of land. Meanwhile, a child dies of starvation somewhere in the world every two seconds. As the world human population grows, so too does the need for the dwindling reserves of arable land to grow crops to feed it.
Much of the water used for agriculture is not recoverable because it passes through the plants and evaporates from the leaves and stem. Large amounts of water are consumed per hectare of crop. Estimates show that one hectare of corn requires 4 million litres of water in the growing season while another 2 million litres of water evaporates from the soil. Soybeans need 4.6 million litres of water per hectare and wheat needs 2.4 million litres per hectare.
Taking into account the large amounts of feed that highly productive food animals need to eat, it has been calculated that one kilogram of animal protein typically takes 100 times as much water to produce as one kilogram of plant protein. To take the example of beef, the production of one kilogram of beef would need 100 kilograms of forage and 4 kilograms of grain. This means that the production of one kilogram of beef takes between 100,000 and 200,000 litres of water, depending on the growing conditions. 87% of the fresh water consumed worldwide is used for agriculture. Clearly meat production is a very inefficient use of water.
Animal farming is the most environmentally costly way of feeding the world. The production of animal protein is a highly inefficient use of land and water resources. Farm animals convert plant protein to animal protein with a low efficiency - typically around 30 to 40 % and only 8% in the case of beef production. Four kilograms of grain fed to a pig produces one kilogram of pork. An estimate from Cornell University is that the water requirement for beef production is over 50 times as much as for rice production and 100 times as much as for wheat production. The US Union of Concerned Scientists has concluded that halving the average US household’s meat consumption would reduce food-related land use by 30% and water pollution by 24%.
In the next two decades the problem of how to feed at least 8 billion people while protecting our natural resources of land, water, air and wild species will become increasingly urgent. The spread of intensive animal farming throughout the world cannot be seen as a sustainable solution.
It's Environmentally Friendly
A major report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations called 'Livestock's Long Shadow' indicates that animal-based agriculture contributes more greenhouse gases (18% in CO2 equivalents) than all of the cars, trucks and other forms of transportation worldwide (13.5%). What makes the situation far worse is that the report projects that the number of farmed animals will double in the next 50 years. If that happens, increased greenhouse gas emissions from livestock agriculture would negate the reductions from many other positive changes, such as increasing vehicle fuel efficiencies, switching to more efficient light bulbs, etc.
Global warming, or greenhouse effect, is a natural process in which gases in our atmosphere absorb heat radiated from the earth and re-radiate it, preventing the earth from losing all its heat back into space. It is not clear how much global warming is due to emissions of human-generated greenhouse gases (typically carbon dioxide) which increases the natural greenhouse effect but it is certain that we are generating large quantities of greenhouse gases from intensive animal farming.
Animal production involves the emission of carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuel energy, nitrous oxide emissions from the use of inorganic fertiliser and methane emission from cattle digestion and manure. All farm animals produce carbon dioxide by normal respiration. The amounts emitted by one animal per year are about 4,000 kg for cattle, 400 kg for sheep and 450 kg for pigs. This compares with about 300 kg for a human being and 5,500 kg for a typical passenger car.
Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although its concentration in the atmosphere is relatively small. It is increasing by almost 1% per year. Farm animals and animal manure contribute about 87 million tonnes a year, about 15% of all methane production worldwide.
Nitrous oxide also contributes to the greenhouse effect as well as depleting the ozone layer. A 1994 report estimated that 80% of the current annual increase in nitrous oxide production is due to agriculture. Oxides of nitrogen are also one of the major causes of acid rain. The vast majority of ammonia gas is also produced by farming and is responsible for nitrate leaching and acid rain.
In Central America, entire forests are felled or burnt to provide land for grazing cattle. Most of these cattle end up as second-quality hamburger meat for the North American junk food market. Being hard-hooved, cattle erode vulnerable topsoil, while each animal produces over 300 litres of methane per day. Also, the trees which are felled to clear land for cattle ranching are left to rot. The termites which then feed on them produce even more methane than the cattle. Weight for weight, cattle alone outweigh the entire human population of our planet! A Greenpeace report showed how the dairy industry in California uses enough water to supply a city of 22 million people.
The effluent produced by intensive piggeries, cattle feedlots and chicken broiler units is polluting our increasingly fragile waterways and producing huge amounts of nitrates and ammonia. These animals are fed high nutrient food to achieve high productivity. As a result of this demand for animal feed over three quarters of agricultural land is given over to animal feed production or grazing. The effluent produced by these animals in the relatively small area of land that they occupy become pollutants in the general environment. There is a direct link between the demand for high productivity meat production and environmental pollution, both atmospheric (methane and ammonia) and of waterways (nitrates). For each European, there are two to three tonnes of manure produced by the very animals they eat. Fish farming (or ‘aquaculture’) is the fastest growing sector of the world food economy, increasing by 11% a year. This growth was expected to relieve pressure on ocean fish stocks, most of which are now fished beyond capacity, and to provide a reliable source of food to a world population that adds 78 million people each year. Paradoxically, new studies show that the increasing trend toward farming carnivorous fish means that many types of fish farming are contributing to a worldwide collapse of wild fisheries. Production of a single kilogram of fish-eating species such as shrimp, salmon, tuna or cod demands between two and five kilograms of wild-caught fish that is processed into meal and oil for feeds.
A new study has discovered that traditional aquaculture - which is farming fish that eat plants and bottom muck - is being replaced by modern intensive farming of large, carnivorous fish because overfishing has decimated these fish in the wild. This has lead to the situation of catching fish to feed fish. Instead of alleviating over-fishing, fish farming is actually making it much worse.
Exploding Some Myths
Understandably, people are a bit apprehensive about changing their diet. Everyone seems to know ‘someone’ who looks as pale as a bleached potato since giving up meat! The truth is that a well-balanced vegetarian diet provides all the protein and nutrients needed for a vigorous and healthy life (American Dietary Association study). What is seldom pointed out are the millions of conventional eaters who suffer from constipation, obesity, diabetes, diverticulitis, gout and a host of other problems and diseases brought on by a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet, combined with the adverse effects of meat.
A study carried out by the University of Surrey in Britain found that vegetarians were better nourished than meat eaters, and much closer to the ideal diet recommended by the government's own health advisers.
Aren't We Designed to Eat Meat?
Not at all. Many people say that we are meat eaters because we have sharp teeth. This is like judging a book by its cover. Look inside and you'll find out what is really going on.
Our digestive system resembles that of the herbivores and the frugivores (fruit eaters). It consists of a very long intestine allowing slow digestion of nutrients. By contrast, carnivores have a short digestive tract designed so that meat can quickly pass through the body before it putrefies and becomes toxic. To compensate for this rapid transition, carnivores have a stomach acid concentration ten times greater than that of vegetarian mammals (including humans) to enable them to quickly digest the meat.
When humans eat meat it begins to putrefy before leaving the body, often resulting in disorders as diverse as constipation and bowel cancer if eaten persistently over a period of time. Sure, the more fibre eaten with meat, the quicker it passes through the intestine, but why eat meat at all? Only vegetable matter contains fibre and a good vegetarian diet provides all the fibre the body needs without having to add extra ‘artificially’. If you are serious about lowering your cholesterol intake, a vegetarian diet is the best way to go since only animal products contain cholesterol.
What Do I Eat?
Most people imagine vegetarian eating to be ‘meat and two veg’, minus the meat. To a conventional meat eater this sounds like someone being sold a car with the engine missing! Nothing could be further from the truth. Vegetarian eating is about eating a wide variety of food prepared in an abundance of different ways.
Being a good vegetarian means being adventurous and open-minded about food. It is not simply about eating a predictable menu, day in, day out. Many vegetarian staples had their origin in different countries hundreds of years ago... pasta from China (and later Italy), tofu from Japan, beam curd from China, and tempeh from Indonesia. Tofu is bean curd made from soy beans. Tempeh is a sort of nut-flavoured cheese made from fermented soy beans. It is rich in enzymes and easily digested. Both can be bought at health food stores and larger supermarkets. These are not merely substitutes for meat, but nutritious foods in themselves which have proved to be an excellent source of protein for centuries.
Where Do I Get My Protein?
Protein is naturally very plentiful. It occurs in every living thing, plant and animal. Apart from fruit and vegetables, good sources of protein include pasta, lentils, rice, potatoes, soy beans, chick peas, nuts, seeds (almonds contain 20% protein by weight) and grains, with or without the moderate use of eggs and dairy products. The amount you need depends on different personal attributes (weight, height, etc) and the daily requirement varies considerably from 20 to 90 grams per day. By eating a variety of food each day you should easily meet your individual requirements. In fact, the nutritional attitude to protein has changed dramatically in recent years. The old-fashioned notion that “you can never get too much protein” has been proved wrong. Excess protein not used by the body has to be broken down and excreted as waste. In fact, a major culprit in many human degenerative diseases is a protein overdose. For example, calcium loss in osteoporosis has been linked largely to an excess of high-protein foods.
What about Minerals like Iron and Calcium?
A sound vegetarian diet should provide all needed nutrients. The presence of vitamin C with iron in the diet will help iron absorption by up to 30%. It is a myth that you have to eat meat to get sufficient iron. It is readily available in breakfast cereals, whole grains, legumes and leafy green vegetables and fruits such as prunes. Tiredness is not necessarily caused by iron deficiency. It may also the caused by lack of sleep, depression, stress and poor (usually junk food) eating habits. Calcium is found in all unprocessed vegetable foods in amounts that are sufficient to meet the needs of both adults and growing children. Good sources of calcium are sesame seeds, tofu, soy beans, parsley, green vegetables, fortified soy milk and seaweed. A recent dietary study of 6,500 Chinese found that even those who ate no animal products actually consumed twice the amount of iron as the average North American. In spite of the fact that dairy products were not eaten, osteoporosis was almost unknown. In fact, too much animal protein leaches calcium from the bones, causing it to be excreted in the urine.
How Do I Start?
The best place to start going vegetarian is in the kitchen! Buy a cookbook and start preparing... you will soon get used to the types of food that are used and how they are prepared. Also, your taste for vegetarian food will adapt. If you are doubtful about your abilities as a cook you can enrol in cooking classes. Information about these is often available in health food shops and some courses are run at TAFE colleges. The Vegetarian Society has a list of recommended classes.
Giving up meat might seem strange at first, but so does giving up tobacco to the cigarette addict! If you feel that you can't drop meats straight away, try cutting it down bit by bit. Just increase your use of foods like beans, grains, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, gluten and some of the many low cholesterol convenience foods (like veggie burgers and sausages) now available at health food stores and supermarkets.
Why Do So Many People Eat Meat?
Meat-eating in the quantity our society eats it today really began with the Industrial Revolution. Better machines led to more efficient agriculture. When a surplus of crops was produced, this was fed to animals and the animals eaten by those who could afford meat. Thus meat became something of a status symbol. Unfortunately, the status symbol developed into a habit so that most of us in the wealthier countries think that is a normal part of our diet. In the 21st century it is high time we turned back to the healthier, less wasteful diet of our forebears.
Today the meat and dairy industries promote the myth of their products being necessary through heavy advertising (you only have to count the times they appear on television to see that!). Close behind them are the pharmaceutical companies which provide the antibiotics and growth promotants to the animal producers. Altogether there are many vested interests in keeping us eating animal products! Unfortunately the only interests that are lost in this expensive advertising jungle are YOURS. Individual health... and a healthy environment... begins with good eating habits, and a vegetarian lifestyle is the simplest and most effective way to achieve it.
Making the Change
To make any change is not easy, particularly when it involves explanations to friends and family. However, making a change that you know will take an enormous burden off the unprecedented environmental stresses of the planet, that will improve your health and ultimately save millions of animals from cruelty makes it easy.
Already in the US and Britain there is a massive change towards a meat-free diet. Some half a million people are adopting a vegetarian lifestyle each year in the US while the number of British vegetarians is now more than 5 million. A recent survey showed that 25% of teenage Americans think that being vegetarian is fashionable. The trend is also catching in Australia and New Zealand where many, mainly young, people are realising that they want a healthy and humane future... After all, it is their future at stake!
Whether you go vegetarian overnight or over a period of time does not matter.The important thing is to get on the track. Even cutting down on meat consumption will make an enormous difference.
The new millennium is the time to make the change. Let's make it a goal for the whole planet.
Remember... You're in good company!
Socrates, Plato, Pythagorus, Plutarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Tolstoy, Shelley, George Bernard Shaw, Thoreau, Gandhi, Johnny Weissmuller (the first "Tarzan"), Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Paavo Nurmi ("The Flying Finn" - 9 Olympic gold medals), Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Mike Tyson, Peter Brock, Greg Chappell, Carl Lewis, Killer Kowalski (champion wrestler), Julie Christie, Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Drew Barrymore, James Cromwell, John Cleese, Penelope Cruz, Joaquin Phoenix, Eric Stoltz, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Seagal, Brooke Shields, Gwynneth Paltrow, Terrence Stamp, Joanna Lumley, Willem Dafoe, Richard Gere, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Schwartzman, Woody Harrelson, Ashley Judd, Tobey Maguire, Guy Pearce, Alicia Silverstone, Forest Whitaker, Steve Martin, Casey Affleck, Peter Dinklage, Mariel Hemingway, Barry Gibb, Bryan Adams, Joan Baez, Prince, Damon Albarn, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, Dennis Weaver, Ian McKellen, Brian May, Bob Marley, Melissa Etheridge, Peter Gabriel, kd lang, Ricky Martin, Belinda Carlisle, Billy Idol, Shania Twain, Alanis Morissette, Chrissie Hynde, Moby, Meatloaf, Morrissey, Christie Brinkley, Richard Linklater, Russell Brand, Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Jared Leto, Ricki Lake, Kevin Nealon, Jerry Seinfeld, Patrik Baboumian (record-breaking weight-lifter), Peter Siddle (Australian cricket fast bowler), Brendan Brazier.