On Vegetarianism (2011)

People all over the world scan areas within their own actions to find ways to counter and reduce our footprints on the face of the planet. Governments find it difficult due to the private sector’s insistence on the ‘business-as-usual’ approach, i.e. a reluctance to embrace change. Very few, however, discover that the simplest way in which we as individuals can make a difference and significantly reduce our footprints is by altering our eating habits.

A UN report, released in 2006, states that intensive animal agriculture collectively produces more carbon emissions than all cars and trucks produced so far in the world (considering the statistic that says that 1 million animals are slaughtered every hour in the USA alone, emitting 60 million tons of methane every year before dying for cows alone). The majority would feel this statement is exaggerated, but consider that up to 25% of the original Amazon rainforest cover has been lost in the last 25 years purely for the rearing of cattle rearing, considering that an acre of fertile land can render 165 pounds of beef or 20,000 pounds of potatoes. 30 million on average die every year in the world of starvation, whereas in the UK alone cattle are fed enough food to feed 250 million, worth in excess of £46 million from third world nations. Groundwater across the world, particularly in India, Australia and South Africa, to name but a few is depleted annually by a net loss of 50 billion gallons combined, as the water needed to produce 10 pounds of beef is enough to sustain an entire household of 6 members in India for a whole year.

The immense wastage in rearing animals for consumption can be highlighted with the fact that only 6% of their vegetable and fruit intake is actually converted into flesh; the remaining 94% is wasted. The European Commission spends, or, by some perspectives, wastes €100 million every 5 years in sustaining animal production as obligated by their Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, resulting in wasted milk and butter, leading to hills of butter blocks in warehouses across Europe, when this could be better spent on growing grain, soya, and/or other vegetables. Beyond just listing facts, how many can safely say they have experienced being hung upside down, electrocuted, had their throat slit then immersed in boiling water, as above 75% of cattle are killed in Great Britain? The facts pale, when people learn that male chicks that cannot produce eggs are gassed to death, fish are routinely suffocated in nets, that the best leather we wear comes from those that are but 2 weeks old as animals, and that over 850 million people are at risk of losing their livelihoods in the next 15 years, particularly those that live in the Sahel, where there is naught but a tiny glimmer of hope for those that stand to lose all to soil erosion, flash floods and decreased rainfall, usually attributed to climate change, precipitated indirectly by dietary choices made by human beings worldwide.

On the other hand, many nutritionists agree that for people that have eaten meat for most of their lives, giving up meat and seafood is nothing short of a challenge. Particularly for adolescents, vegetarian dietary choices present limited ways of a sufficient protein and Vitamin B intake, as other concerns surface, such as iron and calcium intake issues. “9 out of 20 essential amino acids cannot be found in any component of a vegetarian diet, but only in meat/seafood. This can lead to irritability, lack of sleep, difficulty thinking, muscle wastage and other unpleasant side-effects”, asserts one scientist. Many other changes for those that choose to stop eating meat include psychological reasons of prejudice being felt against those that still eat meat, particularly within the same family, where many may respect one enough not to meat in one’s presence, but a feeling of resentment may develop against them.

If one uses the internet as a primary source of information, it is difficult to strike a balanced argument against vegetarianism, as all studies available seem to point to that choice being healthier, except for those who convert to it, and even then only for those that are adolescent or pre-adolescent can it be considered unhealthy, and this is agreed upon by most medical professionals and nutritionists working in the field. Consequently many propose that vegetarianism should be actively promoted from the birth of a child, as it is very difficult to instill vegetarianism into someone that is used to the taste of meat. Experts disagree on the reasons for this phenomenon, but an added benefit to governments willing to spend on such campaigns would actively benefit those that suffer from aliments and disease relating to the cardiovascular system, including artery blockages and CVDs that ultimately cause more death across Europe than cancer or AIDS.

As a vegetarian, this debate affects me personally, as many in my own family, including myself, did not know of the immense footprint left by those that consume other animals on the face of the earth. It is remarkable what rare mention the press, which many of us read every day, have of this argument, or how many varied statistics are presented on the occasion that the subject does appear in newspapers or magazines. It is also a surprise to many that a simple facet of our existence, our diets, can have such an impact on our ecological footprints. To hope that the issue be wider publicized in the mass media in order to educate the world about this sensitive issue is a rather passive way to wash one’s own hands of any blame in contributing to widespread ignorance. Instead, a more active method of publicizing the issue would be to use social networking websites in the form of debates, if only amongst friends, and on blogs. In reality, for today’s generation, the majority will simply say “I agree with you, I just prefer the taste of meat.” The counter argument to this would be to look in supermarkets to the amount of alternatives there are to meat, Quorn, a fungus substitute similar to mushroom and tasting just like meat, being one example; but then there are those who would say that they contain unnecessary calories and additives, and so the argument would roll on. The bottom line would be that even if three quarters of North America were to stop eating meat by the end of next year, there would no starving people on Earth, but in my opinion, this would be difficult for more reasons than merely that in its unrealistic ambition lies shining, a radiant, unrelenting and pure shred of hope, that belies the same crazy dream of a better world based on the concepts of fraternity as a foundation, one that regrettably falls miles short in the world that we live in today.

March 7, 2011.

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