The societies we live in are a manifestation of our minds and our daily actions. We are collectively creating our reality. The practice of vegetarianism acknowledges this. For a variety of reasons, vegetarians give up eating meat, with the understanding that this self imposed dietary restriction will have real effects in the real world, whether those effects be an improvement in health, a boost to the environment, or a reduction in animal suffering.
Vegetarian Diet: Health Reasons
We all know that there is an obesity epidemic in the US. People are eating processed food, fast food, and lots of meat. A high sugar, high salt, high fat and cholesterol diet, typical in the West, has been linked to diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, obesity, and cancer. A vegetarian diet, when properly maintained, is far more healthy. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, organic whenever possible, can lower the risk of cancer.
Beyond the nutritional risks of a meat based diet, there is another, perhaps more sinister risk. This is more a product of modern factory farming practices than eating meat, but in this day and age the two things are nearly synonymous, as the majority of meat in restaurants and grocery stores come from factory farms. The swine and bird flus emerging from factory farms are a result of overcrowded, filthy conditions coupled with the overuse of antibiotics. This produces the perfect breeding ground for new antibiotic resistant viruses to emerge, and then come into contact with human workers who can spread the diseases. While eating pork directly won’t give you swine flu, the practice of modern industrial methods means that supporting the meat industry and eating their products is creating the conditions for a deadly pandemic down the road.
Vegetarianism is clearly the healthy alternative for conscientious consumers. As a vegetarian, it is important to get B vitamins, especially B12, which can be done through supplements. Protein can be easily obtained through nuts and grains, as well as dairy and eggs if you choose to continue eating these products. Consider doing some research on these products, however, as they too are generally produced in unhealthy and inhumane factory farm settings. Another idea would be to raise your own backyard chickens. Fats can be obtained through oils, nuts, and seeds. One of the best vegan sources of complete protein and healthy fat is hemp seed, (which is one more reason hemp should be legalized for growing in the US).
Vegetarian Diet: Ethical Reasons
“Animals have been slaughtered for human consumption since the dawn of man, and animals eat other animals, so why shouldn’t we continue to eat meat? God put animals on the Earth for us to eat. When you eat something, something else has to die. Plus bacon tastes so good!”
These are some of the things people will say when arguing against ethical vegetarianism. For me what it comes down to is this: do I want my body to be made from the violent deaths of countless animals, who do feel pain and do suffer? I know that life includes death, but it is important for me to minimize or eliminate the suffering of any living being, not only humans. Plants don’t have a central nervous system, so comparing eating plants to eating animals doesn’t add up. The insects that are killed during the production of crops are also killed during the production of the grain used for feeding animals in addition to the slaughter of the animals themselves, so a vegetarian diet does cause less suffering. And if farmers or backyard gardeners start employing biointensive techniques to build the health of the soil rather than relying solely on chemical fertilizers, crops will be less prone to insect damage and there is actually less need for pesticides.
God didn’t say you can’t be a vegetarian. And animals can’t make a moral decision not to eat other animals, whereas we can. As for the taste, after being vegetarian since 1996, I no longer think bacon tastes good, and eating meat is not something that I crave. I lost my craving for meat within a year of becoming vegetarian.
Vegetarian Diet: Environmental Reasons
You may have already heard that cattle flatulence releases methane, which is far worse than CO2 as a green house gas. You may have also heard that meat farming is far less efficient than growing crops, as more water, fuel, and land are used for the extra step of growing grain that is then fed to animals, rather than eaten directly by humans. What you may not know is that the huge lagoons of animal waste caused by factory farms has created environmental problems as the waste products seep out into water ways and pollute streams, contributing to oceanic “dead zones” at the mouths of rivers. Over grazing can also impact native grass lands and make room for non native weed species to move in and rapidly take over, impacting local habitats. This is not insignificant, as increasing habitat loss due to human activities in a variety of sectors is now creating what biologists are referring to as the Holocene extinction.
Eating vegetarian doesn’t necessarily mean being environmentally friendly either, although it is still a vast improvement on factory farmed meat. If you’re looking for the most environmentally friendly way to eat, eat local organic vegetarian food. With all the uncertainty in the world today, growing your own food may be one of the best investments of time you can now make, and one of the best solutions we as a society have toward economic, political, and environmental instability.
Vegetarianism And World Hunger:
One issue brought up around vegetarianism is world hunger. And while it is more efficient to produce grain than it is to produce meat, the problem is not as simple as some might think. This is because supply often isn’t the problem, but instead, politics and corruption. In addition, flooding markets with cheap grain can have the effect of hurting local economies. Mass produced meat, however, is not the answer for feeding the billions of poor and hungry around the world. The problem we face is the concentration of wealth and agricultural resources into the hands of the few. In the US, industrial monoculture agriculture is subsidized by tax payer dollars, driving down prices and creating a situation where commodity dumping can wreck poor economies. What is needed is thriving local markets that can resist an influx of tax payer subsidized, genetically modified grain. As meat consumption requires wealth, individuals in poorer countries will likely see the economic benefits of a more vegetarian diet at a local level, unless they are raising their own livestock for slaughter. With our current economic turmoil, and as scientists are predicting a rise in droughts and floods due to climate change, hunger will likely not be eased in the coming years, no matter what the dietary choices. Of course there are still tons of great reasons to be vegetarian, and food production efficiency still may figure into the equation in certain locales. Certainly you can more easily grow your own food in a city lot or a backyard than you can raise and slaughter a cow, so from a westerner’s perspective, vegetarianism can fit right into food security.