I have been a meat eater all of my life. I enjoy eating meat. It took a diagnosis of arterial clogging twelve years ago to get me to begin to consider the consequences of my lifestyle. I reduced my consumption of red meat and greatly reduced my consumption of fats.
Three years ago I met an amazing young lady who had eschewed the consumption of meat for three reasons. Firstly, her concerns were for the well-being of the animals and the cruel conditions of factory farming. Secondly, she knew that the long term health of she and her family depended on a healthy diet and lifestyle. Thirdly, she had come to realize that factory farming was destroying the planet. If steps were not taken to curb the changes to our planet that were directly attributable to factory farming there would be no planet for future generations to enjoy. Over the past three years she has convinced me on all counts.
Please understand that if we are to forgo meat in an effort to save the planet, we must also give up all dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt as these are all cattle derived. We do not need these products to ensure that our dietary requirements are being met. A vegetarian diet will certainly require well thought out meal preparation to ensure that needed nutrients are available to account for anything lost by giving up meat. Any diet however, should be based on sound nutritional guidelines. There are a host of websites such as Food Monster from One Green Planet, dedicated to the support of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
While my goal is to eventually completely eliminate meat from my own diet it is not what I propose for everyone. You do not need to be concerned with animal welfare to care about your own health and the health of the planet. It is likely true that if we all decide to stop eating meat tomorrow, the world’s economy would collapse. The UN’s 2006 Livestock’s Long Shadow, a 2006 report on livestock’s impact globally, it accounts for 1.4% of the world’s total GDP. If it ended overnight, upwards of a billion jobs would be in peril. That obviously is a situation that is not even a consideration. It would be wonderful if anyone reading this decides to stop eating meat tonight but that is never going to happen and any switch away from meat will be very gradual.
A poll commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society, and conducted online by Environics shows that 33 percent of Canadians, or almost 12 million, are either already vegetarian or are eating less meat. That figure includes eight percent who identify as vegetarian or mostly vegetarian, as well as 25 percent who state that they are trying to eat less meat. It becomes apparent that more and more people are realizing that giving up meat has benefits but what are those benefits?
So, what would happen if we went vegetarian/vegan?
The planet would be saved
According to a BBC report one positive result would be a slowing in climate change. “Food production accounts for one-quarter to one-third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and the brunt of responsibility for those numbers falls to the livestock industry. Despite this, how our dietary choices affect climate change is often underestimated. In the US, for example, an average family of four emits more greenhouse gases because of the meat they eat than from driving two cars – but it is cars, not steaks, that regularly come up in discussions about global warming.” Almost 70% of the world’s agricultural land is used for livestock. Converting the vast majority of that through reforestation would now capture carbon and add to the slowing of climate change.
The poor could have enough to eat
According to one green planet, “Around 70 percent of the world’s soy is fed directly to livestock and only six percent of soy is turned into human food, which is mostly consumed in Asia. The rest of soy is turned into soybean oil.” It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that if that crop suddenly became available it would be possible to feed everyone.
Room for a growing population
While it will be important to return the unused portions of the land currently taken up by livestock production into forests and prairies, a very small portion of that land could be converted to housing an exploding population and growing crops to support the conversion to a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.
Reduction in animal suffering
According to the ASPCA, via polling, 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of the nearly 10 billion farm animals raised each year in the U.S. suffer in conditions that consumers would not accept if they could see them. Most of our meat, milk and eggs come from industrial farms where efficiency trumps welfare—and animals are paying the price. I am not a fan of PETA, I feel that they are oft times overboard in their rhetoric but this video by PETA graphically represents the factory farm reality.
A vegetarian/vegan diet will not extend your life unless you also are more active and indulge less in smoking and alcohol consumption than your meat eating friends. It is generally accepted that a person who is concerned enough about their well being and that of the planet will be a more active person who takes better care of their body. Nevertheless, there are other benefits. According to a new report by the FDA, approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals. Factory farming gives rise to all sorts of ailments not found in free range livestock and animals are routinely doused with antibiotics to control these. Eliminating factory farms and thereby the need for these antibiotics, would result in less chance of the creation of drug-resistant super-bugs. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared in a 2013 report that “Antibiotic use in food animals allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow and crowd out the bacteria that do respond to antibiotics”.
A vegetarian/vegan lifestyle might not be right for everyone but a simple change in what we eat will impact the planet.