Are Meat Eaters Causing The World’s Problems?
Have you ever thought about being a vegetarian? People become vegetarian for all sorts of reasons including ethics, environmental, economic, religious, health, and just liking the vegetarian cuisine. People look for easy, obvious fixes to major global issues in a time of struggle such as this. Many people either overlook or are unaware of the effect that becoming vegetarian could have on many worldwide issues.
Eating meat seems like a personal choice. But in fact, the dietary choices each individual makes have an effect on the global community. Did you know that “70% of the grain produced in the US is used to feed livestock” (Top 10 Reasons for Going Veggie)? If that grain was fed straight to humans we could feed an additional “4 billion people” (Top 10 Reasons for Going Veggie). Or alternatively, we could export the grain to other countries and increase the trade balance by a staggering “80 million dollars a year” which could be used to benefit any number of issues in the US (Why Go Veg?).
The environmental argument for becoming a vegetarian is as good as any and probably better than most because it affects everyone in the world through climate change, world hunger, and world economy. The production of livestock is responsible for “15% of global greenhouse gas emissions which is more than all of the world’s planes, trains, and automobiles put together” (What If The World Went Vegetarian? 00:01:32-00:01:35).
You may also be familiar with the water crisis. Did you know that meat consumption is a factor? It takes 15,000 liters of water to make one kilogram of beef. Compare that with 300 liters for one kilogram of garden veggies and 900 liters for cereal crops. Even if you take the ratio of calories produced to the water required, beef takes seven times more water to make one calorie than veggies and twenty times more than cereal crops. In fact, you can save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months. Most people are aware of carbon monoxide as a threat to our climate. Methane is an even bigger threat. “It has 25% more climate-changing power than carbon monoxide” and cows on average produce 70-120 kilograms a year (What If The World Went Vegetarian? 00:01:25-00:01:47). Multiply that by the 1.5 billion cows in the world and that makes 180 billion kilograms of methane per year. You can imagine the impact that would have over your lifetime.
Not only is cutting the meat from your diet healthy for the environment, but also beneficial for your personal health. “An Oxford study published in the British Medical Journal found that vegetarians outlive meat eaters by six years on average” (Top 10 Reasons for Going Veggie). The correlation between meat consumption and a wide range of degenerative diseases is well founded and includes Osteoporosis, kidney stones and Gallstones, Diabetes, Multiple sclerosis, Arthritis, and gum disease. In fact, five diet-related chronic diseases cost the US economy a staggering $1 trillion each year! (This is an estimate of direct medical costs and the indirect impact of productivity losses due to illness and premature death associated with chronic heart disease and stroke, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis). With a trillion dollars, for some perspective, you could spend one dollar every second around the clock and not run out for 312,688 years. Vegetarians have been shown to have a 24% lower risk of dying of heart disease than non-vegetarians (“Top 10 Reasons for Going Veggie”). “Heart disease is responsible for 1 in every 4 deaths in the US which makes it the number one cause of death in the US” (Heart Disease Facts). Just by not eating meat you can vastly decrease your chances of getting heart disease. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a division of the CDC, the National Center for Health Statistics, “64% of adults and 15% of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight” which eating meat has been shown to have a correlation with (“Why Go Veg?”). Many unhealthy aspects of life are out of your control, but your diet is something you do have control over.
Another danger in eating meat is drug exposure. It is fairly common knowledge that many animals raised for slaughter receive antibiotics to counteract the bacteria they are exposed to from living in crowded conditions. According to a study from the Center for Food Safety 99.9% of chicken and 78% of beef consumed in the United States come from overcrowded factory farms. It is less known however that these animals are exposed to over 400 kinds of drugs to either make them grow abnormally fast or to keep them alive in conditions that would normally kill them. The Center for Food Safety even found drugs that pose significant threats to humans and animals in the meat. These drugs have been approved by the FDA and are on the market. Twelve of these drugs are banned in other countries but remain legal to use in the US. Many big corporations in the agricultural sector have close ties with the FDA and can manipulate the FDA to benefit them and their industry.
These drugs fed to livestock include a vast number of antibiotics. An issue that is gaining more widespread public awareness is the threat of antibiotic resistance. You might be aware of this problem, but did you know that “80% of antibiotics in the US are used to feed livestock raised for meat production” (Over 450 Drugs Are Administered to Farmed Animals Julie Cappiello)? Antibiotic resistance is a major global issue. Essentially, the increasing human population means more meat production, and as our meat production rises so does the number of overcrowded farms. With overcrowded farms, bacteria thrives which leads to antibiotic use. The trouble now is that with more and more bacteria and more and more antibiotics, scientists fear that bacteria will develop a resistance to antibiotics, and by 2050, we should expect to lose 10 million people each year as a result. Many of these problems could be helped by less meat production.
Being a vegetarian is not just an alternative to negative consequences, it’s a lifestyle that offers many different options and leads to good health. There are more options for vegetarians than ever before. Travel companies are adding trips that only visit vegetarian restaurants, and it is easier than ever to find dining options all over the world. New vegan and vegetarian restaurants are opening with the increased popularity of this lifestyle and more restaurants are making efforts to accommodate vegetarians. People who become vegetarian often say they feel healthier. One thing that people don’t realize when they say “I couldn’t live without meat” or “I would be a vegetarian but I just like meat too much” is that there are scrumptious meals that vegetarians eat all of the time. For example; in some parts of India most people are vegetarian. All around the world, there are traditional cuisines that feature vegetarian dishes. Some of the most delicious foods come from places like India, Thailand, and the Mediterranean.
If you are unfamiliar with veganism, it is a lifestyle that means different things for different people. For some, it means not consuming any animal products such as milk, eggs, or honey. For others, it means not even using any animal products, such as wool, leather, and down feathers. Veganism is a much harder diet to follow than vegetarianism especially if you have other dietary restrictions. It has a huge environmental impact as well. One way that being vegan helps animals, is that it helps to eradicate the overcrowded dairy and egg farms all over the world. To learn more about being a vegan you may consider looking at the information found on The Vegan Society.
You can make a major impact by choosing not to eat meat. The simple choice of becoming vegetarian could vastly improve the state of many serious and complex issues. I implore you to consider becoming vegetarian which would improve your own health as well as many worldwide problems. Imagine you and your family searching for new vegetarian recipes, laughing at the ones that look disgusting and bookmarking the ones that look good. You might have fun searching and making your new favorite vegetarian dishes, or maybe the best part of being vegetarian for you is that you enjoy helping the issues that matter to you. You don’t have to be a certain kind of person to become a vegetarian. All different kinds of people become vegetarian for all different reasons and I believe that there is a compelling reason for everyone.
Antibiotics- a medicine (such as penicillin or its derivatives) that inhibits the growth of or destroys microorganisms
CDC- Center for Disease Control
FDA- Food and Drug Administration
Vegan- a person who does not eat or use animal products
Vegetarian- a person who does not eat meat, and sometimes other animal products, especially for moral, religious, or health reasons
Cappiello, Julie. “Over 450 Drugs Are Administered to Farmed Animals.” Mercy for Animals, April 13, 2017, https://mercyforanimals.org/over-450-drugs-are-administered-to-farmed.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heart Disease Facts.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, November 28, 2017, https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.
Cook, Michelle Schoffro. “Shocking Drugs Contaminate American Meat Supply.” Care2, September 10, 2018,https://www.care2.com/greenliving/shocking-drugs-contaminate-american-meat-supply.html.
Down to Earth. “Top ten reasons to go veggie.” Down to Earth, 01/30/2019,https://www.downtoearth.org/go-veggie/top-10-reasons.
Majd, Sanaz. “How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian.” Quick and Dirty Tips, January 17, 2018, https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/healthy-eating/how-to-be-a-healthy-vegetarian?page=1.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH). “7 Things To Know About Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH), September 24, 2015, https://nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/omega.
ProCon.org (adapted by Newsela staff). “Issue Overview: Should people become vegetarians?” Newsela, 11/21/2016, https://newsela.com/read/lib-procon-vegetarianism/id/23678/.
Tyler Irving, Mitchell Moffit, and Gregory Brown. “What If The World Went Vegetarian?” YouTube, Mar 24, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANUoAdXfA60.
Vegetarian Times Editor. “Why Go Veg?” Vegetarian Times, June 15, 2007, https://www.vegetariantimes.com/health-and-nutrition/why-go-veg-learn-about-becoming-a-vegetarian.
Walsh, Nora. “Vegan or Vegetarian? You Have More Travel and Dining Options Than Ever.” The New York Times, Nov. 13, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/13/travel/vegan-or-vegetarian-you-have-more-travel-and-dining-options-than-ever.html.
Whoriskey, Peter. “Is a vegetarian diet really better for the environment? Science takes aim at the conventional wisdom.” The Washington Post, December 18, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/18/being-a-vegetarian-might-make-you-feel-environmentally-superior-why-that-may-be-wrong/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.99c71510c123.