In an act of precognition, Mark Seall wrote a post today on EcoWorldly raising a number of questions about vegetarianism. While it would be near impossible to address all of his questions in one post, I do want to get the conversation started. I call his post precognitive because it provides a perfect segue to promote an event happening tomorrow: The Great American Meatout.
Every Spring, thousands of activists and educators get together at events all over the world to raise awareness of vegetarian diets. Despite the event’s name, it has in fact grown into an international phenomenon. You can find a calendar of events here to see what’s going on near you. This is certainly a great place to start in terms of resources, and I plan to address that further in my next post.
For today I want to look at Mark’s question, “Should we be eating animals in the first place?” Here’s my take…
There are three basic issues when it comes to looking at vegetarianism and veganism: health, animal rights, and the environment. Given the nature of this blog, I’m going to focus on the latter. Livestock production contributes to a number of hot button environmental issues, including:
- Climate Change: A 2006 study from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that meat production contributes 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is larger than the automobile industry. (Source: Vegan Outreach)
- Desertification: While livestock itself contributes to this problem by overgrazing land, the larger problem is producing enough food to feed these animals. It takes approximately 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, and about 25 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat. Not only is the biological inefficiency staggering, but farmland all across the U.S. and other countries is going dry. (Source: VegSource.com)
- Pollution from Factory Farms: The enormous amounts of animal waste produced in small areas by factory farms contributes to water contamination and air pollution. Studies have found these effects leading to death in local fish populations and disease in residents living near these farms, not to mention health effects on workers. (Source: Sierra Club)
There are a number of other environmental impacts caused by the meat industry, and I’ll provide some more resources at the end of this post. But many of you may say, “These issues apply to factory farms. I only eat grassfed, locally-raised, organic meat.”
Well, for one I’d question if that’s really true. Do you really know where all of your meat, eggs, and dairy products come from? If you do, more power to you! But unless you cook every meal at home, this seems near impossible. Secondly, this ignores health, and many animal rights concerns. And finally, I ask, how sustainable is this? If you truly believe that eschewing factory farms for small, local alternatives is the answer, then we as a society sure need to cut down on the amount of animal products in our diet. Learning more about ways to at least supplement your lifestyle with vegetarian or vegan meals is key.
The Great American Meatout encourages people to try going vegetarian for the day tomorrow. I say, try to challenge yourself further — try going vegan for the day, or for a week! And that’s why tomorrow I’ll be focusing on another of Mark’s questions, “Do you have any suggestions on managing the conversion to vegetarianism now that half the food on my plate is off limits?” Boy, do I.
For further reading on the environmental impacts of the animal industry, I recommend Vegan Outreach, Vegan Action, and former cattle rancher Howard Lyman’s first book, Mad Cowboy, available for preview on Google Books.