Vegetarianism: Eating for Life

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There's little doubt anymore that vegetarianism is going mainstream. In the United States alone, more than 12 million people are vegetarians, and 19,000 more make the switch to a meat-free diet every week. Many others have greatly reduced the amount of animal products they eat.

Many people eliminate animal foods from their diet because of health concerns. According to Cornell University's Dr. T. Colin Campbell, director of the renowned 'China Project' (a long-term study of the relationship between diet and health), "The vast majority, perhaps 80 percent to 90 percent, of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based diet." In study after study, the consumption of animal foods has been linked with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and other illnesses. One reason may be because animals are routinely given growth hormones, antibiotics, and even pesticides, which remain in their flesh and are passed on to meat-eaters.

Other people become vegetarians out of concern for animal welfare. On today's factory farms, animals often spend their entire lives confined to cages or stalls barely larger than their own bodies. Death for these animals doesn't always come quickly-or painlessly. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee member George E. Brown has written that to keep production lines moving, slaughterhouse employees "often find themselves resorting to unbelievable brutality... Slaughter workers admit to routinely strangling, beating, scalding, skinning and dismembering fully conscious animals." Every year, nearly 9 billion animals are killed for food in the United States alone.

Animals aren't the only victims in slaughterhouses. Workers commonly suffer from repetitive-stress disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as injuries to their backs, necks, shoulders, and hands. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the meat industry has one of the worst records in terms of on-the-job injuries.

Reducing health risks and eliminating animal suffering are just two reasons to go vegetarian; adopting a plant-based diet can also help protect the environment and feed the hungry.

Ecological Arguments

In 1996, U.S. factory farms produced 1.4 billion tons of animal waste-130 times more than humans did.5 The waste produced in a single year would fill 6.7 million train boxcars-enough to circle the Earth 12 1/2 times.

Unfortunately, much of this waste ends up in our rivers and streams. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, factory farming pollutes U.S. waterways more than all industrial sources combined. The effects are often deadly. For example, runoff from animal waste is linked to a 7,000-square mile "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico that can no longer support aquatic life. And scientists suspect that runoff of manure from chicken and hog farms is one of the leading causes of the devastating pfiesteria outbreaks that have killed billions of fish from Delaware to Alabama. The pfiesteria microorganism causes its human victims to suffer from memory loss, skin lesions, and incapacitating fatigue.

Raising animals for food is also taking its toll on the world's forests. Since 1960, more than one-quarter of the rain forests in Central America have been destroyed to create cattle pastures. Of the Amazonian rain forest cleared in South America, more than 38 percent has been used for ranching. Rain forests are vital to the survival of the planet because they are the Earth's primary source of oxygen. And scientists are increasingly exploring the use of rain-forest plants in medications to treat and cure human diseases.

Cattle grazing is endangering plant species in the United States, too. The Government Accounting Office says that livestock grazing has threatened or eliminated more plant species than any other single factor. And as much as 85 percent of rangeland in the Western part of the United States is being destroyed by overgrazing.

Humanitarian Concerns

Every day, 840 million people around the world, including 200 million children, go hungry. But much of the world's grain harvest-40 percent-is used to feed livestock, not people. U.S. livestock alone consume about one-third of the world's total grain harvest, as well as more than 70 percent of the grain grown in the United States.

Raising animals for food is much less efficient than growing vegetables, grain, or beans. For example, a cow grazing on one acre of land produces enough meat to sustain a person two and a half months; soybeans grown on that same acre would nourish a person for seven years. The beef in just one Big Mac represents enough wheat to make five loaves of bread.

Many researchers believe that vegetarianism is the only way to feed a growing human population. A Population Reference Bureau report stated, "If everyone adopted a vegetarian diet and no food were wasted, current [food] production would theoretically feed 10 billion people, more than the projected population for the year 2050."

A Healthy and Humane Diet

A vegetarian diet is the healthiest and most humane choice for animals, people, and the planet. For free vegetarian recipes and easy tips on making the switch to a plant-based diet, please visit some of the contacts below.

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