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The Case for
Vegetarianism

Michel LeBlanc
La Fondation Médias Verts

April 1998

 

w.gif (482 bytes) hat do you think of when you hear the word vegetarianism? "Far out" rebels from the Sixties who wore flowers in their hair? Health freaks who meticulously count the number of calories and vitamins that are absorbed by their body? If you have such thoughts, or if you feel at a loss for the reasons that bring these people to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, you are not alone. Vegetarianism, in general, is very misunderstood.

As will be covered by this article, whether or not we eat meat has a fundamental impact on the balance of our ecosphere.

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"More than half the water used in North America is used to irrigate land used to feed cattle."
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(photo: NBEN-RENB)


Forests

As everyone well knows, we need our forests. They're a vital source of oxygen, they stabilize our climate, they protect us from floods and they preserve the soil's rich minerals inhibiting soil erosion. What's more, forests naturally purify our waters and serve as habitats for thousands of animal and plant species.

However, our forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Whether in Central America, in Africa or in North America, humanity is sabotaging the ecological balance that ensures its own existence.

In the Amazon and in Brazil, for example, the bulk of clearcutting is done in tropical forests to develop grazing fields for cattle. The majority of those responsible for the destruction of these forests are part of the western world's meat producing industry, which exploits these poor countries in order to raise cattle at a lower price. Without naming names, fast food burger chains, so popular at home are fully responsible.

The situation is similar here in North America. For each acre of land that is destroyed to make way for a highway, a house, a shopping centre, etc., seven acres of forests are converted into grazing fields for cattle and/or farmland that serves to grow grain to feed that cattle.

By taking note of this reality, what we must remember is that such a situation can be avoided by changing our consumption habits; that is, becoming vegetarians. We wouldn't need to cut down so many trees if we didn't raise cattle. In fact, less that half the farmland in North America is used to grow food for humans; the largest part is used to raise cattle. For each 16Kg. of grain consumed by an animal, meat-eaters receive only 1Kg. of meat. What's more, to satisfy the annual consumption habits of a meat-eater, 3.25 acres of farmland will be needed; on the other hand, the lacto-ovo vegetarian (who eats eggs and dairy products), will require only 0.5 acres, and a strict vegetarian (who eats neither eggs nor dairy products), will require only 1/6th of an acre of farmland.

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"... the bulk of clearcutting is done in tropical forests to develop grazing fields for cattle."
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Water
Water is another essential natural resource. One of the biggest wastes of water comes from the meat producing industry. More than half the water used in North America is used to irrigate land used to feed cattle. Other large quantities of water are used indirectly by this industry - for example, to clean excrement left behind the animals.

On average, 18,500 litres of water are used to produce 1Kg of meat, the equivalent amount of water used by a typical Canadian family during a one-month period. To feed the typical meat-eater for 1 day requires more than 14,800 litres of water. In contrast, a lacto-ovo vegetarian needs only 1/4 of this amount and a strict vegetarian will use only 1/12th of this amount.

Energy
Over-consumption of energy is one of the most important ecological problems in the world. The production of energy using petroleum, hydraulic and nuclear resources entails serious ecological problems such as acid rain, the greenhouse effect and the destruction of the entire ecological system. However, the production of energy is essential for us all. Those two realities mean there is a great desire to efficiently manage both the production and the consumption of energy.

This said, how do we reconcile the fact that we accept that the North American meat producing industry and its related industries consume 1/3 of all the energy produced in North America? By contrast, the production of grain, vegetables and fruits use less than 5% of the energy consumed by the meat industry.

How do we justify eating meat?
When we sit down for a meal, most of us don't thing about how our choice of food affects the world. We don't realise that with every billion hamburgers sold, dozens of animals and plant species disappear. Once we realise these facts, the question remains - How do we justify eating meat?

Sources are available from "Beyond Beef - The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture", 1992, by J. Rifkin; and "Diet for a New America", 1987, by J. Robbins.