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The Case for
La Fondation Médias Verts
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.
"More than half the water used in North
America is used to irrigate land used to feed cattle."
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
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
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.
"... the bulk of clearcutting is done in tropical forests to develop grazing fields
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
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
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
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.