I chose to become a vegetarian for a lot of reasons-- animal welfare, environmental, health-- but frugality was not one of them. (Especially considering I was 12 at the time!) Nevertheless, it's a nice side benefit. I'm glad this is one of those areas where both my money and my values win at the same time.
I'm going to talk a bit about a variety of reasons to be vegetarian, hopefully without getting too preachy. Please keep in mind that almost all of these benefits still apply in part even if you only decide to cut back on your meat consumption rather than completely eliminating it!
- Meat is an incredibly inefficient food (one reason why it's usually more expensive!). It takes from 5 to 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. This has profound implications both for the environment and for the world's poor and malnourished people.
- Environment: In the U.S., it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to create 1 calorie of beef protein, compared to 3.3 calories of fossil fuel for 1 calorie of protein through grain. Cattle production is one of the leading causes of rainforest destruction (and extinction of rainforest species). And raising animals causes tremendous waste and pollution. According to the EPA, livestock produce 28% of worldwide emissions of the greenhouse gas methane, while cattle, pork, and poultry in the U.S. alone produce 1.4 billion tons of animal waste yearly (130 times that of the entire human population!) which the EPA cites as the largest single cause of water pollution.
- World Hunger and Poverty: There are 840 million malnourished people worldwide, including 300 million children. Raising meat animals and growing their feed takes up much of the resources of poor countries, while many of their citizens go hungry. More than 20% of grain in the developing world is fed to livestock, and in many countries it's far more than that: in Central America, two-thirds of arable land is devoted to cattle ranching. As the population grows and the amount of productive land decreases, this problem will become even more crucial. In addition, meat-based diets use 2 to 5 times the amount of water as vegetarian diets, another serious and growing problem for the many areas with limited clean water.
- Health: According to the American Diatetic Association, a vegetarian or vegan diet decreases cholesterol and blood pressure, and vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, some types of cancer, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. Along with these health consequences inherent in meat-eating, there are the additional hazards of eating meat from animals who are often sick and pumped full of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics. There's lots more of this stuff, so Google away.
- Animal Welfare: Factory farming is hideously inhumane to animals. (Warning: these details are graphic and disturbing.) These animals live in cramped, filthy, and completely unnatural conditions. Many of them end up sick and with broken bones, suffering and in pain for most of their lives, and some die slowly of their illnesses without treatment. They are usually mutilated during life (castrated, debeaked, horns removed, etc) without painkillers and slaughtered at a young age. Chickens are not required to be stunned before they're killed, while cows and pigs are typically stunned in an inadequate, haphazard manner, so as a result millions of animals slowly bleed to death or are boiled alive. See here, here, here, and more. This is the reason for vegetarianism I feel most strongly about; however, I'm also extremely hypocritical since I haven't managed the self-discipline to be vegan, despite the similar situations of laying hens and dairy cows. (Being vegan is also even better for the planet and its people than vegetarianism, as well as healthier.)
So take a moment and think about if any of these reasons connect for you-- environmental, world hunger/sustainability, health, animal welfare, and/or financial-- and whether it might make sense for you to decrease or end your consumption of meat, or at least to give it a trial run.
Okay. Getting off my soapbox. Now it's your turn... what do you think?