29 December 2007

Vegetarianism From a Different Perspective:

As the name suggests this short series of posts is about vegetarianism! Shock horror! However I would ask that everyone stop yelling about how animals have rights, or how cows are inherently evil and thus need eating, or even that vegetables generally taste bad, to allow me to take a new look; well actually an old but often overlooked perspective, on why vegetarianism has several things going for it.

Firstly I would like to say that I am not going to even touch the subject of animals and ethics, because personally I’m more interested in some interesting ideas which might change a few minds, based not on ethics, but rational thinking. But the ethics argument does deserve touching on, so maybe another day I’ll write about it, if I feel up to the task!

For those out of the loop-hole and or living under a rock, a vegetarian eats no meat. Then again there are a myriad of variations such as lacto-ovo-vegetarians, but lets keep it simple for now. Good, now that we have our definition we can begin.

An Economic driven perspective on Vegetarianism:

As much as I love meat, and am inclined to eat it, I must admit that practicing vegetarianism does have certain advantages, for us and for our planet. Firstly I would like to view the matter from an economic standpoint. Vegetables and most vegetarian basics are cheaper than meat, so eating more vegetables could be easier on your wallet. But putting individual greed aside vegetables are economically easier to produce, particularly on a large scale.

Here’s one of many sites that cites some amazing figures:


9. Amount of potatoes that can be grown on 1 acre (4,047 square meters of land: 20,000 lbs. (9,072 kg)

10. Amount of beef that can be grown on 1 acre (4,047 square meters) of land: 165 lbs. (75 kg)”

Firstly we can see that we can grow much more in the way of vegetables than we can produce meat per unit of land. Thus vegetables are much more space efficient to grow. If everyone in the world is to get adequate amounts of food it would be much easier to do this with a vegetarian diet. The land is used much more efficiently if we used it to grow potatoes rather than feed cattle.

Secondly we must realise that for every pound of meat we create, several pounds of vegetables are used to create it. Whereas this is not the case if we eat the vegetables ourselves.

But wait, there’s more:

16. Number of pure vegetarians who can be fed on the amount of land needed to feed 1 person consuming meat-based diet: 20 (This number could be closer to 150 if you're talking about pure Raw-vegetarians.)”

The list goes on and on. Meat production, when compared to growing various vegetables, uses more water, damages the topsoil more, and is also a major cause of deforestation and general land clearing. If that’s not enough it seems that meat production uses more energy (by a significant amount) than producing vegetarian foods.

Another interesting fact is of course the amount of waste created. The article is definitely worth a quick look… Keep in mind these statistics are from 1996. If they are reliable in the first place than the situation has probably only gotten worse.

A nutritionally driven perspective on Vegetarianism:

So we move on to the next milestone… Nutrition. As much as many meat lovers might not like to admit it, the fact is that vegetarians as a whole, seem to be healthier people. It is also true however that many of them lead generally healthier lives in regards to habits such as the amount of exercise done, whether they smoke or not, how often they drink alcohol or do other drugs. Still, even if we were to factor all of this out of the situation I think we would find that most vegetarians are healthier for their diet. Limiting the saturated fat intake of meat means they usually have lower bad cholesterol levels while all the fruits, vegetables, grains and good fats mean they have high good cholesterol, lots of fibre for good bowels, heaps of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. (With maybe the exception of some b-vitamins which can be a little harder to find – still mushrooms, yeast and other vegetarian sources can be used). Yes, science might not be completely sure as to the exact specifics but vegetarians do seem healthier.

Of course this isn’t to say all vegetarians are healthy. I know several that eat a lot of candy and junk. But even so, they’re still healthier than there pal eating the candy the junk, and lots of meat. In particular red meat seems to be the main culprit. I remember once reading that people who eat red meat more than twice a week increase their chance of getting bowel cancer by 40%!

Here’s some more interesting information regarding a vegetarian diet and cancer:

“A major study published in February 2005 reconfirmed the link between meat consumption and heart problems. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that among the 29,000 participants, those who ate the most meat were also at the greatest risk for heart disease. The researchers also reported that a high intake of protein from vegetable sources like tofu, nuts, and beans lowers our risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Dr. Linda E. Kelemen, the scientist who headed the study, told reporters, “Not all proteins are equal”—while vegetable protein can help keep our hearts healthy, eating animal protein can put us in an early grave.”

Even if these numbers aren’t exact the general trend is still proven so by now I hope you get the general idea. A study named the China study (which is of some repute) came to the conclusion that vegetarian diets are healthier. And even just looking at most of the healthier diets of the world they typically contain far more fresh produce and vegetables, fruits and grains than the typical rich western diet. Granted they often contain traces of meat… but in very small quantities compared to what we are used to. Indeed I might argue that meat is infact a wonderfully fine thing to eat, but only very occasionally, say once or twice a week.

We can also look at our closest relative the chimpanzee and see that their diet is by and large vegetarian. They do eat the occasional insect, termite or each other. But generally it’s based around fruits and vegetables, even grains are cut out here, which makes an interesting argument for anti-grain supporters.

The rather controversial “ape diet” (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3966) is centred on fruits, vegetables and nuts all uncooked and in their natural state, i.e. raw. Sounds like an argument for raw foodism doesn’t it. But the interesting thing is that the diet seems to really work, for health purposes anyway, I’m not sure how good it would taste. Raw vegetables tend to be a little hard to stomach, or so I find (with exceptions such as carrots), but then again I’ve never really eaten vegetables raw very often. Anyway the people on the ape diet saw a massive slash in cholesterol.

After four-weeks, levels of the harmful LDL-cholesterol plummeted by 29 per cent on the ape diet…Bad cholesterol fell by only 8 per cent for those on the standard low-fat diet.”

Pretty impressive and needless to say it’s about as vegetarian as you can get really. However a couple of articles seemed to suggest that cooked, oily fish was added in after the first week. Even so, this is a largely vegetarian based diet, and the addition of fish does not significantly rise the saturated fat component but does significantly increase the amount of unsaturated fats, thus further helping to improve cholesterol levels.

Global concern – a Global warming based perspective on Vegetarianism:

The production of meat requires more energy than the equivalent production of a vegetarian style diet. In this way the energy put in is less efficient to the nutritional value we get out of it, particularly when we consider that in many ways the vegetarian diet is healthier anyway.

However just the other day I reread something I find particularly astonishing. In essence it seems that cows, and more particularly their tendency to burp methane and have particularly odorous sheisse, are huge culprits for global warming. The reason being that we breed so many of the damn things (mostly for eating, but also for milk) that collectively they number a huge amount, and the costs involved in processing the land and so on, all the way up to the waste created by the cows adds up to a rough 18% of all global warming. That’s right. 18% caused by and large by cows.

Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you, I’m still sceptical, but then again the bbc said it! Feel free to be enlightened by clicking on this here link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/2007/02/meet_daisy_the_cow_global_climates_enemy_number_on.html

“No, the main culprit is out there in the fields, chewing her cud. It turns out that livestock – predominantly cattle – are responsible for an astonishing proportion of global warming gases - 18 per cent of the total, to be precise…That’s right, almost a fifth of all emissions which is more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport on earth – planes, trains, cars, skidoos the lot…You’ll be wondering how I reach that staggering conclusion… The research implicating Daisy and her bovine brothers and sisters in global warming is very well sourced. A good start is “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.”

The author (Justin Rowlatt) then goes on to later state that due to other chemicals other than co2 causing global warming livestock are in fact responsible for more than 18% of the damage. He thinks it would be more like 60%!

“which means sixty per cent of the global warming potential of the average diet is from animal products.”

There you have it. Certainly seems to suggest that there’s often more to a problem than meets the eye. I certainly don’t think vegetarianism is for everyone, indeed I Think small portions of meat (particularly lean meats and fish which contain unsaturated fats) if anything improve our overall health, but as we can see the consequences of eating large amounts of meat are disastrous. If everyone collectively only ate a little less meat, the combined difference would be huge. It would ultimately benefit everyone by keeping us healthy and also our environment, which think about it, is absolutely essential to our own wellbeing.

No comments:

Add to Technorati Favorites