Green with Skepticism: Vegetarianism
As of January 1, 2012 I have been a vegetarian. It originally started as a way to support my significant other, who really wants to be a vegetarian, but I’m the cook so he was often tempted by the glorious smell of bacon or steak….. But since then I have become the more avid vegetarian between the two of us for ethical reasons.
I should start out by saying I checked with my doctor before starting this diet. She told me to only eat 2 -3 tofu meals per week and to try and eat fish twice a week, so I do that. I also eat protein rich foods like beans, nuts and seeds. If you’re going to be a vegetarian I highly suggest that you talk to your doctor and ensure that you can afford to take meat out of your diet (both monetarily and physically). And, as always, I am not an expert in this particular topic so please feel free to jump in and correct anything.
Anyway… now when the hubby and I go out for chow I am the one ensuring that I don’t eat meat. He will still go for a fast food burger, tacos or wings. We went to Medieval Times and he got the big ol’ leg of chicken and a rack of ribs while I munched down on hummus and rice with beans.
What has changed?
At first it was an issue of consent and animal rights (which I think is best saved for another post another day) and while this hasn’t become a non-issue for me, environmental impacts have become a larger one. The human population has reached 7 billion people – and we all need to be fed. I think people should substantially decrease their meat intake. In America it has become a symbol of freedom and manliness to eat meat. Things like the double down have emerged that just make me want to vomit. The relentless consumption of meat is costing us, big time.
I’m not a big fan of PETA but this quote really emphasizes my stance on meat consumption:
According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.
Just on the face of it, the idea of growing crops to feed animals that feed humans is a mathematically bad idea. In an ecological system, organisms are organized into different “trophic”, or feeding, levels, which indicate their positions in the food chain, with prey organisms at the bottom and predators at the top. In a food chain composed of grain, cows, and humans, grain would be of trophic level 1; cows that eat grain at level 2; and humans that eat cows at level 3. Whenever the trophic level goes up, the total biomass, or energy, decreases tremendously. This is because organisms are very inefficient at converting the energy they consume into their own body mass, and therefore an organism at level 2 must eat a lot of organisms at level 1 – many times their own weight – in order to survive. Much of the energy from the food they eat goes into self-repairing mechanisms and developing bones and skin that cannot be eaten by humans.
The degree of wastefulness of this process varies depending on which study one looks at. According to organizations with vested interests such as the US National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, it takes 4.5kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef, while the US Department of Agricultural Economic Research Service gives a figure of 16kg of grain for 1kg of beef (taken from The Food Revolution). The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology assessed the studies in this area and released these results:
A LOT of water is used for producing meat. The figures, again, are hard to nail down, with a study supported by the California Beef Council reporting 2680L of water producing 1kg of beef, while a report by a widely-published Cornell University ecologist, David Pimentel, tells of 100,000L of water per 1kg of beef (this figure was adjusted by Pimentel in a more recent article to around 50,000L per kg). This is huge! What does it take to grow wheat? 900L per kg! Fresh water is going to become more scarce and Canada can't support everyone (although we'll probably try because we love you).