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Vegetarianism - Our Gift to the Planet

by Meggan Brummer(more info)

listed in vegetarianism, originally published in issue 146 - April 2008

With this year’s Nobel Peace Prize going to Al Gore, it’s no news that global warming is one of our primary concerns. How our actions are affecting our home, planet earth, is now something that more and more of us are contemplating, but perhaps when we step outside and wonder what happened to winter, we might want to think about what was on our dinner plate last night.  

More Veg Means Less Heat

We’ve heard the moral arguments time and time again, but it’s now so much more than that – eating more veg and less meat is now a great way to make a difference to the planet’s wellbeing. It may be inconvenient at first, but it’s true. Most of us are already aware now of how we can make a difference by turning off the lights, walking instead of driving short distances, changing the showerheads, etc, but as it turns out, eating less meat and more vegetarian foods is a simple but effective way for individuals to reduce their contribution to global warming! And for this reason, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, recently endorsed calls to eat less meat, stating that it is probably the most effective way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint.[1]

Whichever way we look at it, our diet is a powerful tool for change, a way in which each of us can contribute positively to the planet’s wellbeing. Along with the slogan ‘Less meat means less heat,’ scientists are now calling people to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products to slow the pace of climate change. Tony McMichael, heading up a team of international health experts, warns that the world’s growing appetite for meat is increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, people in wealthy countries are being encouraged to more than halve their daily meat intake – particularly red meat – over the next 40 years, in order to stop emissions rising even further. 

How Planet Earth can benefit from Vegetarianism

Many people are surprised to learn how greatly the earth is affected by our dietary choices, but awareness around this is certainly on the rise. In December 2006, the United Nations published a report on livestock and the environment with a stunning conclusion: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

What does it Take to Produce a Vegetarian Meal?

The production of vegetables and the cost of a vegetarian diet take less energy and are cheaper than a non-vegetarian diet. To prepare a meat meal, a crop needs to be grown to feed the cattle and then the cattle become the meal. When compared to preparing a vegetarian meal, this extra step uses an enormous amount of extra energy and resources… especially with beef. On the other hand, once a crop is grown a vegetarian meal is immediately available as a food source.   Here are some of the other benefits that our earth would reap from us producing more vegetarian and less meat meals:

Producing a Vegetarian Meal Means…

Saving Water

As well as changing your shower heads, you can now also make a difference by eating less meat. Much less water is needed to produce a vegetarian meal. This statistic made me sit up even straighter! According to a recent Newsweek article, it takes 13,250 litres of water to produce a one steak! To produce just ten pounds of steak requires the same amount of water as is used by an average household for an entire year. Producing animal protein takes up to 15 times more water compared to producing plant protein. Just think of how much water could be saved!

Cleaner Air to Breathe!

According to a study published in July by Japanese scientists, a kilogram of beef generates the equivalent of 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide, more than the equivalent of driving for three hours while leaving all the lights on back home.[2]  

Almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse pollution comes from agricultural emissions. A recent issue of Physics World states: “The animals we breed to eat emit 21 percent of all carbon dioxide produced.” This level of emission dwarfs the civil aviation’s 3% contribution of carbon dioxide. The more vegetarian meals we have instead of meat meals – the more our dietary choices will be contributing towards us having cleaner air to breath!

By far the most damaging non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture. Livestock rearing results in more than 100 million tons of methane a year – a quarter of methane emissions worldwide, and is a huge contributing factor to global warming.

About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock. While a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous.

The conclusion is simple: probably the best way to reduce global warming in our lifetime is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products. Simply by moving closer to a vegetarian diet, and reducing the amount of animals raised for food, we can hugely reduce one of the major sources of emissions of methane, the greenhouse gas responsible for almost half of the global warming impacting the planet today.

Additionally, reducing our meat consumption and increasing our veg consumption would result in almost immediate drops in methane emissions. The turnover rate for cars and power plants, on the other hand, can be decades. Unlike carbon dioxide which can remain in the air for more than a century, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just eight years, so that lower methane emissions quickly translate to cooling of the earth. There is no doubt that if more of us were vegan, vegetarian, or at least partly vegetarian, our planet earth would see some inspirational changes.

Satisfied Bellies

According to the World Watch Institute, it takes: 7 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef; approximately 2 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of poultry; and less than 2 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of farmed fish. Over seventy percent of American grain and eighty percent of American corn is fed to farm animals. The benefit of producing more vegetarian meals is that the grain that would otherwise be fed to the animals to produce more meat, could be used to feed the hungry. According to a Cornell University study, USA, the amount of grain consumed by animals could feed approximately 800 million hungry people. That’s a lot less hungry people in the world.

Preserving the Land

Land preservation plays a critical role in the future of our environment. Rainforests are some of the world’s most ancient and complex ecosystems. They cover a mere 2% of the Earth, yet more than half of all plant and animal species live there. So you can imagine what needed to happen to lead to 70% of former Amazon rainforest now being used for pastureland, and feed crops cover much of the remainder. To date, more than 50 percent of forests and rainforests worldwide have been cleared for livestock grazing or animal feed crops. 

By preserving the rainforests, we can reduce the rate of species extinction and save an extraordinary number of unique creatures which are found nowhere else in the world. The more our diet moves towards vegetarianism, the more we will automatically be contributing to preserving the land.

Taking Care of the Ocean

Seafood is a significant and growing part of the diet of most families – worldwide we are eating around 100 million tons of ‘seafood,’ a year. That’s a lot of fish. Currently, over-fishing is responsible for the depletion of about seventy percent of fish populations ocean-wide. Again, less fish and more veg would mean a happier planet earth.

Hitting the Jackpot

If you’ve ever wanted to know how you can make a fundamental change to the planet, look no further. The conclusion is simple – reducing the amount of animal products you consume, or better still, becoming vegetarian, is like hitting the jackpot in terms of reducing your ecological impact.

How will it Affect You?

By giving up or reducing the amount of meat we eat, know for sure that your actions are affecting the world we live in. Additionally, know that you will receive other benefits too! 

The mind and emotions: The western approach to diet still focuses on the nutritional content of food and how it affects our bodies, but how else does meat affect our wellbeing? This is what the ancient science of Ayurveda looks at. According to Ayurveda, meat is a rajasic food. This means that eating it will have a negative impact not only on our body but on our mind and emotions.  The less meat we eat, the less likely we are to experience negative emotions (such as anxiety, anger, violence, lust, ambition, sorrow and pain) and an overactive and restless mind. This is because rajasic foods tend to over stimulate the nervous system. The less meat we eat, the more inclined we will be towards being a more peaceful and happier race.

Physically speaking: in order to cope with meat, carnivorous animals have very short intestines so that the meat can pass out of the body before it begins to rot. The average intestinal length of carnivores is less than three times their body length. Our body temperature is about 37 °C. The length of our intestines is similar to other herbivores, i.e. over six times the length of our body, which means that meat, once we have eaten it, has up to 74 hours before it fully digests and leaves the body. If we put meat into a room of 37 °C and left it there for 74 hours, what would happen? It ferments. The same happens in our bodies. Our bodies are better designed for digesting vegetables, grains, pulses and fruits and so moving towards vegetarianism is not only better for our planet, but better for us too!.

Be the change you wish to see in others.”
Gandhi

When many little people in many little places take many little steps, then big changes can happen. It’s not about making ourselves and other wrong, but if we each do our bit, becoming more and more aware of how our actions affect not only ourselves but the environment and people around us, then big changes are possible.   

Having said that, it is not always healthy to make an overnight sea change to one’s diet. Changes in our diet are often more integrated, wholesome and beneficial when they are gradual and mindfully conducted. However, every little bit counts, and the closer we can move towards a vegetarian diet, the better we are being for the planet. It doesn’t have to be all the way to the extreme end of vegan; simply cutting down on just a few eggs or hamburgers each week is an easy way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Making a Change

Today, moving towards a vegetarian way of life is easier than ever before. Meat substitutes and soy ‘dairy’ foods are now in virtually every supermarket.  Whole-foods groceries and co-operatives with even wider arrays of healthy plant, soy and dairy-free foods are within reach of most Australians.

If you are feeling motivated or inspired to make a contribution to the planet’s wellbeing, here are a few suggested starting points you may wish to consider:
•    Gradually eliminate or reduce your consumption of meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, replacing them with more fresh vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, pulses, nuts, seeds, and grains;
•    Use Egg Replacer instead of eggs: A ready-made, powdered product found in most health food stores, this replaces eggs when used as a binding agent in baked goods and other recipes. Soft tofu or flax seeds and water pureed in a blender also substitute for egg;
•    Learn how to cook lentils (it’s so easy!) and replace a few meat meals each week with a lentil, rice and vegetable meal. Lentils are a great alternative source of protein to meat;
•    Experiment with traditional Thai tofu meals. Tofu is rich in both high quality protein and B-vitamins, and is therefore an excellent substitute for meat in many vegetarian recipes;
•    Eat locally and seasonally grown food, and with lower-energy inputs;
•    Make a vegetarian meal at least two or three times a week; 
•    Buy vegetables you’ve never cooked with before and experiment with making a new vegetarian meal without the help of a recipe;
•    Shop at natural foods stores and farmers’ markets;
•    Subscribe to a vegetarian magazine, such as VegNews, Vegetarian Times, or Vegetarian Journal;
•    Email your friends with your tastiest vegetarian meal discovery;
•    Eat out at vegetarian restaurants;

Being a vegetarian doesn’t just mean eliminating or reducing meat products. Here are a few tips for your journey towards supporting the planet through vegetarianism:
•    Buy animal rennet-free cheese;
•    Buy non leather items;
•    Buy wines, beers or spirits without animal-derived fining agents or colouring;
•    Buy food products free from gelatine (which is made from parts of hooves and legs of horses and cows);
•    Buy foods without animal-derived ingredients and colours;
•    Buy items fur- and silk-free;
•    Gradually replace your warm, wool sweaters with cotton, hemp, acrylic, and synthetic fleece;
•    Congratulate yourself for making choices which benefit this beautiful planet.

For Further reading:

1.    www.VegCooking.com for great ideas, free recipes, meal plans, and more!
2.    www.GoVeg.com
3.    http://earthsave.org/globalwarming.htm
4.    www.VEGFORLIFE.COM

References:

5.    Sydney Morning Herald, 13th September 2007: http://www.smh.com.au/news/environment/
limit-meat-eating-to-tackle-climate-change-study/ 2007/09/13/1189276861060.html?page=2
6.    by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat. pg 33
7.    Tanya Ha. Greeniology
8.    Peter Singer and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat. pg 99
9.    World Watch Institute
10.  Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

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About Meggan Brummer

Meggan Brummer (BA Hons) is a health writer, Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher, teacher of The Art of Living courses for the International Art of Living Foundation ( www.artofliving.org), singer and traveller. Having taught yoga in Africa and Asia, Meggan now lives and teaches in Sydney, Australia. Although she specializes in Yoga and Ayurveda, Meggan is dedicated to exploring and sharing the myriad of alternative ways in which we can live happier and healthier lives through her writing. She can be contacted on meggan.brummer@gmail.com

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