Though vegetarianism is slowly becoming a more widespread phenomenon, the general population still lacks adequate understanding of this lifestyle. Vegetarians are commonly perceived as weaklings who have a “deficiency in protein” or as countercultural hippies who aim to save animals. The term “vegetarian” was coined in the mid-1800’s, but the practice actually began thousands of years ago. Despite vegetarianism’slong life span, many people are still ignorant to aspects of this diet. In fact, few of us have extensive understanding of the food we put into our mouths. It is a shock to many people that the food we consume contributes to the mass murdering of billions of animals every year and plays a leading role in the deterioration of the ecosystem.
Oftentimes,our sluggishness to act and apathy to issuessuch as meat agricultureis due to a lack of knowledge and first-hand experience. Paul McCartney expresses this idea perfectly: “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”. If the public was effectively informed about the cruelty of meat production, the detrimental effects of industrial agriculture on the environment, and the harm meat consumption can have on human health, a majority of the population would convert to vegetarianism.
Meat production has an undeniable and weighty impact on the environment which can manifest in various forms, including air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and depletion of fresh water. It is a contributor to some of the most serious environmental problems, especially in China.
According to one study, China’s agriculture sector is responsible for roughly 45% “of the nation’s chemical oxygen demand (the main measure of organic compounds in water)”, 65% of phosphorus, and 60% of nitrogen discharges. Huge amounts of chemical- and disease-ridden waste produced by meat-producing factories seep into the ground and waterways, ultimately evaporating and severing soil, water, and air. This dire situation is the result of China’s “long-boasted miracle of being able to feed 22% of the world’s population with only 7% of the world’s arable land”. Unsurprisingly, the country has a reputation for overuse of chemical fertilizers.
Most of these grave findings about China regard plant agriculture—not animal agriculture. So why minimize meat consumption when plant agriculture industries are making just as big of a mess? The answer is simple: it takes 2,000 pounds of grain to produce enough meat and other livestock products to feed an individual for a year, but it would take only 400 pounds of grain to directly nourish a person. Thus, we can derive that a meat-eating individual has approximately five times more of a negative impact on the environment than a vegetarian does.
Not only does meat production harm the environment, it also harms human health. There is a popular myth that meat makes us bigger, stronger, and faster. But, the hidden truth is that meat is not as healthy as most think. One researcher, T. Colin Campbell, states “the vast majority, perhaps 80-90%, of all cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and other forms of degenerative illness can be prevented, at least until very old age, simply by adopting a plant-based [vegetarian]diet”. Our meat is often laced with synthetic hormones that are banned from human and animal consumption in the European Union, and contains “massive doses of antibiotics; toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that are known carcinogens; potentially deadly strains of bacteria and viruses petroleum; poisoned rat carcasses; dirt; hair; and feces”.
Businesses, “whose primary objective is to increase their profit margin, are left to police themselves.” Many Chinese companies have a habit of jumping at any and every opportunity to make money—even if it threatens the environment, animals, and humans. The animal you last ate may have died a horrendous death, tainting the environment and being harmful to your health in the process.
Do not act as slaves to agricultural businesses—there is freedom in choosing what you eat, and with this freedom comes a certain degree of responsibility. Caring for the environment, animals, and your own personal health does not require a dramatic change in lifestyle. Begin by cutting down a small amount of meat consumed, even if that means only being a vegetarian once a week. Actively expose yourself to more information regarding meat-production and its effects; witness and expand your understanding on the food you eat. Are you willing to take on this challenge?
(Due to limited space, this article only covered a small number of environmental and health impacts of meat production. Animal cruelty was not mentioned in detail; if you have interest in learning more about animal mistreatment, consider visiting www.peta.org.)
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.