The old adage “You are what you eat” still makes a lot of sense. Would you rather be organic rice with curried vegetables or a quarter-pound of hormone-laden, toxin-packed dead cow? The benefits of a vegetarian diet abound...
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. A person on a typical American meat-eating diet has a 50 percent higher rate of heart disease than a person on a 100 percent vegetarian diet.
A 100 percent vegetarian diet is significantly lower in saturated fats (which mainly come from animal fat) and cholesterol (found only in animal-based products). Saturated fats and cholesterol are major factors in heart disease. Strict vegetarians have lower blood pressure and lower rates of hypertension. A low-fat 100 percent vegetarian diet combined with stress reduction techniques can actually reverse hardening of the arteries.
Instances of breast cancer are dramatically fewer in countries where a plant-based diet is common. Vegetarians have a 40 percent lower chance of breast cancer and in some studies consistently demonstrated lower rates of colon cancer.
Meat-eaters have an 80 percent higher chance of getting diabetes than vegetarians do. Recent studies found that type 2 diabetics can significantly reduce their need to take medicine while following a strict vegetarian diet (and participants also reduced their cholesterol and weight).
A low-fat vegan diet with moderate exercise can decrease body mass and make it easier to maintain a healthy weight. A vegan diet is a practical and sensible diet, as opposed to fad diets that encourage unhealthy eating habits.
Calcium Absorption and Protein
Humans are the only animals who drink the milk of other species. Human bodies have no need for cow’s milk. Conventional cow’s milk is full of hormones, steroids and other toxins that weaken human immunity systems and may even contribute to cancer.
Cow’s milk contains pus (somatic cells). The average liter of milk in the Untied States contains 323 million pus cells, well over the “safe” level of 200 million! Even organic milk contains dioxins, cholesterol, fat, blood and pus.
Too much protein, especially animal protein from meat and dairy, can cause the excretion of calcium through urination and increase the risk of osteoporosis. Too much protein also strains the kidneys, possibly leading to kidney disease. Most Americans get twice as much protein as they need. Adequate amounts of calcium are easily obtained through plant foods such as broccoli, beans, grains, kale and spinach, and such calcium is more easily absorbed by the body than calcium from cow’s milk.
Pregnancy and Raising Children on a Vegetarian Diet: What the Doctors Say
Children and pregnant mothers are especially susceptible to dietary dangers. Both groups should avoid the drugs, hormones, pesticides and other detriments of a meat- and dairy-based diet. In a 20-year study of 17,000 vegetarian pregnancies, only one in 100 births were by Caesarean. In the study, there was only one case of hypertension. All pregnant women need more calories and extra protein. Foods such as tofu, tempeh, beans, grains and nut butters contain plenty of protein to satisfy this need. Expectant mothers should consume adequate amounts of plant-sourced calcium, as well as iron, folic acid and vitamins. One of America’s most respected pediatricians, the late Dr. Benjamin Spock, recommended that parents raise their children on a vegetarian diet.
“We now know,” he wrote, “that there are harmful effects of a meaty diet. Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods rather than meats have a tremendous health advantage. They are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer...
“I no longer recommend dairy products... There was a time when cow’s milk was considered very desirable. But research, along with clinical experience, has forced doctors and nutritionists to rethink this recommendation.”
Pediatricians have found that chronic ear infections and respiratory problems are aggravated when dairy is part of a child’s diet. Children can get all the calcium they need from plant foods such as broccoli, chickpeas, almonds, black beans, tahini and kale.
The American Dietetic Association says, “Well-planned vegan and other types of vegetarian diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including during pregnancy, lactation [i.e., breastfeeding], infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”
The Food Revolution by John Robbins
Raising Vegetarian Children by Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina
The Vegetarian Way: Total Health for You and Your Family by Virginia and Mark Messina
Eat Right, Live Longer by Neal Barnard, M.D.
Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery by Dean Ornish, M.D.
Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care by Benjamin Spock, M.D.
While there is some disagreement over how much water is needed to produce beef, one thing cannot be disputed: even by the most conservative estimates it takes far more water to produce a pound of beef than a pound of even the most water consuming fruits or vegetables. However, beef is not the only food requiring large amounts of water; other meats, such as chicken and pork, also take require more water than equivalent amounts of plant based foods. This is largely because the amount of grain eaten by an animal is larger than the amount of meat produced by that animal.
Currently, around eighty percent of American grain is used solely for animal feed. In Colorado, 25% of water goes to alfalfa crops. Crops used to feed farm animals need water just like any other crops, but they are not producing nearly as much food for humans as crops raised for direct human consumption. Thus, meat consumption becomes a rather inefficient use of water.
Meat production doesn’t only use up water; it also contributes greatly to water pollution. In Colorado alone 19 million tons of cattle waste is produced each year. Feedlots often place animal waste in “lagoons” due to the extremely high costs of other solutions, such as using a portion of it as natural fertilizer. This leads to pollution in a couple of ways.
First, if no natural fertilizer is being used, then chemical fertilizer must be sprayed onto crops. These fertilizers are often washed away by rain, polluting nearby water supplies. Second, piles and “lagoons” of animal waste sometimes spill or wash away polluting water.
When a North Carolina hog farm spilled 25 million gallons of waste
into a nearby river, causing an outbreak of an organism known as the Pfiesteria
piscicida , 10 to 14 million fish were killed. Fisherman, as well as people using
the river for recreational purposes, began to develop sores and other strange
symptoms after contact with the Pfiesteria infested
Water pollution is also caused by cattle that are allowed to graze on natural growth in the American West. Allowing cattle to graze in a more natural environment seems to eliminate the problems of having to grow crops for feed as well as the problem of what to do with their waste.
However, cattle are native to moist riparian areas, not the arid climates of the American West where they are so often put out to graze. Cattle seem to prefer areas more similar to their native environment: a study in Eastern Oregon showed that cattle greatly preferred streamside vegetation over other grazing areas..
Cattle eat the streamside plants and break down the ground near streams, causing erosion of dirt into the streams. This can often cause water to flow more slowly, increasing the opportunity for bacteria and algal to grow.
Additionally, cattle pollute natural waterways by depositing unnatural amounts of fecal matter and urine into streams (not to mention the occasional carcass left to rot by ranchers who may not check their cattle for weeks at a time).
Not eating meat may not have as much on an immediate effect on the water supply as other conservation methods, but the long term effects of reduced meat production could be phenomenal. With important water sources such as the Ogallala aquifer, which provides water to several Midwestern and Western states (including Colorado), shrinking away, long-term water conservation is something that every citizen must take seriously. Few, if any, methods of conservation could save as much water over time as simply reducing one’s meat intake.
Topsoil does not tend to be in one’s
consciousness, but it is a precious resource that is not any more replaceable
than air or water. Topsoil is an essential element for growing
crops and preventing flooding. Although the natural development of one inch of
topsoil takes at least one hundred years (and may take up to eight hundred
years), it is being lost at an alarming rate. In the United States, an estimated
six inches of this precious soil has been lost since the country’s founding,
much more than nature could have produced in such a short time.
Topsoil is being lost in many different ways, but the production of meat and animal products contributes significantly to the problem. One way topsoil is lost is through erosion by wind and water. Large grazing livestock such as cattle increase the rate of erosion by trampling and eating away the plants that were holding the soil together.
Additionally, as plants are removed the topsoil is exposed to unusual amounts of sun and heat, which can damage the roots of the remaining plants and stunt the growth of trees, leading to even more erosion.
A study in Northern California of land grazed by sheep showed zero oak saplings per acre, whereas a study of a similar acre of land that was not being grazed had 554 new saplings. Eventually, this amplified pattern of erosion has the power to turn areas rich with vegetation into desert.
and factory farms are similarly pernicious. In the United States there are
currently more than nine billion chickens, as well as millions of turkey, hogs
and cows; and a 1999 Time magazine article estimated that, in the
United States, livestock produce 130 times as much waste and humans.
Although animal waste can be a useful natural fertilizer, such an unnaturally large amount of waste has no natural use. Former cattle rancher Howard Lyman writes that, while running a feedlot, to save costs on transporting cattle waste his business “simply created mountains of waste inside and outside the feedlot.”
Of course, such waste attracts flies. Lyman states that chemicals had to be sprayed “constantly to fight [them].” Because little animal waste is used as a natural fertilizer, crops are sprayed with large amounts of chemicals. These chemicals contain large amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium but no “trace minerals such as zinc or selenium.” This not only has the potential to decrease the nutrition of crops, but it also changes the soil texture leading to more erosion.
As we aim to save the planet and conserve our resources it is important that rich healthy soil is not forgotten as a resource, for it is just as important to healthy crops as water and sunlight. Reducing or eliminating the amount of animal products consumed by humans would have enormous long-term benefits for our soil.
John Robbins.The Food Revolution,Conari Press, Berkeley, California, 2001.
Douglas S. Kenney, Roberta A. Klein, and Martyn P. Clark, Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Water Restrictions During Dought in Colorado, <http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-296-water_restrictions_jawra.pdf>.
Howard Lyman, Mad Cowboy, Scribner, New York, New York, 1998.
George Wuerthener and Mollie Matteson, Welfare Ranching, Foundation for Deep Ecology,: Sausolito, California, 2002
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Numerous wildlife species are threatened by modern meat production.
In addition to suffering major biological impoverishment because of livestock’s
damaging habits, the West’s wildlife faces death at the hands of ranchers and
Wildlife Services, a deceivingly named agency of the U.S. federal
In Colorado, few animals are as threatened as the black-tailed prairie dog, which occupies less than 2 percent of its historical habitat. Perceived as competition for livestock forage, tens of billions of prairie dogs have been killed in the past century. Because so many species rely on the existence of prairie dogs, the effects of this slaughter are immense.
Other animals killed to “protect” livestock—at taxpayer expense—include black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and red foxes. As more and more people become vegetarian, fewer and fewer of these animals will be killed—lands currently used for rangeland and for raising feed could be restored (at some level) to their native states, in which wildlife and ecosystems thrive.
A plant-based diet is not only beneficial for your health, but it also saves the lives of prairie dogs and the ecosystems they live in.
Countless prairie dogs are killed each year as more and more land is plowed for grain production to feed livestock.
• More than half of the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow livestock feed.
• For every 16 pounds of grains and soybeans fed to cattle, only one pound of meat is produced.
• To supply one person who eats the standard American, meat-oriented diet with food for a year requires 3 1/4 acres of land. Supplying one lacto-ovo-vegetarian with food for a year requires 1/2 of an acre. Only 1/6 of an acre of land is required to supply one pure vegetarian (vegan) with food for a year.
• In other words, a given acreage can feed 20 times as many people eating a pure vegetarian-style diet as it could feed people eating the standard American diet.
• In 16 western states, 307 million acres of federal lands are leased for grazing. That is an area the size of the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida.
• Ranchers fear that prairie dogs will destroy the rangelands
used by their cattle for grazing. Although it has been demonstrated for more
than 20 years that prairie dogs do not pose a significant economic threat to
ranching, prairie dogs are continually poisoned to make way for grazing
• Although cattle and prairie dogs do have a mutually beneficial relationship, cattle are a poor substitute for the environmental benefits of prairie dog-bison societies. Excessive cattle-grazing can ruin the prairie dog’s native habitat.
Prairie dogs are a keystone species of the grasslands, so their existence is incredibly important to all species. Implementing a plant-based diet is an important piece of interrupting their rapid decrease in population.