Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Veganism in a Nutshell ~ Part 2

Continuation of "Veganism in a Nutshell" article from Vegan Voice. If you haven't read part 1 yet, click here and you can start from the beginning. Enjoy!


The Environment
 

The second reason for adopting a vegan diet is for the environment. The best thing any of us can do for the environment is to adopt a vegan diet. Raising animals for food is steadily and rapidly depleting and polluting our arable land, potable water and clean air. All animals need food to survive. For example, a 200-pound man will burn off at least 2,000 calories even if he never gets out of bed. As in humans, most calories that go into an animal are burned off; only the excess calories are available to make milk, eggs, or flesh and fat.
It’s bizarre, really: you take a crop like soy, oats, corn or wheat, products high in fibre and complex carbohydrates, but devoid of cholesterol and artery-clogging saturated fat. You put them into an animal and create something with no fibre or complex carbohydrates at all, but with lots of cholesterol and saturated fat. It makes about as much sense to take pure water, run it through a sewer system, and then drink it.


E, the respected environmental magazine, noted in 2002 that more than one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States are used to raise animals for food. This seems a conservative figure. If we have to grow massive amounts of grain and soy (with all the tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, and so on that that requires), truck all that grain and soy to factory-style farms and feedlots, feed it to the approximately 10 billion land animals who are raised for food in the US each year, truck those animals to automated slaughter facilities, truck the dead animals to processing centres, run the processing and packaging machines, and then truck the packaged meat to grocery stores—well, there’s a lot of energy being used up at each one of those stages.


If all this energy is being used, all these fossil fuels are being burned, and all this manure is being produced, of course, we’re talking about some serious air pollution. Many environmentalists will sooner walk or ride their bike than drive, in order to decrease air pollution in their area, and then will happily eat some dairy, meat or egg product without a second thought about the fact that they are paying for gas-guzzling animal transport trucks, refrigerated meat trucks, pollution-churning processing plants, and so on.


Where the environment is concerned, eating meat is like driving a huge SUV or an 18-wheeler. Eating a vegetarian diet is like driving a mid-sized car, and eating a vegan diet is like riding a bicycle or walking.


A similar analysis holds for land. According to John Robbins, the average vegan uses about 1/6 of an acre of land to satisfy his or her food requirements for a year; the average vegetarian who consumes dairy products and eggs requires about three times that, and the average meat-eater requires about 20 times that much land. We can grow a lot more food on an equal amount of land if we’re not funnelling the crops through animals.

Also, the use of herbicides and pesticides and the monocropping of feed crops like corn, soy, wheat and oats are destroying vital topsoil. Howard Lyman, a fourth-generation cattle rancher who has become a vegan advocate, talks about how he became a farmer because of his love for the life-filled soil. Now, he says, the soil has become lifeless dirt—in large part because it has been ruined by raising animals for food.


And think about water. According to the National Audubon Society, raising animals for food requires about as much water as all other water uses combined, even as many areas are experiencing drought conditions. It requires about 300 gallons of water to feed a vegan for a day. It requires about four times as much to feed a vegetarian, and 14 times as much to feed a meat-eater. Of course, if you have to feed animals, you have to irrigate the crops that you’re feeding them. You have to give them water. The systems that keep animals today use water to hose down both the factory farm and the slaughterhouse. It’s a water-intensive operation.


Raising animals for food is also a water-polluting process. One dairy cow produces more than 100 pounds of excrement per day. The animals raised in the US produce 130 times the excrement of the entire human population of this country. Their excrement is more concentrated than human excrement and is often contaminated with herbicides, pesticides, toxic chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, and so on. These massive farmed animal factories don’t have waste treatment plants, so this sludge goes in vast quantities onto and destroys topsoil, or it goes into and pollutes water, often causing ecological imbalances and killing fish and other aquatic life.
 
Clearly, all of these statistics are going to be approximations. Some of them will change based on the time of year and the area crops are being grown in. What doesn’t change is that animals will not grow or produce milk and eggs without food and water, and they won’t do it without producing excrement. Thus, eating meat, dairy products and eggs will always be vastly more resource-intensive and vastly more polluting than using the land to grow food for human beings.


Of course, anyone who reads the papers knows what the factory fishing trawlers are doing to our sea and ocean bottoms. One super-trawler is the length of a football field and takes in 800,000 pounds of fish in a single netting. Trawlers scrape up ocean bottoms, destroying coral reefs and everything else in their way; hydraulic dredges scoop up huge chunks of the ocean floor to sift out scallops, clams and oysters. Most of what the fishing fleets get isn’t even eaten by human beings. Half is fed to animals who are raised for food, and about 30 million tons each year are just tossed back into the ocean, dead, which greatly disturbs the natural biological balance. Commercial fishing fleets are destroying sensitive aquatic ecosystems at a rate that is quite beyond comprehension.
 
Then there is aquaculture, which is even worse than commercial fishing, because, for starters, it takes about 4 pounds of wild-caught fish to reap 1 pound of farmed fish. Farmed fish eat fish caught by commercial trawlers but not used for human consumption. Farmed fish are often raised in the same water that wild fish swim in, but fish farmers dump antibiotics into the water and use genetic breeding to create Frankenstein fish. The antibiotics contaminate the oceans and seas, and the genetic-freak fish sometimes escape and breed with wild fish, throwing delicate aquatic balances out of kilter. Researchers at the University of Stockholm demonstrated that the horrible environmental influence of fish farms can extend to an area 50,000 times larger than the farm itself.
The choice is clear: we can show our environmental values every time we sit down to eat by eating a vegan diet, or we can stomp over the Earth in combat boots by eating meat, dairy or eggs. Really, a true environmentalist can’t eat meat, dairy or eggs.








Human Rights
 

The third reason for adopting a vegan diet is for human rights. In college, I was active in a group called “Poverty Action Now”. We raised money for Oxfam International and organized weekend trips to help at the homeless shelter in a nearby town. So LappĂ©’s analysis of global poverty and the fact that so many people are starving to death even as we in the developed world eat so gluttonously hit me hard. Right now, 1.3 billion people, more than 20 per cent of the world’s population, are living in dire poverty. Right now, 800 million people are suffering from what the 
United Nations calls “nutritional deficiency”. That’s a euphemism: they’re starving. Every year, 40 million people die from starvation-related causes.


It is depressing to consider that throughout the last big famine in Ethiopia, that country was exporting desperately needed soy to Europe to feed to farmed animals. The same relationship held true throughout the famine in Somalia in the early 1990s.


And the same relationship holds between Latin America and the United States today. As just one example, two-thirds of the agriculturally productive land in Central America is devoted to raising farmed animals, almost all of whom are exported or eaten by the wealthy few in these countries. Just two years ago, the UN Commission on Nutritional Challenges for the 21st Century said that unless we make major changes, 1 billion children will be permanently handicapped over the next 20 years as a result of inadequate caloric intake. The first step toward averting this tragedy, according to the Commission, is to encourage human consumption of traditional grains, fruits and vegetables.

So the question is, why are we cycling huge amounts of grains, or soy, or corn, through all the animals we breed just to kill, even as so many people starve for want of any sustenance at all?

On the domestic front, a book came out a few years ago titled Fast Food Nation by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser. In Fast Food Nation, Schlosser details the human abuse in slaughterhouses and includes the information that slaughterhouse workers have nine times the injury rate of coal miners in Appalachia, that some slaughterhouses have 300 per cent turnover rates, and that many slaughterhouses reserve the worst jobs for people who are in this country illegally and thus can’t defend any of their rights. This is certainly the country’s most dangerous and least desirable job. There is no way of getting around the truth that eating meat or dairy products supports these sorts of relationships.

To be continued...


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