Perfect match: vegetarianism and environmentalism

When I wear my shirt that spells out “vegetarian,” I almost always gets weird looks. People constantly bombard me with responses like “Why did you do it?” and “You don’t seem like one.” That response in particular baffles me; what does a vegetarian look like? In recent years the term “vegetarian” has had a negative stigma attached to it. Most people imagine PETA enthusiasts who splatter paint on furs and protest outside of circuses because of the mistreatment of animals.

In actuality, most vegetarians are mild-mannered people who just don’t see animals as a food source. I made the choice to eliminate meat from my diet almost five years ago because I was aware of the health and environmental benefits that accompanied it. Eliminating the human dependence on livestock as a food source can drastically improve our environment (land, air, water), as well as overall human health.

Environmentalists rightfully have a beef with over-consumption of animal products. (AP Photo)

There are many health benefits that come from eliminating animal product from one’s diet, such as lower cholesterol, lower risk of heart disease, lower saturated fat levels and a lower risk for a few types of stomach cancers. In a recently published book titled “The China Project” by T. Colin Campbell, a professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, and his son Thomas M. Campbell II, the two study the relationship between the consumption of animal proteins and an array of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancers of the breast, prostate and bowel.

“It’s just bad for your health,” Campbell said. “Diets high in meat and dairy can actually cause heart disease and exacerbate cancer growth.”

Although research about disastrous health implications of ingesting animal products are at the hand of public observation, most people choose to ignore it out of laziness. Lately there has been a newly devised technique, which many are hoping will reach a broader audience. In a paper published by Dr. David Brubaker of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, Brubaker explains how the mass breeding of livestock contributes over half of the harmful chemical emissions polluting the ozone.

“The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are dreadful,” Brubaker said.

The term livestock is used to describe any animal mass bred for human dietary needs. Cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys are all considered livestock and have been since their domestication in the early years of the second Neolithic Revolution. These animals are typically kept in high numbers and in close quarters, concentrating the amount of CO2, ammonia and methane gases that are emitted into the atmosphere. It has been estimated by Campbell that 64 percent of toxic chemical emissions come from livestock, which results in an increase in acid precipitation and acidification of ecosystems worldwide.

When thinking about a sustainable “green” economy, diet should never be ignored. Food is a major component of human life and it has been proven thus far how much of a negative impact it can have on the environment. In a paper released by the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the typical pollution sources (plastics, oil, ect.) are cited as being the “top” contributors of global pollution. However, after further research, it seems that the mass production of livestock outweighs them.

This news normally never reaches the ears of the public because altering diet requires a level of mental control, something that most people lack or care not to exercise. Food is often thought of as a recreational activity rather than a necessity of life, so it becomes a battle of human ethics: forsaking something that brings you happiness for the greater good of the environment.

Over half of the population eats animal products and when asked if they would ever changed many said, “I’m not strong enough” or some variant of that statement. More effective distribution methods need to be devised for the sake of this planet because, at this rate, we will destroy this planet in a matter of centuries. The first step of change is awareness — it is our job as the dominant species to preserve the land in which we inhabit.