Vegetarianism and the Environment

By Victoria Garafola
Staff Writer

Ever wonder how you can save the rainforest, cut back fossil fuels, prevent pollution, help stop world hunger and still make it to class on time? Then you should consider the options of a vegetarian lifestyle. Many people do not realize the environmental stress of our traditional life style. In fact one third of all fossil fuels used in America are wasted on animal agriculture and slaughter. Unfortunately, the waste does not stop there. Water pollution from farmlands is an overwhelming burden on our oceans and freshwater. “The 3 trillion pounds of waste produced by factory-farmed animals each year are usually used to fertilize crops, and they subsequently end up running off into waterways—along with the drugs and bacteria that they contain.” These pollutants are causing irreversible damage to our environment and health. One must also take into consideration the land usage and forest destruction associated with the meat industry. How can something so precious and unique as the rainforest simply be cleared for grazing cows?! In a time where “going green” is becoming a more popular necessity, vegetarianism is the new refillable bottle.

While the world takes a step back to reevaluate our use of valuable resources and the destruction of our planet, many may overlook the positive benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle on both their health and the health of our planet. According to the UN’s recent report, “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 many people do not realize is exactly how much damage to our environment is actually done by the production of meat. “Over one third of all fossil fuels used in the United States alone is used for the growth and slaughter of animals. A University of Chicago study found, for example, that meat-eaters individually emit 1.5 more tons of emissions a year than vegetarians or vegans; and according to the OCA, it takes 8 times as many fossil fuels to produce animal protein than their plant equivalent.” What many fail to take into consideration is that for every animal we eat, that animal was raised, fed and transported.

Meat is perhaps the most challenging threat to our environment. Over 70 percent of our Amazonian rainforests have been cleared to produce farmland. Although the rainforest only covers approximately 7% of the earth’s surface, it is home to over 50% of our plant and animal species, most of which can be found there and only there! When choosing dinner tonight, please remember, for each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed. And it’s not just the rainforest. In the United States, more than 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut for animal agriculture. These numbers are alarming and the damage accumulates daily.  So the question is, how do we stop such an inevitable but destructive behavior? Being informed is half the battle, and taking action can be as simple as refusing meat with your potatoes.

Did you know that the amount of land used to raise cattle is 20 times the amount needed to feed humans! With such numbers it is no surprise that world hunger is a deadly issue for some, while Americans consume over 32 percent of the worlds total production of cattle! If every one who currently eats meat made the switch to a more vegetarian lifestyle, that individual would save roughly 100 animals and an acre of trees EVERY year!

While surviving, as college students can be rough, going veg doesn’t have to be! There are hundreds of quick and easy vegetarian options all around; you just need to keep your eyes and minds open for them. Our own cafeteria offers many vegetarian friendly options every day. Helping the planet can be as easy as ordering the Mac and Cheese from Burger King as opposed to the Whopper (who needs a 2300 calorie sandwich anyway?!) Our local supermarkets usually have an entire section dedicated to veggie-burgers, microwaveable vegetables, rice, and even “fake meat”, which resembles the look and taste of the real thing, but is usually made from the much healthier soy alternatives. Many people argue that vegetarians cannot get a daily value of protein, iron, and essential vitamins, but like any diet, the options are there, it is simply up to you as the consumer to make the right choices. In fact, vegetarians are generally healthier than their peers!

Being a local, I can recall my excitement when I first heard about the opening of “Eden: A Vegan Café” which is located on Adams Avenue in downtown Scranton. Despite their vegan foundation, while skimming through the menu, you would never know they were Veg-friendly. With Items such as Chicken Noodle Soup and Pork Barbeque, they prove you can be a vegan while still enjoying your favorite foods!

Brands like Boca, Morning Star Farms, and Amy’s have populated our grocery stores and make going cruelty-free a breeze! There is also a local group called “The Vegetarian Way” which organizes many veggie gatherings, dinners and even runs a news letter that includes diet tricks, recipes, advice, and news.  If you are interested in joining, feel free to contact them at  [email protected].

In summation, with all the physical and environmental advantages of vegetarianism, it is not difficult to see why the most eco-friendly are taking a step in the compassionate direction. The benefits seem endless, and the alternative to vegetarianism forecasts a bleak future.