One of the most important choices we can make in life is the food we eat. The choice whether to live as a vegetarian or as a meat-eater has a critical impact on the planet, ourselves, our children, animals, our fellow brothers and sisters, and the environment.
Ganga Action Parivar’s information on vegetarianism serves to educate and promote ahimsa, or non-violence. Choosing to eat meat and other animal products contributes to the cruel treatment and slaughter to billions of animals yearly. GAP has identified six global issues that can lessened by a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji’s book on the subject, Vegetarianism: For Your Body, Your Mind, Your Soul and Your Planet is available online for further reading.
November 15-16, 2014: Vegetarianism Conference at Parmarth Niketan Ashram
February 17, 2014: Yoga, Ayurveda & Vegetarianism Conference at Kumbh MelaSee full event details and access press clippings here >>
Global issues surrounding a non-vegetarian lifestyle include:
Factory Farmed Animals
“The life of an animal in a factory farm is characterised by acute deprivation, stress and disease. Hundreds of animals are forced to live in cages or crates barely larger than their own bodies. Unable to grow, stretch their legs, or even turn around, the victims of factory farms live in a relentless state of distress.” – Humane Farming Association.
Each year 150 billion animals are slaughtered by the meat, egg and dairy industry (1). The USA is one of the largest producers and consumers of meat and animal products, in fact 27 billion animals are slaughtered in the US alone for their flesh and skin (2). These factory farmed animals are treated as mere production units and are constantly abused and condemned to horrendous conditions. Factory farmed animals are fattened up on artificial grain diets, which causes great strain on their internal organs and as a result many develop diseases. To alleviate these illnesses farmed animals are pumped with large amount of antibiotics, which settle in their fat and muscles eventually making way onto our dinner plates.
Factory farmed animals are confined to dirty, unsanitary living conditions, often living in their own feces. Between 3 to 7 hens are stuffed into wire cages half the size of an average hens wing span, these small living conditions cause hen’s severe stress and frustration. The wire cages cuts into their feet and because of the lack of space their claws often grow around the wire, restricting them to food and water, leaving them to starve to death (3). Numerous other factory farmed animals, including, pigs, cows, calves, goats, sheep and turkeys are condemned to similar conditions.
Solution: With the thousands of vegetarian recipes and products now available you can get a vegetarian alternative for just about any meat dish out there. Why not give it a go? Your body and spirit will love you for it and plus by switching to a vegetarian diet one person alone can save more than 100 animals a year from misery (2).
Millions of animals are used in cruel and painful chemical, drug, food, and cosmetic tests yearly. Animals included in these tests are mice, rats, cats, dogs, guinea pigs and primates, among others (4). To test the chemicals in products, animals are poisoned, blinded and killed. Mice and rats are forced to inhale toxic fumes. Pesticides are force-fed to dogs. Rabbits have chemicals rubbed in their eyes and skin (5). The stress, sterility and boredom causes animals to develop unnatural neurotic behaviors; including rocking back and forth, spinning in circles, pulling out their hair and biting their own skin (4). These tests aren’t even required by law in some countries as these experiments can often be inaccurate and misleading.
Solution: You can get cruelty free items for all house hold essentials, including cleaning products, dish and clothing detergents, cosmetics, and other personal items. To ensure your products are cruelty free look out for the ‘leaping bunny’ and the ‘not tested on animals’ label on the back of the product’s packaging. These products are also a lot healthier for your body and natural because they lack harsh chemicals and poisons. You can also write to those organizations that perform animal tests and ask them to stop these unnecessary and cruel practices (6). By taking a stance against animal testing you’re speaking up for animals and standing up for their rights as well as making the more compassionate decision.
Leather and Fur
“Most leather comes from developing countries such as India and China, where animal welfare laws are either non-existent or not enforced. In India, a PETA investigation found that workers break cows’ tails and rub chili peppers and tobacco into their eyes, in order to force them to get up and walk after they collapse from exhaustion, on the way to the slaughterhouse.” – PETA
Industries that produce fur, leather, and wool cause immense suffering to billions of animals around the world every year. Leather can be made from, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, alligators, crocodiles, ostriches, kangaroos, cats and dogs. Due to the lack of labels on leather, you will never no who’s skin you are wearing (7). Animals used for their fur include foxes, rabbits, minx, cats, and dogs. Similarly to leather, animal fur is also often purposely mislabeled (8).
Animals used for fur and leather endure the same extreme crowding and deprivation as factory farmed animals. To ensure the fur stays intact and preserved their slaughter methods result in extreme suffering for the animals; including anal and genital electrocution and clubbing. These methods only stun the animal, leaving them fully conscious during the process (8).
Solution: Be conscious of the clothes you buy. Many people are unaware that their fur coat took the lives of 35 minks and that 3 foxes suffered just to make their fur trim collar (7). Animals rights are completely disregarded just for the sake of a piece of clothing. However, as consumers we have the power to make a positive change to the leather and fur industry by making use of the many cruelty free clothing options available. When shopping look out for labels that read ‘faux fur, plant based and synthetic fibers.’ By doing so, you are taking the standing against animal abuse.
Factory farmed animal are pumped with large amounts of hormones in order to fatten them up for slaughter. Once ingested, these hormones settle in their kidneys, fat and liver. These hormones impact human development by disrupting hormone balance and the reproductive system and stimulating cancer growth (9).
Meat, eggs, cheese, and milk contain large amounts of artery clogging saturated fats, carcinogens and cholesterol. They are among the leading causes of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and osteoporosis (10). A leading health professional and Author of The China study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell also points out that not only are adults developing these diseases but children too. He describes that, “Infants today are falling prey to obesity and a type of diabetes that was once only seen in adults”. This is because of children’s large intake of meat, eggs, cheese and other animal products (11).
- One British study found that vegetarians had a 40% lower risk of developing cancer than meat eaters and that those consuming meat frequently had 3 times the colon cancer risk (12).
- Another large study conducted several years ago, involving 76,000 people concluded that those who avoided meat were 25% less likely to develop heart disease than those who did (13).
Health conscious people today are stemming towards a vegan diet, due to lactose deficiencies and the high saturated fat content found in dairy products. For those who are unsure, a vegan diet eliminates all animal derived products, including, eggs, milk and other dairy products. In fact, a well-known study conducted by Oxford compared the cholesterol levels of vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Results showed that vegans has significantly lower cholesterol levels than all groups, with an average of 146, vegetarians averaged 177 and meat eaters had the highest, averaging 194 (14).
Solution: Join the food revolution and take advantage of a clean vegetarian diet that is rich in leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. You can also try some of the milk alternatives like organic soy milk, almond milk and rice milk. These foods contain healthy unsaturated fats, virtually no cholesterol and are rich in all your essential vitamins and minerals including, calcium, potassium, iron, B12, riboflavin, magnesium and essential fatty acids. By making the switch you’ll improve your heart health and lower the risk of diabetes and cancer, allowing you to live a healthy life (15).
Global Environmental Impacts
The global animal farm industry is both unsustainable and ecologically destructive. The Industry is responsible for a number of global environmental issues including: the release of global emissions, mass deforestation, species extinction, toxic run off and the wastage of precious water.
The livestock industry plays a large role in global warming contributing 18% of global emissions. This number is greater than the global transport industry, which includes all trains, planes, trucks, ships and cars in the world combined. In addition to releasing 10% of carbon dioxide, the livestock industry is responsible for releasing far greater toxic chemicals, emitting 37% of methane (which is 20 times more damaging than Carbon dioxide), 65% of nitrous oxide (which is 296 times more damaging than carbon dioxide), and 65% of ammonia (which significantly contributes to acid rain) (16).
The meat industry is a main driver of deforestation and species loss. According to the Smithsonian Institute, the equivalent of seven football fields of forest land is bulldozed over worldwide to make room for livestock and grain crops (17). To produce just one quarter-pound hamburger requires the clearing of 6 square yards of rain forest and the destruction of 165 pounds of living matter including 20 to 30 different plant species, 100 insect species, and dozens of bird, mammal and reptile species (18). The hormones and antibiotics also pose a huge threat to the environment, especially when they are excreted as waste. This waste ends up in our waterways, aquifers, rivers and streams, impacting the health of the surrounding flora and fauna and natural ecosystems.
Between watering the crops to feed livestock, providing drinking water, cleaning animal waste, transporting trucks and providing the water for slaughter houses the livestock industry uses an excessive unsustainable amount of water. In fact, it takes 15,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, however it only takes 1,500 liters of water to produce one kilogram of wheat. By choosing grains over meat you save 100 times less water (19).
Solution: Just by choosing the vegetarian alternative over a hamburger you save: 2,500 liters of water, 75 kilograms of carbon dioxide, 75 yards of rainforest, and hundreds of species. Switching to a vegetarian diet is the smartest choice we can make to address all these environmental issues as well as reducing our own individual global footprints. As author of The Food Revolution, John Robbins, points out ‘you save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you would by not showering for 6 months’ (20)!
“Starvation does not occur because of a world food shortage. If everyone ate a vegetarian diet, or better still, a vegan diet there would be enough food for everyone. The only sane way forward is to grow food for humans rather than to feed it to farmed animals.” – Jeremy Rifkin
Everyday 40,000 children die of starvation and 6 million children a year die of malnutrition and hunger (21). Knowing that, it is hard to believe that 40% of the grains produced worldwide goes to fattening livestock for meat production (22). The United States is one of the largest producers providing grain for livestock, in fact, if the grain was used to feed people, we could provide food for 1.4 billion (23).
Globally enough grain is produced daily to provide each person on Earth with more than 2 loaves of bread a day, however these grains are not being fed to people, instead they are being fed to fatten livestock for meat production (22). With the abundance of food produced worldwide it’s surprising that starvation even exists, but the problem is that it’s not going to where it’s needed. A majority of the problem stems from our choices and the selfishness of these choices.
Solution: It takes an astonishing 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef, whereas it takes 1 pound of grain to produce one pound of bread so by switching to a vegetarian diet we can provide food for 16 people (22). Even better, if every person in the world went vegetarian we could feed 10 billion people, more than the entire population of the earth (22). There are thousands of programs dedicated to feeding the hungry, alleviating global warming, saving the rainforests and voicing for animals and millions of us are truly dedicated to helping these causes, yet these words are empty if our actions show blatant disregard. We must live an honest lifestyle and do as we preach and by doing so we become true to ourselves and closer to our spirits. Just by choosing a vegetarian option for dinner you’re letting 16 times as many people be fed, saving precious trees, conserving water and taking a strong stance against animal abuse. Every step is a giant leap forward to saving and conserving mother earth.
1 ADAPTT, Kill counter, ADAPTT, http://www.adaptt.org/killcounter.html, 2013.
2 People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Vegetarian-101, PETA, http://www.peta.org/living/food/vegetarian-101/, 2014.
3 Animal Liberation Australia, Inside battery cages, Animal Liberation NSW, http://animal-lib.org.au/campaigns/animals-for-food/inside-battery-cages, 2014.
4 People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 2014, Animals used for experimentation, PETA, http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-experimentation/.
5 Animals Australia, Animal testing, Animals Australia Unleashed, http://www.unleashed.org.au/change_the_world/animal_testing/, 2014.
6 Animals Australia, Cruelty Free Shopping, Animals Australia Unleashed, http://www.unleashed.org.au/change_the_world/animal_testing/cruelty-free_shopping.php, 2014.
7 Born Free USA, Slaughtered and Skinned, Born Free USA, http://www.bornfreeusa.org/articles.php?more=1&p=370, 2002.
8 People for the ethical treatments of animals (PETA), Inside fur industry factory farms, PETA, http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/animals-used-clothing-factsheets/inside-fur-industry-factory-farms/, 2014.
9 Global Action Network Canada, How hormones could affect your health, Global Action Network, http://www.gan.ca/lifestyle/vegetarian+guide/the+downside+to+consuming+animal+products/how+hormones+could+affect+your+health.en.html, 2014.
10 Heart Foundation Australia, Fats and Cholesterol, Heart Foundation, http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/fats/Pages/default.aspx, 2014.
11 T. C. Campbell, About the China Study, The China Study, http://www.thechinastudy.com/the-china-study/about/, 2014.
12 Physicians committee for responsible medicine, Meat consumption and Cancer Risk, Physicians Committee, http://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/facts/meat-consumption-and-cancer-risk, 2014.
13 Harvard Health Publications, Becoming a vegetarian, Harvard Medical School, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2009/October/becoming-a-vegetarian, 2009.
14 Vegan Health Org, Disease markers of vegetarians, Vegan Health Org, http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/dxmarkers, 2013.
15 Julieanna Heaver, Nutrition FAQ, Forks Over Knives, http://www.forksoverknives.com/nutrition-faq/, 2013.
16 Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (FAO), livestock a major threat to the environment, FAO, http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html, 2006.
17 People for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA), Meat wastes natural resources, PETA, http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-wastes-natural-resources/, 2014.
18 Howard Lyman, Beyond Beef, Mcspotlight, http://www.mcspotlight.org/media/reports/beyond.html#3, 2014.
19 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Good water, water to eat, what is virtual water, UNESCO, http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/FIELD/Venice/pdf/special_events/bozza_scheda_DOW04_1.0.pdf, 2008.
20 Steve Boyan, Our food choices can help save the environment, Earth Save, http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm, 2014.
21 National Students Campaign against hunger and homelessness, World Hunger, Students against hunger, http://www.studentsagainsthunger.org/page/hhp/overview-world-hunger, 2014.
22 S.H, Saraswatiji, Vegetarianism: For your body, your mind your soul and your planet, Ganga press, Rishikesh, 2002, P. 45.
23 Evolve campaigns, Famine, Evolve Campaigns, http://evolvecampaigns.org.uk/evolve/famine.aspx, 2014.