The following is a guest post by 17-year-old Molly Mizusawa, who wrote an essay about how vegetarianism benefits the planet. Molly is a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire. She contacted me to share her work. Thanks, Molly, I hope your interest in the topic inspires others!
If you are looking for more information, Molly's facts came from Web resources, mostly infographics which I posted on my vegetarian Pinterest board.
At age twelve, I was not fully aware of my reasoning for leaving my omnivorous past behind for a vegetarian future. I have always been a lover of animals and thought the idea of slaughter to be barbaric, but I had not seriously contemplated the benefits of vegetarianism. I was (and, at seventeen, still am) very young and only thought that if I chose not to eat meat, then I would be sparing at least one chicken, cow or pig from an untimely death. The remunerations of vegetarianism, however, stretch much further than the suffering of a chick.
In fact, vegetarianism helps to save our Earth. Currently, livestock grazing land occupies thirty percent of the planet’s surface. This cleared land, which is bulldozed at the rate of 2,100 feet per minute, not only comes from untouched and precious rainforest but also is the primary threat of extinction for many plant species. Moreover, using this land for grazing erodes the soil, leaving it barren for future generations of native species.
In addition to ruining the earth’s current resources, the meat industry is a large contributor to global warming. Three of the major gasses in global warming are created in great amounts by raising livestock. Cows, chickens, turkeys, and pigs together produce the largest amounts of methane, a gas which is twenty times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping the Earth’s heat in the ozone layer. The meat industry is also a large provider of the world’s nitrous oxide production, which is three hundred times as potent as carbon dioxide. If we all take small steps toward vegetarianism, we can help heal the ozone layer. For example, each American family can substitute one meal of chicken a week for a vegetarian option and, therefore, save an amount of carbon dioxide equal to that of 500,000 fewer cars on the roads. A small effort can have a large impact.
In addition, the practice of raising livestock for meatn is wasteful. In fact, almost fifty percent of the water used in the United States goes toward the raising of livestock because, in order to create one pound of edible beef, the cow requires 2,400 gallons of water. This copious amount of water needed by cattle to feed humans could be put toward the 884 million people in the world who do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. Instead, it is used to produce one pound of beef, which only fulfills one-third of a human’s needed daily caloric intake. This one pound of beef also necessitates sixteen pounds of grain, which could fulfill the daily caloric requirements for nearly ten people per day. Since this grain is so vital to the raising of livestock, seventy percent of the grain and cereals grown in the United States are eaten by livestock and yet 925 million people in the world do not have enough food to eat. That means that one pound of beef for one third of a person’s daily caloric intake requires 200,176 pounds of resources, which could be put toward those who do not have access to safe food. Furthermore, the creation of one calorie of protein from this beef involves seventy-eight calories of fossil fuel whereas the creation of one calorie of protein from soybeans takes two calories of fossil fuel. Basically stated, the United States uses thirty-three percent of its raw materials for the production of meat while the U.S. uses two percent of its raw materials to produce a balanced vegetarian diet.
In order to produce meat, animals must suffer. When demand decreases, so does supply and, therefore, suffering. To put this in perspective, by skipping pork, a pig will not have to suffer for four days. By skipping turkey, a turkey will not have to suffer for twenty-three days. By skipping chicken, a hen will not have to suffer for about six weeks. These estimates are based on the expected life of an animal, its suffering per day of life, its average amount of food per lifetime, and the number of days of life equivalent to the pain of its death. (For more information visit: “How Much Direct Suffering is Caused by Various Animal Foods?”) The humanitarian and animal welfare benefits of vegetarian living were enough to sway me to vegetarianism, but the environmental bonuses further my dedication.
When I told my parents I did not want to eat meat anymore, I had no idea how large of an impact I would have on the world. The only difference I noted was that my father’s cholesterol dropped considerably as our family consumed fewer and fewer meat-centric meals. But, as I continued to research, I found more reasons to follow through with my meatless diet and inform others of the incredible benefits. For me, vegetarianism has been one way that I feel in control of myself and the world around me. It seems insurmountable that one person can have that great of an influence on something larger than his or herself, but if you keep in mind that one fewer pound of beef a week means saving an amount of water equal to not showering for six months, then you can see the large impression that one person makes. Vegetarianism requires dedication, but if each person takes small steps toward it, then, ideally, we can help save the world and the people in it.