Why I am (semi) vegetarian
Meaning – well, I’m not entirely vegetarian! I do eat the occasional piece of fish – mackerel or a sardine, and (free range) eggs – and I am definitely not vegan, I eat almost entirely plant- or fungus- (Quorn) derived food, in part because I enjoy it, but there are several other reasons – mainly as I care for the environment and for ethical standards in animal husbandry. I have serious reservations about the way in which animals may be treated in order to increase productivity. Factory farming is still used widely across the world. Even in the UK, chickens and pigs, for example, may be kept in cramped conditions. The long distance transport of live animals can cause much needless distress.
Having seen on TV a little of what happens in abattoirs and in the ‘humane’ killing of chickens, I am not convinced that good standards are always being applied to the welfare of animals for human consumption in this country, If we knew more about this process, I believe that we would not have the same appetite for eating animal-derived foods.
Plants utilize light energy from the sun by photosynthesis to produce proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and all of the other organic components of which they are formed. Amongst farm animals, chickens have probably the best efficiency, about 40 – 50%, for the conversion of plant products into animal protein. Cows have a much lower efficiency, probably 10 – 20%. Therefore much of the plant protein consumed by animals is lost. Even now we are finding that it is difficult to feed the world population of 6 billion, yet in 50 years time this is likely to rise to 9 billion, – an extra two mouths each second.
In order to satisfy the demands of people for cheap burgers, much of the Earth’s wilderness is being sacrificed, to be replaced by large areas of pasture, especially in South America.
Forests are being felled to create grazing pasture and to grow plants for cattle feed. Methane, the very powerful greenhouse gas is produced in large amounts by the microbial activity in the digestive processes in cattle. Many of the ingredients needed for vegetarian food need no refrigeration, with consequent energy conservation and less dependence on CFCs, which again are powerful greenhouse gases. Beans, rice, and pasta will store for many years on a shelf in the dry form at room temperature.
Several serious diseases may be shared with animals. The recent cases of Asian flu are clearly associated with chickens, and we have had several outbreaks of this potentially lethal virus in the UK. Moreover, the strain H5N1 has the potential to develop into a pandemic. The recent concern over the incidence of bovine TB still threatens the survival of our badger population, even though this form of TB may not present any direct threat to humans.. The irresponsible feeding of cattle with the remains of other animals was almost certainly the cause of the so-called mad cow disease and of the outbreak of the new variant Creutzfeld Jacob disease that has so far killed 164 people in the UK. Cattle also cause much of the organic pollution in our water, derived from slurry disposal, to the detriment of the wildlife in our waterways. The widespread use of antibiotics in animal husbandry contributes to the development of bacteria resistant to the antibiotics for which our present medical procedures are essential.
Some parts of dead animals are used for non-food purposes, like leather, but there are usually alternatives for these products. At present cows produce much of our protein in the form of milk, yet soy milk is a very similar product. Vegetarians should be aware of the potential for iron deficiency and certain essential protein amino acids may be in lower concentrations in plant-derived food, although the levels in leguminous seeds can usually be adequate. Even the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that are derived from certain oily fish, may soon be provided by GM plants. Animal foods cannot provide the fibre, essential for our health that is a major component of plant-derived foods.
Our ancestors were notorious meat eaters, but times change. Here I am trying to suggest that we should now be aware of our present problems of overpopulation, depletion of energy resources, global warming and the loss of wildlife, which may be made worse by our addiction to meat.