All About Animals: The Issues (Ages 16-18): Vegetarians and Vegans

Definitions:

  • A vegetarian eats no meat, fish or by-products of the meat industry such as gelatine or rennet, but may consume eggs and dairy products. They are also known as ovo-lacto vegetarians.
  • A vegan eats no meat, fish, dairy products, eggs or honey or any derivatives of any animal products. They are also known as true vegetarians.
  • A demi-vegetarian may describe someone who eats fish but not meat, or who eats white but not red meat. Demi-vegetarians are not really vegetarians at all.

Animals

The number one reason most people go vegetarian is the treatment of animals. Some cite the suffering of animals while they are alive (see the section on factory farming) but for many, killing animals for a product that we don’t need is not acceptable, no matter how those animals were raised. Barely a week goes by without another aspect of the meat trade being exposed for its cruelty. Broken bones in turkeys and chickens, ducks who never see water, calves removed from their mourning mothers, pigs dosed with drugs on a daily basis, the slaughter of pregnant animals, live exports, battery cages, the illnesses suffered on factory farms, dead animals thrown into open pits, the violence meted out to animals—all this and more has been widely reported and has led many people to refuse to eat meat.

Health

Another reason people stop eating meat is for their health. In addition to recent health scares such as E. coli, BSE, swine fever and salmonella, meat and animal products have been linked to cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and many other diseases and conditions. Scientific studies continue to show that the intake of meat should be limited, if not eliminated from the diet altogether. Meat, milk and eggs are responsible for over a million people suffering from food poisoning every year, some with fatal consequences.

The Environment

Intensive animal farming has a powerful impact on the environment. Throughout the world, forests and ancient woodlands are being destroyed to make way for cattle to graze, endangering the millions of species that live within them and causing the loss of the Earth’s primary oxygen-production system. Thanks to the ‘slash-and-burn’ policy, centuries’ worth of carbon dioxide is released in minutes. It drifts into the stratosphere, where it traps radiated heat, causing global warming. This is exacerbated by the huge amounts of methane produced by cattle and other ruminants, who are responsible for about 20 per cent of the world’s methane production.

The meat industry is a huge polluter of waterways. Slurry spills into rivers and canals are not uncommon, and cause massive damage to aquatic wildlife by sucking the oxygen out of the water.

Meat production is incredibly wasteful of resources. The production of one kilo of beef requires fifteen times as much water as the equivalent value of vegetable protein. It takes 10,000 litres of water to produce one kilo of beef but only 500 litres to produce 1 kilo of potatoes.

Feeding the World

There is a clear and direct link between the food on our plates and starvation in other countries. It starts with the recognition that raising animals for food is an extremely inefficient way to feed a growing human population. Forty per cent of the world’s cereal harvest is fed to livestock,and much of this cereal is imported from developing countries where thousands of people die though lack of food. Ten acres of land can grow soya protein that would feed 60 people. The same area could produce beef for just two people.

Vegetarian Foods

The last decade has seen an explosion in the availability of vegetarian foods. Every supermarket carries a variety of vegetarian products now, and health food shops stock even more. There are vegetarian sausages, burgers, pies and pasties, soups, stews, ravioli, cannelloni, lasagne, curries, Chinese, Mexican and Thai meals… and just about anything else you could want. Mock meats—totally vegetarian products made to taste like meat—provide the taste that new vegetarians may miss without the cholesterol and animal suffering. Fishless fish cakes, fake fish fingers, porkless pies, cheatin’ ham, ‘garlic sausage’ and ‘chicken’ slices, ‘turkey’ roasts and vegetarian sausage rolls are all available.

For those who prefer to cook meals from scratch, there is a wealth of vegetarian cookery books in the shops or available on the Internet.

Further information is available from:
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on 0207 357 9229, at i[email protected] or visit their Web site at www.petauk.org to order a free copy of their Vegetarian Starter Kit.

Viva! on 0117 944 1000, at [email protected] or visit their Web site at www.viva.org.uk to order their free information packs.

The Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation at [email protected] or visit their Web site www.vegetarian.org.uk

National Farmers Union on 0207 331 7200, at [email protected] or visit their Web site www.nfu.org.uk