The 19th Century British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote, "There is no disease, bodily or mental, which adoption of [a] vegetable diet and pure water has not infallibly mitigated, wherever the experiment has been fairly tried."
Scientific research has confirmed that a vegetarian diet has a wealth of health benefits. Among others, these range from lowering the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many cancers, to promoting weight loss and helping to sustain a healthy BMI, and helping to improve glycaemic control.
"Vegetarian or vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases," according to the latest position paper on vegetarian diets from the American Dietetic Association.
Today, an increasing number of scientists and social researchers are also calling on people to consider a vegetarian diet, often for ecological reasons. Following are some highlights of recent studies outlining ways in which a vegetarian diet is good for the environment and eases the stress on our planet.
Vegetarianism can lessen world hunger.
Every year, 36 million people, most of them women and children, die because of hunger and its effects, especially in developing countries. Though there are many interrelated reasons for this, such as war, famine and food delivery, the remedy to this tragedy is relatively simple.
Land grazed by animals for human consumption accounts for almost 50 per cent of the Australian continent. The same amount of land used to produce a kilogram of beef can be used to produce over 500 kilograms of potatoes! This issue revolves around land productivity.
On top of that, there is also the land that is cleared and used to produce food for these animals. If that land were used to grow grains for humans instead, millions of children and adults who are starving to death each year could be saved.
Vegetarianism preserves water supplies.
Animal production requires huge amounts of water compared to agricultural growth. Between 50,000 and 100,000 litres of water are required to produce just one kilogram of beef. In comparison, up to 1550 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of rice, which is a high-end water usingcrop. Most fruits and vegetables require much less water than rice production.
Meat production is a highly inefficient use of water resources, which are consumed for months and years before producing a usable food product. The water used to produce just one hamburger would permit an individual to take a luxurious, lengthy shower every day for two-and-a-half weeks. Livestock production accounts for over 8 per cent of global human water consumption.
Vegetarianism lessens dependence on fossil fuels.
Animal agriculture requires massive amounts of fossil fuel consumption because each animal eventually slaughtered must first be fed with grains, soy and other crops. Producing these requires energy consumption. In turn, this feed must be harvested and transported to feedlots. From the feedlots, animals are then transported to slaughterhouses, the carcasses are trucked in refrigerated vehicles to a processing plant. Finally, the meat is transported to grocery outlets.
The next time you're driving on a highway, observe how many trucks are being used to transport food for animals or the animals themselves. Adopting a vegetarian diet actually does more to reduce vehicle emissions than driving a hybrid car. With the fossil fuel energy required to produce a single hamburger, you could drive a small car 32 kilometres.
Vegetarianism reduces rainforest depletion.
To meet the yearly demand of meat eaters in the United States, the nation imports 90 million kilograms of beef from Central America. Providing the necessary feed for these animals means clear-cutting forests and rainforests. A 2002 study by the Smithsonian Institute estimates that the need for more grazing land means that every minute of every day, a land area equivalent to seven football fields is destroyed in the Amazon basin.
For each hamburger originating from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 5 square metres of forest have been destroyed. Along with rainforest depletion, 1000 species are eliminated or threatened due to the destruction of their habitat.
Vegetarianism eases water pollution.
Livestock production is one of the most damaging causes of the earth's increasingly scarce water resources. Animal production leads directly to environmental pollution as animal waste, antibiotics, hormones fed to animals, chemicals from tanneries, fertilisers and pesticides used to spray feed crops, find their way into the soil and waterways.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American agriculture is the main source of water pollution, surpassing all other industries. One-third of this pollution is due to animal production operations. And the problem is widespread, not limited to a few isolated streams. The EPA states that between 35 and 45 per cent of America's lakes are classified as "polluted," and agricultural runoff is considered to be the largest contributor to that pollution.
These issues prompt Christian consideration and response. Unlike religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, which have clear injunctions against meat eating, the Bible is ambiguous when it comes to vegetarianism.
Certainly, people cited in the Bible ate meat. Yet, the first book of the Bible suggests a vegetarian path. Genesis 1:29-31 reads, "Then God said, 'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life in it-I give every green plant for food.' And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."
When God created us, humans were meant to eat seed-bearing plants and fruits, while animals were given green plants.
John Dear, a Catholic priest and author, comments on this passage, saying, "In God's initial and ideal world, represented in the book of Genesis by the Garden of Eden, there was no suffering, no exploitation, and no violence at all. People and animals were vegetarians, as we read in the first chapter of Genesis... . Immediately after creating this beautiful, nonviolent, nonexploitative world, God describes it as 'very good.' This is the only time in the narrative that God calls creation 'very good' instead of merely 'good'-and this immediately follows God's command with regard to vegetarianism."
Dr Andrew Linzey, director of the Centre for the Study of Theology at England's University of Essex from 1987 to 1992 and author of Christianity and the Rights of Animals, notes, "The Christian argument for vegetarianism then is simple: since animals belong to God, have value to God and live for God, then their needless destruction is sinful. In short: animals have some right to their life."
And whether or not you can subscribe to that view, if more people were to adopt a vegetarian diet, not only would their health improve, but our planet and everything in it would be helped and healed.