Beef...and Why It Shouldn't Be What's for Dinner

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Until recently, vegetarianism has remained ostracized at the outskirts of our society, associated in collective public opinion almost exclusively with radical animal rights activists and "left-wing political attitudes" (Lund). In recent years, however, the practice of abstaining from meat consumption has taken on new life, fueled by new evidence of its health benefits and a changing moral landscape that is gradually expanding to include the rights of animals with those of humans. In spite of its rapid growth, the vegetarian philosophy remains a largely controversial subject for many Americans. Its almost sudden appearance in the mainstream leaves many avid meat-eaters questioning the validity of its lauded benefits and struggling to defend the morality of their way of life: a way of life which has endured almost as long as man himself. While meat consumption in America is rising (Hurley 33) vegetarianism is enjoying a newfound popularity of its own. A poll recently conducted by Time Magazine estimates that ten million Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, and an additional twenty million say that they have "flirted" with vegetarianism sometime in the past (Corliss). A separate survey found that schools and universities are increasingly offering meatless meals to their students in an attempt to keep up with the increasing demand among young people for vegetarian fare. In fact, in a recent survey of twelve to nineteen year olds, twenty percent of all the respondents and 28 percent of the female respondents described vegetarianism as "in" (Irvine). While many critics dismiss this newfound appreciation for the ideology of a plant-based diet as a misguided trend, this is hardly the case. The consumption of meat is a practice that causes numerous health risks and takes a significant toll on the environment, all at the unnecessary expense of the suffering of innocent creatures; society as a whole would be better served in making a universal transition to a healthier, less violent vegetarian lifestyle. Such a conversion would leave the world a better place, benefiting our earth and our health as well as increasing our morality and our awareness of the world around us. One of the more pressing reasons behind the need for a mass adoption of vegetarianism is the toll that meat production takes on our environment. While most Americans don't realize it, the consumption of meat inspires a wasteful misuse of the earth's valuable resources, leaving an irreparable scar on the earth and squandering sources of food that could be used to feed the hungry. 20 billion livestock occupy the earth, three times the number of human beings (Motavalli): in the U.S. alone livestock outnumber people 25 to one. The amount of room required to raise all these animals is massive (Corliss). In South America, about 70 thousand acres of rainforest are destroyed every day to make land for cattle to graze (Hurley 40), and the use of the land is so inefficient that it is estimated that a single vegetarian will save an acre of trees every year. In addition, the large number of animals bred for food produce excrement at a rate of 87,000 pounds per second, or about 20 tons of manure per year for every U.S. household, all of which is eventually routed to rivers and streams. The problem is so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that animal excrement "pollutes American waterways more than all other industrial sources combined" (qtd. in Motavalli). Modern farming methods also consume water and fossil fuels at an alarming rate. It requires only 2,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of soybeans; however, it requires 100,00 liters to produce the same weight in beef (Corliss). The amount of waste is unsettling at best: in his book The Food Revolution, John Robbins asserts "you'd save more water by not eating one pound of California beef than you would by not showering for an entire year" (qtd. in Motavelli). The...
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