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Vegetarianism, World Peace, and Justice

By Dilip Barman

By moving toward vegetarianism, can we help avoid some of the reasons for fighting?

We find ourselves in a world of conflict and war. Why do people fight? Some conflict is driven by a desire to impose a value system, some by intolerance, and some by pure greed and quest for power. The struggle to obtain resources to support life is another important source of conflict; all creatures have a drive to live and sustain themselves. In 1980, Richard J. Barnet, director of the Institute for Policy Studies, warned that by the end of the 20th century, anger and despair of hungry people could lead to terrorist acts and economic class war [Staten Island Advance, Susan Fogy, July 14, 1980, p.1].

Developed nations are the largest polluters in the world; according to Mother Jones (March/April 1997, http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/MA97/hawken2.html), for example, Americans, "have the largest material requirements in the world ... each directly or indirectly [using] an average of 125 pounds of material every day ... Americans waste more than 1 million pounds per person per year ... less than 5 percent of the total waste ... gets recycled". In the US, we make up 6% of the world's population, but consume 30% of its resources [http://www.enough.org.uk/enough02.htm]. Relatively affluent countries are 15% of the world’s population, but consume 73% of the world’s output, while 78% of the world, in developing nations, consume 16% of the output [The New Field Guide to the U. S. Economy, Nancy Folbre, 2000, 10.11; www.fguide.org]. The Union of Concerned Scientists identifies meat production as causing the single largest impact of all human activities on land habitat alteration, and second only to driving as biggest impact on environment degradation [http:// boston.earthsave.org/awareness/DrivingVsMeat.htm].

Vegetarianism isn’t a panacea, but is a solid step toward making the world a better place in which to live. People move toward a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons. Increasing medical evidence suggests that consumption of any animal protein is a significant health problem (in fact, along with light exercise and meditation, a pure vegan diet is the only way proven to reverse heart disease [Journal of the American Medical Association 274(1995):894]). In addition to ethical and nonviolence arguments, reduction of world hunger is another compelling basis for adopting a vegetarian diet. Only 4 billion of the world’s 5.6 billion [in 1989] are properly nourished; if we all became vegan, current vegetarian food production could nourish 7 billion (of course, there would still be distribution problems) [R.W. Kates et.al., The Hunger Report. Providence: Brown Univ. Hunger Project, 1988 & 1989 Update]). Vegetarianism promotes protection of the environment and efficient use of resources. Each 4-ounce hamburger made from imported beef, for example, requires the destruction of 55 square feet of tropical forest to create grazing and pasture lands that do not regenerate [http:// schwartz. enviroweb. org/ jenviro.html]. If in the US we switched to a vegetarian diet, we would cut our imported oil requirements by 60% [Vegetarian Times, April 1990] - without drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge! Vegetarianism is good for human health, good for the environment, and reduces resource requirements for water, petroleum, and other energy sources – thus reducing a major source of conflict in the world today.



Choosing vegetarianism is the most important thing one can do for the environment

Here are a few reasons environmentalists and those seeking economic and social justice should consider vegetarianism:

One-half of the Earth's land mass is grazed by livestock1

Between 19 and 22% of all threatened and endangered species are harmed by livestock grazing2

Manure produced by all farm animals in the US annually is app. 130 times the waste produced by the human population3

Factory farms are the biggest contributors to polluted rivers and streams in the US4

Resources used in the production of livestock: 33% of the world's fish catch5; 38% of the world's6, 60% of Brazil's7, and 70% of the US grain harvest 8; 80% of the US corn harvest 9; almost half of all energy expended in US agriculture10

It takes 10-30 pounds of grain to make 1 pound beef11; only 35-40% of a steer’s body weight becomes beef for people12

Eating a plant-based diet would save 90% of the energy used in raising meat13

[1] Brown, Lester , et al., Vital Signs 1994, Worldwatch Institute, 1994, pg. 32.

[2] Losos, et al., The Living Landscape, Wilderness Society and Environmental Defense Fund, 1993, pg. 20.

[3] US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging Problem, Dec. 1997.

[4] EPA workgroup report 1994, cited in Mason, Jim. "Fowling the Waters," E Magazine, Sep/Oct 1995, pg. 33.

[5] Brown, Lester and Gary Gardner, State of the World 1996,W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1996 pg. 93.

[6] Lappe, Frances Moore, Diet for a Small Planet, 10th Anniversary edition (New York: Ballantine Books, 1982), pg. 69.

[7] Brown, Lenssen and Kane, Vital Signs 1995, Worldwatch Institute, 1995, pg. 137.

[8] USDA, Economic Research Service, "World Agric. Supply and Demand Estimates, WASD-256," July 11, 1991, tables 256,-7, -16, -19, -23.

[9] USDA, Agricultural Statistics 1989; pg. 31, table 40, "Corn: Supply and Disappearance US, 1974-1988".

[10] Source [8], pg. 17.

[11] Michael Baker, "For Livestock Farmers", American Agriculturist no. 15, Aug. 1995. [cited in source [13], pg. 164]

[12] Ray Herren, The Science of Animal Agriculture. Albany: Delmar Publishers, 1994, p.76. [cited in source [13], pg. 164]

[13] Marcus, Erik. Vegan: The New Ethics for Eating, 1997.

"We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature." -Rachel Carson

Visit the Triangle-Wide calendar of peace events, www.trianglevegsociety.org/peacecalendar

Access a PDF file to print off this flyer

Added December 13, 2001