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Does Vegetarianism Help? This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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One hundred and eighty-six pounds: the average amount of beef, pork, and chicken consumed by each American in 2010, astonishes meat-eaters. Truthfully, humans evolved to be primarily vegetarian due to their short, flat teeth intended for chewing fibrous foods. They also lack the short intestines of carnivores for digesting meat. Likewise, the human liver cannot detoxify excess ­vitamin A, which normally comes from meat. Every vegetarian has different reasons why they do not eat animal products. Some become vegetarians for the health benefits like less risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Others become vegetarians due to their belief that animals shouldn't be used as a food source. While most people assume that the major reason vegetarians skip the cheeseburger is to protest against harming innocent animals, many vegetarians vehemently believe that the American meat diet is much more harmful to the environment than a vegetarian way of life.

Although the majority of people are ignorant of how destructive meat production is to the environment, others believe that no risk exists in meat production. Since humans have been eating meat for 2.3 million years, it's thought to be part of our evolution even though sometimes a meat diet can do more harm than good. According to the British Nutrition Foundation, meat doesn't necessarily cause health problems, but the way it is prepared can affect its health benefits.

Factory farms may omit some facts if they think it will cause their customers to disappear. As for the environment, some argue that meat production doesn't significantly contribute to deforestation in America since ninety-five percent of animal products were made in the U.S., and the amount of forested land hasn't drastically declined in the a hundred years. In contrast, America imported forty-five tons of processed beef from Brazil where 25 million acres were cleared for grazing land in just ten years. The reality is that producing meat uses more of the earth's natural resources than producing crops alone.

In the United States, over 90 percent of all agricultural land is reserved for livestock agriculture in some form. Seventy percent of what used to be Brazilian Amazon is currently livestock pastures, and the remaining 30 percent is used to grow crops for livestock production. When livestock grazes in the same area, it damages the environment through soil compaction, erosion, and harm to indigenous plants and animals. In addition, livestock production has caused approximately two hundred and sixty million acres of U.S. forest to be cleared in order to create cropland for food for animals. The increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to forest clearing adds to the greenhouse effect as well as to global warming.

Consequently, the U.S. squanders a great amount of energy and water supply for meat production. Over half of fresh water goes to livestock agriculture. Producing meat normally uses five, twenty, or sometimes even one hundred times the water and energy of plant production.

Twenty-five hundred gallons of water is used to produce one pound of beef and six hundred and sixty gallons are used for each pound of chicken. Think about the infinite, more productive uses of these thousands of gallons of water. To manufacture a pound of tofu, only two hundred and twenty gallons of water are used and one hundred and eighty gallons are used to grow a pound of wheat flour. As much as 20 times more fossil fuel is needed to manufacture one pound of animal protein compared to one pound of vegetable protein.

On top of water being wasted, livestock agriculture contaminates water. The millions of tons of waste produced by animals each year is a major source of pollution. Factory farms are estimated to create five hundred million tons of manure annually which is three times the waste produced by the ­entire American population. According to PETA, typical pig factories generate the same amount of waste as a city of 12,000. With so much waste, it is difficult to find a place to put it all. Most of the ­manure is spread onto farmland. Although this can be beneficial to the crops, it is usually over-applied which allows manure and other waste to leak into streams and even drinking wells which is disgusting and dangerous enough to kill.

Furthermore, livestock agriculture not only pollutes fresh water but also the air. According to the U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization, the meat and dairy industry creates more gases than the entire transportation industry – eighteen percent of greenhouse gas emissions on the earth. Cow farms give off millions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, the two most abundant greenhouse gases, each year. If each American substituted vegetarian food for one meal once per week, it would be the equivalent of taking 500,000 cars off the roads.

Destruction of rainforests is looked down upon, but no one thinks about the fact that producing one hamburger destroys fifty-five square feet of rainforest. Between 1996 and 2006, twenty-five million acres of beautiful Amazon rainforests were cleared; eighty percent of this land became pasture for beef cattle. When these rainforests are destroyed, the benefits of the trees are also destroyed; trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen. Since the typical U.S. meat diet requires so much land, feeding it to the world population wouldn't even be a possibility even if one hundred percent of the land on every continent other than Antarctica were used for food production.

In addition to vegetarianism offering a better diet, it can be healthy in ways that people normally are unaware of. For example, it lessens ­excess use of antibiotics. Seventy percent of antibiotics are fed to livestock to avoid the spread of disease. Because of this, antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop which can create risks to human health. Also, many who live near large farms suffer from respiratory problems. The emissions of manure can cause skin rashes, breathing problems, and headaches.

Even though the welfare of animals is important, Americans should also contemplate the other reasons that make vegetarianism an economical and productive way to manufacture food. Vegetables and grains require less land, water, and energy. Meat production contributes greatly to global warming, and encourages the waste of land. If farmers have the choice to grow crops instead of animals, they should choose crops. Also, if restaurants can add vegetarian options at almost no inconvenience, they should. You don't have to be a complete vegan to change the world, but you can start by making small adjustments that can improve tomorrow for all of us.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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