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Vegging Out For the Better

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Do you know what your hamburger is made of? It seems like a simple question--most people will tell you that burgers are “just beef”--but it’s astonishing how few people realize that global warming, cancer, obesity, and animal cruelty are also ingredients. That’s why I want to take a few minutes to ask you to consider vegetarianism: the best move for your health, animal rights, and the environment.

Let me start off by explaining what a vegetarian actually is. A vegetarian is someone who avoids eating all meat, poultry, and fish for health, moral, and/or environmental reasons. The most common type is an ovo-lacto vegetarian, who still eats both dairy products and eggs, but there are also vegetarians who just eat dairy or just eat eggs. And then there are vegans, who exclude all animal products, including honey and leather, from their lifestyles.
One of the main reasons for going vegetarian is to prevent the torture of animals. The Humane Slaughter Act, a law meant to improve conditions for animals slaughtered for human consumption, only prevents undue suffering during slaughter, and does not protect against any of the abuse that happens before slaughter. And the Act doesn’t even apply to chicken farms, where 7.5 billion chickens are tortured every year for humans to eat. Before slaughter, the chickens are de-beaked with a hot blade, packed so tightly together that they can’t even move, fed ground-up “leftover” chicken parts, and handled so roughly that their bones often break. They’re fattened up so quickly that their legs can’t support the weight of their bodies, so many chickens can’t walk at all. And then during slaughter, the chickens are hung upside down, dipped into an electrified solution that stuns them, and then decapitated. Now think about it: would you do this to your household pet--your cats and dogs? That sounds cliché, I know, but so often people just chow down on steaks and burgers without even realizing that their meal used to be a living, breathing creature with emotions and the ability to feel pain. Every animal deserves to have rights to its own body and to be treated with respect and care, but this is not possible as long as the majority of people are omnivores.

Even if you don’t care about animal rights, there are other reasons to consider going vegetarian. Perhaps the most important is that it’s much better for your body than eating meat is. Compared to omnivores, vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, gout, osteoporosis, and stroke. Also, according to a study by the British Journal of Cancer, vegetarianism lowers the risk of several cancers, including colon and stomach cancer. Last, vegetarians are reported to have lower body mass indexes than non-vegetarians. Getting to live a longer, healthier life is worth cutting out meat to me.
Throughout your life, you may have been convinced by your parents, friends, and the media that humans are “made to eat meat,” but this is not the case at all. Saying that canine teeth prove that humans are supposed to consume flesh is meaningless, because many other plant-eaters like horses have much larger canine teeth than we do. Another common misconception about vegetarians is that they don’t get enough protein, but really, the average American diet contains too much protein, which can cause a variety of health problems especially for the kidneys. Vegetarians can easily get enough protein
from whole grains, soy, legumes and vegetables. The American Dietetic Association says that well planned vegetarian diets are healthful and do not lack any vitamins or minerals.

One final reason to consider a vegetarian diet is that meat not only harms our bodies; it also damages the environment. Raising animals for food causes millions of acres of land to be cleared for farming and wastes a colossal amount of resources. This leads to global warming, rainforest destruction, soil loss, polluted water, overgrazing, and mountains of animal manure. It takes 4.8 pounds of grain to feed cattle for just one pound of beef, which seems awfully unfair considering that the millions of people throughout the world suffering from starvation and malnutrition need that grain much more.

And possibly the most disgusting effect meat has on the environment is the amount of animal waste produced. U.S. factory farms generate 1.4 billion tons of animal waste per year, which gets washed into our rivers and streams, killing the animals living there and causing diseases like E. coli for humans too. Also, the meat industry releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the entire world’s transportation system. If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted it with vegetables and grains, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. If eliminating meat from just one meal could help the environment so much, imagine what a difference it would make if everyone went vegetarian for a week, or a year! There wouldn’t be so much pressure on the government to find a solution to global warming, because the planet would benefit so much from just a simple diet change.

By now, I’ve hopefully convinced you that at least trying vegetarianism can do more help than harm. So you may be wondering, “What do vegetarians actually eat?” I speak from experience when I say that a vegetarian diet is just as delicious and oftentimes a lot more varied than a diet containing meat. The argument that meat tastes too good to give up is a pretty weak one, considering that there are many soy alternatives that taste just as good as meat without so many consequences. You can now buy veggie hot dogs, burgers, chicken nuggets, and even ribs that taste very similar to their cruel, animal flesh counterparts. And a lot of ethnic cuisines, like Indian, Italian, and Greek, have many vegetarian dishes that make it easy to go out to eat. In other words, don’t be afraid of going vegetarian because you think you won’t like the food.

So, does the idea of a big, bleeding piece of steak still appeal to you? If it does, then the next time you’re about to eat one ask yourself this: Does it really taste good enough to justify making millions of animals suffer and endangering the future of your health and the planet?





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