Logical Environmental Reasoning
for a Vegetarian Lifestyle


Vegetarianism has always been an interest of mine. However, I didn't become a vegetarian until Fall of 1999. Since that time I've learned more and more about the effects of vegetarianism on our society. But, I could never find reliable information to support some of the claims. Not being one who enjoys blind faith, I searched and searched for evidence to support the the specific claims that vegetarianism positively effects the environment.

Most radical vegan/vegetarian groups push for animal rights. But many people don't care about animal rights, do they? Of my reasons for being vegetarian, animal rights is lowest on the list--which is not to state that I don't care about animal rights, it's just not as important as the other reasons, especially environmentalism. So, what benefits are there for vegetarianism?

This essay aims to explain logically, using verifiable evidence, why a vegetarian lifestyle will help our planet and the Earth's population as a whole.

Could Vegetarianism Positively Effect the Environment and Economics?

What I’ve found from the radical pro-vegan pamphlets is a lot of unverifiable data stating how livestock creation destroys the environment. Anyone can give out statistical information, 78% of the world’s population knows that. However, the argument is logical.

First lets start with what is oversimplified factual reasoning without the use of numbers and statistics.

Land + Water = Crops

Land + Water + Crops = Livestock

Obviously there are more variables. However, for our purposes here, this is all I need to address.

Looking at the statements above, I don’t think that anyone can argue, aside from other variables, that this is what it takes to grow crops and to raise livestock. This simple breakdown already demonstrates an easy point: We all know that the Earth has limited resources, right? I mean there aren’t any places on the planet that I know of where spontaneous growth of resources takes place. We only have so much water, so much land, so many trees, so many humans, so many mountains, so many flowers, etc., etc. That point is not arguable.

So, look at the statements above. Land + Water = Crops. Let me rephrase that: of the limited land and water on the planet, some land plus some water equals some crops. This land is always used as farm land and nothing else. This water is used to grow crops and nothing else. Let’s look at the next statement: Of the limited land, water, and crops on the planet, some land plus some water plus some crops equals some livestock. And aside from the hundreds of other variables, there still is no argument, and I believe that I am still stating facts:

There is not an unlimited amount of land- Fact. There is not an unlimited amount of water-Fact. There is not an unlimited amount of crops- Fact. There is not an unlimited amount of livestock- Fact.

Let me add another fact: The world’s population is increasing. Adding another fact: those humans need a place to live, water to drink, and food to eat. At this point I have stated six generalized facts. No numbers, no statistics. All facts.

Now let’s reason through this:

If there is limited land, limited water, limited crops and limited livestock then, where will these humans live? What will these humans drink? What will these humans eat? How will these humans survive?

Is this an essay for birth control? It very well could be. At this point, I could take this reasoning into several different directions. And as you start to think about this, hopefully your mind will open and see that this is a global issue that will effect everyone on our planet. In fact, I encourage you to think through this in any direction that has popped in to your head. And even consider applying this towards other limited resources: oil, vitamins, medicine, doctors and clothing. The simple fact is that the Earth has limited resources and as our population grows, and if things do not change, they will be used to depletion.

But, my cause today is vegetarianism. So, now, how does vegetarianism help with these limited resources? Very simply: if you look at the two statements: Land + Water = Crops and Land + Water + Crops = Livestock you can see that the limited resources are repeated in both statements. By eating meat, humans are using limited resources to create crops. Then additional limited resources plus those crops are used to create livestock. Wouldn’t it make sense to just eat the crops?

Before I move forward, I must point out that the nutritional argument for meat consumption is clearly obsolete. Fact: many people survive today without consuming any animal products. Overall, these people live in better health than meat-eaters. And I will provide fact for this statement from the American Dietetic Association:

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. - http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/advocacy_933_ENU_HTML.htm

Moving forward.

By limiting or abstaining from meat consumption, less of our limited resources would be consumed. Why is that? I will pick on cows because they are easiest on which to pick. Cows are large animals that take up a large amount of space. They require land on which to walk, grass on which to graze, and plenty of water to drink. They also eat grain and other crops as food. If cows were removed from our diet, all of the land they use, all of the water they drink, and all of the crops they consume would be available for human consumption. As the population increases, the need for land increases, the need for water increases, and the need for food increases. By putting meat on the menu, less land, less water, and less food is available.

After forgetting the statistics I had read and by reasoning through this in my own head, I figured that there has to be someone out there who isn’t a militant vegan and has little to gain from “lying” about these statistical facts. Believe me, it’s difficult to find a scientific organization without ties for or against the meat industry to back up or contest this reasoning. And, as mentioned, I’m not one who enjoys blind faith. I want to know! I want to be validated!

One day while watching The Learning Channel (TLC), I learned that in the Biosphere, all food was vegetarian. I was fascinated to find that because of limited resources, meat was left off of the menu. This was a group of scientists who had come to the conclusion that because of limited resources, vegetarianism was the most environmentally and economically friendly food-source. And it went beyond that, having the plants for food also converted the carbon dioxide to oxygen to give the Biosphere breathable air.

The Biosphere project is a “testing ground” for sustaining life during long space flights, on a space station, or on an in-hospitable planet. A group of scientists are given limited space, limited water, and limited resources and are contained in this “dome” for a length of time without any outside resources coming in or without inside waste coming out. It is supposed to be a completely self-contained environment.

Given limited resources, just like our planet, scientists devised the best way to sustain life in a healthy and humane way. It was determined that plant sources for nutrition would be the best all-around answer for many reasons. For one thing, they don’t use much room. If they were to raise livestock in the Biosphere, they would not only need a place to grow the plants, but also a place to grow the livestock. This would impede on the total equipment they could take with them as there would only be so much room. On top of that, not only would the crops need water but the livestock would need water, increasing their need for fresh water. And even further on from that, there would be a substantial increase in waste coming from not only the humans, but now the animals as well. Plus, they would need an area to slaughter the animals which would create an issue of leftover bones and the potential to cause bacteria and illness throughout the dome.

It was decided that a plant-based diet would make the most sense as it would take up a small amount of space, use a small amount of water, create little to no waste, would provide a pleasant and relaxing “green” environment within the dome and it would convert carbon dioxide to oxygen for fresh air.

Why is our planet any different? Isn’t our planet just a big Biosphere? Our planet has limited resources just like the Biosphere. Don’t the same rules apply? The Biosphere is our planet, just on a smaller scale. By continuing to industrialize livestock all over our planet, we are using more and more of the Earth’s resources. Forests are being destroyed for livestock. Food that could be given to the Earth’s poor are being used to feed livestock. Water is being used to raise livestock which could be used for humans or crops. The Earth’s resources are being used and we’re burning the candle on both ends.

Among many poor uses of the world’s fresh water supply, in his article “Making Every Drop Count”, published in the February 2001 issue of Scientific American, Peter H. Gleick states that “Growing a pound of corn can take between 100 and 250 gallons of water…But growing the grain to produce a pound of beef can require between 2000 and 8500 gallons.” That is a startling difference.

Just a pound of beef! Conservatively taking 2000 gallons as the mean for producing a pound of beef, think about how much 2000 gallons of water is. How much water do you drink in a day? A gallon? Half a gallon? How many gallons of water do you think you use when you shower? 30-40 gallons? Every time you flush the toilet in a day, how many gallons? 15-20? Every time you wash your hands? 2-3 gallons? Let’s go for the high end and say that the average human uses 100 gallons of water in a day. After 20 average days of your use of water, you would have created 1 pound of beef. 1 pound. You could conservatively eat for 2-3 days on a pound of beef. Now think about the fact that it is possible to take four times as much water to create a pound of beef-80 days worth of your daily water consumption to make 1 pound of beef. The water that you use over about 3 months time will produce a pound of beef. ONE POUND.

Now look at the alternative. A pound of corn is grown using 100-250 gallons of water. How long will that last? 2-3 days? Obviously a pound of corn would get boring and it isn’t nutritionally sound, but if all you had was a pound of corn, you could eat it over 2-3 days. Now looking at the high end, if we’ve reasoned that the average American uses 100 gallons of water a day, how many days worth of water would it take to make a pound of corn? 2-3 days. And how long could you live on a pound of corn? 2-3 days.

Again, I will point out that aside from the numbers given in Mr. Gleick’s article, all other numbers are purely speculative. I’ve tried to create numbers based in reason and based on averages above or below the point I’m trying to make. Perhaps the average American uses 200 gallons of water a day and it only takes, on average, 2000 gallons of water for a pound of beef. My point is still valid. My speculation may be purely speculation but it is based in reality and it does prove my point.

Sandra Postel, in her article “Growing more Food with less Water” also in the February 2001 Scientific American, states that “The Typical North American diet…requires twice as much water to produce as the less meat-intensive diets common in many Asian and some European countries. Eating lower on the food chain could allow the same volume of water to feed two Americans instead of one, with no loss in overall nutrition.” How is it that several scientists without ties to the meat industry can clearly state the ecological and environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet and we as Americans and the world as a whole are left in the dark? In my opinion, tradition, pride and money.

Everyone around the world today only knows what our parents and society has told us and what we have seen in the media. And what do we see? Meat is what everyone eats and meat is what wealthy people eat. Our government has a lot to lose if meat consumption is cut back. The government collects taxes from every piece of the puzzle-seeds, water, labor, fuel, equipment-everything.

Think about it: They tax the seeds the farmer buys, they tax the water the seeds need to grow, they tax the sale of the equipment used to plow the field, they tax the labor used to plow the field, then they tax the shipment of the crops, they tax the sale of the crops to the livestock producers, they tax the equipment used to produce the livestock, they tax the labor used to produce livestock, they tax the water consumed by the livestock, they tax the shipment of the livestock to the slaughterhouse, they tax the labor at the slaughterhouse, the equipment at the slaughterhouse, they tax the shipment of the meat to the grocery, they tax the sale to the grocery, and then they tax the labor to set up and sell the meat. Oh yeah, and they tax the grocery and the slaughterhouse for the packaging and equipment used to package the meat for resale.

Sounds like a great business! They get their cut all the way through. If we were to cut out the livestock and just shipped the crops right to the grocery, the government would lose money.

Who else would lose money? The industrialized meat manufacturers who spend millions of dollars lobbying the government just to make sure the meat business is kept alive. Supposedly some of the members of the FDA committee who created the four food groups and the recommended servings of meat had ties to the meat industry. How is it that the FDA says eat meat and in a great quantity but then the ADA states that a vegetarian diet is healthier? Someone isn’t telling someone else all that is going on.

In Mr. Gleick’s article, he mentions that reform in water consumption “requires fundamental changes in how we think about water, and such changes are coming about slowly”. This not only applies to water, but also to land and other limited Earth resources. Tradition and conventional thinking are slowing things down. Why can’t we let go of tradition and do what’s right? “Rather than trying endlessly to find enough water to meet hazy projections or future desires, it is time to find a way to meet our present and future needs with water that is already available, while preserving the ecological cycles that are so integral to human well-being.”

Clearly there is enough evidence and scientific backing to encourage a vegetarian lifestyle. Our health, our future, our children’s health and future all depend on it. With the recent outbreaks of Mad Cow and Hoof and Mouth, maybe our living planet is trying to tell us something? Perhaps the Earth is combating the overpopulation of livestock and destruction of the planet in its own way. Will we listen? Only if enough people start to realize that we are heading down a dangerous path. We are technologically advanced enough to not need meat as nutrition. But the message is not getting out.

Americans have a pre-conceived notion that eating meat is a reflection of health and prosperity. The “chicken in every pot” mentality has been passed down from generation to generation and it’s difficult to break--even if we know it’s wrong. Clearly something’s got to give and I hope it’s not a compromise of humankind.

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

- Albert Einstein

Article written by Timothy B. Rutherford

Reprinting of this article is only permitted with permission and in-full.