Food is an integral part of the human experience and human beings must eat in order to survive. Human beings are omnivores by nature, which means that they can consume both meat and vegetables. However, there exists a subgroup that abstains from eating animal or fish flesh.
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This people are called vegetarians and their practice is called vegetarianism. Key, Gwyneth and Appleby (1999) elaborate that the vegetarian diet is based on cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Vegetarianism has become more mainstream in recent decades with more people taking up this dietary practice. The prominence of vegetarianism is mostly attributed to the many benefits obtained from this practice. This paper will set out to discuss the most significant benefits of vegetarianism.
Benefits of Vegetarianism
A vegetarian diet can help in the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. While family history is a risk factor in some diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, dietary patterns can also increase or decrease a person’s risk of developing these conditions.
Research by Hart (2009) found out that people who ate meat were 29& more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to those who ate no meat. A vegetarian diet rich in fruits and vegetables can be effective in the prevention and management of cardiac disease. Research indicates that the risk of death from heart disease was 24% lower in vegetarians compared with non-vegetarians (Hart, 2009). This is because vegetarian diets have lower cholesterol levels than non-vegetarian diets.
The vegetarian diet also offers some levels of cancer prevention with research indicating that vegetarians have lower cancer rates than the general population. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and in spite of enormous research efforts and many treatment options, there is still no guaranteed cure for the disease.
anou and Svenson (2011) assert that in spite of the prevalence of cancer in the past decades, it is still a largely preventable disease since 90% of the risks are rooted in the environment and lifestyle choices of an individual. Research indicates that “70% of cases of colorectal and prostate cancer, 50% of cases for breast, endometrial, pancreatic, and gallbladder cancers” may be linked to the dietary habits of an individual (Lanou & Svenson, 2011, p.1).
Dietary patterns are therefore important modulators of cancer risk in an individual. A non-vegetarian diet is made up of high levels of meat intake and studies have linked meat to a variety of cancers. The vegetarian diet greatly reduced risk of cancer since the diet is rich in whole plant foods and low on fats and sugars. This is an important point considering the fact that there is a correlation between higher levels of body fatness and increased risk of cancers.
Vegetarianism helps individuals to avoid the public health threats posed by meat consumption. A common habit in livestock factory farming is the indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to farm animals. The rationale behind this mass feeding of antibiotics is to prevent diseases and promote growth.
However, this practice raises negative health risks in human beings who consume the meat. Henning (2011) confirms that the meat product sold to consumers is laced with residues from the antibiotics that are routinely fed to livestock. McCarthy (2010) warns, “Every inappropriate use of antibiotics in agriculture is potentially signing a death warrant for a future patient” (p.13).
This concern is echoed by Henning (2011) who asserts that the mass production and overconsumption of meat now represent the single greatest threats to public health. Meat consumption is responsible for the increase in “antibiotic-resistant human bacterial illnesses”. Since the vegetarian diet is free from meat, the individual is free from the risk of antibiotic resistance that meat consumers face.
A vegetarian diet promotes mental health in the individual. Research indicates that a people on a meat-free diet experience a calmer disposition and are less vulnerable to anger. Vegetarian diets are associated with feelings of serenity, reduced aggression, increased compassion for others, and a sense of mental stability.
Kaza (2005) suggests that these states of mind may come from the reduced intake of toxic hormones and pesticides from animal products and eliminating the intake of animal adrenaline that is released at death and persists even in processed meat. Vegetarianism therefore increases mental health and enhances mental clarity in the individual. He/she is therefore able to be more productive in life because of the mental benefits accrued form the vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian diet will help to offset the environmentally destructive nature of intensive livestock production. Livestock production has many deleterious impacts on the ecosystem’s health with cattle ranching contributing to soil erosion, degradation of stream habitat, deforestation, and desertification.
Henning (2011) asserts that cattle ranching is the primary reason for reforestation in the Amazon with the rising demand of beef being deemed as the single greatest contributor to deforestation worldwide.
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Henning (2011) marks out the livestock sector as the single greatest source of freshwater use and pollution in the US with these animals producing ten times more waste than the human population.
However, unlike human waste that is cleaned through waste treatment facilities, livestock effluent is allowed to leak into aquifers and waterways every day. A vegetarian diet would greatly mitigate these negative implications of livestock production on freshwater resources.
Meat consumption contributes to climate change, which has been acknowledged to be a global environmental problem. Specifically, meat production leads to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. As the enormous quantities of manure produced by cattle decay, they produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas.
For this reason, Harrison (2007) observes that eating meat comes at a cost to the environment with the average meat consumer increasing his/her carbon footprint significantly. Global warming will negatively affect the food resources of the world since it will turn previously arable land useless for agricultural purposes. Adopting a vegetarian diet will mitigate this harmful emission and prevent the climatic changes.
Vegetarianism is necessary to ensure the food security of the world. While the world’s supply of food is today adequate to feed the entire human population, there is increased concern over the ability of the world to feed itself in future. The increasing human population is already putting pressure on the food supply.
The meat intensive diet is especially to blame for the additional pressure on the world’s fragile food resources. Henning (2011) records that the world has experienced a four-fold increase in meat production since 1960. As it currently stands, large tracts of land are dedicated to cattle grazing.
Farm animals consume the greatest share of cereal productions therefore requiring increased cereal production, which puts a strain on the land resources. In contrast to this, a vegetarian diet would only require 25% of the energy used to sustain a red-meat rich diet (Brown, 2010). Vegetarianism therefore reduces the pressure on land and water resources therefore guaranteeing sustainability.
Vegetarianism will help avoid the unnecessary suffering that animals are subjected to through factory farming. Over nine billion animals live in factory farms in the US each year to provide for the demand for meant in the country. The conditions under which these animals live are generally miserable with animals being confined in small cages or overcrowded pens to maximize profits.
Nobis (2002) reveals that the animals are kept on a constant regimen of antibiotics to ward off death and disease. All this suffering by the animals is unjustified since humans do not need to eat meat and other animal products in order to survive. Vegetarianism will remove the need for animal products and this degrading factory farming will not be necessary.
Vegetarianism is more economical than a meat-based diet. To begin with, the cost of maintaining a vegetarian diet is cheaper than maintaining meat-based diet. Henning (2011) declares that the seemingly low costs of meat are the result of agricultural subsidies by the government to meat producers. The taxpayer eventually pays for these subsidies therefore increasing the financial burden for the taxpaying citizen.
The meat-based diet is associated with a number of health issues and the person engaging in this diet will therefore spend significant amount of money on health care costs. In addition to this, the person will suffer from negative economic effects in terms of lost jobs and revenue due to the deleterious effects of meat eating upon health. Practicing vegetarianism will ensure that a person does not suffer from the negative economic effects that a meat-based diet is bound to result in.
There has been a changing attitude towards vegetarianism in America in the last five decades with more people adopting vegetarian diets. People are discovering that it is possible to thrive on a non-meat based diet and that eating meat is nutritionally unnecessary. This combined with the knowledge that meat-eating costs more to the global supply of food than it provides is making people reconsider their eating habits.
Even so, vegetarianism has not been able to effectively challenge the primacy of meat in many American homes and many people still hold the view that meat and vegetables complement each other. However, as the many advantages of a vegetarian diet become known to the general population, it can be expected that the segment of the general public practicing vegetarianism will increase significantly.
This paper set out to give a detailed discussion of the benefits of vegetarianism. It began by defining vegetarianism as the practice of not eating animal flesh. The paper has documented the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. It has shown the strong correlation between meat-based diets and health problems and highlighted the fact that vegetarians are less prone to these health problems and tend to outlive meat-eaters.
The paper has also discussed the significant negative environmental impacts that a meat-based diet causes. It has also highlighted that the meat-based diet consumes too many resources and is therefore unsustainable. Considering the numerous health benefits accrued through vegetarianism and the harms that a meat consuming diet brings to the environment, all humans ought to practice vegetarianism.
Brown, L. (2010). How to feed 8 billion people. The Futurist, 44 (1), 28-33.
Harrison, C. (2007). Vegetarian with benefits. Proquest. Web.
Hart, J. (2009). The Health Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 15(2), 64-68.
Henning, B. (2011). Standing in Livestock’s ‘Long Shadow’ The Ethics of Eating Meat on a Small Planet. Ethics & The Environment, 16(2), 1085-6633.
Kaza, S. (2005). Western Buddhist motivations for vegetarianism. Worldviews, 9 (3), 385-411.
Key, T.J. Gwyneth, K.D. & Appleby, P.N. (1999). Health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 58 (2), 271 275.
Lanou, J.A. & Svenson, B. (2011). Reduced cancer risk in vegetarians: an analysis of recent reports. Cancer Management and Research, 3 (1), 1–8.
McCarthy, K. (2010). Plant-Based Diets: A solution to our public health crisis. Washington: World Progressive Foundation.
Nobis, N. (2002). Vegetarianism and Virtue: Does Consequentialism Demand Too Little? Social Theory and Practice, 28 (1), 135-155.