Photo: Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

If you could take a pill that would improve your health, help save the environment, soften your heart and spirit of compassion ...would you do it?. While it is not a magic pill, the simplest and most effective means to achieve this is to adopt a vegetarian diet. There are significant moral, ethical, environmental, health, and humanitarian benefits of adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. The personal health benefits alone are significant, and the benefits of society as a whole shifting towards a vegetarian diet are earth changing.

Better for Your Health

Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases is increased by consuming a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet. This result is best achieved by adopting a healthy vegetarian diet consisting of organic and natural foods.

A vegetarian diet is not only good for one’s personal health; it’s also good for the economy. For example, last year in the United States, just five diet-related chronic diseases cost a staggering $1.2 trillion dollars! This is an estimate of the direct medical costs and the indirect impact of productivity losses due to illness and premature death associated with cardiovascular disease and stroke, obesity, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes. This cost does not take into account the human toll of pain and suffering, both for the individuals who suffer from these diet related, and thus easily avoidable, diseases, and for their loved ones and friends.

The United States’ trillion-dollar outlay in annual diet-related health care costs is larger than most other nations' annual budget, and it is rising each year at an alarming pace. Trying to figure out what to do to control these disease costs is the cause of considerable government paralysis as elected officials can’t agree on the causes of the problem and the solutions to it. However, in reality, the causes and the solutions are simple; we need to adopt a vegetarian diet and lifestyle (including regular physical activity).

Better for the Environment

The negative consequences of a meat-based diet are having a dramatic impact on the environment. In its 2006 report on global warming, the United Nations stated that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. When emissions from land use are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) from human-related activities, but produces a larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases.

Livestock generates 37 percent of the total methane, which is 23 times as warming as CO2 produced by human activity. It also generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 300 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most of these gases come from animal manure and belching from the billions of rumient land animals being raised for human consumption!

Adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet could reduce greenhouse gases from this source by up to 100 percent with no negative impact. Achieving similar reductions in carbon dioxide is virtually impossible without a potentially devastating impact on the economy. Even with implementation of the most ambitious carbon dioxide reduction strategies, emissions would be cut by less than half.

A meat-based diet is an extremely inefficient use of resources as foods are grown which are fed to animals – these foods could be fed directly to people instead! A meat based diet uses at least ten times as many resources as a plant based diets. A meat based diet damages the environment more than just about anything else we do. Whether it's unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the earth. In contrast, plant-based diets have a lower environmental impact because they use fewer natural resources.

For the Sake of the Innocent Animals

Each year throughout the world, virtually uncountable billions of innocent animals are inhumanely raised in hellish factory farm conditions. In the United States alone, over ten billion land animals are cruelly and brutally slaughtered for human consumption. Given the horrific suffering these animals endure, and considering that all our nutritional needs can easily be satisfied without eating these animals, vegetarianism is a moral and ethical necessity.

The reality is that eating animals is unnecessary. Mother nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance.

For all these reasons the single most important thing an individual can do for their health, for the environment, and for the sake of the innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.

In future blog posts we will examine each of these points in more detail.

Aloha, thank you for reading.

Mark Fergusson
Down to Earth’s Chief Vegetarian Officer