Vegetarians refrain from consuming animals and animal products, including meat, poultry, and fish. Lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat eggs, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products. However, total vegetarians (vegans) avoid these animal products completely, including foods such as honey. On the whole, vegetarians emphasize the impact of dietary choice on health, on the fate of animals and the planet, and on humanity, including future generations .
Vegetarians avoid meat for many reasons, including concerns for animals, the environment , general health, and worldwide food shortages. Some cultures and religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, also advocate vegetarianism. Vegetarians emphasize that the overwhelming majority of food animals are raised on "factory farms," where they spend their entire lives in cramped, overcrowded conditions, lacking sunshine, exercise, and the ability to engage in natural behavior.
A vegetarian diet can also be healthier than a meat-centered one. Meat contains high amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, which—in excess amounts—contributes to heart disease, cancer , and other degenerative diseases. While poultry and fish are lower in fat and cholesterol than red meat, they also carry health risks. Chicken is a major source of salmonella contamination and other dangerous bacteria, and fish (especially shellfish) are often heavily contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals , and toxic chemicals .
Vegetarians often cite the massive environmental damage caused by raising food animals. Consider the following illustrations. Livestock occupy and graze on half of the world's land mass. Cattle alone use a quarter of the earth's land. This can result in water pollution , clearing of forests, soil erosion , and desertification . More food could be produced and more people could be fed if resources were not used to produce meat. For example, the amount of land required to feed one meat-eater could theoretically feed 15 to 20 vegetarians. One acre (0.4 ha) of agricultural land can produce about 165 lb (75 kg) of beef or 20,000 lb (9,072 kg) of potato.
Moreover, the world's cattle eat enough grain to feed every human on earth, and most of that grain is wasted. A cow must eat 16 lb (7.3 kg) of grain and soybeans to produce 1 lb (0.45 kg) of feedlot beef—a 94% waste of food. A pig requires 7.5 lb (3.4 kg) of protein to produce 1 lb (0.45 kg) of pork protein. Ninety-five percent of all grain grown in the United States is used to feed livestock, as is 97% of all legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), and 66% of the fish caught in American waters. Over half of all the water used in the United States goes for livestock production, and it takes 100–200 times more water to produce beef than wheat.
[Lewis G. Regenstein ]
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