The main reason I started browsing the Vegetarian Society website was to make my mum feel better.
She was very concerned about my protein intake when I stopped eating meat and fish, so I thought some advice would put her mind at ease (and also help me. More research never hurts, right?)
It was the cruelty-free community and their stories/fact-sharing that led me to go vegetarian, so I hadn’t really looked at what the Vegetarian Society had to offer. This was a mistake, because they have a whole range of free leaflets they can send to you about the environment, your, health, your diet, and animal welfare (or lack of it).
I found them really useful and informative (you can get them here!) so I thought I’d do a round-up of some of the facts I learnt.
A few parts of this post might be upsetting for some — no one likes thinking about abattoirs — but I think it’s important to talk about the reality of the meat industry, especially now vegetarian life is a key topic here on Toasty.
Livestock consume one third of the world’s cereals and half of the world’s wheat, plus 70% of the water taken from lakes is used for farming. This seems crazy to me when millions of people go hungry and don’t have access to clean water.
30% of the world’s land surface is required for rearing livestock. Growing crops to feed people uses less land and water. The amount of land needed to feed someone who eats meat could feed two and a half vegetarians, or five vegans.
Methane — emitted by cows, up to 500 litres per cow per day — has more impact on global warming than carbon dioxide. Livestock causes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.
The natural lifespan of a cow is about 25 years, but they are slaughtered at the age of one or two. Veal calves only live for a few months, and dairy cows are killed at the age of five after they become too exhausted to match the demand for milk.
All cows and calves are stunned by a bolt to the brain before their throats are slit and they’re left to bleed to death.
Pigs normally live for 10-15 years, but are slaughtered between four and seven months old. They are either gassed, or stunned and then hung up so their throats can be slit. (I care about all animals except wasps, but it’s the mistreatment of pigs that upsets me the most; they’re beautifully curious, intelligent animals. The scene from Vegucated when they herd the pigs into the slaughterhouse had me in tears.)
Sheep have a similar lifespan to pigs and killed in the same way; most of them before the age of one. I’d always thought that sheep were gently sheered for their wool, but much of it is taken from the bodies of slaughtered lambs.
Chickens live for seven years naturally but are squashed into windowless sheds with thousands upon thousands of other birds, where they don’t have room to stretch their wings and generally behave like chickens do.
Because there’s a higher demand for poultry than there used to be, chickens are fed so they grow unnaturally large, which causes health problems like heart failure and disease.
Health and Food
Studies show that vegetarians are less likely than meat eaters to suffer from type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers. They are also more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
Of course, it’s possible to be an unhealthy vegetarian, but cutting out meat can reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume. One question I’ve constantly been asked since I went vegetarian is ‘What do you eat?!’ but if you’re near a well-stocked supermarket it’s easy to replace meat and fish with lentils, beans, and Quorn, which are also good sources of fibre.
Sources of iron, calcium, zinc and fatty acids include leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
According to the Vegetarian Society, a balanced vegetarian diet includes the following:
- 5 or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day
- 2-3 portions of protein like eggs, beans, pulses, Quorn, tofu, nuts, and seeds
- Wholegrains like bread, rice, and pasta with every meal
- 2-3 portions of dairy sources (or dairy alternatives; I always have Koko’s coconut milk in my fridge)
- Healthy fats like avocado and olive oil
- Small portions of foods that contain sugar and fat. Because what is life without cake?
I hope this post was helpful! I found all the new information overwhelming at first, but breaking it down like this makes everything just that bit more digestible (pun not intended) and I found the statistics made it easier to put it all into perspective. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get the odd craving for fried chicken, but is it worth all those chickens slowly dying in a shed? Absolutely not.
If you’ve given up meat and/or fish, what made you take that first step? Did any facts shock you when you first started doing research? Let me know in the comments!
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Beth, 25, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travel, gin, and the Oxford comma.
I write about cruelty-free beauty, vegan & veggie food, and trying to lead a less wasteful life. I throw the odd think piece in there, too.