Food expert Francis Moore Lappé, author of the best-selling
Diet for a Small Planet, said in a recent television interview
that we should look at a piece of steak as a Cadillac. "What I
mean," She explained, "is that we in America are hooked on
gas-guzzling automobiles because of the illusion of cheap petroleum.
Likewise, we got hooked on a grain-fed, meat-centered diet because
of the illusion of cheap grain."
According to information compiled by the United States Department
of Agriculture, over ninety percent of all the grain produced in
America is used for feeding livestock - cows, pigs, lambs, and
chickens - that wind up on dinner tables. Yet the process of using
grain to produce meat is incredibly wasteful. For example,
information from the USDA's Economic Research Service shows that we
get back only one pound of beef for every sixteen pounds of grain.
In his book Proteins: Their Chemistry and Politics, Dr.
Aaron Altshul notes that in terms of calorie units per acre, a diet
of grains, vegetables, and beans will support twenty times more
people than a diet of meat. As it stands now, about half the
harvested acreage in America is used to feed animals. If the earth's
arable land were used primarily for the production of vegetarian
foods, the planet could easily support a human population of twenty
billion and more.
Facts such as these have led food experts to point out that the
world hunger problem is largely illusory. The myth of
"overpopulation" should not be used by advocates of abortion to
justify the killing of more than fifty million unborn children
worldwide each year. Even now, we are already producing enough food
for everyone on the planet, but unfortunately it is being allocated
inefficiently. In a report submitted to the United Nations World
Food Conference (Rome, 1974), Rene Dumont, an agricultural economist
at France's National Agricultural Institute, made this judgment:
"The overconsumption of meat by the rich means hunger for the poor.
This wasteful agriculture must be changed - by the suppression of
feedlots where beef are fattened on grains, and even a massive
reduction of beef cattle."
Living Cows Are an Economic Asset
It is quite clear that a living cow yields society more food than
a dead one - in the form of a continuing supply of milk, cheese,
butter, yogurt and other high-protein foods. In 1971, Stewart
Odend'hal of the University of Missouri conducted a detailed study
of cows in Bengal and found that far from depriving humans of food,
they ate only inedible remains of harvested crops (rice hulls, tops
of sugarcane, etc.) and grass. "Basically," he said, "the cattle
convert items of little direct human value into products of
immediate utility." This should put to rest the myth that people are
starving in India because they will not kill their cows.
Interestingly enough, India recently seems to have surmounted its
food problems, which have always had more to do with occasional
severe drought or political upheaval than with sacred cows. A panel
of experts at the Agency for International Development, in a
statement cited in the Congressional Record for December 2,
1980, concluded, "India produces enough to feed all its people."
If allowed to live, cows produce high quality, protein rich foods
in amounts that stagger the imagination. In America, there is a
deliberate attempt to limit dairy production; nevertheless,
Representative Sam Gibbons of Florida recently reported to Congress
that the U.S. government was being forced to stockpile "mountains of
butter, cheese, and nonfat dried milk." He told his colleagues, "We
currently own about 440 million pounds of butter, 545 million pounds
of cheese, and about 765 million pounds of nonfat dried milk." The
supply grows by about 45 million pounds each week. In fact, the 10
million cows in American provide so much milk that the government
periodically releases millions of pounds of dairy products for free
distribution to the poor and hungry. It's abundantly clear that cows
(living ones) are one of mankind's most valuable food resources.
Movements to save seals, dolphins, and whales from slaughter are
flourishing - so why shouldn't there be a movement to save the cow?
From the economic standpoint alone, it would seem to be a sound idea
- unless you happen to be a part of the meat industry, which is
increasingly worried about the growth of vegetarianism. In June
1977, a major trade magazine, Farm Journal, printed and
editorial entitled, "Who Will Defend the Good Name of Beef?" The
magazine urged the nation's beef-cattle raisers to chip in $40
million to finance publicity to keep beef consumption and prices sky
You're Paying More than You Think for Meat
The meat industry is a powerful economic and political force, and
besides spending millions of its own dollars to promote meat-eating,
it has also managed to grab an unfair share of our tax dollars.
Practically speaking, the meat production process is so wasteful and
costly that the industry needs subsidies in order to survive. Most
people are unaware of how heavily national governments support the
meat industry by outright grants, favorable loan guarantees, and so
forth. In 1977, for example, the USDA bought an extra $100 million
of surplus beef for school lunch programs. That same year, the
governments of Western Europe spent almost a half-billion dollars
purchasing the farmers' overproduction of meat and spent additional
millions for the cost of storing it.
More tax dollars go down the drain in the form of the millions of
dollars the U.S. government spends each year to maintain a
nationwide network of inspectors to monitor the little-publicized
problem of animal diseases. When diseased animals are destroyed, the
government pays the owners an indemnity, For instance, in 1978 the
American government paid out $50 million of its citizens' tax money
in indemnities for the control of burcellosis, a flulike disease
that afflicts cattle and other animals. Under another program, the
U.S. government guarantees loans up to $350,000 for meat producers.
Other farmers receive guarantees only up to $20,000. A New York
Times editorial called this subsidy bill "outrageous,"
characterizing it as "a scandalous steal out of the public
treasury." Also, despite much evidence from government health
agencies showing the link between meat-eating and cancer and heart
disease, the USDA continues to spend millions promoting meat
consumption through its publications and school lunch programs.
Another price we pay for meat-eating is degradation of the
environment. The United States Agricultural Research Service calls
the heavily contaminated runoff and sewage from America's thousands
of slaughterhouses and feedlots a major source of pollution of the
nation's rivers and streams. It is fast becoming apparent that the
fresh water resources of this planet are not only becoming polluted
but also depleted, and the meat industry is particularly wasteful.
In their book Population, Resources, and Environment, Paul
and Anne Ehrlich found that to grow one pound of wheat requires only
60 pounds of water, whereas production of a pound of meat requires
anywhere from 2,500 to 6,000 pounds of water. And in 1973 the New
York Post uncovered this shocking misuse of a valuable national
resource - one large chicken slaughtering plant in America was found
to be using 100 million gallons of water daily! This same volume
would supply a city of 25,000 people.
The wasteful process of meat production, which requires far
larger acreages of land than vegetable agriculture, has been a
source of economic conflict in human society for thousands of years.
A study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition reveals
that an acre of grains produces five times more protein than an acre
of pasture set aside for meat production. An acre of beans or peas
produces ten times more, and an acre of spinach twenty-eight times
more protein. Economic facts like these were known to the ancient
Greeks. In Pato's Republic the great Greek philosopher
Socrates recommended a vegetarian diet because it would allow a
country to make the most intelligent use of its agricultural
resources. He warned that if people began eating animals, there
would be need for more pasturing land. "And the country which was
enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now,
and not enough?" He asked Glaucon, who replied that this was indeed
true. "An so we shall go to war, Glaucon, shall we not?" To which
Glaucon replied, "Most certainly."
It is interesting to note that meat-eating played a role in many
of the wars during the age of European colonial expansion. The spice
trade with India and other countries of the East was an object of
great contention. Europeans subsisted on a diet of meat preserved
with salt. In order to disguise and vary the monotonous and
unpleasant taste of their food, they eagerly purchased vast
quantities of spices. So huge were the fortunes to be made in the
spice trade that governments and merchants did not hesitate to use
arms to secure sources.
In the present era there is still the possibility of mass
conflict based on food. Back in August 1974, the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) published a report warning that in the
near future their may not be enough food for the world's population
"unless the affluent nations make a quick and drastic cut in their
consumption of grain-fed animals."
Saving Money with a Vegetarian Diet
But now let's turn from the world geopolitical situation, and get
right down to our own pocketbooks. Although not widely known,
grains, beans, and milk products are an excellent source of
Pound for pound many vegetarian foods are better sources of this
essential nutrient than meat. A 100-gram portion of meat contains
only 20 grams of protein. (Another fact to consider: meat is more
than 50% water by weight.) In comparison, a 100-gram portion of
cheese or lentils yields 25 grams of protein, while 100 grams of
soybeans yields 34 grams of protein. But although meat provides less
protein, it costs much more. A spot check of supermarkets in Los
Angeles in August 1983 showed sirloin steak costing $3.89 a pound,
while staple ingredients for delicious vegetarian meals averaged
less than 50 cents a pound. An eight-ounce container of cottage
cheese costing 59 cents provides 60% of the minimum daily
requirement of protein. Becoming a vegetarian could potentially save
an individual shopper at least several hundred dollars each year,
thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime. The savings to
America's consumers as a whole would amount to billions of dollars
annually. Considering all this, it's hard to see how anyone could
afford not to become a vegetarian.