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7 Reasons Your Family May Want to Become Vegetarian

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A vegetarian bowl with quinoa fritters. Westend61 / Getty Images

By Ketura Persellin

You've likely heard that eating meat and poultry isn't good for your health or the planet. Recent news from Washington may make meat even less palatable: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of the industry.


In spite of that, global consumption of beef, lamb and goat is expected to rise by almost 90 percent between 2010 and 2050. This may not surprise you, given how many kids love burgers and fries. With that in mind, here are seven reasons you and your family might want to become a vegetarian — or at least cut down on how much meat you eat.

1. Environmental damage. Industrial-scale meat and poultry production harms the environment — from the pesticides used to grow feed and the manure that runs off into waterways to the fertilizer that releases greenhouse gases and then pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans. You know the slime covering the lake where you spend time every summer? Tell your kids that large-scale meat and dairy production connects directly to the sign at the lake saying it's not safe for them to swim. And it's not just a matter of your vacation plans: That slime can cause permanent harm to people and animals and destroy marine ecosystems.

2. Climate change. Kids love fart jokes, but cow flatulence isn't just a laugh line, but a significant contributor to climate crisis. Cow burps play an even bigger role, producing 22 percent of U.S. emissions of methane, a gas with a worse effect on the climate crisis than carbon dioxide. Eliminating or reducing meat from your diet is the biggest contribution an individual can make to helping mitigate climate disaster. And because of their developing bodies, children are more vulnerable to the harmful chemicals emitted by pesticides and fertilizer, as well as disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change.

3. General health. The hormones fed to animals on factory farms can increase the chance of cancer in people who eat it. Red and processed meat have been linked to chronic disease, including cancer. Meat is a primary source of dioxins, a group of pollutants connected to reproductive and hormonal issues, and negative impacts on the developing fetus. By contrast, a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of cancer and lower the incidence of heart disease. One large study shows vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index than meat eaters and are one-fourth less likely to die of heart disease.

4. Expense. The cost of meat is coming down as demand for it grows, but a diet that doesn't include meat is easier on the wallet. For instance, as a source of protein, legumes are far less expensive than meat and poultry.


5. Sustainability. Production of meat and dairy hogs resources. It uses grassland inefficiently, and a tremendous amount of water, and that's just for starters. Cutting it out entirely, or just reducing your consumption, will benefit the environment.


6. Drug resistance. Most kids are untroubled by the abstract idea of drug resistance, but Mom and Dad should worry. Animal overcrowding in factory farms increases livestock's risk of illness. Farmers try to "solve" the problem by routinely dosing even healthy animals with antibiotics, which can lead to antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." Over time, with the overuse of antibiotics, these bacteria, such as salmonella, become resistant to the many forms of antibiotics commonly used to treat sick children. According to a recent EWG report, 20 percent of salmonella strains found on grocery store chicken were resistant to the drug. This makes it far more difficult to treat children, who are more likely than adults to get salmonella in the first place.

7. Environmental justice. Your family's meat consumption makes an immediate impact on the people, including kids, living near the factory animal farms where most meat is produced. The stench of manure that reaches for miles is something the people who live nearby — often people of color of lower economic means — can't escape. When it rains, it's likely the ensuing runoff will flood the neighborhood with manure, fertilizer and other debris. In addition to nausea, headaches and other health problems, factory farm neighbors see increases in the cases and severity of respiratory illnesses, including asthma, to which children are especially vulnerable. Unable to spend time outside, residents feel trapped indoors. Their drinking water wells can be contaminated, and so can the rivers and streams where they fish.

Not ready to eliminate meat entirely? Resolve simply to eat less of it. Consider meat a meal's side show, for instance, instead of the star. Or make some meals completely meatless. If you eat one less burger a week, it's as if you'd taken your car off the road for 320 miles or line-dried your clothes half the time. That's the thinking behind the New York school district's decision to institute Meatless Mondays, and it's a good rule of thumb: Small changes do add up.

And there's no need to worry your kids won't get enough protein if you cut the meat and dairy. Americans eat too much meat, and too much protein in general. The average child age four to six years old needs just two small servings a day — one ounce of meat or fish, or an egg, is one serving — and age seven to 10, a slightly larger portion of two to three ounces.

Most adults eat too much protein too, so while you're at it, you may want to take a look at your own portion control. Here are the USDA's protein guidelines.

Ketura Persellin is the editor at Environmental Working Group.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.